Katavi National Park Official Website

Nature in Katavi NP

Hippos next to Ikuu rangerpost
Lake Katavi in the dry season

Katavi's spirits

Katavi NP is named after a spirit of the Wabende known as Katabi who is married to the equally strong spirit called Wamweru. His spirit is known to exist near Lake Katavi in a twin pair of Tamarindus indica trees and his wife stays far from him on the other side of the lake in the hills called Wamweru. But Wamweru and Katabi can greet each other from the distance every morning.

Some members of the local communities still use the site for worshipping today. Leopards are sighted frequently close to Katabi’s tree. The Wabende tribe believes that Katabi appears as an unusual human being or a strange animal, like a bird with one leg, deformed animals or albinos. Actually there are Albinos giraffes and reedbuck in Katavi NP.

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History of conservation efforts

Conservation efforts in the Katavi region

The Katavi ecosystem was first protected in 1911 during the German colonial occupation within the Bismarck hunting reserve. During British colonization, it was called the Rukwa Game Reserve up until 1932. During Nyerere’s leadership it has been upgraded and obtained a National Park status in 1974 with a size of 2253 km². However the official gazetting only took place in 1996 to include 4471 km² when several hunting areas were added to its perimeter. Katavi National Park was officially opened by William Benjamin Mkapa, the former President of Tanzania, in 1998.

Economy and Population

Anthropological history of the Katavi region

Stone Age and Iron Age sites (one iron kilns site is just north of Sitalike) testify to the early settlement of human ancestors in this area. Sacred sites and places of worship still exist inside the Park’s boundaries.

The people of the Pimbwe, Fipa, Gongwe, Bende and Konongo tribes are known to have already inhabited the area in the 19th century. The European explorer Joseph Thomson described in 1880 the fortress of the Konongo’s chief Simba (lion) as the largest town he saw during his travels along the slave roads. However, this town, as well as the palisaded Pimbwe town Maji moto (hot waters), was destroyed in 1881 by Nyamwezi chief Mirambo. J. Thomson also noted the influence of Arab traders in the area who introduced firearms in the 1840s. They traded them for ivory with local leaders and were involved in the slave trade.

Due to the slave trade, rinderpest and small pox epidemics, the recruitment of soldiers for the First World War and various localized wars, the human population heavily declined in the early 20th century. The bush encroached and wild animals increased accordingly, especially as the area remained uninhabited as it was infested by tsetse flies transmitting sleeping sickness. Additionally the British colonial authorities evacuated the area of the current national park in 1927 in order to establish “tsetse settlements”. For the Gongwe, who maintained a palisaded fortress in the centre of the current park’s perimeter, it was tantamount to a confiscation of their territory. As a result, they formally came under the authority of the courts of the Bende and Pimbwe chiefs. Natural catastrophes such as the red locust swarm in 1933 and a severe drought in 1949 had serious impacts on the remaining agriculture activities in the area as well, leading to serious famines.

Since 1975, the Sukuma, an agro-pastoralist tribe, has moved from the overgrazed and deforested areas in Shinyanga and Mwanza into Rukwa area.

Today’s communities living around the park

Today, the villages adjacent to Katavi National Park still depend heavily on natural resources for their living: charcoal, firewood, honey, timber and pole wood, fish, bush meat and medicine. Besides keeping livestock, small-scale subsistence farming of finger millet, beans, maize, sunflower, sesame, cassava, bananas and potatoes are the villagers' main occupation. A few commercial rice farms and some small-scale mines exploiting gold, silver, iron ore, limestone, nickel, mica, etc. are further income sources.


The farming of maize and rice, especially the replacement of the traditional pick-axe by new methods imported by the Sukuma using ox ploughs, can damage natural resources. The increase of cattle herding, due to the evacuation of an estimated 50 000 cattle from the plains of Rukwa Game Reserve by the Wildlife Division in 2002, threatens to lead to further soil degradation. Furthermore, the recent development of small tobacco plantations is destructive to the surrounding areas of Katavi because it requires the continuous clearing of woodlands to benefit from nutrient-rich fields and firewood used during the drying process.