Parks and Reserves
NAIROBI NATIONAL PARK
Widely hailed as a model of urban preservation, Nairobi National Park was Kenya’s rst park - and remains one of the world’s greatest city reserves. In this carefully preserved 117-square-kilometre wilderness, it is possible to see rare black rhinos and majestic lions against the distinctive silhouettes of Nairobi’s modern skyscrapers. Established in 1946, Nairobi National Park has retained impressive populations of large mammals, including all the ‘Big Five’ except elephant, and more than 400 bird species. The park is primarily savannah grassland, with areas of highland forest in the west and riverine forests along the banks of the Athi River, where hippo and crocodile occupy the river pools. On the park’s southeastern boundary, the Kitengela Conservation Area provides an important buffer zone and a natural migration corridor for the many grazing species that move out of the park with the rainy seasons.
ABERDARE NATIONAL PARK
One of Kenya’s oldest protected reserves, the Aberdare National Park was established in 1950 to safeguard the country’s rarest forest ecosystem and its major watershed. Within its 766 square kilometres are some of Africa’s richest alpine landscapes, with ancient cedar forests, heather moorlands and bamboo groves divided by icy streams and deep waterfalls. The Aberdares’ highest peaks, which rise to 13,120 feet, were famous as a hideout of the Mau Mau freedom ghters in the late 1950s. They contain Kenya’s tallest waterfall, the 1,000-foot Gura Falls, which together with neighbouring Karura Falls formed the famous aerial scenes in Out of Africa. The higher slopes, however, should be avoided during July and August due to thick ‘mountain mist’. The Aberdares provide a fascinating stopover between Kenya’s northern deserts and its southern parks. The deep forests are home to a unique range of wildlife, from elephant, lion and giant forest hog to rare melanistic leopard and serval cats - whose coats have turned black in the rareed air - and Kenya’s rarest antelope, the shy chestnut-coated Bongo.
AMBOSELI NATIONAL PARK
Amboseli National Park, at the foot of Africa’s highest mountain 5895m (19,340ft) Kilimanjaro is one of the most popular of all Kenya’s national parks. It lies some 240 kms (145 miles) south-east of Nairobi. The snow-capped peak of Mount Kilimanjaro rising above a saucer of clouds dominates every aspect of the Park which covers 3920 km (1513 square miles). The Tanzania border runs along its base and also forms the boundary of the Park. Years ago this was the locale around which such famous writers as Ernest Hemingway and Robert Ruark spun their stories of big-game hunting in the African wilds.
It is also the home of the famed Maasai people, those tall, proud nomadic warriors whose legendary prowess in battle and single handed acts of bravery in ghts with wild animals has spread across the world. Perhaps more than any other community in Kenya, however, they have learned to live in complete harmony with their environment and the wildlife which surrounds them. The group which numbers more than 240,000 have many fascinating traditions which form part of their ages-old culture. Their diet is a simple one, consisting mainly of meat and milk and also the blood of cattle - drawn by ring a collared arrow into the beast’s jugular vein - mixed with milk.
The snows of Kilimanjaro, white and crystalline, form a backdrop to one of Kenya’s most
spectacular displays of wildlife - lion, elephant, leopard, rhino, cheetah, buffalo and hosts of plains game and the combination makes the park a photographer’s paradise. Part of the Park is composed of a dried-up lake bed which produces mirages in the shimmering heat. Swamps and springs, fed by underground rivers from Kilimanjaro’s melting snows, form permanent watering places for the wildlife in times of drought.. Many attractive birds can be easily seen and equally easily photographed around the lodges. This is one of the few places where the rare and beautiful Taveta Golden Weaver is found.
Lake Baringo lies in the solitude of the semi-desert of the northern Rift Valley, a haven of beauty and peace in harsh, rugged, but majestic surroundings. Its beauty derives as much from the overwhelming sense of being at repose with nature as much as its scenic splendor. Until recently, when a new road was completed, the lake was considered ‘off the beaten track’. Indeed this was explorer’s country. J. W. Gregory, who travelled to the lake from Mombasa in the last decade of the last century, formulated his theory of the creation of the Great Rift Valley from evidence found at Baringo. Earlier the slave caravans passed this way and the remains of Fort Baringo, built to try and stop this brutal trade, are still visible. Hippo and crocodile abound but most visitors are entranced by the multitude of birds - 400 species have been identied and the Goliath heron on a rocky islet (known locally as Gibraltar Island) is world famous. Bird watching is by boat or by foot and other leisure activities includes the possibility of a visit to a local Njemps.
In 1892, J W Gregory, the great geologist who rst set eyes on Lake Bogoria, described the sight as “The most beautiful view in Africa”. For decades only the intrepid could reach the shoreline - by foot, for no roads existed. Travellers to Lake Baringo would pass within a few miles of the lake hidden behind ridge after ridge of barren stony land but scarcely anyone was aware of its existence. Now accessible, but still innitely remote, the lake presents an exciting contrast to the more conventional game parks to the south and east. The lake and the area around it form a national reserve and although this reserve is primarily scenic it is by no means devoid of wildlife. Birds are plentiful and at times - especially when the waters of Lake Nakuru are low - it is the haunt of hundreds of thousands of amingo. On the north eastern shore greater kudu are to be found as well as a number of plains game. The journey along the shoreline is made the more exciting by steam jets and boiling geysers, starkly evidencing the volcanic origins of the Great Rift Valley and reminiscent of scenes from pre-history.
The name Naivasha is synonymous with Kenya’s early settler community - and in particular with the decadent lifestyles of the notorious ‘Happy Valley crowd’. It is an undeserved reputation, for although a few lives were lived to excess here during the 1930s and 40s, Naivasha was primarily a place of wheat farming, cattle breeding and hard work. Today, much of the old grazing ground has given way to more lucrative horticulture, but Naivasha remains a pearl for the visitor: a beautiful crystal clear lake, 6,000 feet above sea level, ringed by some of the country’s most charming and luxurious holiday retreats. The lake itself is home to hundreds of hippo, and plains game and cats still roam the game sanctuaries run by several of the lodges and farms. The lake also boasts one of the greatest diversities of birdlife in the world, with more than 400 species recorded to date.
MAASAI MARA GAME RESERVE
The jewel in Africa’s crown, Maasai Mara is host to the most spectacular array of wildlife. Her 320 square kilometers of open savannah, woodlands and tree-lined rivers create an eco-system which supports huge numbers of bird and mammal species. The western border of the park is the spectacular Siria Escarpment, and together with the acacia dotted plains, creates scenery of stunning beauty. Lion are found in abundance throughout the park as are elephant, giraffe, a variety of gazelle species and zebra. Cheetah and leopard are also regularly seen and, if lucky, you may also nd rhino. Game viewing is never dull in the Mara, and patience is often rewarded with unique sightings: a pride of lion stalking their prey; a solitary leopard retrieving its kill from the high branches of an acacia tree; male wildebeest sparring to attract females into their harem; or even a herd of elephant protecting their young from opportunistic predators. The annual wildebeest migration traditionally is in the Mara from July-September and at this time nature’s dramas unfold before your very eyes at every turn. As well as wildlife, the Maasai Mara is also home to many members of the colourful Maasai tribe who may be seen around the borders of the park - morans (warriors) loping across the plains, young boys herding goats, or elders grouped under a tree discussing matters of the day.
Meru National Park contains a variety of landscapes and wildlife unmatched in any other Kenyan park of its size. Bordering the arid, open plains that dominate the park are a huge diversity of different ecosystems, ranging from emerald green swamps and towering indigenous forests in the west to huge palm groves and baobab-studded bush in the east. This rich slice of equatorial Africa is home to an equally broad variety of wildlife, from large elephant and buffalo herds to hippo and crocodile, leopard, cheetah and wild dog, and the lions that remain the park’s most enduring symbol. Meru is best known as the inspiration of the lm Born Free - the place where George and Joy Adamson released their famously friendly charges into the bush. The park’s 870 square kilometers are watered by ve major rivers and surrounded by large protected buffer zones that provide a dispersal area for its animals, which include the world’s largest herds of Cape buffalo.
Mount Kenya is the county’s highest mountain. Sitting astride the equator its icy summit reaches to 5199m (17058 ft). All of the mountain above the 3200m (10500 ft) contour forms a national park. In fact the mountain consists of three principal zones; the rocky peak area, actually an eroded volcanic plug, with its cloak of glaciers and snow elds; the alpine zone with its distinctive giant vegetation; and the vast gentle slopes drenched in mountain forest and bamboo jungle. It is no wonder that this remote and majestic wonderland was considered as God’s domain by awed farmers at its foothills. Many rivers ow from the perpetual snows, among them the mighty Tana, source of much of Kenya’s electricity supply. Most visitors are content to marvel at the mountain’s beauty but some will want to attempt to reach the summit; a feat requiring considerable rock climbing skill. But the mountain’s lesser peaks and glaciers can all be scaled and walked by the t and the adventurous. Point Lenana, 4985 m (16355 ft) can be easily reached. Wildlife within the forests below the park boundary includes elephant, buffalo, lion, several species of antelope including the rare bongo and occasionally both melanistic leopard and serval. Much of this game can be seen from the comfort of Mountain Lodge which lies just inside the forest on the south side of the mountain.
LAKE NAKURU NATIONAL PARK
Lake Nakuru, a shallow and alkaline lake on the bed of the Great Rift Valley, has earned its fame as the home of the greatest bird spectacle in the world - ocks of often more than a million pink amingos which seasonally use its waters to feed on the abundant algae which thrives in its shallow warm waters. It lies 156 kms (100 miles) from Nairobi by road. Although the amingo are the most obvious, other inhabitants of the alkaline lake include Black-winged stilts, avocets and in the European winter a mass of ruffs. Lake Nakuru National Park has a great deal to offer. Beside its magnicent bird life, it is also a rhino sanctuary and one of the best places in the country to see both black and white rhino. The park is also host to lion, leopard, buffalo and a variety of plains and forest game which have made it their permanent and protected habitat. The acacia savannah which surrounds the lake is itself beautiful and provides an area which is particularly good for game viewing.
SAMBURU GAME RESERVE
Samburu Game Reserve offers what is arguably Kenya’s greatest - and least changed - encounter with the wild Africa of yesteryear. This harsh, savagely beautiful wilderness depends on the steady ow of the Uaso Nyiro River for its existence; the river waters a wide variety of animal species not found south of the Equator, including the majestic Beisa oryx, the reticulated giraffe, the thin-striped Grevy’s zebra, and the ‘giraffe-necked’ gerenuk antelope, which stands on its hind legs to feed. Elephant, buffalo, lion and leopard can all be seen along the river, and the 400-plus species of birds are positively spectacular. Together with neighbouring Buffalo Springs and Shaba national reserves, Samburu comprises 833 sq km of protected semi-desert land. This is the home of the Samburu tribe, cousins of the Maasai, who share the same nomadic, cattle-herding existence, and an even stricter adherence to their age-old rites and customs.
SWEETWATERS GAME RESERVE/OL PEJETA RANCH
The 24,000-acre Sweetwaters Reserve is situated within the sprawling Ol Pejeta ranch with magnicent views across the plains to the peaks of Mount Kenya. A variety of plains game is found within the reserve and the big cats may also be seen. As Sweetwaters is a private reserve, it is possible for visitors to enjoy activities such as escorted bush walks, night game drives and camel riding. Orphaned rhino and warthog (one of which was the model for Pumba, from the movie the Lion King), which have been reared by hand, provide a wonderful treat for children, as does the chimpanzee sanctuary. The sanctuary homes chimps mainly from the Jane Goodall Institute in Burundi, where a great many were placed after being rescued. The sanctuary is a non-prot venture, which aims not only to cover the investment and operating costs of the sanctuary, but also to channel funds into the Jane Goodall Institute for conservation projects for chimpanzees in the wild throughout Africa.
Once one of the world’s greatest elephant and rhino domains, Tsavo East remains a unique wilderness destination - a land of harsh, arid desert housing a surprisingly rich diversity of life. Together with Tsavo West, this park is one of the world’s largest protected areas; with the neighbouring Chyulu Hills, the twin Tsavo's cover an area of 21,754 square kilometers - more than 450 square kilometres larger than Wales. Unlike Tsavo West, Tsavo East is the epitome of the African bush, with mile upon mile of arid, thorny scrubland sweeping to the horizon. In these wild surroundings, wildlife viewing is far more challenging - but often far more rewarding. In little oases along the Athi, Tiva, Tsavo and Voi rivers, a handful of tented camps offer a remote and very genuine ‘back to bush’ experience - and some of the wildest, most thrilling walking safaris anywhere in Africa.
The section of Tsavo National Park south of the Mombasa Road, 9,000-squarekilometre Tsavo West provides a unique step back in time - to the days when tens of thousands of giant beasts roamed this forested land. Today, the forests are gone- the result of too many elephants and too little rain - but, thanks to the abundant snow melt from Kilimanjaro, the land continues to water a huge variety of wildlife, from elephant and buffalo to lion, leopard, oryx, lesser kudu and klipspringer. Even the dangerously depleted black rhino are making a minor comeback in a small, ercely-guarded 70-square-kilometre sanctuary. Tsavo West’s boundaries encompass a huge variety of habitats, from the lush forests on the Chyulu Hills to arid desert plains, rich riverine groves to the haunting lava-ows of Shaitani. The park’s undisputed showpiece is the crystal clear bounty of Mzima Springs, where in an oasis of rafa palms and g trees the melting snows of Kilimanjaro pump over 50 million gallons of water out of the ground each day. An underwater observation post here offers a novel close encounter with the large crocodile and pods of hippo that ourish in the cold waters.