Introduction to various reserves of interest.
Masai Mara Game Reserve.
The world renown Maasai Mara Game Reserve is a northern extension of the Serengeti National Park which is located in Tanzania. Maasai Mara covers an area of 1510km². The Maasai Mara ecosystem is composed of rivers i.e the Talek river and Mara river which are the main water supply for the ecosystem. The Mara river is a huddle to the wildebeest migration as the wildebeests have to cross the river from Serengeti most of them perishing in the jaws of crocodiles and big cats. The Western part of Maasai Mara lies the Siria escarpment, Loita plains and the rest is the Masai pastoral land. The Maasai Mara game reserve is owned and run by the county council of Narok which is the richest county council in Kenya due to the revenue collected as park entrance fee. Part of the Maasai Mara which is called the Mara triangle is contracted out and privately run. Park fees are paid by the number of nights one spends in the Mara Conservancy. The Maasai Mara lies at an altitude of 1500 meters to 2100 meters. It rains twice a year in the game reserve that is during the long rains that fall between the month of March and May and during the short rains that fall on the month of October, November and part of December. June and July are the coldest months and January and February the hottest months. Temperatures during the day rarely exceed 85°F (30°C) and during the night it hardly drops below 60°F (15°C). Maasai Mara is a mosquito-prone area but campsite are sprayed with mosquito repellents and the tents have treated mosquito nets.
Maasai Mara has a big population of wildlife. All big five can be seen in this reserve, a large number of ungulates are also easily visible they include the wildebeest, Thomson gazelles, grant gazelles, buffalos, rhinos, impalas, topis, elands, zebras, giraffes and duikers. The common predators include the lions, cheetahs, leopards, hyenas, jackals and foxes. Maasai Mara has over 450 identified species. Some common birds include the common ostrich, secretary bird, Kori bustard, hornbills, storks, eagles and vultures. The wildebeest migration happens annually, this spectacle is considered as one of the 7th wonders of the world. More than a million wildebeest, accompanied by topis, zebras, gazelles and elands make their journey from Serengeti National Park to Masai Mara Game reserve. Many of them perish while crossing the Mara river where crocodiles and big cats make a kill on the vulnerable ungulates. The migration happens every year during the month of July after the long rains. The grass is big and plenty and for the next three months, the wildebeests clear the lush grass of the Maasai Mara. The migration varies annually due to the climate change. If the climate changes and it doesn’t rain as usual the wildebeest may delay to cross over or cross over and go back since there isn’t grass to feed on. The Masai people whom by definition speak the Maa language hence the name Maasai have held on to their culture even in these times of modernization. A Maasai’s home is called a manyatta where he lives with his wives and children. From childhood boys are obligated to look after their fathers’ cows while girls are obligated to doing house chores, fetching water and milking the cows. After every fifteen years, there is an initiation where boys are circumcised and they become young morans and the existing morans graduate to junior elders. The Maasai enjoy eating meat, milk mixed with blood during rituals such as initiation and marriage. The use of herbs as medicine is still embedded in their day to day life. The Maasai are an attraction in Kenya since they managed to stick to their culture.
Lake Nakuru National Park.
Lake Nakuru is one of the alkaline lakes of the Great Rift Valley. The lake is also known as “Pink Lake” or Africa Bird’s Paradise. The lake is ideally located in central Kenya within Lake Nakuru National park. The park occupies an area of 188 km2 while the lake occupies an area of 62 km 2. The lake is famous for the millions of flamingos that flock the lake although flamingos are unpredictable birds and are not always to be found in the lake is such vast numbers. From a distance i.e. the baboon cliff, the lake looks pink in colour due to the flamingos. The topography at Lake Nakuru is comprised of grasslands alternating with rocky cliffs and outcrops, acacia woodlands and a forest made up of Euphorbia trees. In the early 1960’s Tilapia Grahami was introduced to the lake and it flourished despite the alkaline nature of the lake. There are two species of flamingos namely lesser flamingo and greater flamingos, they feed on algae, which flourishes due to the warm alkaline waters of Lake Nakuru. It is believed that flamingos consume about 250,000 kg of algae per hectare of surface area per year. The abundance of algae in the lake is what attracts millions of flamingos to Lake Nakuru. Apart from flamingos, other bird species include ducks, pelicans, cormorants, plovers, vultures, eagles, and buzzards. Over 50 animal species which include hippos, reedbucks, waterbucks, Rothschild giraffe’s, baboons, black and white Columbus monkey, hyenas, cheetahs, leopards, lions, gazelles and impalas are found in this park.
Lake Bogoria National Reserve.
Lake Bogoria covers an area of 32 square kilometres (12 sq miles) and lies in a trough below the Ngendelel Escarpment, a sheer wall 600 metres (2,000 ft) high. The lake is geothermically active on the western shore, with geysers and hot springs. The geologist J.W. Gregory described the lake in 1892 as “the most beautiful view in Africa”. Lake Bogoria was formerly known as Lake Hannington. Lake Bogoria is dominated by the countless hot springs which pour boiling water into the sterile lake. Sterile, except for the massive flocks of Lesser Flamingos that flood into Bogoria each year. Millions of them have been recorded at peak times of the year and hundreds of thousands is common. The lake is alkaline, feeding blue-green algae which in turn feed flamingoes. Raptors such as Tawny Eagles prey on the flamingoes. The reserve has a herd of the relatively uncommon Greater Kudu. Other large mammals include buffalo, zebra, cheetah, baboon, warthog, caracal, spotted hyena, impala and dik-dik.
Lake Baringo National Reserve.
Lake Baringo is one of the Rift Valley lakes located north of Lake Nakuru, The lake has a surface area of about 130 square kilometres (50 sq miles) and an elevation of about 970 metres (3,180 ft). The lake is fed by several rivers, El Molo, Perkerra and Ol Arabel, and has no obvious outlet; the waters are assumed to seep through lake sediments into the faulted volcanic bedrock. It is one of the two freshwater lakes in the Rift Valley in Kenya, the other being Lake Naivasha. The acacia woodland has a lot of bird species. The lake also provides an invaluable habitat for seven freshwater fish species including the Nile Tilapia, which is endemic to the lake. Lake fishing is important to local social and economic development. Additionally, the area is a habitat for many species of animals including the hippopotamus, crocodile and many other mammals, amphibians, reptiles and the invertebrate. The lake used to boast of a large Goliath Heron nesting colony which has disappeared although Goliath Herons are still breeding around the lake. In addition to bird watching walks and boat trips, with the guidance of a professional ornithologist, the lake offers a range of activities which include fishing, water sports (ski, wind-surfing), camel rides, day trips to the nearby Lake Bogoria National Reserve or visiting a Njemps village, where you can get a sip of the local handicrafts and dances.
Samburu Game Reserve
Samburu game reserve is the most popular parks of the northern frontier fauna sanctuaries. The game park occupies an area of 165 km2. The driving distance from Nairobi is 350 km and 65km from Isiolo town to Archer’s post gate. The park lies on the northern bank of Uaso Nyiro River, the river serves as the only source of water without which the game in the reserve could not survive in the arid country. Samburu National Reserve was one of the two areas in which conservationists George Adamson and Joy Adamson raised Elsa the Lioness made famous in the best-selling book and award-winning movie Free. The Samburu National Reserve is also home of Kamunyak, a lioness famous for adopting oryx calves. Samburu’s topography is composed of river Uaso Nyiro which flows from the Kenyan highlands and flows to Lorian swamp, scattered acacia, riverine forest, thorn trees and grassland vegetation. The climate for Samburu is hot dry with cool nights with an average annual maximum temperature of 30ºc (86F) and minimum annual temperature of 20ºc (68F).
There is a wide variety of animal and bird life seen at Samburu National Reserve. Several species are considered unique to the region, including its unique dry-country animal life: All three big cats, lion, cheetah and leopard, can be found here, as well as elephants, buffalo and hippos, Olive baboon, gerenuk, warthogs, Grant’s gazelle, Kirk’s dik-dik, impala, waterbuck, Grevy’s zebra, Beisa oryx, reticulated giraffe and over 350 bird species. Samburu is also a Maasai land, the Maasai people whom by definition speak the Maa language hence the name Maasai have held on to their culture even in these times of modernization. A Maasai’s home is called a manyatta where he lives with his wives and children. From childhood boys are obligated to look after their father’s cows while girls are obligated to doing house chores, fetching water and milking the cows. After every fifteen years, there is an initiation where boys are circumcised and they become young morans and the existing morans graduate to junior elders. The Maasai enjoy eating meat, milk mixed with blood during rituals such as initiation and marriage. The use of herbs as medicine is still embedded in their day to day life. The Maasai are an attraction in Kenya since they managed to stick to their culture.
Lake Naivasha is at the highest elevation of all the Kenyan Rift valley lakes standing at 1,890 metres (6,200 ft). The lake is fed by two rivers namely Malewa and Gilgil rivers and has no visible outlet. It covers an area of 140 km² but this varies annually due to the rainfall. The lake has an average depth of 8 meters and it is a freshwater lake. Much of the lake is surrounded by forests of the yellow barked Acacia Xanthophlea, known as the yellow fever tree. These forests abound with bird life, and Naivasha is known as a world-class birding destination. The lake habitats schools of hippos and many bird species. The most common is the fish eagle. A wonderful way to spend the afternoon or morning is to take a boat ride.
Amboseli National Park
Amboseli National Park is located south of Nairobi 140 kilometres (3 ½ hrs drive). The park occupies an area of 392 km². The ecosystem is made up of a seasonal lake called Lake Amboseli where the park derives its name from, swamps, open plains, acacia woodland, rocky outcrops, thorn bushes and marches. The landscape is dominated by the backdrop of the majestic snow-cap of Mount Kilimanjaro the highest mountain in Africa. The snow cap is visible when the clouds are clear mainly early morning and late evenings and this scene give one the opportunity to capture wonderful memories on camera for friends and loved ones back at home.
Amboseli national park is considered Kenya second best after Maasai Mara game reserve by many tourists and is the only national park in Kenya that has the biggest population of elephants. The ecosystem of Amboseli, though small compared to other parks, sustain a large number of bird species and game. Amboseli offers some of the best opportunities to see African animals because its vegetation is sparse due to the long dry months. The park is considered most ideal for writers, filmmakers and researchers. The Maasai are the local habitat of this area, which they call Empusel meaning “Dusty place”. Other community tribes have moved to Amboseli in search of greener pastures. Beside game viewing and the ecstatic views of Mount Kilimanjaro, one can visit a local Maasai village to learn their way of life and to interact with the locals.
Tsavo West National Park.
Tsavo West National Park covers an area of 9065Km² and is located South Eastern Kenya, 240 km from Nairobi or 250km from Mombasa to Mtito Andei Gate. The park has magnificent scenery, Mzima Springs, rich and varied wildlife, good road system, rhino reserve, rock climbing at Kichwa Tembo Cliffs and guided walks along the Tsavo River. Tsavo West National Park has a variety of wildlife, such as black rhino, cape buffalo, elephant, leopard and Maasai lion. There are also other smaller animals that can be spotted in the park, such as the bushbaby, hippo, hartebeest, lesser kudu and Maasai giraffe. Mzima springs are a natural reservoir under the Chyulu Hills to the north. The Chyulu range is composed of volcanic lava rock and ash, which is too porous to allow rivers to flow. Instead, rainwater percolates through the rock and may spend 25 years underground before emerging 50 kilometres away at Mzima springs. The spring produces 450 million litres of water in a day that serves the Tsavo ecosystem and some of the water serves the coastal region through a pipe. In the spring you will find schools of hippos, crocodiles, fish and water birds like cormorants. During the night hippos come out to graze and during the day they just laze in the full or half submerged.
The Shetani Lava flow, a black lava flow of 8 km long, 1.6 km wide and 5 meters deep, is the remain of volcanic eruptions which were subject of tales among local communities who named the flow “shetani” meaning evil in Kiswahili after it spewed from the earth 240 years ago. Climbing the flow is not an easy task as the thick black soil is composed of uneven chunks of solid magma. The cave, located near the centre of the outflow, has two large opening and one ancient tree is growing between them. Although the cave is only a few meters long, the exit is not accessible (although it can be seen) as the place is too narrow. The Roaring Rocks will give you magnificent panoramic views, usually only seen by the eagles and buzzards that fly around. these cliffs, over the plain called Rhino valley and the Ngulia Hills (1,821 m – 5,975 ft.). The Roaring rock, located near the Rhino Sanctuary, has been for long an observation point for the protection of black rhinoceros and the fight against poaching. The eerie Roaring Rocks are named after the buzz of cicadas that inhabit them and the howl of wind that hits the bare rocks by producing a roaring sound.
Tsavo East National park.
Tsavo East National Park is one of the oldest and largest parks in Kenya covering an area of 11,747 square kilometres. The park is located near the village of Voi in the Taita-Taveta District of Coast Province and is divided into east and west sections by the A109 road and a railway. The park borders the Chyulu Hills National Park, and the Mkomazi Game Reserve in Tanzania. The climate in this area is warm and dry. One requires a smart card to access the park and the card can be topped up at Voi gate. Attractions of Tsavo East National Park include “The Red Elephants”. This effect is achieved from the wallowing and rolling in the Galana river and spraying of the red soils of Tsavo.
The beautiful Aruba dam located on the north bank of the seasonal Voi River. It is visited by thousands of animals and a great game viewing point.
The Mudanda Rock.
The Mudanda Rock is a 1.6 km inselberg of stratified rock that acts as a water catchment that supplies a natural dam below. It offers an excellent vantage point for the hundreds of elephants and other wildlife that come to drink during the dry season.
The Yatta Plateau, the world’s longest lava flow, runs along the western boundary of the park above the Athi River. Its 290 km length was formed by lava from Ol Doinyo Sabuk Mountain.
Lugard Falls, named after Frederick Lugard, is actually a series of whitewater rapids on the Galana River
Tsavo East has vast amounts of the diverse wildlife that can be seen, including the famous ‘big five’ consisting of the lion, black rhino, cape buffalo, elephant and leopard. The park also is also home to a great variety of bird life such as the black kite, crowned crane, lovebird and the sacred bird.
Meru National Park.
Meru National Park is a Kenyan Game park located east of Meru, 350 km from Nairobi. Covering an area of 870 km², it is one of the most famous known wilderness parks of Kenya. It has abundant rainfall, 635–762 mm in the west of the park and 305–356 mm in the east. The rainfall results in tall grass and lush swamps. It has a wide range of wild beasts like elephant, hippopotamus, lion, Leopard, cheetah, black rhinoceros and some rare antelopes.
Meru was one of the two areas in which conservationists George Adamson and Joy Adamson raised “Elsa, the lioness’’ made famous in the best-selling book and award-winning movie “Born Free”. Elsa the Lioness is buried in this park and part of Joy’s ashes was scattered on her gravesite. The park became targeted by poachers and was considered unsafe until the KWS Kenya Wildlife Service, helped by the IFAW – International Fund for Animal Welfare, restored Meru National Park from near ruin to one of the most promising tourist destinations in Eastern Africa, solving the parks poaching problem. IFAW donated $1.25 million to this major restoration project and with this money aided in improving the basic infrastructure and provided essential equipment and vehicles for law enforcement activities.