It is the largest national park in Tanzania. The addition of the Usangu Game Reserve and other important wetlands to the park in 2008 increased its size to about 20,226 square kilometers, making it a candidate for one of the largest national parks in Africa.
The park is situated in central Tanzania about 130 kilometers west of Iringa. The park is a part of the 45,000 square kilometres Rungwa-Kizigo-Muhesi ecosystem, which includes Rungwa Game Reserve, Kizigo and Muhesi Game Reserves, the Mbomipa Wildlife Management Area, and several other protected areas.
The name of the park is derived from the Great Ruaha River, which flows along its southeastern margin and is the focus for game-viewing. The park can be reached by car on a dirt road from Iringa and there are two airstrips, Msembe airstrip at Msembe (park headquarters), and Jongomeru Airstrip, near the Jongomeru Ranger Post.
Germany gazetted the Saba Game Reserve in 1910. British colonial authorities changed the name to the Rungwa Game Reserve in 1946. In 1964, the southern portion of the reserve was excised and elevated to full park status. The most recent addition to the park was the former Usangu Game Reserve in 2008.
The park is noted for its large population of elephants, with about 10,000 roaming the park. More than 571 species of birds have been identified in the park. Among the resident species are Hornbills, Kingfishers, and Sunbirds. Many migratory birds visit the park, e.g., the White Stork. Other noted animals in Ruaha are the African Wild Dog and the Sable Antelope. Rhinoceros were last sighted in 1982 and are most likely extinct in the park due to poaching.
Ruaha is well known for its varied dramatic scenery, which includes rolling hills; large open plains; groves of skeletal baobabs and along its southern border, the Great Ruaha River, from which the park gets its name. This is by far the most dominant geographical feature of the national park and, for the wildlife it is the most important. Ruaha has a hot, dry climate which means the animals don’t tend to stray too far from dependable water sources. This makes predicating game movements far easier particularly in the dry season.
The best game viewing in this national park is generally from May to November, but the bush is greener and prettier from January to June, and birding peaks during the European winter months of December to April.
It is also an excellent park for predators. Lions are not only numerous and much habituated to vehicles, but the prides tend to be unusually large, often numbering more than 20 individuals. Cheetah can often be seen hunting on the open plains; and the park has a particularly good reputation for leopard sightings. It is one of the last major strongholds for African wild dog populations with more than 100 found here. Black-backed jackal and spotted hyena are both very common and easily seen, and the rarer striped hyena, though seldom observed, also lives here.
Along the rivers expect to find water birds like goliath herons, saddle-billed storks, white-headed plovers and the white-backed night heron. There are six species of both vultures and hornbills including the recently described Tanzanian red-billed hornbill. Raptors are also well represented; with bateleur and fish eagle probably the most visible large birds of prey and the localized Eleanora’s falcon quite common in December and January.
Keen bird-watchers visit Ruaha National Park from mid-November to March, when migrant birds swell the numbers. Then a variety of waders appear along the riverbanks, together with flocks of white and Abdim’s storks. The sooty falcon arrives from the Sahara Desert, and the rare Eleonora’s falcon from the Mediterranean.