Birding Without Borders

Day 230: Old Baobabs

A hidden story at Tarangire National Park.

August 18, 2015: Tarangire National Park, Tanzania — Postcards of Tarangire are full of animals and baobab treesthis landscape is carpeted by enormous baobabs, and the trees look good in pretty much any photo. Fat-bellied and spindly-fingered, they contort and twist in all kinds of shapes. Some bend toward each other and others seem not to like one anotherwhen we saw two baobabs which were conjoined at the base but which arced away toward the canopy, Kelle remarked, “That’s what a two-hundred-year divorce looks like.”

It’s impossible not to anthropomorphize the trees, but they tell another story, too. “Almost all of the baobab trees within Tarangire National Park are between 500 and 900 years old,” said Anthony. “There aren’t any younger ones.” 

It took a minute for the implications of this to register. “You mean they’re going to disappear?” I asked. “Yes,” said Anthony, “but not for another 500 years, when the youngest ones reach old age. They will disappear if the trees don’t begin regenerating between now and then.” 

What could cause baobabs to stop reproducing? Maybe the saplings are grazed so hard by warthogs and other sprig-loving creatures that they can’t survive. What tipped the balance in the past 500 years is anyone’s guess, but the baobabs of Tarangire are a standing relic. (At other places in Tanzania, there are plenty of young baobabs, so it’s a local phenomenon.) As I looked at the trees, stooped in their old age, this knowledge lent the landscape a bittersweet feeling. 

The safari days are stacking up. Today Harv, Kelle, David, Anthony, our driver Roger and I spent all day combing Tarangire National Park. We found lots of elephants and a kaleidoscope of birds. It was hard not to resist the Foxy Lark, and the Bare-faced Go-away-birds cried “way, way, go’way” everywhere we went.

New birds today: 11

Year list: 4,018

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