Ol Donyo Sabuk, #TwendeTujivinjari

This week I was lucky. Together with a selected group, we traveled to Ol Donyo Sabuk National park on a Conservation and Local Tourism Awareness mission. This blog post highlights the various aspects that characterized our mission.

Background

The Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) is a state corporation established by an Act of Parliament Cap 376 whose mandate features conservation and management of Kenya’s wildlife for the Kenyan people and the world.

According to KWS and other environment, wildlife and tourism bodies, the challenges facing wildlife and biodiversity conservation in Kenya are many and varied. They include climate change, habitat degradation and loss, forest depletion, tourism market volatility, human wildlife conflict brought on by population growth and changing land use habits of communities that co-exist with wildlife as well as wildlife crime.

To tackle these issues, KWS employs a multi-pronged approach and strategies and engage different interest groups, stakeholders and partners. KWS’ goal is to work with others to conserve, protect and sustainably manage wildlife resources. The community wildlife program of KWS in collaboration with others encourages biodiversity conservation. The premise is that “if people benefit from wildlife and other natural resources, then they will take care of these resources.

 Ol Donyo Sabuk

The Ol Donyo Sabuk National Park is located about 85km north-east of Nairobi in Machakos district of Eastern province. The ecosystem constitutes a mountain (Mt. Kilimambogo) which is entirely covered with dense montane forest except for a small area at the top.

Buffalo are the dominant animals in the ecosystem. Other wildlife include bushbuck, leopard, olive baboon, colobus monkey, vervet monkey, Sykes’ monkey, Kirk’s dik-dik, bush pig, common duiker, reedbuck, rock hyrax, bush-baby, tree and ground squirrel, aardvark,  porcupine, mongoose, python and monitor lizard.

The park is home to 45 species of birds and the easily spotted ones include; white-browed sparrow weaver, grey- headed sparrow weaver, African pied wagtail, mourning dove, augur buzzard, African hawk eagle, purple-breasted sunbird, yellow-vented bulbul, speckled mousebird, helmeted guinea fowl, black-headed oriole, grey tit, ring-necked dove, bateleur, great sparrow- hawk, bronze sunbird, superb starling and Mackinnon grey shrike.

Within the park’s reach, there exists The Fourteen Falls, which is located about 65 Kilometers North East of Nairobi off Thika-Garissa Road turning at Makutano junction. Fourteen Falls waterfall at Thika is a spectacular 27 meter deep and a perfect day trip. There is a lot to see and do while in this scenic site, boating, fishing, photography, plant identification, and bird watching are among other activities.

Fourteen Falls Filth
Hyacinth at River Athi (Sabuk Bridge)

 Access

By Road: 85 km North-East of Nairobi. Your journey from Nairobi City Center will take you to Thika Road, a modern superhighway which in itself is an attraction, at least for many locals whose encounter with such roads with overpasses, underpasses , tunnels and flyovers has always been through television and reading material. It can take you up to one hour from Nairobi to Thika town. From Thika town proceed 22 km along the main Garissa road to Makutano junction. At Makutano follow the KWS sign and turn right, proceeding 3 km on an all-weather murram road to Donyo town. At Donyo turn right and proceed a further 2 km to the main gate. The journey in entirety shouldnt take you more than an hour and a half.

Climate

According to the KWS guidelines,January-March is hot and dry, April-June is hot and wet, July-October is very warm and dry, November and December are warm and wet

The Park

Entry is by cash only. Tickets may be purchased from KWS Headquarters along Langata Road in Nairobi. Proof of identification will be required as follows.

  • Citizens – Valid Passport or National ID

  • Residents – Valid Passport & re entry pass

Attractions at the park

  • Montane landscape

  • An unusual burial site, McMillan grave

  • Wildlife Watching

  • Abundant forest birds

  • Fourteen Falls

  • Scenic views of Mt.Kenya  from the summit

Wildlife

  • Includes; buffalo, leopard, mongoose, bushbuck, olive baboon, colobus monkey, vervet monkey, Sykes’ monkey, Kirk’s dik-dik, bush pig, common duiker, reedbuck, rock hyrax, bushbaby, tree and ground squirrel, aardvark, porcupine, python and monitor lizard.

  • more than 45 species of birds have been recorded.

Accommodation

  • KWS Self – Catering Accommodation:

    • Sabuk Guesthouse sleeps 10 people.

  • Camping Facilities

    • Turacco Public Campsite : Situated at the main gate

  • Picnic Areas

    • Picnic Site at main gate or

    • Picnic at Lookout Point which is at the mountain. At this point clients have an excellent view of Athi Plains, Nairobi City, Thika Industrial town, Ngong Hills and the expansive Kapiti Plains of Kajiado District while enjoying their rest in the Park.

Activities

  • Game viewing

  • Camping

  • Mountain Climbing

Take With You

  • Drinking water, picnic items and camping equipment if you intend to stay overnight. Also useful are: boots, binoculars, camera, hat, sunscreen, sunglasses and guidebooks.

My Experience

The Journey

The journey to and from Sabuk was fun filled in itself, conversation works for me and as they say, our best moments in life exist in our stories. Jokes and banter made the journey worthwhile and fun and by the time I was dropped off on our way home, I had more stories to tell with the crew than what I knew before #TwendeTujivinjari. Our crew had a good blend of varied persona and I imagine, that made our adventure satisfactory.

Food

We stopped over for lunch in Thika Town, at The Coconut Grill. A typical urban Bar and Restaurant serving African dishes, soft drinks and alcohol. Ol Donyo Sabuk Park provides for self-catering at the Sabuk Guest House. We did some shopping at Tuskys Supermarket, Thika.

For us the fact that we made our own food was reward and fun in itself. Most of the folks got to help out in one way or another. Some by eating the cooked food. I chopped the vegetables🙂 The beauty of making your own food is knowing the outcome. For those who travel a lot, you know too well the trouble that is ordering something from your imagination and being serving shock-worthy in the end.

Stock up on enough food, and variety to accommodate varied tastes. Don’t forget the all important drinks. Alcohol outlets at Sabuk shopping center in particular do not have canned beer and cannot allow you to buy bottled beer unless you have replacement bottles with you. Our options were limited to juice, soda and some vodka whose end result favored most of us who had a mountain to climb early morning.

Fourteen Falls

Within the park’s reach, there exists The Fourteen Falls, which is located about 65 Kilometers North East of Nairobi off Thika-Garissa Road turning at Makutano junction. Fourteen Falls waterfall at Thika is a spectacular 27 meter deep and a perfect day trip. There is a lot to see and do while in this scenic site, boating, fishing, photography, plant identification, and bird watching are among other activities.

The best of our experience was crossing River Athi while wading through the water and hoping over rocks. It required  team effort as we interlocked hands to move in train. There were enough light moments as some slipped and fell in the river and tense moments when making a step through deep and forceful currents required more than courage. Personally I am very afraid of water masses, I just enjoy sitting at beach restaurants and watching seas from a safe distance. This is one of the few things you must do, in a lifetime, as a group.

Mountain Climbing

I am not a mountaineer, despite the fact that my native home happens to be right at the base of Mount Elgon, Kenya’s second highest Mountain. Nonetheless, I followed instructions and carried my boots and hat along for this experience.

Climbing a mountain requires patience, perseverance and company. Our experience has us telling stories, cracking jokes and helping the photographer on the team identify photo-worthy objects, flora and fauna.

Besides helping my team break their ribs from laughter, I had lots of thoughts come and go through my mind. Life and its general nonsense so to speak. A great way to reflect on things that you identify with, that you are and and wish to do. By the time we reached the mountain peak, and before altitude sickness had me laughing endlessly, I had a clearer mind than what I had come with.

The Mc Millan Castle

I have been to a number of museums in my life. From The Vasco Da Gama Museum in Malindi Kenya to The Africa-Asia Museum in Bandung in recent times. Naturally, I have come to understand that museums display artifacts with stories behind them and such. The Mc Millan Castle was different. The fascination starting with the fact that one of the members of our team has direct history to the castle. @AKenyanGirl‘s grandfather constructed the Mac Millan Castle. Naturally, she’ll tell the story better.

The Mc Millan house does not have much of items on display. Just empty rooms that beg a lot of questions. Questions which we asked, and got endless tales for answers from the guides. The Mc Millan House is synonymous with a part of Kenya’s history. It is under renovation at the moment but you can gather some interesting details by reading about Mr. Mc Millan, whose wife interestingly is behind most of the text books that characterized my generation’s primary and high school education.

The Mc Millan Castle had a prison underground where Italians arrested from the second world war were kept, and where most if not all died. The Castle also hosted guests among them President Franklin Roosevelt of USA, Sir. Winston Churchill among others. I would like to visit this house again, to learn from its richness.

Conclusion

Highlighted above are some historic, nature and tourism aspects that contribute extensively to our livelihood, directly and indirectly. Tourism is Kenya’s biggest foreign exchange earner. While major threats to Kenya’s tourism have been itemized as terror threats and post election tensions, the real risk is in waking up one day and finding that none of our most talked about and best earning sectors are nonexistent.

Conservation is thus critical. While there are government agencies tasked with conservation, communities and individuals still need to be aware of how their contribution and vigilance can help sustain not just what benefits us but that which shall lay a foundation for future generations to identify with us.

KWS has many ways to do this, there are agencies and teams all over the parks and sites. I remember while at Sabuk Guest House, @SirFender received a phonecall at 1 AM informing him of some rhino’s that had been butchered in Nakuru.

Ol Donyo Sabuk in particular faces such risk with River Athi being neglected and taken as a dumpsite by the Sabuk locals. The river at the Fourteen falls is a sickening sight with polythene bags and nylon thrown all over as you can see in the photo slides. Again, River Athi is heavily infested with hyacinth both at Fourteen falls and worst at the Sabuk shopping center bridge. Authorities need to sensitize and take immidiate action on this particular matter considering the significant place that River Athi has in Kenya’s water catchment and provision. Nairobi for instance falls under the Athi Water Services Board, what happens when River Athi is no more?

Online campaigns and awareness messages such as #TwendeTujivinjari might not directly save wildlife and forests but in small and gradual ways can reach you, and you and you and if you find it in you like I know some have with related arrangements to help conserve and preserve what we call Kenya.

Till Then, Cheers!