Katavi is a true wilderness that is isolated, untamed, and hardly visited; those few brave souls who do make it there get a thrilling flavor of Africa as it must have been a century ago. It is the third-largest national park in Tanzania and is located in the far southwest of the nation within a shortened arm of the Rift Valley that ends in the shallow, ominous expanse of Lake Rukwa.
The majority of Katavi is covered in a hypnotically featureless tangle of brachystegia woods, which is home to sizeable but elusive populations of eland, sable, and roan antelopes.
However, the Katuma River and associated floodplains, including the seasonally active Lakes Katavi and Chada, are the primary focus for wildlife watching within the park. These beautiful, marshy lakes offer a sanctuary for countless water birds during the rainy season and also host the highest densities of hippo and crocodiles in Tanzania.
When the floodwaters recede during the dry season, Katavi truly comes into its own. The Katuma is the only supply of drinking water for kilometers around, and the surrounding floodplains support game concentrations that defy belief. However, the Katuma has been reduced to a shallow, muddy trickle.
Numerous herds of 1,000 or more buffalo and an estimated 4,000 elephants may congregate nearby, while a profusion of giraffe, zebra, impala, and reedbuck provide easy prey for the many lion prides and spotted hyena clans whose territories congregate on the floodplains.
The most unique wildlife display in Katavi is supplied by its hippos. At the end of the dry season, 200 people could sprawl out together in any riverine pool with enough depth. And when more hippos congregate in one area, male competition intensifies. Bloody territorial battles occur frequently, with the defeated male left to skulk helplessly on the open plains until it gains enough confidence to attempt a retaliatory attack.