Tsavo National Park is vast. Put together, the western and eastern areas of Tsavo make up one of the largest animal sanctuaries in the world – imagine the whole of Wales being a park. Tsavo East became renowned ,or perhaps more correctly, infamous in the early 20th century ,as the home of man-eating lions which treated the railway workers building the Mombasa to Kampala line as a new food source. Tsavo was also the setting in the First World War of battles between British and German troops vying for supremacy in East Africa. Tsavo is old, in that is one of Kenya’s longest established parks and yet at the same time young, because the Ngulia Hills that dominate the area are of comparatively recent volcanic origin.
Tsavo West, Volcanic activity such as the cones, outcrops and lava flows are still visible. The most striking of the hardened flows is Shaitana, which looks like it cooled down only recently and whose name (meaning ‘devil’ in Swahili) seems particularly apposite as it burst from beneath the ground. The surrounding cave formations should not be missed but you will need a torch.
As each year draws to an end the Ngulia hills become host to an amazing nightly display when birds, literally in their thousands, appear out of the darkening mists. Some 40 species make this journey to escape the cold winters of Northern Europe. A netting and ringing project has tracked some of them back to as far as northern Russia.
The region is also home to an incredibly important water source – the Mzima Springs. The springs produce approximately 50 million gallons of water a day – 30 million of which are piped to Mombasa. The source of the springs is the ice-cap on Kilimanjaro and the rains that fall on the Chyulu Hills which soak through the porous volcanic rock to form subterranean rivers. The springs attracts Hippo, barbels and crocodiles and an underwater viewing platform allows you to see the animals. The best observation time is in the early morning before the hippos get too hot and shelter themselves out of sight in the surrounding papyrus cover.
Lake Jipe in southwest of Tsava West is very important wetland. Birds commonly seen are pied-kingfishers, knob-billed geese, palm nut vultures and the African skimmer. A few rhino are left in Tsavo protected in a enclosed sanctuary at the foot of the Ngulia Hills. Other wildlife includes cheetah, buffalo, oryx, eland, zebra, leopard, buffalo, spotted hyena, kongoni, waterbuck, impala, duiker and klipspringer. The lions of Tsavo may once have been infamous but when the rains have fallen and the grass is long – they are very difficult to spot.
Tsavo East is the much less visited side of the park and a photographer’s dream. Large elephant herds roam the vast scrubland plains that make up most of the terrain. An exception to this terrain is the Yatta Plateau. The plateau, standing at 1000 ft high and stretching for roughly 180 miles, can attribute its existence to the planet’s largest lava flow. Erosion over the years has sculpted the plateau into its present, slightly brooding shape. Lugard’s Fall, another highlight, are the waters of the Galana river rushing through water polished rocks. Crocodiles and hippos live downstream and can best seen at Crocodile Point.
In addition to the wildlife species that it has in common with Tsavo West; the eastern park has rare local birds which come in a rainbow of hues and include the colourful yellow throated longclaws, rosy-patched shrikes, red and yellow barbets, carmine bee-eaters and the white-headed buffalo weaver – to list just a few of the 500 species that have been recorded here.