New addictions at Tanzania's Rubondo Island National Park

Posted on 11 April 2013

I went to Asilia Africa’s new camp on Rubondo Island, Lake Victoria, to gaze upon our ancestors. I came away a confirmed twitcher and diplomat of the deep.

Rubondo Island National Park is one of Tanzania‘s lesser-known national parks, but that doesn’t make it any less incredible. It’s the largest island national park in Africa: a lush, undisturbed forest filled with creatures great and small. Most remarkably, it’s home to a population of wild chimpanzee – not the habituated ones that demonstrate the wonder of opposable thumbs by fishing for termites with blades of grass. No, these are the type that haven’t heard of Jane Goodall; wouldn’t recognise David Attenborough if he was hoisted up their tree with a BBC microphone and four cameramen.

But I didn’t have time to go and find chimps. I was really, really busy. On my first day there, I communed with the creatures of the deep. The fishing was so splendid, so ridiculously good, I had to find an excuse to keep doing it. I began thinking of it as my job, a diplomat inviting the scaly ambassadors up for photo opportunities. And, like many African politicians, they were fat and greedy, chasing my lure like cronies after government tenders. Camp manager, Keith, became my co-conspirator, ferrying me to meeting after meeting.

Eventually, they had to drag me kicking and screaming from the boat. If there was a yardarm, I would have lashed myself to it. By the time I had caught 35 fish, I felt I belonged on the water, that Hemingway would have written about me if he were alive. Catching Nile Perch is powerful potion for the male ego.


(Rubondo Island Camp’s fishing policy is strictly catch and release)

I needed help. “Send him to the forest,” our hostess, Nadia, said. I wondered if they might tie me to a tree to prevent me from rushing to the water and leaping on the backs of hippos and flat-dogs to get my fishy fix. And to a tree they did take me, in a Land Rover-shaped ship. Now, if the fish in Lake Victoria are big, the trees on Rubondo Island are giants. I forgot the fish, for beneath and above and in the trees were all manner of beasts: Sitatunga and bushbuck bounding silently through the leaves, elephant polishing tree bark to sooth their itchy hides, civet, Colobus monkey and hints of the elusive chimpanzee: hand-made nests high up in the branches. And then there were the butterflies. The track we were on was a highway for ex-caterpillars: swallowtails, African monarchs and blue-spotted emperors flitting alongside us, stretching their new wings; battling gliders chasing white African vagrants from puddles and beating a retreat when sword tails descended. Habibu, our guide, enhanced the scenes with tales of butterfly war.


If I was jumping with each tug of the fishing line before, in the forest I was twitching with each sight of plumage as our driver, Victoria, pointed at a variety of birds. I’m not a birder but found the likes of red bishops, yellow-billed cuckoos and blue-throated bee eaters enthralling. There were black and white casqued hornbill brushing the top of the green canopy and broad-billed rollers resting on branches after intercontinental flights.


At dinner in the camp, I took in the excited chatter of birders who had spotted species previously undocumented on Rubondo. They were glowing with news of the Lesser Jacana and, when on the water, they spent hours in a boat circling a tiny islet, gazing at the proliferation of more than 13 species on this speck of land alone. When I joined them I commented on a nesting colony of Black Weavers in a tree on the water’s edge. Such a peaceful scene, I said. No, no, it’s war in there, said birder, Paul Oliver, and with that a juvenile Gymnogene (African Harrier Hawk) descended on the tree, intent on plucking young from the nests. It was then driven away by the attacking weavers and its mother who flew over to extract it from the embarrassing hunt.

Emerging from the forest, Victoria steered me back to her namesake, the lake, and a waiting boat. Keith was waiting behind the wheel, trusty captain of the ship. With a conspiratorial smile, he put a rod in my hands and we made for our favourite spot. I caught my biggest fish yet. Soon after, a pied kingfisher hovered over a spot on the water, dived down and scooped a small fish in its swordlike beak, fish eagles cheering it on from the tall trees on the water’s edge. I wasn’t cured of fishing, I had just found new addictions.

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Images of Yellow Billed Kite and Black and White Casque Hornbill provided by Rubondo Island Camp

Find out more about Rubondo Island’s Camp here

Visit the Asilia Africa website for booking and enquiries




Looking for a place to stay in Lake Victoria? Check out Getaway Accomodation.


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