RUBONDO ISLAND NATIONAL PARK
Rubondo Island is located in the south-western corner of Lake Victoria, Tanzania. Rubondo Island is about 150 km (93 mi) west of Mwanza. The main island, Rubondo (2o 18’ S, 31o 50’ E) is 237 km2 in size. The island protects another 11 islets, none much larger than 2 km2. These 10 islands form the Rubondo Island National Park covering an area of 456.8 km2 (176.4 sq. mi). Lake Victoria is 1,134 meters above sea level. The highest point on Rubondo is the Masa Hills in the far south, at an elevation of 1,486m (350m above the level of the lake). The main island measures 28 km from north to south and is 3–10 km wide. Rubondo Island is on a rift in the lake. Rubondo essentially consists of a partially submerged rift of four volcanically formed hills, linked by three flatter isthmuses. The island has no rivers and the soil is volcanic.
The habitat is mixed evergreen and semi deciduous forest, which covers about 80% of the island’s surface area with common species including Croton sylvaticus, Drypetes gerrardii, and Lecaniodiscus fraxinifolius, and often with a dense understory of lianas, or woody vines. The forest is interspersed with patches of open grassland and, all but restricted to the Lukaya area, acacia woodland. The eastern lakeshore is characterized by rocky areas and sandy beaches whilst the western shore supports extensive papyrus swamps, lined with date palms.
Rubondo Island National Park was gazetted in 1977. It is an important breeding ground for both migratory birds and fish species (especially Tilapia and Nile perch) as for a long time it stood to be the only area in the waters of Lake Victoria which was well protected and preserved.
About 80% of the park is covered by a dense forest thus providing a variety of habitats to wildlife ranging from savannah, open woodland, papyrus swamps to dense forest. These habitats form a home for various wild creatures such as sitatunga, bushbucks, velvet monkeys, genet cats, spotted necked otters, hippopotamus and crocodiles which share the ecological niches with introduced species such as chimpanzees, elephants, giraffes, black and white colubus monkeys, suni and African grey parrots. The park is famous by holding a variety of migratory birds from different parts of the world and some birds native to the area are in Emin Pasha Gulf with the African fish eagles distinctly appreciated.
The park is located on the south-western corner of Lake Victoria in Geita region about 150 km (95 miles) west of Mwanza city. The Lake (Victoria) is the second largest lake in the world. The Lake is also the source of the longest river in the world, River Nile. The park has 456.8 km2 of which 236.8 km2 is dry land and 220 km2 is water comprising of 11 small islets of varying sizes.
- A variety of water birds , Eurasian migrants and introduced African grey parrots
- High density of African fish eagles distinctly seen
- Animal species including Sitatunga, Elephants, Giraffes, Hippos, Bushbucks, Pythons, Crocodiles, Chimpanzees (not fully habituated), Bush pigs and Suni
- The Lake Victoria forming a spectacular sight for visitors with the deepest point in the lake (Irumo) forming part of the park
- Magnificent view of one of the last remaining representatives of evergreen dense primary lowland Congolese forest with a unique habitat mosaic in the midst of high biodiversity value
- Beautiful and attracting beaches such as Fly catcher, Mchangani and Michicoco
- Important gulfs of Irumo and Kamea
- Clear sighting of both sun rise and sun set
- Cultural sites such as “Ntungamirwe”, “Maji Matakatifu”, “Altare” and “Solo” which explain the life of natives who once stayed in the park
- “Birds Islands”, breeding sit for water birds
- Crocodile island
There is a bimodal rainfall distribution, with peaks in December and April–May during the October–May rainy season. The annual temperature is 19–26 0C.
Rubondo Island became a game reserve in 1965, to provide a sanctuary for animals. Rubondo Island was gazetted as a national park in 1977. Today Rubondo is uninhabited. Consequently, 80% of the island remains forested today. The 400 “fisher folk”, who lived on the island and maintained banana plantations, were resettled on neighbouring islands and onto the mainland by the government in the late 1960s.
Over a four-year period (1966–1969) Professor Bernhard Grzimek of the Frankfurt Zoological Society (FZS) released 17 chimpanzees in four cohorts onto Rubondo Island. The first cohort of chimpanzees arrived in Dar es Salaam aboard the German African Line’s steamship Eibe Oldendorff on 17 June 1966 (Standard Newspaper Tanzania, 1966). The animals had no rehabilitation or pre-release training. The chimpanzees were all wild-born and purportedly of West African descent, although there are no records of specific country of origin for the majority of released individuals.
The founder chimpanzees had spent varying periods, from 3.5 months to 9 years, in captivity in European zoos or circuses before their release. The chimpanzees after one year were able to find and eat wild foods and construct nests for sleeping, and have now reverted to an unhabituated state characteristic of wild chimpanzees. From 16 founders the population has now grown to around 40 individuals (estimate based on nest counts).
The Park can be accessed by road in approximately 4 hours drive on a tarmac road from Mwanza to Geita and a morum road from Geita to Nkome. Visitors travelling through this route can be picked up by the park boat at Nkome, and will take a maximum of one an half hours cruising to Rubondo main island (Kageye, the park HQ). Another route is from Mwanza/Bukoba to Muganza/Kasenda village where it takes a maximum of five hours from Mwanza to Muganza/Kasenda and only two hours from Bukoba to Muganza/Kasenda (this route also connects Tanzania with the neighboring countries of Rwanda, Burundi, DRC, Uganda and Kenya). Visitors travelling through this route can be picked by the park boat at Kasenda village, and will take about 20 – 25 minutes to Rubondo National Park.
Visitors who prefer to travel by air should check in advance with the tour operators in Bukoba, Mwanza, Arusha and Dar es Salaam for flight schedules to the island. Currently, Auric Air is only flight which has a route via Rubondo from either Mwanza or Bukoba. The landing fees stands at Tshs. 15,000/- per one plane at Rubondo Airstrip. The park has a well maintained waiting lounge with toilet facilities where visitors can wait for the appropriate service upon arrival (being picked up by a vehicle to the point of accommodation) or waiting for the plane/charter during departure.
The Park is open and operates the whole year through with the peak/high season from July to February (The best time for game viewing) and low season that commences on March through June. The park normally opens at 0630am and closes at 1800hours the time in which all visitors are supposed to be in hotels, bandas, lodges, campsites or any places sought for their accommodation.