National Parks

Kenya has a total of twenty six National Parks and twenty nine National Reserves. All of them occupy a total area of 44,359 sq. kilometers or 7.5% of the total area of the Republic (582,644 sq kilometers). They range from marine national parks, savanna-bush woodland national parks, mountain national parks, arid and semi-arid national parks, to lake ecosystem national parks/reserves. It is not easy to place Kenya’s national parks and reserves in order of merit in their value of attractions. Every park and reserve and park is unique in its diversity of attractions and no park or reserve resembles another. To a visitor, there is no difference between a national park and a national reserve. The difference is official and technically bases on the establishment status due to the title of the land; and has nothing to do with touristic attractions.

The marine parks are famous for their beautiful coral reefs, coral gardens, beaches and lagoons, brightly patterned coral fishes e.g. Angel fish, Parrot fish, Starfish, Sea urchins, lovely porcelain cowries, Green turtles, Octopus, Dudong and big game fish like Blue marlin, Sail fish, Giant fish, Giant grouper and Marko shark.

Aberdare National Park (715 sq. km)
Situated ten kilometers north-west of Nyeri town and about 165 kilometers from Nairobi, the Aberdares range was first recorded by Joseph Thompson in 1883. It is part of an ancient group of extinct volcanoes about 100 kilometers north-north-west of Nairobi which rise to a height of 3998 meters (13,120 ft.). Both Mt. Kenya and the Aberdares form the highest peaks of the Kenya Central Highlands and also the country’s major water catchment areas. They were set up as National Parks in 1949 and 1950 respectively for the protection and preservation of their indigenous forests as a water catchment areas, as well as the wildlife splendor, scenic moorlands and Mountain Climbing adventures.

The range’s eastern slopes are covered with thick forests which give way to the Bamboo-Hagenia Zone at higher altitudes. In the Bamboo-Hagenia zone, trees are hung with long strands of lichen, the “old man’s beard”, as in Mt. Elgon with large multitudes of ferns, mosses and orchids along their trucks and branches. After the forests are open moorlands cut here and there by rocky-outcrops, hills and sharp-rugged rocks interspersed with thickets of giant heath. As on the rest of East African mountains, the moorlands are covered with a special kind of vegetation called Afro-Alpine where giant forms of heath, Groundsels, Erica and Senecio grow above the forest belt. Crystal clear streams cut through the moorlands and the forest, forming numerous rivers which flow over a series of waterfalls dominate the scene.

The rare, shy and elusive Bongo inhabits the higher bamboo zone and the hypericum scrub between the thick forests and the moorlands. Common forest zone mammal species include: Elephant, Buffalo, Giant Forest Hog, Leopard, Spotted hyena.

In the moorlands are found: Eland, Bush duiker, Black fronted red duiker, Rhino, Silver-backed and Side-striped jackal, Impala and Lion. It is the best area to see Black melanistic leopard, Black serval cat and Black genet. Birds are plentiful with Jackson’s and Scaly Francolin, Kenya Crested guinea fowl and birds of prey like Crowned and Ayres Hawk eagle.

Accessibility is through Nyeri Town via Mweiga Park HQs and on the park gate. An alternative route is through Naivasha on the road that crosses the park from the west. The Aberdares two lodges- the Ark and the Treetops are specifically designed to view the animals after dark. Both offer floodlit salt licks and ponds that can be observed from various viewing areas in the lodges.

Amboseli National Park (392 Sq. Km)
A vast area stretching from the present Masai National Reserve through Amboseli and then down to Tsavo National Park in the then Ukambani Province was established as the Southern Game Reserve in 1899. However in 1948, Amboseli’s 3,260 sq. kms. was cut from the larger Southern Game Reserve and made a separate National Reserve under the then Royal National Parks of Kenya Organisation and named “Masai Amboseli Game Reserve” to ensure that both the Maasai and wildlife co-existed peacefully in the area.

In 1961, the Royal National Parks Trustees, convinced that the problems of Amboseli could be handled by the Maasai themselves, handed over the reserve to the Kajiado County Council with a warning that Amboseli’s assets especially wildlife which had already started attracting thousands of tourists to the country must be properly preserved for the coming generations. Although the maasai co-existed well with the wildlife in the area, continued over-grazing around Amboseli swamplands especially during the dry seasons, threatened the future of Amboseli as a tourist destination and a wildlife conservation area. Fearing that the expanding Maasai population and their livestock would overrun and destroy the attractions of Amboseli, the Government declared 392 sq. kms. encompassing the Amboseli swamps as a National park in 1974, after making adequate arrangements to supply the Maasai with water sources outside the park for their livestock.

It is a dry country with rains in March, April and May (long rains – 160 mm) and November to December (short rains – 80 mm) and standing about 250 kilometres south-east of Nairobi at the foot of the highest mountain in Africa, Mt. Kilimanjaro, 5.895 metres (19340 ft.). The western section of the park is an ancient lake bed which at present is only seasonally flooded. For the rest of the year, it is a dry flat stretch of country. The central pillars of life in Amboseli are the two large swampy areas – Enkongo Narok and Ol Okenya, at the south and south-eastern corners of the park. They receive their waters from the snow capped peaks of Mt. Kilimanjaro which travel underground to emerge on the plains as springs forming the two swamps which sustain the wildlife and vegetation. Here, elephants can be seen feeding waist deep in water and hippos resting in deep pools. The rest of the park is either a dry open plain, yellow-barked acacia woodland, or rocky lava strewn thorn-bush country with several small hills dotting the landscape. These are dominated by the massive Ol Doinyo Orok Hill and the immerse bulk of Mt. Kilimanjaro just across the border in Tanzania.

Today Amboseli supports one of the most varied Wildlife species in the country ranging from the grounds squirrels to dik dik, zebra, eland, wildbeest, black-rhino, masai giraffe, the famous black-maned Amboseli lions, elephants, grant’s and Thompson’s gazelle, cheetah, gerenuk, impala, leopard, water-buck, fringe-eared oryx, yellow-baboon, Jackals and spotted hyena. Birds are amazing plentiful with over 400 species having been identified. Commonest species are masai ostrich, white pelicans, egrets, hammerkop, white stork, herons, plovers, sand grouse, yellow-weaverbirds, superb starling, ibises, greater and lesser flamingo, ducks, vultures and many others.

Visitors to Amboseli always wonder how such a dry country supports such a large concentration of wildlife. The underground water riddle is the answer. The swamps have made Amboseli one of the best parks and undoubtedly the second most popular park in the country after Nairobi National Park. It is also one of the best homes of the famous Maasai people who have learned to live harmoniously with the wildlife which surrounds them. Their attractive traditions and rich culture add to the fascinations of this beautiful park. Its best game runs are around Enkongo Narok Swamp and Ol Okenya lake swamp.

Arabuko-Sokoke Forest Reserve (417 sq km – 161 sq miles)

Location: Coast – 100 km (62 miles) from Mombasa
Altitude: 198 metres (650 feet)
First opened: January 1976

Two forest reserves — the Arabuko-Sokoke at the coast and the Kakamega in Western Kenya — are interesting not just for their tree and plant life, but for the many other species which make them their home.

The Arabuko-Sokoke was the first to be set aside, the largest surviving coastal dry forest in East Africa. With adjoining Mida Creek it provides an ecosystem of great diversity, and an important habitat for some unique and endangered species. Among the mammals, birds, butterflies, amphibians and 600 different kinds of plants to be found, there are some which are not found anywhere else in the world. As such, it has attracted international interest and concern.

Not all the reserve is true high-canopy forest, where the crowns of the tall trees inter-link, leaving few open gaps through which sunlight can filter. Much is mixed forest — which accounts for 67 of the forest’s recorded 89 tree species — and Brachystegia woodland. Hymenaea verrucosa and Manilkara sansibarensis now dominate the main canopy due to the fall — to commercial logging — of the once-dominant Afzelia quansis. The palm- and fernlike- cycad, Encephalartos hildebrandtii covers much of the shrub layer.
In the Brachystegia woodland, where the shrub and ground layers are less dense, the Brachystegia spiciformis dominates and epiphytes — the plants which grow on other plants — become more obvious.

Cynometra forest and thicket occupies more than half of the Arabuko-Sokoke, Cynometra webberi, Brachylaena buillensis and Manilkara sulcata with the branching Euphorbia candelabrum in the drier parts.

Not least of interest is the mangrove forest fringing the Mida Creek, where the tangled roots of six mangrove species (each adapted to slightly different levels of salt concentration) provide a safe nursery for breeding fish. For hundreds of years mangrove poles have been a major prop — in more ways than one — of the coast’s building industry and export trade.

Larger mammals of the forest are the buffalo and the elephant, though with their long history of persecution are not very likely to be seen, hiding deep in the forest thickets during the day. The largest antelope in the forest is the waterbuck and the smallest the suni — the latter often seen in pairs. The aardvark, or antbear, is an almost entirely nocturnal creature. Primates include the Sykes and Vervet monkeys and Yellow baboon, all as equally at home on the ground as in the trees.

Three forest dwellers are globally-threatened species: the Golden-rumped elephant shrew, the Sokoke bushy-tailed mongoose and Ader’s duiker (Cephalophus adersi). Three other duiker species, the Red, the Blue and the Common are seen fairly frequently on or near the forest tracks. Carnivores include the African civet, the Blotched genet and the wondrously beautiful caracal. Recent sightings of the Golden cat have been reported, previously unknown east of the Kenya highlands. At one time a leopard occurred, but there have been no recent sightings.

The galagos – the forest bush-babies – are entirely nocturnal and the larger genets and smaller Zanzibar bush-babies spend almost their whole lives entirely in the trees, sharing them with the Red-bellied coast squirrel and the Red-legged sun squirrel.

Over 230 species of birds — six listed in the Red Data Book for African Birds — make the Arabuko-Sokoke a ‘must’ for bird-lovers and ornithologists: the endemic Clarke’s weaver and near-endemic tiny Sokoke Scops owl (its only other known home is in the Usambara Mountains of Tanzania) Amani sunbird, Sokoke pipit, East Coast Akalat and the Spotted ground thrush. Others have a fairly wide geographical distribution; the Southern banded snake eagle, Ayre’s hawk eagle, Pallid honeyguide and the Plain-backed sunbird.

Seasonal pools attract such water birds as the Little grebe, White-faced whistling duck, White-backed duck and six species of kingfisher.

The warm, shallow water and mud flats of Mida Creek are internationally important for migratory visitors: Carmine bee-eaters in their hundreds from the eastern Sahara, Crab plover, Great and Mongolian sandplover, Terek sandpiper, Curlew, Greenshank, Grey plover, Greater flamingo, Yellow-billed stork and Little egret. Resident African fish eagles share the fishing with ospreys. With luck, a Black heron might just be seen (the ‘Umbrella Bird’).

Thousands of different types of spiders, crickets, grasshoppers, beetles, butterflies and dragonflies live in this reserve, the invertebrates fulfilling vital roles in the ecosystem of being eaten and by eating things. Of the 250 species of butterflies, at least four are endemic: Acrae matuapa, Charaxes blanda kanyae, Baliochila latimarginata and Baliochila stygia. Swallowtails are among the largest and the Golden-banded Forester (Euphaedra neophron) among the most conspicuous.

Dragonflies, hawkers, darters and damselflies boost the winged community and cicadas, termites and ants. Don’t miss the singing ants which, if you blow on them gently, will hum back for you. Reptiles and amphibians include frogs, toads, Nile and Savannah monitors, Leopard and Hinged-back tortoises and tree-climbing snakes such as Twig snakes, Boomslangs and Green mambas which spend most of their lives in the trees.

The pocket-sized colourfully illustrated Official Guide to the Arabuko-Sokoke Forest and Mida Creek, published by the Kenya Indigenous Forest Conservation Programme for the Kenya Wildlife Service, is useful for its maps and lists with their English and scientific names of selected trees and plants and of recorded forest mammals, birds, snakes, lizards, chameleons, tortoises, amphibians, butterflies and insects.

Thanks to a small number of people known as the Friends of the Arabuko-Sokoke Forest (FoASF) whose activities as an extension of the Forest Management team have made a significant impact on the smooth running of the forest, tracks have recently been well marked and there is a tree-house to visit.

It is best to start the visit at the Visitor Reception Centre located at the Gede Forest Station about a kilometre south of Gede Village beside the main Mombasa-Malindi road. Trained guides can be hired there as forest escorts if required. A basic campsite provides simple facilities and a long-drop.

Two walking trails commence about one kilometre south of the Gede Forest Station. A driving trail running for nearly 30 km (18 miles) through a variety of forest types enters the forest from the tarmac almost 6 km (3.7 miles) south of the Forest Station and rejoins the tarmac 15 km (9.3 miles) further south.

The best times for visiting are the early morning or late afternoon as much of the wildlife tends to hide from the heat in the middle of the day. Whether walking or driving it is important to carry drinking water.

There is no in-forest accommodation but hotels, clubs and guest-houses are within easy reach at Watamu, Malindi and Kilifi.

Arawale National Reserve (533 sq km – 206 sq miles)

Location: Eastern Kenya, east of the Tana River
Altitude: 85 – 100 metres (279-328 feet)
First opened: 1974

Arawale and its surrounding country is important as one of only two remaining world locations – both in Kenya – where Hunter’s hartebeest (Damaliscus hunteri) are found, the world’s most endangered antelope. The other is in the Tsavo East National Park into which some have been translocated.

The name for Hunter’s hartebeest in Kenya is the rather more attractive ‘Hirola’ and the two small groups in Arawale and Tsavo are all that remain of a species which once ranged the whole African continent. The Hirola is distinguished from other hartebeest — the Coke’s (Alcelaphus buselaphus cokei), the Jackson’s (Alcelaphus buselaphus jacksoni) the Lelwel (Alcelaphus buselaphus lelwel) and Lichtenstein’s (Alcelaphus lichtensteini) by its elegantly-shaped horns and the white chevron between its eyes. It is also smaller.

Much anxiety has been felt for the Hirola since, from an estimated 14,000 in l976, surveys conducted by the Kenya Wildlife Service that year revealed that only 350 remained. Of those, 300 were near the Kenya-Somalia border and the remaining 50 in Tsavo East National Park to where 19 were translocated some 30 years previously. The alarming decline, which makes it a very sad story indeed, has been attributed to poaching, drought, disease and human and livestock pressures. For their own protection and safer management, 30 Hirola from areas beyond Arawale’s perimeter were translocated by Kenya Wildlife Service teams in August l996 in a project initially funded to the extent of US$ 100,000 by NGOs (non-governmental organisations) and private individuals. Once the infrastructure is fully developed and security assured, and particularly due to good chances of sighting the almost extinct Hirola, tourism in the area has been hoped to build up. Due to the troubles in Somalia, recent years have seen it at its all-time visitors’ low.

On a flat plain of thorny bushland, 8 km (5 miles) north of the Tana River and dissected by sandy-bedded rivers, Arawale is also home to many other wildlife species including topi, buffalo, zebra, lesser kudu, giraffe, diverse bird life and endemic plant species — in all, an area regarded as important for biodiversity conservation. There are hippos and crocodiles in the Tana.

Reached from Nairobi best via Thika and Garissa, or from Mombasa via Malindi and Garsen, Arawale is a reserve without fencing or gates and is part of Kenya’s Arawale-Boni-Dodori Reserve which lies either side of the river before it reaches the Indian Ocean between Malindi and Lamu. The last bridge across the Tana is at Garissa, so to reach Arawale from its southern side, the crossing is by ferry 87 km (55 miles) from Garsen at Hola, where there is an Administrative centre, post office, police station and petrol station.

Spared disturbances, and refugees overflowing the border from Somalia, Arawale is a satisfactory ‘get away from it all’ destination, offering its precious Hirola and other wildlife species as an inducement to visit, but has no in-reserve visitor accommodation.

Bisanadi National Reserve (606 sq km – 234 sq miles)

Location: Eastern Province, Isiolo District, adjacent to the north-east boundary of Meru National Park. Bounded by the Tana and Bisanadi rivers.
Altitude: 320 – 660 metres (1,050 – 2,165 feet)
First opened: September l979

This is a little-visited reserve, part of a 5-park complex which includes the Meru and Kora National Parks and the Rahole and North Kitui (Mwingi) National Reserves.

Here, where the Tana, Bisanadi and Kinna rivers form the natural boundaries of the reserve, the monotony of the encircled dry open plain is dissected by seasonally dry luggas and thorny bushland merges into wooded grasslands. Dense forests of doum and raffia palm line the rivers and watercourses, and for the keen botanist, a teasing variety of sedges green the riverine swamps. In the wet season, the reserve acts as the dispersal area for wildlife from Meru National Park, mainly elephant, buffalo and plains game.

The Kinna River is the traditional division between the Meru tribes people (of Bantu origin) and the nomadic cattle- camel- sheep- and goat-owning Boran people (of Cushitic Oromo-speaking origin) who gradually made their way down into Kenya from Ethiopia.

The reserve is really only accessible by 4-WD vehicles through Meru or Kora, though there is an airstrip at Korbessa.

Recognised and preserved as a true wilderness area, Bisanadi has no in-park visitor accommodation of its own, but Leopard Rock Safari Lodge and self-service camp is only just across the boundary in Meru National Park where there are also several campsites.

Boni National Reserve (l,339 sq km – 517 sq miles)

Location: Lamu District, bordered on the north-east by Somalia and by the Indian Ocean on the east.
Altitude: 0 – 100 metres (0 – 328 feet)
First opened: 1976

Best reached by dhow from the sea or by air to the reserve’s landing strip, this can be a long drive by road and has been little visited since troubles began in war-stricken Somalia which country forms the whole length of the reserve’s northern boundary.

Road access — and a 4WD vehicle is essential in the park –would be from Garissa via Bura, down along the Arawale National Reserve’s western border, to Ijara and Bodhei, turning left at Bodhei to Mangai on the northern border of the Dodori National Reserve. From there the road continues on to Kiunga on the coast and Kenya’s coastal village of Dar-es-Salaam (not Dar-es-Salaam the capital of Tanzania) on Boni’s eastern coastal extremity.

The only coastal lowland groundwater forest in Kenya with lowland dry bush and grasslands in its drier parts, Boni was created as a forest sanctuary for elephants and sees concentrations of them in the dry season. It is home also to buffalo, the east-coast topi (Damaliscus korrigum) giraffe, gerenuk and two species of duiker, Harvey’s (Cephalophus harveyi) and Ader’s (Cephalophus adersi).

It was in the Boni Forest, when he was a game warden in pursuit of poachers, that George Adamson and his brother Terence came across the dead-drunk body of an old African man whose leg had been swallowed up to the groin by a large python which had come to a stop there and unable to get any further in gorging the old man whole. They shot the snake with a revolver, pulled it off the old man’s leg and wrapped it round his still unconscious body and went on their way, leaving him to contemplate on what had happened to him when he emerged from his stupor.

Returning now to the realities of the present day, there is no accommodation inside the reserve but interesting visits for small groups of keen naturalists to both Boni and Dodori can be made through the Kenya Wildlife Service. Contact the Regional Assistant Director, KWS, Marsabit.

Samburu – Buffalo Springs – Shaba National Reserves
The three reserves lie about three hundred and twenty-five kilometers from Nairobi and about fifty kilometers from Isiolo town on the Isiolo-Marsabit road. Samburu and Buffalo Springs were established as one reserve known as the Samburu-Isiolo Game Reserve, which was part of Marsabit National Reserve under the former National Parks organization in 1948. In 1963, the two reserves were separated and the land on the Samburu side was established as a Game Reserve (255 sq. km.) under Samburu County council. The Isiolo section was similarly established as a Game Reserve (339 sq. km.) under the Isiolo County Council. The two reserves and the third newly established Shaba National Reserve (239 sq. kms.) lie on the ecological zone with hot and dry climate during the day and cool at night. They receive annual average rainfall between 255-510 mm and have a maximum annual mean temperature of 30’C and minimum annual mean temperature of 18’C – 22’C. The first two reserves are transversed by the Uaso Nyiro river which is adequately augmented by crystal clear springs and swamps providing surface water for dry land animals and home for the crocodiles and hippos. The beautiful scenery along the Uaso Nyiro river is one of the great attractions of these reserves, with tall feathery Doum palms and a strip of riverine forest and thicket where many animals are found during the heat of the day. Clusters of palms fringe the river creating a lively habitat for various species of primates.

Shaba National Reserve established in 1974, is separated from the two other reserves by the Great North Road from Isiolo to Marsabit. The three reserves form what is known as the Samburu/Isiolo Complex – trio of beautiful game sanctuaries unsurpassed anywhere in the republic. Shaba got its name from a cone of volcanic rock in the reserve. Large mantles of volcanic lava preserve underground water which emerges as a spring making Shaba better watered than the other two reserves. It was here where the aging Joy Adamson performed her last rehabilitation feat with Penny, the orphaned leopard cub found near her lake Naivasha home and loaned to her. Penny the “Queen of Shaba” was almost ready to go to the bush when on the evening of 3rd January 1980, Joy went for her usual evening stroll in the reserve, and never returned. Her body was later recovered on a bush track having fallen victim to a brutal murder in one of the most mysterious a shocking cases in the country.

The reserves are famous for their great concentration of the rare species of animals found in northern Kenya – north of Tana River such as Grevy Zebra, Beisa oryx, Reticulated giraffe and the Blue-necked Somali ostrich. The reserves are also home to the graceful Gerenuk, along -necked gazelle found only in dry areas. Other animals commonly seen include:- elephant, buffalo, cheetah, lion, impala, common zebra, eland, grant’s gazelle, spotted hyena and leopard.

Nearly all the bird species found in the dry Savannah woodland are represented in these reserves, where over 100 bird species are easily seen within a day. Large flocks of Helmeted and Vulturine guinea fowl are a common sight. Buffalo Springs offer a drinking place for thousands of Sand grouse and Doves during dry season.

Chyulu Hills National Park
Dodori National Reserve

Hell’s Gate National Park Area (68 sq km – 26 sq miles)

Location: Great Rift Valley 90 km (56 miles) from Nairobi.
Altitude: 1.524 – 2,134 meters (5,000 -7,000 feet)
First opened: February 1984

Not nearly so sinister as its name might imply, Hell’s Gate — with its spectacular scenery of cliffs and gorges — is an exciting park to visit because, while plenty of wildlife and bird life can be seen there, and some unusual and unique flora and succulents, it is still possible to walk, as well as drive and picnic there if exercising reasonable caution. There are five in-park camp sites.

Its real name is the Ol Njorowa Gorge, a setting of once intense volcanic activity creating the dramatic cleft through which Lake Naivasha once flowed. The park has three gates, the Elsa Gate and the Ol Karia Gate, both reached from Naivasha’s South Lake Road. The Narasha Gate is south of 0l Karia from the Narok-Mahiu road, which proves a scenic short cut to the Masai Mara.

Walking, camping, cycling, rock-climbing and horse-riding are all permitted. This is a ‘walk-in’ park in which a vehicle is not essential, but which is an unquestionable advantage for exploring its several routes. All worthy of a visit are the Obsidian Caves; the extinct Hobley’s and Ol Karia volcanos where natural steam vents rise from fissures in the rock and can be seen for miles around; the Ol Karia geothermal project where steam from groundwaters at 304 degrees C (579 degrees F) is harnessed to produce ..% of the country’s electricity; and the view-points from where decisions can be reached as to where to go on foot.

A small explanatory booklet with maps showing routes and what to look for is well worth its modest price and can be purchased at the gates. Spending a few minutes at the Information Centre at the Elsa Gate is also recommended, for a briefing on both the Hell’s Gate and adjacent Mount Longonot National Parks.

Parts of the park have an intriguing, almost supernatural ambiance, though it is by no means frightening, that almost anything could happen, like the small herd of Chanler’s reedbuck, not so easily found elsewhere, but which are seen occasionally in the vicinity of Fischer’s Tower. Why Fischer’s? And why was that free-standing and very photogenic rock pinnacle named for him? rising out of a grassy valley between the cliffs of basalt which form the walls of the gorge. He was the German explorer and naturalist Gustav Fischer, commissioned by the Hamburg Geographical Society, who was the first white man to reach this part of the Masai-dominated Great Rift Valley in his walk from the coast in l883. In the face of Masai hostility it was there that he turned back, though in the same year and only shortly after him, the explorer Joseph Thomson, looking for the shortest route from the Indian Ocean to Lake Victoria, passed through with little hindrance.

It is the spectacular scenery at Hell’s Gate which has made the park a favourite location of film-makers for the past fifty or more years. Among the more memorable have been Where No Vultures Fly (a film about Kenya’s national parks); King Solomon’s Mines (a romanticised version of the Rider Haggard book); Mogambo (with Clark Gable, Grace Kelly and Ava Gardner); Joy Adamson’s Born Free; Sheena, Queen of the Jungle and, in 1994, Elephant Boy.

There is another volcanic plug, known as the Central Tower (or sometimes as Embata or Al Basta, ‘The Horse’) at the southern end of the park. Like Fischer’s Tower it is formed by semi-molten rock having been forced through a fissure, cooling and solidifying as it extruded. Chunks of obsidian, a black glass-like rock formed by the rapid cooling of molten lava, lie on the roads and almost everywhere throughout the ashy dust of the park, even on the South Lake Road.

A walk up any of the higher cliffs, especially those to the west of Fischer’s Tower, give tremendous panoramic views down onto Lake Naivasha. From the in-park Twiga and Buffalo Circuits there are magnificent views of the Kedong Valley, of the great extinct volcano Suswa, and down the Hell’s Gate Gorge. Smaller animals to be seen include klipspringer on the plains, Kirk’s dik dik, steinbok, rock hyrax round Fischer’s Tower, wart hogs, baboons, impala, golden- and silver-backed jackal, bat-eared foxes, Thomson’s and Grant’s gazelles. Larger ones, often in the vicinity of the park’s several waterholes, will be Defassa waterbuck, Coke’s hartebeest, Masai giraffe, zebra, eland, buffalo and, not so easily met, but they are there, cheetah and leopard.

Between l9l4 and l984 the cliffs were the nesting place of Lammergeier (or Bearded) vultures (Gypaetus barbatus) — often referred to as eagles — after which they were not seen there again. A project for their re-introduction through birdman Simon Thomsett and the Peregrine Fund . Verreaux’s eagles and Egyptian vultures still nest in the cliffs, from where large colonies of swifts — the Nyanza and larger mottled — dart in and out. Of a recorded 103 bird species in the Hell’s Gate vicinity, watch for a Schalow’s wheatear, sometimes sighted at Fischer’s Tower, and an augur buzzard which sits on top of it.

Binoculars will not be needed to see Masai ostrich and Secretary birds on the plains, but are essential to identify smaller species and birds in flight: Ruppell’s griffon vultures, tawny and Bateleur eagles, francolins, doves, hoopoes, cisticolas, starlings (blue-eared, red-winged, wattled and superb) shrikes, oxpeckers, sparrows, sunbirds, yellow bishop, purple grenadier, and the yellow-rumped seed-eater.

Watch the weather if exploring the Lower Gorge. Heavy rainfall on the hills and cliffs sends angry torrents of water racing down, sweeping all before it including gravel, vegetation and huge boulders. And watch for the large black python which sometimes guards the deep pool at the head of a spring.

This is one park which has benefited substantially from community support. It has subscribed to Kenya Wildlife Service efforts to improve the infrastructure and establish camp sites and boreholes. The Elsa Wild Animal Appeal Fund donated a reconditioned Suzuki vehicle to help park patrol work. With the aid of the local people, a number of cultural Masai manyattas has been established around the park to enable visitors to mingle with them and share cultural exchanges. Other programmes are on the way.

Kakamega Forest National Reserve Area (240 sq km – 93 sq miles)

Location: Western Kenya, 418 km (260 miles) from Nairobi
Altitude: 1,2l9 – 2,134 metres (4,000 – 7,000 feet)
First opened: May l985

Kakamega forest believed to be the largest single indigenous forest south of the Sahara and a remnant of the true Tropical rain forest which once spread from the River Congo basin and covered East and Central Africa, lies about 17 kilometers north of Kakamega town on the Kisumu-Kitale Road. The Government has declared 44.9 Sq. Kms of this valuable forest a national reserve for the preservation of the forest and its unique West-African type of animals-mammals, reptiles, birds and butterflies.

A living remnant of the Pleistocene era of 15,000 years ago, when the great rainforests of Africa stretched from the Atlantic to the western and eastern walls of the Great Rift Valley, the 45 sq km (l8 sq miles) of the Kakamega Forest National Reserve, in an area which enjoys the highest rainfall in the country, is the only tropical rainforest now left in Kenya. In addition to its magnificent trees, some of which are over a hundred years old and have splendid orchids in their branches, the forest has a diversity of flora and fauna not likely to be found elsewhere.

380 species of plants are spread in swamps, riverine and hardwood forest areas, glades, and shallow forest around the edge of the reserve, and 350 bird species including rare snake-eaters.

Among the forest primates are the de Brazza monkey (Cercopithecus neglectus) in the adjoining Kisere Forest; the Red-tailed monkey (Ceropithecus ascanius); the Sykes-related Blue monkey Cercopithecus stuhlmanni) best seen at the Isiukhu Falls; troops of black-and-white Colobus monkeys (Colobus polykomos) and the large-eyed nocturnal Potto (Perodicticus potto) a thickset arboreal primate with a short tail. Olive baboons, (Papio anaubis) range the forest edge.

Other forest mammals are suni (Nesotragus moschatus), blue duiker (Cephalophus monticola) red duiker(C. natalensis) and grey duiker (Sylvicapra grimmia) the nocturnal bushpig, civet, clawless otter, squirrels, the semi-arboreal, solitary and nocturnal tree pangolin and the occasional leopard.

The giant upper-canopy forest trees are among the most impressive: Aningeria altissima, Milicia excelsa, Antiaris toxicaria and Chrysophyllum albidum, all of West African origin as are also the Raphia palm along the Yala and Isiukhu Rivers. Other exceptionally large ones are the Olea capensis and Croton megalocarpus. More easily identified are the flat-crowned Albizia gummifer with its white and pink flowers; Fagara mildbraedii, the bole studded with conical woody spines; the white-blossomed Cordia abyssinica and the Markhamia lutea with its yellow flowers and twisted seed pods.

Dracaena is the commonest undergrowth shrub (straight stems and whorled leaf pattern) and, on the wider trails and clearings, Brillantasia cicatroza with its coarse leaves and lavender-blue flowers. Nandi coffee (Coffea eugenioides) is among the under-storey shrubs.

Snakes, though the chances of meeting them are low, are the Forest and Black-lipped cobras; Jameson’s Mamba; and three vipers, the Bush, Rhinoceros-horned and deadly Gaboon. The arboreal Gold’s cobra is in danger of extinction due to habitat shrinkage.

Among the lizards are the handsome Monitor which can be up to two metres long, Jackson’s Lacerta, and the Agama. Skinks are the Common, Peter’s long-tailed, and the Five-lined. Not least, in the grasslands along the forest edge, there are Common Chameleon.

Some of the most beautiful of the butterflies in the forest and its surrounding areas are a lepidopterist’s dream: the Forest Mother of Pearl; the Regal, Mocker and Broad Green-banded Swallowtails; the Black-tipped Diadem, and the Large Blue-spangled Forest Charaxes. The genus Charaxes are the fastest-flying butterflies in Africa. Among the more striking insects are the Goliath Beetle, Stick- and Leaf-insects and Fireflies.

The Great Blue Turaco is, perhaps, the most spectacular of the many outstanding bird species but award for the noisiest goes to the Black-and-white Casqued Hornbill. Sadly, the once fairly common Grey parrot is fast diminishing due to trapping and site disturbance, which also accounts for the declining numbers of Yellow-crested Woodpecker and Black-billed Turaco. Others threatened are the Chestnut Wattle-eye, Red-cheeked Cordon Bleu, Yellow-bellied Wattle-eye, Blue-headed Bee-eater, Chestnut-breasted Negrofinch, White-breasted Negrofinch, Turner’s Eremomela, Sabbine’s Spinetail, and the Red-breasted Owlet. Birds of prey are the eagles: the Martial, Crowned, Banded-snake and Bateleur; and the Augur and Honey Buzzards.

There is a driving speed limit of 30 kph (18 mph) on all the forest tracks and roads but walking is really the only way to see forest life and least disturb its occupants. Engage one of the forest guides who can be hired to find, identify and explain. There are five walking trails in the Isecheno area, taking from half-an-hour for the Muters Trail of one kilometre (0.6 mile) to two hours fifteen minutes walking time for the Hiking and the Matalion Trails, each of 6.1 km (4 miles).

Two trails in the Yala River area are the Ikuywa Trail of 4 km (2.5 miles) and the Yala Trail 2.5 km (1.5 miles) taking approximately one-and-a-half hours and one hour respectively. The latter enters high-quality, little-disturbed forest and reaches the small waterfalls on the Yala River. Of the eight trails in the Buyangu Area, a short one up Buyangu Hill of only 500 metres (walking time 20/25 minutes) offers superb views of the forest to the south and the Nandi Hills. The longest, 6.8 km (4.2 miles) following the Isiukhu River to the Falls needs a walking time of 5 hours.

The pocket-sized colourfully-illustrated and informative Official Guide published by the Kenya Indigenous Forest Conservation Programme for the Forestry Department of the Kenya Wildlife Service can be a great help in deciding which of the trails is likely to produce what the individual would most like to see and has black-and-white maps for guidance.

Of accommodation within the forest area, Rondo’s Retreat is the most sophisticated, 3 kms from Isecheno on the road to Ikuywa and managed by the Trinity Fellowship. Sleeping, total 32 beds, is in bungalows set in attractive park-like grounds or in the main building. There is the choice of eating in the dining room or going self-catering. It is advisable to book in advance through The Rev Michael Carlisle, PO Box 2153, Kakamega.

At the Isecheno Guest House and Camp Site the guest house has toilet, washroom and four double bedrooms each with beds. There is a good supply of cold water and cooking facilities but no electricity. The camp site next to the guest house has piped water, pit latrine and a cooking area. For both the guest house and the camp site, visitors should take their own food and bedding. Basic food and sodas can be purchased at a small canteen within the Forest Department compound. Booking should be made to The Forester, Kakamega Forest Station, PO Box 88, Kakamega.

At Udo’s Bandas and Campsite at Buyangu, on the park’s northern perimeter, one kilometre from the Kenya Wildlife Service office, there are seven thatched rondavels, a large thatched open-sided building for cooking and dining and an area for bucket showers and pit latrines. Visitors should provide their own food and bedding. Book through The District Warden, Kenya Wildlife Service, PO Box 879, Kakamega

Kamnarok National Reserve
Kerio Valley National Reserve
Kirimun (Laikipia)
Kisumu Impala Sanctuary

Kora National Park Area (1,787 sq km – 690 square miles)

Location: Coast Province, Tana River District, bounded by the Tana River125 km (78 miles) east of Mount Kenya, 280 km (174 miles) north-east of Nairobi.
Altitude: 250 – 440 metres (820 -1,443 feet)
First opened: October 1989

Although the name of Kora, first established as a National Reserve in l973, has for the last twenty years been associated with that of George Adamson and his lions, as far back as the early l98Os a joint Royal Geographical Society and National Museums of Kenya expedition made a lengthy study of its remarkable ecosystem in l983/1984 which resulted in the book Islands in the Bush written by the expedition leader Malcolm Coe.

Bordered on its south-east by the Mwitamisyi River, and by the great Tana River to the north, it is a park of many rivers with an amphibian riverine life of crocodiles, lizards, snakes and tortoises while the fauna-rich land life includes elephant, black rhino, hippo — seven of the big and small cats lion, leopard, cheetah, serval, caracal, wildcat and genet — several species of antelope and the spotted and striped hyena.

Huge granite inselbergs and waterholes provide spectacular relief against the acacia bushlands and alluvial plains, and forests of doum palm, acacia and Tana River poplar line the riverbanks. Named for him, the Adamson’s Falls of the Tana River are at the park’s north-eastern extremity.

Funds came in from all over the world to protect Kora as a remarkable ecosystem after the Malcolm Coe book was published and circulated, and George Adamson’s permission to establish his lion sanctuary there is a story of its own. Many men have become ‘legends’ after their deaths, not so many in their lifetimes, but of the latter George Adamson is one.

Conditioned as a game warden to shooting without sentiment wild animals dangerous to man and themselves, such as man-eating lions and maddened elephants on the rampage, he became better remembered, and respected, for his tireless rehabilitation into the wild of lions which had been employed to work on films made in Kenya and which otherwise would have been destroyed or destined to spend the rest of their lives caged in zoos. And not only lions, but cheetahs and leopards as well. At Meru and then at Kora, in the years which should have been those of his retirement, he lived with lions and lions became his life.

According to Adrian House in his book The Great Safari (1993) George started writing his first book Bwana Game by remembering back to 1910 when he was only four years old. Throughout his life he meticulously kept up his diaries ‘night after night for more than sixty years’. Against his wife Joy’s thirteen published books and her illustration of four important other ones, he only wrote one more, My Pride and Joy (1986) which was his last, and after her sudden shocking death which was not by lion.

In films he was represented by Bill Travers in Born Free, The Lions are Free ,The Lion from World’s End, Christian the Lion, and An Elephant called Slowly. In Living Free, which included the story of Forever Free (1971) he was represented by Nigel Davenport and, in the film made after his death, by Richard Harris in To Walk with Lions. His only appearances in films as himself were in Strongholds in the Wild (1952) and Adamson in Africa (1988).

‘Together they discovered truths about lions, cheetahs and leopards and their release in the wild, acknowledged by experts as new to science,’ wrote Adrian House in his book The Great Safari after his intensive study of the lives and work of George Adamson and Joy ‘Their example gave new impetus to the protection of animals and even the planet itself. . . .If we open our eyes we shall see, for the first time, that we are sharing our world not with a dwindling menagerie of animals over whom we have dominion, but a galaxy of living creatures endowed with many of the same faculties as we are, and with others that we have lost or never possessed — all of which entitle them to freedoms and rights no different from our own.’

It was largely at Meru, Shaba and Kora that the Adamsons’ most dedicated work with lions took place and where the sudden violent deaths of each of them shocked the world, at Shaba for Joy on January 3,1980 and at Kora for George on August 20, 1989

Lake Bogoria National Reserve
About 80 kilometers north of Nakuru town in the Great Rift Valley (Size: 107 sq. kms), is a soda impregnated shallow lake (2 meters deep, former lake Hannington) which was established as a National Reserve in November, 1983. It is one of the most beautiful and spectacular of Kenya’s Rift Valley lakes. The Reverse covers the whole lake and its immediate surroundings all totaling 107 sq. kms. One hundred years ago (1892), the Great geologist J.W. Gregory described the lake as “the most beautiful view in Africa”.

Today, that view has not changed. It’s exciting steam jets with boiling geysers and fumaroles strongly indicating the volcanic activities which resulted in the creation of the Great Rift Valley, is a geological wonder no one can afford to miss. Thousands of both Lesser and Greater flamingo migrate to the lake from Lake Nakuru when the water levels in the latter become low. It is Kenya’s best place to see Greater Kudu, which are readily seen on the eastern shores of the lake.

Lake Baringo
The lake houses schools of hippo and crocodile; but its greatest attraction is the multitude of birds where over 400 species have been identified. Gibraltar island in the lake offers the largest colony of Goliath heron in East Africa. Other common birds include: Grebes, Pelican, Egrets, Storks, Geese, Ducks, Eagles, Plovers, Sandgrouse, Bee-eater, Hornbills, Honey guide, Shrikes and many others

Lake Nakuru National Park Area (117 sq km – 45 sq miles)

Location: Great Rift Valley 157 km (98 miles) from Nairobi
Altitude: 1,759 metres (5,770 feet)
Gazetted: Declared a National Park in 196O but not gazetted officially until 1968.

For all the doubts which were held for it when it was created a bird sanctuary, the first in Africa, in l960, in the few years preceding Kenya’s Independence at the end of l963, Lake Nakuru was to prove one of the country’s most popular — as well as one of the most beautiful and world-famous — of all Kenya’s national parks. Nothing in that respect has changed since. It still is.

The lake shores are surrounded by wooded and bush grasslands, offering wide ecological diversity from lake water and woodland to rocky escarpments and ridges. The euphorbia forest on the slopes of Lion Hill is said to be the world’s largest.

The park’s population at most times of the year of over a million Greater and Lesser flamingo and other magnificent bird life has earned it the descriptions by world-famous writers and ornithologists of: ‘The most staggering bird spectacle in my thirty-eight years of bird watching’ (Roger Tory Petersen); ‘The greatest bird spectacle on earth’ (Peter Scott); and ‘Like a scarlet scarf flung around the lake'(Sir Philip Sassoon).

Judged by any standards, the flamingos are a truly remarkable sight, whether wading the shallow alkaline waters along the wide western shoreline in a mumbling, muttering mass, or taking off in flight when water and sky become a noisy moving cloud of pastel pink. The Lesser flamingos are smaller in size but in greater numbers than the Greater, which can live either in fresh water or alkaline, which the Lesser cannot. There is an abundance in Lake Nakuru of the algae upon which they live.

It should not be too great a disappointment if a visit reveals that the flamingos, the star performers as it were, have moved elsewhere. There is plenty else of animal and bird life to see. Over 400 bird species have been recorded.

The flamingos move off seasonally, not always due to the rising or diminishing lake waters, but because Nakuru is not a breeding lake for them. They may go north to Lake Bogoria or south to Lakes Magadi and Natron. Without being too pessimistic, it also has to be borne in mind that there have been times, especially recently when, in years of acute drought (always too little or too much in Africa) the lake scenario changes dramatically when the waters have dried up. And when there is no water, the flamingos too have gone

While there is any water left at all — even with the flamingos gone — there is still plenty of action for the watcher of water and land birds. Pelican are splendid whether soaring the thermals above the Rift in their hundreds, or in huge flotillas on the lake. On the water or at the waterside there are numbers of marabous and other storks, cormorants, darters, herons, egrets, ibis, ducks, geese, coots, teals, stints, stilts, plovers, sandpipers and Cape widgeon.

Eagles in the park include the inevitable African fish eagle, the long-crested hawk eagle, Verreaux’s eagle, the black-chested harrier eagle and, during the winter months, the migrant steppe eagle.

Birds of the woodlands include rollers, cuckoos, hoopoes, owls and owlets, cisticolas, drongos, shrikes, starlings, sunbirds, weavers, bee-eaters, woodpeckers and kingfishers. Take binoculars and a good bird reference book to make the most of your visit.

Animal viewing is easy, of: waterbuck, zebra, buffalo, leopard, lion, Rothschild’s giraffe, black-and-white Colobus monkeys and, in the bushlands, eland, wart hog, impala, Bohor and mountain reedbuck and dikdik. Rock hyrax and klipspringer occupy the baboon cliffs and escarpment to the west of the lake, from which the view down onto the whole park is magnificent.

The Njoro, Lamuriak, Makalia and Nderit rivers all flow into the lake and a school of hippos lives at its north-east end, where springs have created a series of hippo pools.

In recent years, part of the park has provided a successful sanctuary for black rhino (Diceros bicornis) and white (wide-mouthed) rhino (Diceros simus) In l987, only two black rhino remained in the park following the ravages of poaching. By re-introducing breeding herds from the Laikipia, the Kenya Wildlife Service re-established both species and it is one of the best places in all Kenya for seeing them.

Three gates give entry into the park: Nderit Gate from the left turn off the main Nairobi/Nakuru road at Gilgil, entering the park from the east; Lanet Gate, from a left turn off the Nairobi/Nakuru road at Lanet, and the Main Gate from Nakuru town.

In-park accommodation includes two lodges: Sarova’s luxury Lion Hill Lodge where 64 chalet-style rooms, each with their own verandah, overlook the lake and the distant hills. There is a fine restaurant and open-air swimming pool. The other is Lake Nakuru Lodge, developed from the beautiful house which was once known as Nderit, designed and built by Genesta Hamilton and her husband Lord Claude Hamilton and vividly described in her book A Stone’s Throw, Travels from Africa in Six Decades. Alternative accommodation is in the Kenya Wildlife Service guest-house, three special and two public camp sites, a self-help banda and four picnic sites.

Losai National Reserve

Masai Mara National Reserve (1672 sq. km)
About two hundred and seventy-five kilometers west of Nairobi, Masai Mara is part of the Serengeti ecosystem in Northern Tanzania. It has existed as a game conservation area since 1889, when it was part of the large Southern Game Reserve stretching down the Kenya-Tanzania border to the present Amboseli National Park. However, it was confirmed as a Game Reserve (now National Reserve) in 1974. The Reserve consists of well watered grassland plains, standing at an altitude of 1650m and crossed by two permanent rivers, the Mara and Talek.

Eighty years ago President Theodore Roosevelt of the Und States of America stood on its plains and wrote: “The land teams with beasts of chase, infinite in numbers and incredible variety. It holds the fiercest beasts of raving, and the fleetest and most timid of those things that live in undying fear of talon and fang. It holds the largest and the smallest of hoofed animals. It holds the mightiest creatures that tread the earth or swim in the rivers”.

A few years later Karen Blixen crossed the floor of the Great Rift Valley on ox-wagon, climbed the high savanna plateau of Narok and the Loita hills to Masai Mara and echoed the sentiments of Roosevelt.

“The air of the African Highlands went into my head like wine. I was all the time slightly drunk with it and the joy of these months was indescribable”.

The great variety of nearly all plains game offer a wide choice of food for the predatory lion, leopard, cheetah, hyena, wild-dog, jackals and thousands of other lower carnivores. It is a self-contained world where survival of the fittest is the order of the day. Mara River which is frequently flooded during the rains houses schools of hippo and large colonies of crocodile.

But all this richness of fauna and unspoilt life of Africa, decorated by the culturally rich Maasai people, is secondary to the Mara’s major attraction – the world famous and most spectacular annual animal mass migration of nearly two million wildebeest and Zebra from Serengeti National Park in Tanzania to the Reserve (July to September) and back to Serengeti in January/February. Every year, the herd’s bull leaders taste the wind at the beginning of the long rains and they decide to lead their herds towards Lake Victoria in the West. The herds turn northwards before reaching the lake and cross the Mara River into Kenya looking for fresh pastures in the Masai Mara. When the herd leaders smell the short rains of October, they command their herds south-eastwards across Olduvai Gorge back to Serengeti. It was in the Olduvai Gorge where Dr. Louis Leaky discovered the remains of early man and some bones of wildebeest all dating back to two million years, thus proving that the Serengeti-Mara wildebeest migration has existed for millions of years.The migrating animals are followed by their attendant predators, hyena, lion, wild dog and vultures. Thousand of them fall prey to the predators while many more die in the Mara floods while crossing the river. Visitors to Mara in August through September will certainly see the splendor of this natural phenomena happening as it were hundred years ago. Apart from the migratory animals Masai Mara is rich in resident game with over 95 species recorded in the Reserve.

All the commonly seen mammals of Kenya are found in the Reserve. The only exceptions being those that live in dry areas or are restricted to the northern parts of the country such as Reticulated giraffe, Grevy Zebra, Hunter’s antelope and Tiang. It has the largest population of lions in the country. Visitors to the Reserve will always see big herds of elephant, buffalo, Topi, Maasai giraffe, Gazelle, Zebra, Coke’s hartebeest, Cheetah, Spotted hyena, Bat-eared fox, Black-backed and Side-striped Jackals, Baboons and many others.

Birds are plentiful with over 480 bird species recorded in the Reserve. Commonest species include: Secretary bird, Vultures, Eagles, Guinea fowls, Ground hornbills, Bustards, Somali ostrich, Herons, Ibis, ducks, geese, plovers, sand grouse, rollers, kingfishers and many others.

Malka Mari National Park
Maralal Sanctuary
Marsabit National Reserve

Meru National Park (870 sq km – 336 sq miles)
Location: North-Eastern Kenya, 348 km (216 miles) from Nairobi, 85 km (53 miles) from Meru.
Altitude: 305-1,036 metres (1,000-3,400 feet)
First opened: April l968

Wild and scenically beautiful, dotted by picturesque small and larger hills, bisected by the equator and thirteen rivers and numerous mountain-fed streams, this park is a great favourite of all who love Kenya’s north, where the light always seems at its most intense, more so than anywhere else in the country. It is an exciting landscape, much favoured by photographers and artists.

Entry from the west is by the Murera Gate, by the Bisanadi Gate from the north-east, and by the Ura Gate from the south. Two airstrips serve the park in which there are eight special camp sites — which must be pre-booked with the Kenya Wildlife Service — and one public camp site, or there is accommodation at Meru Mulika Lodge and at Leopard Rock Lodge, at which latter there is also pleasant self-service accommodation in KWS bandas. As most of the driving is on infrequently used tracks, a 4-WD vehicle is essential.

The diverse landscape includes thorny bushland in the north, woodlands at 914 metres (3,000 feet) on the slopes of the Nyambene Hills north-east of Mount Kenya, and the Punguru, Kiolu, Kindani, Rhino, Mughwango, Murera, Bisanadi, Kinna and Mulika plains in the park’s west, where the banks of the meandering rivers are dotted with doum palms. Dense forests of doum and raffia palm grow along the watercourses. Sedges occupy the riverine swamps. The rainfall in the west of the park is almost double that in the east. One area has been designated a wilderness, where no tourists are allowed to enter, nor are there any trails there to follow.

Hippo and crocodiles abound in the rivers and fishing (mainly barbus and catfish) is permitted at the camp sites along the Tana River.

Mammals include buffalos in herds said to be among the largest in the country, prides of lions, elephant, cheetah, leopard, lesser kudu, zebra, black rhino, reticulated giraffe, gerenuk, Grant’s gazelle, duiker and antelope including Africa’s smallest, the dik dik.

In the mid l980s the park suffered seriously from poaching which has since been driven out by the armed security patrols of the Kenya Wildlife Service and the elephant population has stabilised itself with breeding herds settling down.

Over 300 bird species have been recorded including the not-so-easy-to-find Peter’s finfoot on the Murera and Ura Rivers; Pel’s fishing owl, kingfishers, rollers, bee-eaters, starlings, weavers and a bird-watcher’s wealth of others.

Established initially as a l,167 sq km (450 sq mile) game reserve in l959 by the Meru District Council, a reduced area of 870 sq km (336 sq miles) was gazetted as a national park in December 1966 and opened as such in l968. Its strong Adamson connections date back to 1958, for it was there that George and Joy Adamson released their famous — though tragic — lioness Elsa, and Joy Adamson sat down to type Born Free, a world best-seller as both a book and a film. It was there, too, that Ted Goss, the park’s warden, was later to offer Joy and George a sanctuary in which to rehabilitate into the wild the lions which had been used for making the film of the book. Virginia McKenna as Joy, and Bill Travers as George, were the stars and both of them, through their Kenya experiences, were to become ardent conservationists.

First setting up their camp near the reserve headquarters at Leopard Rock, Joy later moved with her cheetah, Pippa, to her own camp ‘under a tamarind tree beside a stream called Vasorongi’ to give her the solitude and concentration she needed to study Pippa. Her book, The Spotted Sphinx , tells the Pippa story. Pippa’s grave, marked by a simple cairn, is in the riverine forest near the Rojowero confluence, where the great Tana tumbles over Adamson’s Falls, the last of its major rapids and cataracts before broadening out on its long course to the sea. George chose the twin-humped Mughwango Hill for his own camp with his lions.

The Tana divides Meru National Park from the Kora Game Reserve, also very much Adamson country as, too, is the Shaba National Reserve (See Kora National Reserve — North-East Kenya, and Shaba National Reserve — Kenya North).

Mount Elgon National Park (169 sq km – 65 sq miles)
Location: Western Kenya, 470 km (292 miles) from Nairobi; 90 km (56 miles) from Kitale
Altitude: 2,438-4206 meters (8,000-13,800 feet)
Opened: April 1968

Even more a botanist’s and naturalist’s park than it is for all its other forms of exploration — and there are plenty — Mount Elgon, East Africa’s third highest mountain, is almost as remarkable for its rare alpine flora and plant life as for its fauna. The latter include another rarity, the mountain’s mining elephants.

Lying at the north-west extremity of the Kenya highlands — the green, fertile country over 1,500 meters (5,000 feet) above sea level — from where the land then drops away to the arid semi-deserts of the north, the park is one of the loveliest, least visited and unspoiled in Kenya, though human encroachment on the lower slopes causes conservationists some anxiety. It has made necessary the erection of an electric fence (an ‘Elephence’) ‘to keep the farmers out and the elephants in’ so that they don’t endanger their own and human lives by destroying life-sustaining crops.

The early home — and still for a few on its upper reaches beyond the park — of the El-Kony, a remnant of the Nilotic Nandi people, Elgon was always known to the Masai as Ol Doinyo Igoon ‘the Mountain of the Breast’. It is still that sort of shape.

With its several zones ranging from wet mountain and bamboo forests to afro-alpine moorlands and tundra, Elgon is a specialist’s park when it comes to rare flora. Huge teaks, podo and cedars dominate the forests, some over 24 meters (80 feet) tall.

Nature trails, hiking, picnics, cave exploration and geological safaris are encouraged. There are no in-park hotels or lodges but there are three camp sites and one picnic site. No special equipment is required for hiking and the park management provides guides.

Just one degree north of the equator, the forested slopes, ice-cold streams, moorlands and crater of this huge and ancient extinct volcano formed fifteen million years ago during the colossal upheaval which created the Great Rift Valley, make the park one of fascinating contrast with the parks and reserves of the savannah and plains. Frost lies on the crater floor and upper slopes at nights and snow is not unknown.

A main catchment area for Western Kenya, four rivers have their source on the mountain. The Suam, Kerio and Turkwell feed Lake Turkana, and the Nzoia feeds Lake Victoria, itself the source of the Nile.

Introduced to botanical painting in the late l930s by her second husband, the botanist Peter Bally, it was Elgon which captured Joy Adamson’s imagination and prompted her to collect and paint more and more of the unusual specimens she found there, so that with her paintings she could show people, who were not so lucky as she was to be there, ‘an indescribably weird world’.

It was there, too, after her third marriage (to George Adamson) that she braved being trodden down by an elephant cow and calf, to grasp from under their feet a specimen which the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew, England, was later to acknowledge as ‘a plant of exceptional interest’.

Set aside as a reserve in l949, it was not until l968 that Kenya’s side of the mountain, with its mysterious caves and rich animal and bird life, was designated a national park. It contains an estimated 400 elephant, buffalo, eland, leopard, civet, genet and golden cat, spotted hyena, de Brazza, Colobus and blue monkeys, olive baboon, giant forest hog, bushbuck, waterbuck and several types of antelope. Over 240 bird species have been recorded.

The best seasons for visiting are October to January and mid-year June-July. The two rainy seasons, April-May and August-September are best avoided.

The Kenya/Uganda boundary divides the mountain between the two countries, cutting across the rim and through the centre of the crater, or caldera, to give it the correct description for, in this instance, as with Menengai at Nakuru to its south-west, the walls fell inwards with the big bang. The caldera is between 6 and 8 km across (4 and 5 miles) and the mountain itself between 80 and 100 km (50 and 60 miles) at base.

The mountain’s western side and its two highest peaks: Wagagai at 4,321 meters (14,176 feet) and 4,310-metre (14,141-foot) Sudek lie in Uganda across the Kenya border.

On the Kenya side, flat-topped, basalt Koitobos (Table Rock) with its lava-tube caves — some over 60 meters (65 yards) in diameter — is the highest peak at 4,231 meters (13,882 feet) putting it among some of the highest points in the country after Mount Kenya and the Chyulu Hills. Approached across beautiful moorlands, a visit to the hot springs can make an interesting diversion on the way.

For an active holiday, Elgon offers fine climbing opportunities amid spectacular scenery of cliffs, valleys and tarns as well as the hot springs; there is also good fishing in the Suam River.

For the not-so-energetic, the Kitum, Makingeni, Chepnyalil and Ngwarisha caves with their rich salt deposits are a great attraction and are accessible by nature trail, though some courage is required to explore into their depths. Kitum, the largest, extends 200 meters (219 yards) into the heart of the mountain and is famous for its ‘cave elephants’. It is their gathering place where, usually at nights, they venture deep into the interior in search of the salt and other minerals that they find there, having over the centuries gouged out long shafts reaching hundreds of feet into the mountain’s depths.

It is believed to have been the Kitum cave (its Masai name means ‘Place of Ceremonies’) which impressed the Victorian author H Rider Haggard’s novel She., first published in England in 1887. It came between his King Solomon’s Mines (1885) and Allan Quatermain, also in l887. In any case, all three books leaned heavily on the Great Rift Valley for background, though the author himself had never, at the time he wrote them, been there.

The town at the mountain’s foot is Kitale, 380 kilometers (236 miles) from Nairobi. Points of entry into the park are the Chorim Gate, on a rough dirt road through farmlands off the Endebess Road, and from Kimilili, 50 km (31 miles) west of Kitale.

Mount Kenya National Park (715 Sq. Km)
Mt. Kenya or Kirinyaga (Black and White stripped Mountain), the sacred mountain of the Gikuyu people where their God “Ngai” legendary lived, is a giant extinct volcano whose rims have been worn down leaving only the central peaks sticking out on top of the mountain mass. It is the second highest mountain in Africa and the only spot in the world where snow is found on the Equator. The snow-capped mountain was first brought to the world’s knowledge by the German Missionary, Ludwig Kraft who was the first white man to see and record it in December 1849. His report of the snow-capped mountain on the equator was derided by his contemporary geographers including Dr. Livingstone, until Joseph Thompson confirmed it in 1883.

Though the Austrian Count Samuel Teleki von Szeki accompanied by his companion Ludwig Von Hohnel climbed the mountain to the snow line, within 915 meters (3,000 ft) of the summit in 1887, it was not until 1899 that the Englishman Sir Halford Mackinder finally conquered the mountain’s peak, Batian 5,199 meters (17,058 ft.) and sat on its top. After a period of 30 years (1929) Eric Shipton made the second ascent and conquered the second highest peak, Nelion 5,188 meters (17,022 ft.). Kisoi Munyao was the first known African to reach the top of Mt. Kenya in 1959 and again in 1963 when he carried and raised the newly independent Kenya’s National flag on the summit.

In December 1949, the Mountain was made a National Park whose boundaries cover nearly all the area above the 11,000 ft. contour line plus two lower salients at Sirimon and Naro Moru. The park thus protects and preserves large sections of the mountain forests and bamboo thickets with their varied wildlife, the alpine moorlands, glaciers, tarns and glacial moraines.

Mount Kulal Biosphere
Mount Longonot
Mwea National Resrve
Mwingi National Reserve (Former North Kitui)
Nairobi National Park
Nasalot/South Turkana National Reserve
Ndere Island National Park
Ngai Ndethya National Reserve
North Kitui National Reserve (See Mwingi)

Ol Donyo Sabuk National Park (18 Sq. Km)
Ol Donyo Sabuk or Sleeping Buffalo, also called Kilima Mbogo in Swahili meaning the Hill of buffalo, lies about 80 kilometers east of Nairobi and beyond Thika town on the Thika-Garissa road. The Mountain was established as a National park in 1967. The park covers the forested slopes and the summit of the mountain (2,148 meters or 7,040 ft.), with outstanding scenic beauty and wonderful views.

On clear mornings the view of the snow peaks of Mt. Kenya, over 100 kilometers away add to the charming beauty of the green grasslands and coffee estates below the mountain. A nine kilometer motor track through the forest to the summit, pass the graves of Sir William Northrup, a wealthy American farmer and Lady McMillan who were buried on the mountain. Sir William was knighted for his service in the First World War.

A short distance before the entrance of the park are the beautiful Fourteen Falls on the Athi River dropping thunderously over a 27m (90 ft.) deep slope.

Commonly seen animals include buffalo, Bushbuck, Sykes monkey and Black-faced vervet monkey. Black rhino and Leopard may be seen

Rahole National Reserve
Rimoi National Reserve
Ruma National Park

Saiwa Swamp National Park (3 sq km – less than a square mile)
Location: Western Kenya, 400 km (248 miles) from Nairobi; 20 km (12 miles) from Kitale
Altitude: 1,860 – 1,880 meters (6,103 – 6,148 ft)
Opened: 1974

Below the beautiful Cherangani Hills, in a basin of the meandering Koitobos River and set aside primarily to protect some 80 to 100 sitatunga, Saiwa Swamp is Kenya’s smallest national park, a marsh of tall bullrushes, reeds, sedges and wet forest, and one of the very few places where these reclusive semi-aquatic antelopes can be seen.

Three bridges for walking over the wetlands serve to keep the visitor’s feet dry (a sitatunga’s are almost permanently wet) and three specially-constructed platforms facilitate sitatunga-viewing.

They are by no means the only mammals, though, to occupy this watery small retreat. Others likely to be seen are the spotted-necked otter, giant forest squirrel, leopard, potto, Colobus and the endangered de Brazza monkeys, bushbuck and grey duiker, and the park is home to a wealth of water and land birds, but it is the sitatunga which most visitors are anxious to see.

No antelope other than the sitatunga (the Tragelaphus spekei and the T. gratus — in Tanzania the T. selousi) can walk a swamp’s spongy surface. Their wide-spread, splayed-out hooves take the animal’s weight and stop it from sinking into the soft ground.

Formerly known as the marshbuck, sitatunga can move fast, if they want to, and swim well. If startled, they submerge almost entirely in the water with only their nostrils above the surface. Diurnal as well as nocturnal, they browse (usually at dusk) on leaves, twigs, fruit and the waterplants among which they live. Their cry of alarm is a bark, or harsh snort. Between each other they communicate with a bleating call, living mostly singly or in pairs, but sometimes forming herds of ten, fifteen or even more.

In typical form, the Tragelaphus spekei weighs anything between 45 and 109 kg (100 – 240 lbs). Only the male has horns and is larger than the female which is usually different in colour. The longish, shaggy coat of the male, not unlike the coat of the waterbuck, may be anything from dark to greyish-brown with a white chevron between the eyes and white markings, sometimes with faint stripes. The female is brown or bright chestnut with more pronounced stripes.

The park is reached 5 km (3 miles) off the right of the main Kitale-Lodwar road, near the village of Kipsain. There is one in-park camping ground and one serviced campsite. Outside the park there is the Kipsain Fishing Camp and the smart Kapolet Fishing Camp or, again still outside the park, Sirikwa Tented Camp. Most were erected initially to accommodate keen fishers of the Koitobos and Suam Rivers.

Samburu – Buffalo Springs – Shaba National Reserves
The three reserves lie about three hundred and twenty-five kilometers from Nairobi and about fifty kilometers from Isiolo town on the Isiolo-Marsabit road. Samburu and Buffalo Springs were established as one reserve known as the Samburu-Isiolo Game Reserve, which was part of Marsabit National Reserve under the former National Parks organization in 1948. In 1963, the two reserves were separated and the land on the Samburu side was established as a Game Reserve (255 sq. km.) under Samburu County council. The Isiolo section was similarly established as a Game Reserve (339 sq. km.) under the Isiolo County Council. The two reserves and the third newly established Shaba National Reserve (239 sq. kms.) lie on the ecological zone with hot and dry climate during the day and cool at night. They receive annual average rainfall between 255-510 mm and have a maximum annual mean temperature of 30’C and minimum annual mean temperature of 18’C – 22’C. The first two reserves are transversed by the Uaso Nyiro river which is adequately augmented by crystal clear springs and swamps providing surface water for dry land animals and home for the crocodiles and hippos. The beautiful scenery along the Uaso Nyiro river is one of the great attractions of these reserves, with tall feathery Doum palms and a strip of riverine forest and thicket where many animals are found during the heat of the day. Clusters of palms fringe the river creating a lively habitat for various species of primates.

Shaba National Reserve established in 1974, is separated from the two other reserves by the Great North Road from Isiolo to Marsabit. The three reserves form what is known as the Samburu/Isiolo Complex – trio of beautiful game sanctuaries unsurpassed anywhere in the republic. Shaba got its name from a cone of volcanic rock in the reserve. Large mantles of volcanic lava preserve underground water which emerges as a spring making Shaba better watered than the other two reserves. It was here where the aging Joy Adamson performed her last rehabilitation feat with Penny, the orphaned leopard cub found near her lake Naivasha home and loaned to her. Penny the “Queen of Shaba” was almost ready to go to the bush when on the evening of 3rd January 1980, Joy went for her usual evening stroll in the reserve, and never returned. Her body was later recovered on a bush track having fallen victim to a brutal murder in one of the most mysterious a shocking cases in the country.

The reserves are famous for their great concentration of the rare species of animals found in northern Kenya – north of Tana River such as Grevy Zebra, Beisa oryx, Reticulated giraffe and the Blue-necked Somali ostrich. The reserves are also home to the graceful Gerenuk, along -necked gazelle found only in dry areas. Other animals commonly seen include:- elephant, buffalo, cheetah, lion, impala, common zebra, eland, grant’s gazelle, spotted hyena and leopard.

Nearly all the bird species found in the dry Savannah woodland are represented in these reserves, where over 100 bird species are easily seen within a day. Large flocks of Helmeted and Vulturine guinea fowl are a common sight. Buffalo Springs offer a drinking place for thousands of Sand grouse and Doves during dry season.

Shimba Hills National Reserve (192 sq. km)
Shimba Hills National Reserve about 40 kilometers from Mombasa is near the South Coast holiday resorts. It stands at an altitude of 300 – 400 meters and consists of rolling hills of grasslands alternating with beautiful patches of equatorial rain forest remnants. It was established in 1968 for the protection of the last breeding herd of Sable antelope in the country.

A herd of their cousins, the Roan antelopes was trans-located from Ithanga Hills ranch near Thika where their future was threatened by human settlement and used to be seen in the reserve. The reserve offers a cool change from the coastal heat and panoramic views of the ocean to the south and the Usambara and Pare mountains across the border to Tanzania.

Other animals found in the Reserve include elephant, lion, buffalo, leopard, Red duiker, Bushbuck, Bush duiker, suni, Blue monkey, Black and white colobus, Serval cat and Black-faced vervet monkeys.Birds are plentiful with common species like hawk eagle, Crested guinea fowl, Hornbills, Turaco, Barbets, Honey guide, Woodpecker, Flycatcher, Shrikes, Orioles, Sunbirds and many others.

The combination of the rolling grasslands, sea views and the tropical rain forest makes the Reserve a true delight for nature lovers.

Sibiloi National Park
South Kitui National Reserve

Tana River Primate National Reserve (169 sq km – 65 sq miles)
Location: Eastern Kenya on the Tana River 120 km (75 miles) north of Malindi between Garsen and Hola
Altitude: 122 m
First opened: l976

Bisected by Kenya’s longest river, the 960 km (440 mile) mighty Tana as it makes its way from a confluence of rivers beneath Mount Kenya to the Indian Ocean south of Lamu, the Tana River Primate Reserve is one of highly diversified and lush riverine forest, bush, grasslands and open savannah.

The river is wide, brown and often swirling in these parts, and the climate definitely steamy and tropical, all reminiscent of that classic Spencer Tracey/Katharine Hepburn film African Queen. As the last bridge is at Garsen, it has to be crossed by ferry from the west side to reach the riverine forest belt covering 50 km (30 miles) along the east bank. The ferry crossing can be an adventure in itself.

Flood plains, old river channels, lakes and ponds make this sanctuary virtually unique. Set aside primarily to protect two endangered species of monkey: the Crested mangabey (Cercocbus galeritus) and the endemic Red colobus (Colobus badius) — both survivors of a time when rain forests covered the continent from west to east — this is a reserve of some very rare plants indeed and bird and animal species unusual in East Africa, more typical of the lowland rainforests of Central Africa. Five other primates include the ubiquitous Sykes monkey and the Yellow baboon.

Mammals that make their home there include oryx, lesser kudu, topi, Masai and Reticulated giraffe, Common and Grevy zebra. Tracks of lion, buffalo and elephant are often visible.

More than 240 bird species have been recorded, one of which in particular is extremely rare, the White-winged apalis.
Commonly seen are waders, herons, storks, kingfishers and bee-eaters.

Boating on the river can be an exciting experience, where the ‘big stuff’ includes Nile crocodile (Crocodilus niloticus) Hippo (Hippopotamus amphibius) and a number of reptiles, fish and other amphibian species.

Expensive but interesting and made thoroughly enjoyable are river cruises in the delta and along the tributaries north of Malindi, usually of two or three nights duration, arranged for by private operators.

Baomo Lodge offers luxury visitor accommodation west of the river or there is limited accommodation at the Mchelelo Research Tented Camp. That, though, is subject to availability and only by prior arrangement with the Kenya Wildlife Service.

Tsavo National Park (20,812 Sq. Km) – East & West Combined
At the turn of the 19th Century, few people lived in the vast scrubland of the present Tsavo National Parks. At that time the area was considered uninhabitable due to its barrenness and the presence of tsetse fly which prevented the keeping of cattle. Moreover, frequent slave raids from the coast caused general insecurity in the area so much so that by the time Colonel Patterson was posted there to build the Tsavo bridge and take over the construction of that section of the Uganda Railway in 1898, most of the scrubland had been left free for wildlife. He reported a mass of game everywhere. Other travelers through the area at that time were also impressed by the abundance of game. Game was everywhere the explorers went. Then followed the explorers with fast vehicles, firearms, and greedy markets for game trophies in Europe and Asia. This depleted game animals so much that the Kenya Colonial government initiated immediate measures to protect the remaining wildlife herds. Numerous game Ordinances were proclaimed. On the basis of these Ordinances, Nairobi National Park was established as the first National Park in the country in 1946. Two years later, Tsavo National park was established as the second wildlife sanctuary in Kenya and the largest National park in Africa and possibly in the world.

The park lies about 240 Km or halfway between Nairobi and Mombasa. It is divided into two sections for administrative purposes. The eastern section or Tsavo East lies East of the Nairobi-Mombasa Road/Railway in the country of the “Man Eaters of Tsavo”, where two lions believed by the natives to be not real animals but devils or spirits or their two departed chieftains who had assumed the shapes of lions to protest the construction of the railway line through their territory and who were out to stop or destroy the progress of the construction in retaliation for the insult they had suffered. Whatever the explanation, the two man-eaters astonished everyone including Col. Patterson by the manner in which they waged intermittent warfare against the railway builders for over nine months escaping any attempt to kill them and always succeeding in snatching and carrying away a coolie or a construction worker every night they attached. They caused a reign of terror in the construction camps and eventually succeeded in bringing the whole construction works to a complete standstill for about four weeks. At last the brutes were destroyed by Col. Patterson but not until they had claimed over 28 lives of the railway construction workers. Today many of the Tsavo lions are maneless or show only a very small mane. This trait they inherited from those man-eaters of long ago, but these days they are content to kill only their legitimate prey.

The two park sections contain various habitats such as open plains, savanna land and desert scrub, acacia woodlands, rocky ridges and outcrops, hill and riverine vegetation belts covered with palm thickets.

Tsavo West National Park (9,065 sq. Km.) is made of recent volcano lava flows. Its North-Western section is on the western region . To see a series of these young lava flows (about four hundred years old) from the most recent and bare to those already well covered with vegetation is a lesson in nature’s slow process of creating life on the ground originally devoid of it. The lava mantles fearfully called “Shetani” or the Devil Mountains”, absorb rain water which flows underground down the lava ridge for 40 Km. to emerge as the crystal-clear Mzima Springs. The famous springs create a home for thousands of aquatic animals especially hippos which are easily observed from the safety of an underwater observation point especially constructed for the purpose. The springs’ riverine vegetation of wild date palms, Raphia palms and acacia provide a good habitat for elephant, impala, giraffe, zebra and a host of chattering birds and monkeys. After a series of pools, the water disappears underground again to emerge as Mzima river before joining Tsavo River and providing habitats for animals before joining Athi River in Tsavo East to flow down as Galana River over Lugard’s Falls.

On the extreme south-west of the park is the beautiful lake Jipe on the border with Tanzania. The lake is fed by an underground flow from the snow-capped peaks of Mt. Kilimanjaro. It offers a spectacular bird colony with black heron and Pygmy Geese dominating the scene. Ngulia escarpment and Ngulia hills 1820m (5,974 ft.) have become a haunt for thousands of migratory birds from the northern hemisphere. The birds come there during autumn and fall seasons making the area one of the bird spectacles in the world and providing important information about the migratory routes and habits of many bird species common to the northern hemisphere.

Tsavo East National Park (11,747 sq. km) is an open dry animal wilderness with almost the same fauna and flora as Tsavo West. Its physical features are dominated by Yatta Plateau one of the longest lava flows in the world and the Athi River which starts as a small stream on the slopes of Ngong Hills south-west of Nairobi. It flows through Kajiado, Machakos and Kitui Districts before running through the park where it provides the much needed water in the dry wilderness. In the middle of the park, the river (now called Galana) disappears through a narrow rocky gorge to emerge in a spectacular waterfall called Lugard’s Falls after the first British Proconsul in Uganda who was the first white man to see the falls in 1891 when he led the IBEA’s convoy through there on the way to Uganda. The Falls form a series of pools below the rocks with sand banks where the largest colony of crocodile in both parks live. The rest of the river provides scenic drives through remnants of forests full of birds and game especially in the morning or evening at watering points.

Mudanda Rock between Voi and Manyani provides another attraction in the park. The rock forms a water-catchment area which creates a natural dam at its base. Elephant and other game come to drink in the dam during the dry season thereby creating a beautiful concentration of the mammals which can be viewed by visitors from the safety of an observation point above the dam. Another important game run in the park is the man-made Aruba Dam (85 hectares) in the middle of the hot waterless Taru Desert which is the only permanent water hole in the park.

Giant baobab trees which live as long as 1,000 years, with their bulky trunks and branches resembling stumpy fingers are bare for most of the year adding to the odd appearance of these spectacular trees. The annual blossoms of acacia trees and Desert Rose after the rains form some of the biggest flora attractions in the Park.

Lake Turkana
Lake Turkana, “The Jade Sea” is the largest lake in Kenya on the floor of the Great Rift Valley (about 255 by 50 km). It is an inland sea in the middle of a desert which offers the latest tourist attraction in the country and stretches into Ethiopia in the north where several rivers from the Ethiopian Highlands including the Omo River enter its waters. Like the rest of the Rift Valley lakes, it has no outlet. It’s beautiful, clear and unpolluted water is therefore semi-alkaline but rich in fish, crocodile and bird life. The region’s temperature may rise to 145 F (63 C) and sometimes become a bit uncomfortable especially to visitors.

Count Sammuel Teleki von Szeki was the first white man to see the lake in March 1888. He named it Lake Rudolf in honor of his patron the Austrian Archduke .The name was, however, changed to Lake Turkana in 1975 by the late Mzee Jomo Kenyatta. The southern tip of the lake is characterized by strong violet winds which tear across the lake forming high tides and making that part of the lake extremely dangerous for fishermen. Giant Nile perch grow to over 200 lbs and may reach 400 lbs, much to the delight of the sports fishermen but commercial fishermen look for the more palatable Nile Tilapia which are dried or frozen and marketed in Nairobi and other towns in the country.

The lake’s central island, an active volcano, right at the center of the lake, which sometimes belches out clouds of sulfurous steam and smoke, was established as a National park in 1983 for the protection of the breeding ground for the Niles crocodile. The Island has three lakes; Crocodile Lake, Flamingo Lake and Tilapia Lake.

Accessibility is through Lodwar by road to Ferguson Gulf, some 60 kilometers from Lodwar town and then on the lake using hired motorboats from lake Turkana Angling Lodge at the Gulf. The interesting El-Molo tribe once reduced to only 80 souls and described as the smallest tribe in Africa, inhabits two small Islands and Loiyangalani in the south-eastern corner of the lake. The tribe has, however, now multiplied to well over 500 people. They live on fish ,crocodile meat, and on wild animals like Hippo, Turtle and birds.

South Island National Park (39Sq. Km)
Like the Central Island, the South Island was established in 1983 for the protection of the breeding ground for the Nile Crocodile, the Hippos and its unique venomous snakes – Puff adders, cobra and vipers. It is at the center of the El-Molo country- a surviving tribe just emerging from the Stone-Age standard of living and whom John Hillaby described in 1964 as the “race that time had forgotten to finish off”.

Accessibility is through Loiyangalani (a place of trees), where the well named Oasis Lodge provides a base and facilities (motor boats) for bird-watching trips to the Islands and for those visitors intending to make camping safaris to Mount Kulal or Mount Moiti to see its mineral springs

South – Turkana (1091 Sq. Km)and Nasolot National Reserve (92 Sq. km)
The reserves were established in 1979 for the preservation of the remaining wildlife species in Turkana District which like the Turkana people have adapted to the harsh and arid environment. There are limited forest and plains game like elephant, buffalo, eland, impala, lesser kudu and many other lower species found in arid and semi-arid zones.

Nasolot has beautiful scenery, overlooking the Turkwell Gorge. The reserves are suitable for camping safaris as there are no accommodation facilities within or near the reserves.

Marine National Parks And Reserves
Diani/Chale Marine Park And Reserve
Kisite/Mpunguti/Wasini Marine Park And Reserve
Kiunga Marine Reserve
Malindi/Watamu Marine Park And Reserve

Watamu & Gede
Gede villages on the seaward side off the main Malindi Road and a short distance before Watamu houses Kenya’s most important monument, the GEDE or GEDI RUINS about 20 km south of Malindi town – an Islamic civilization city, which disappeared mysteriously about three hundred years ago. The ruins were gazetted as a monument in 1927 and became a National Park now a National Museum (45 acres) in 1948.

The great city Mosque and parts of the King’s Palace and other city houses have been restored, well-preserved and signposted with well maintained trails for the benefit and enjoyment of the visitors who can now view them with admirable ease. An information center has been established in the area to show the visitors what the city used to look like and to display the interesting artefact’s unearthed from the ruins.

The ruins are surrounded by a thick coastal forest where interesting mammals and birds are seen. Some of the common mammals include Greater galago, Bushbaby, Blue monkey, Yellow baboon, Black and white colobus, Red duiker, Blue duiker, Ader’s duiker, suni and Black-faced vervet monkey.

Birds are plentiful and one is sure of seeing interesting forest bird species like Crested guinea fowl, Green pigeon, Fischer’s turaco, Brown-headed parrot, trumpeter hornbill, Silvery-cheeked hornbill and many others.From Gede village one travels for about 8 kilometres to Watamu village beyond which is the Watamu Marine National Park established in 1968 for the preservation of the coral reef resources.

Mombasa Marine Park And Reserve

Biosphere Reserves
Kiunga Marine Reserve, Malindi
Mount Kenya

Mount Kenya National Park (715 Sq. Km)
Mt. Kenya or Kirinyaga (Black and White stripped Mountain), the sacred mountain of the Gikuyu people where their God “Ngai” legendary lived, is a giant extinct volcano whose rims have been worn down leaving only the central peaks sticking out on top of the mountain mass. It is the second highest mountain in Africa and the only spot in the world where snow is found on the Equator. The snow-capped mountain was first brought to the world’s knowledge by the German Missionary, Ludwig Kraft who was the first white man to see and record it in December 1849. His report of the snow-capped mountain on the equator was derided by his contemporary geographers including Dr. Livingstone, until Joseph Thompson confirmed it in 1883.

Though the Austrian Count Samuel Teleki von Szeki accompanied by his companion Ludwig Von Hohnel climbed the mountain to the snow line, within 915 meters (3,000 ft) of the summit in 1887, it was not until 1899 that the Englishman Sir Halford Mackinder finally conquered the mountain’s peak, Batian 5,199 meters (17,058 ft.) and sat on its top. After a period of 30 years (1929) Eric Shipton made the second ascent and conquered the second highest peak, Nelion 5,188 meters (17,022 ft.). Kisoi Munyao was the first known African to reach the top of Mt. Kenya in 1959 and again in 1963 when he carried and raised the newly independent Kenya’s National flag on the summit.

In December 1949, the Mountain was made a National Park whose boundaries cover nearly all the area above the 11,000 ft. contour line plus two lower salients at Sirimon and Naro Moru. The park thus protects and preserves large sections of the mountain forests and bamboo thickets with their varied wildlife, the alpine moorlands, glaciers, tarns and glacial moraines.

Mount Kulal

Other sites and places of interest
Kariandusi Pre-Historic Site
On the way to Nakuru, is Kariandusi Pre-historic site discovered by Dr. L. Leakey in 1928 and excavated in 1929 to 1947. Amongst the exhibits in its museum are Stone-Age hand axes, obsidian or black volcanic glass knives and a molar of the straight-tusked elephant (a species of elephant that once existed in England and the rest of Europe before it became extinct. Equally attractive are the “wells” dug near the sites to mine diatomite – an accumulation of microscopic algae skeletons, a white stuff currently used for paints, insulation and as a face decor by the Maasai.

The Hyrax Hill Prehistoric Site is another area worth visiting while in Nakuru District. Here one sees displays of pottery, hand axes, beads, obsidian tools, pestles, iron villages and dwellings. A cemetery shows the pre-historic methods of burial and visitors are educated on the kind of social or cultural beliefs the Stone-Age or pre-historic peoples held.

Lamu
The Arab flavor of Lamu is not nearly as old as the town itself. It derives from the later nineteenth century when the Omanis, and to some extent the Hadhramis from what is now Yemen, held political and cultural sway in the town. The first British representatives found themselves among pale-skinned slave-owning Arab rulers. The cultural and racial stereotypes which were subsequently propagated have never completely disappeared.

Lamu was established on its present site by the fourteenth century but there have been people living on the Island for very much longer than that. The fresh water supplies beneath Shela made the Island very attractive to refugees from the mainland and people have been escaping here for 2000 years or more – most recently in the 1960’s when Somali secessionists and cattle raiders caused havoc. It was also one of the earliest places on the coast to attract settlers from the Persian Gulf. There were probably people from Arabia and Southwest Asia living and intermarrying here even before the foundation of Islam.

Lamu is something of a myth factory – classical as well as popular. Conventionally labeled “an old Arab trading town”, it is actually one of the last viable remnants of the swahili civilization that was the dominant cultural force all along the coast until the arrival of the British. In the late 1960’s and 1970’s, Lamu’s unique blend of beaches, gently Islamic ambiance, funny old town, and population well used to strangers, was a recipe which took over where Marrakesh left off. It acquired a reputation as Kenya’s Kathmandu: the end of the (African) Hippie trail and a stop-over on the way to India.

Lamu town itself is unending fascinating to stroll through, with few monuments but hundreds of ancient houses, arresting street scenes and cool corners to sit and rest. And the museum is exceptional, outshining all Kenya’s others but the National Museum of Nairobi.

Initially confusing, Lamu is not the random clutter of houses and alleys it appears. Very few towns in Africa have kept their original town plan so intact (Timbuktu in West Africa is another) and Lamu’s history is sufficiently documented, and its architecture well enough preserved, to give you a good idea of how the town developed.

The division is between the waterfront buildings and the town behind, separated by Usita wa Mui, now Harambee Avenue. Until around 1830, this was the waterfront, but the pile of accumulated rubish in the harbor had become large enough by the time the fort was finished to consider reclaiming it; gradually, those who could afford to built on it. The fort lost its pre-eminent position and Lamu, from the sea, took on a different aspects, which included Indian styles such as arches, verandas and shuttered windows.

Behind the waterfront, the old town retained a second division between Mkomani district, to the north of the fort, and Langoni to the south. These locations are important as they distinguish the town’s long-established quarter (Mkomani) from the still-expanding district (Langoni) where traditionally newcomers have built their houses, often of mud and thatch rather than stone or modern materials. This north/south division is found in most Swahili towns and reflects the importance of Mecca, ,due north.

The museum has restored an eighteenth century house (the House Museum) to approximately its original appearance.

Lamu’s stone houses are unique, perfect examples of architecture appropriate to its setting. The basic design is of an open, topless box enclosing a large courtyard, around which are set inward-facing rooms on two or three floors. These rooms are thus long and narrow, their ceilings supported by close-set timbers or mangrove poles (boriti). Most had exquisite carved doors at one time, though in all but a few dozen homes these have been sold off to pay for upkeep. Many also had zidaka, plaster-work niches in the walls to give an illusion of extended space, which are now just as rare. Toilet arrangements are ingenious, with fish in the large water cisterns to eat the mosquito larvae. On the top floor, a makuti roof shades one side. In parts of Lamu these old houses are built so close you could step across the street from one roof to another.

The private space inside Lamu’s houses is inseparable and barely distinguishable from the public space outside. the noises of the town – donkeys, mosques, cats – percolate into the interiors, encouraged by the constant flow of air created by the narrow coolness of the dark streets and the heat which accumulates on upper surfaces exposes to the sun. There’s an excellent display of Lamu’s architecture at the museum in Nairobi.

The one place everyone goes on Lamu is, of course, the beach; Lamu’s beach is the real thing. Unprotected by a reef, the sea here has some motion to it for once: it is one of the few places on the coast where, at certain times of the year, you can body surf. You can either walk down to Shela beach (about an hour) or you can take a motorboat or dhow.

Dodori and Boni National Reserves opened in 1976 to preserve a breeding ground for the East Lamu Topi, pelicans and other local bird life. Covering 877sq. km., with views of Dodori River and creek outlet with the densest, most varied species of mangrove forest in Kenya. Boni National Reserve is a 1,339 sq. km forest reserve created as a sanctuary for elephant from Garissa and Lamu.

Lake Magadi
Lake Magadi on the extreme south of the country is the most alkaline of all Kenyan Rift Valley lakes. The lake basin (temperatures above 100’F or 38’C) looks white with little water but a lot of accumulation of mixed salts – covering over 100 sq. Km. Surrounding the main lake basin are a number of the hot springs with salty waters coming out of the ground at a temperature of about 113’F (45’C).

The spring waters flow into a central pan where intensive evaporation leaves nothing behind but a thick white deposit of slush. The white slush contains a large amount of potassium, salts and various other chemicals, making the lake area the most prolific mineral producer in the country where Magadi Soda Company has been mining for mineral salts since the First World War. The southern end of the lake is rich in bird life including flamingo, waders and some European migrants.

Lake Naivasha (170 Sq. Km)
Just half-way before Lake Nakuru and about an hour’s drive from Nairobi, is Lake Naivasha, the “Sunshine Lake”, lying at about 1890 meters above sea level. It is a strangely fresh water lake on the floor of the Rift Valley with no outlet, but believed to have an underground seepage flow. The Germany naturalist Gustav Fischer was the first white man to see the lake on 11th May, 1883, before he and his 300 strong caravan was chased back to the Coast by the Maasai. Since then, the lake has been described as a “bewilderment of birds” due to its amazing variety of both aquatic and terrestrial bird life where more than 340 bird species can be spotted in a single visit. The lake water level fluctuates with the rainfall and has fluctuated that way for many years.

The lake’s views are dominated by the shadow of Mt. Longonot 2,777 meters (9,109 ft.) a partly extinct volcano which has been recently (1983) declared a national park (52 Sq. Km.) and whose fantastic views can be obtained from the eastern escarpment on the scenic highway to the region.

The Naivasha yellow-barked and umbrella thorn trees were once called “yellow fever trees” after the explorers who camped under them caught malaria fever from the bites of the mosquitoes, which the trees’ damp shades harbored. After a period of wanton destruction by charcoal burners in the early 1970s, the trees are now strictly protected and form the major flora attraction around the lake shores and its environs .

Due to its closeness to Nairobi, Lake Naivasha has become an important recreational area for city dwellers who go there for adventure trekking, game watching trips, sailing, water-skiing and fishing activities organized for the recreational of the visitors.

Between Lake Naivasha and Mt. Longonot stands the Hells Gate with rock climbs and a sky-throbbing Fisher’s Tower. The area has also been declared a national park (68 Sq. Kms), for the protection of the rarest of Kenya’s vulture population – the Lammergeyer which nests on the rock cliffs. Other wildlife species -buffalo, zebra, eland, kongoni, gazelles, impala and birds abound in the park.

If you can spare thirty minutes, visit the Olkaria Geothermal Power Station built in 1982 on the periphery of the National Park where about fourteen wells have been drilled in the volcanically active Olkaria Ridges to tap gaseous steam from underground. The steam drives turbines to produce electricity. The station produces 40 megawatts or 16% of all electricity produced in the country; thus making Kenya one of the 18 countries in the world to utilize geothermal energy.

Olorgesaillie
This is a 50 acre pre-historic site of Middle Pleistocene Age about 70 Kms. from Nairobi-Magadi Road. Like Fort Jesus and the Gedi ruins it was once administered by the former Kenya National Parks Organization who handed it over to the National Museums of Kenya for preservation and development. It has since been developed as a museum with stone age tools and fossilized remnants of extinct mammals first discovered by J.W. Gregory, the Great geologist in 1919.

Latest discoveries have revealed some parts of ancient camps and dwelling rooms which are displayed in the museum. The discoveries reveal very important facts about the prehistoric cultures in the world. Visitors to Olorgesaillie will also see game and a great variety of birds in the surrounding country.

Western Kenya and Lake Victoria

Lake Victoria, as the early explorers were to discover, is one of the most beautiful sights in the world, a great inland sea of fresh water from the banks of which from almost any one side it is impossible to see the other. At an altitude of 1,107 meters (3,718 feet) with an area of l,450 square meters within Kenya’s boundary, it is the world’s second largest freshwater lake after Lake Superior in North America, its shoreline shared by Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania.

Western Kenya is one of Kenya’s most densely populated regions and fish is the people’s natural staple. On Lake Victoria, or Victoria Nyanza as it was earlier best known (Nyanza, as the explorers of old soon discovered, actually means ‘lake) on ‘The lake scene is a perpetually busy one, especially when the fishing canoes come in.
Birds in search of pickings frequently join the jostline crowds among whom the tiny fish known as omena are in brisk demand. Sun-dried, they are used to flavour curries, soups and stews.

While places along the lake shores are often busy, others are as peaceful as any visitor could wish, remote, often palm-fringed, where gentle waves lap the sandy shore and it is easy to think that one is at the seaside, for the water stretches to the horizon with no distant land is in sight.

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