Lake Chala is a crater lake shared between Kenya and Tanzania on the eastern edge of Mount Kilimanjaro, not far from Moshi Town. It is part of a large water system.
The water of Lake Chala comes though underground streams from Mt. Kilimanjaro. Thirty kilometers downstream is Lake Jipe. This glacier fed lake is beautiful with clear water. It was formed from the caldera of an extinct volcano. The crater walls are steep. Water levels have been dropping over the last few years and there is concern that one of the caves in the system may have collapsed.
More probably the water flow from Mt. Kilimanjaro is decreasing as the glacier becomes smaller. This area appears to be part of an ancient migration route on which the elephants moved between Mt. Kilimanjaro, Mkomazi, Tsavo and other areas. In August a report came into the Tanzania bird list serve from a woman who has lived in the area for almost fifty years.
Carolyn Waltenberg was reporting from Lake Chala Safari Camp, a new tented camp on about 800 hectares of privately owned land. This land was previously cultivated shambas and is now regenerating into savanna bush. The area outside the camp is becoming increasingly settled.
Waltenberg explained that every year elephants passed by Lake Chala and raided the shambas along the way. The elephants used to just stay a few weeks, during the period the crops were ripening. The elephants can be dangerous so the Tanzanian wildlife authorities patrolled the villages at night, firing blanks, and sometimes killing the elephants.
However, over the last two years the numbers of elephants have tripled and the elephants now stay much longer. Last year the elephants still moved around. They walked up the main road into the land of the Chala Safari Camp coming or going to Lake Jipe or Mkomazi. In 2010, 80 to 100 elephants arrived at the Chala campsite in small herds.
They stayed in the area for 18 months, moving in and around the Camp land. Then over time, few by few, they left until none remained. However about eight weeks later a group of 22 elephants returned and have been at the Camp for several months. Waltenberg reported that in June and July 2012 literally hundreds of elephants were pouring into the area.
Even though the growing season is over, the game wardens are not only patrolling at night but in the day time as well. A research group studying various ecosystems on Mount Kilimanjaro are monitoring savanna and maize plots. In the Chala area they report that research plots are "heavily disturbed" by the elephants.
In fact the elephants have even destroyed their research equipment! The farmers are not at all happy about having so many elephants about. Some want to sell their land and get away. Others want to 'get rid' of the elephants. In fact one day villagers on motor bikes were chasing and hounding one of the herds with very small babies in it.
"The elephants were in such a panic and running so fast the babies were being left 200 to 300 yards behind." Because of such harassment the elephants are moving off the campsite land less often. When they do move off, they are chased and they return to the campsite land. It appears they feel safe there.
In fact when a fire broke out in the night nearby, the elephants actually moved closer to the campsite as if they felt more protected close to the tents and houses rather than outside. When the firefighters finally returned after defeating the fire, they drove to the campsite to check on the guests. They reported driving "through solid elephants" who just moved off the road without protest to let the car pass.
Waltenberg said, "It was as if the elephants knew they would be safe." Good news: bad news. Eight hundred hectares cannot sustain 300 elephants for long! There is still grass, but now they are eating trees. The elephants knocked over a "thorn tree" near the Safari Camp bar.
And a tree full of weaver birds' nests. The manager of the Campsite said, "If they stay much longer we won't have a tree left." Waltenberg pleas, "... with such a huge number of these precious creatures collecting at Chala and in particular the Lake Chala Safari Camp ...something needs to be done ... soon. Please can you help? "
Apology: A different version of this article was erroneously published last week. The error is regretted. Tanzania Daily News Editor.