When you mention a Kenya Wildlife Service Park, most of us picture elephants and lions walking about in extensive greens or gathering around waterholes. Last week, a team of about five of us visited Tsavo East, Tsavo West and Chyulu National Parks courtesy of KWS. To say the least, it was enlightening gathering just how much our beloved country has to offer in terms of tourism and more so, the extensive work the management and community that is KWS does in conserving one of Kenya’s greatest foreign exchange earners, tourism.
Tsavo West National Park established in 1948, is located about 200 km south-east of Nairobi in southern Kenya and about 200km north of Mombasa. Separated only by the Mombasa/Nairobi road from Tsavo East, Tsavo West National Park is part of the entire Tsavo eco-system that includes Tsavo East and West National Parks and the Chyulu Hills.- a vast ecosystem where the relationship between wildlife and its environment has been allowed to take its own natural course. The park offers diverse habitats including mountains, rivers, forests, plains, lakes and wooded grassland.
Tsavo West stretches from Mtito Andei, along the Mombasa-Nairobi road and south to the Tanzanian border and consists of mostly semi-arid plains that are broken up with granite rock outcrops (kopjies) and lava fields, but also includes open plains, savannah bush, acacia woodlands, belts of riverine vegetation, palm thickets and on the Chyulu hills, mountain forest.
- Distance: 240 km from Nairobi, 250km from Mombasa (Mtito Andei Gate).
- By air There are 3 airstrips in the park
- Gates: Tsavo, Lake Jipe, Mtito Andei (Kamboyo HQ), Chyulu, Maktau and Ziwani.
- Roads: The main access routes are through Chyulu Gate from Amboseli and Mtito Andei Gate from Nairobi.
- Visitors from Mombasa also use Tsavo Gate near Manyani.
- The Park can also be reached via Taveta –Voi road through Maktau, Ziwani and Jipe Gates.
- Airstrips: Kamboyo, Kilaguni, Tsavo Gate, Jipe, Kasigau,Finch Hottons, Ziwani, and Maktau airstrips are in good shape.
We drove off from The Kenya Wildlife Service Headquarters in two trucks; Isuzu Dmax. My car had @Mwirigi and @WanjikuMwaurah, good people. We told tales and cracked endless jokes along the way. Driving along Mombasa Road can be frustrating both by day and by night. We left a little while towards Six PM, it was rainy, and the road was full of trucks coming from and heading Mombasa. Along the way there were many spots with trucks parked or stalled, a dangerous thing since they were parked on either side with full lights on. It is important to have a co-driver and drive at manageable speeds especially at night along this road. Luckily, we had an experienced driver Joseph (Jose) whose skills got us to our destination safely.
We arrived in Tsavo at 1030PM. The first most significant thing we all noticed was lack of cell phone connectivity. Safaricom in particular hardly had any reception through Tsavo East and West. Nonetheless, this meant we had more time to focus on what we had travelled to Tsavo for.
Tsavo West National Park has a few hotels under lease arrangements to private developers. Such include;
- Ngulia Safari Lodge
- Kilaguni Serena Safari Lodge
- Sarova Taita Hills Game Lodge
- Ngulia Safari Camp Bandas
- Severin Safari Camp
- Sarova Salt Lick Game Lodge
Our stay was at The Kamboyo Guest House under the KWS management. Kamboyo occupies ten people at a given time. It is convenient for a small cohesive group looking to have a family experience away from home. The facility provides for a complete kitchen, a lounge, park view and fire places inside the house and outside.
At Kamboyo, you are in charge of your food. You bring your food, and you cook it. It helps if you have great cooks like @JohnAlogo from our crew; he made the best chicken sandwich I have ever eaten in my 10, 591 days in this world. The KWS staffs assist with cleaning and housekeeping.
What I liked most about the whole set up is the cost, for ten thousand shillings (Kshs. 10,000) a night, accommodating ten people; a group activity can give you probably the best deal you will ever get for a short budget get away.
Tsavo West is rich. While our stay allowed us to stay visit Tsavo West national Park on just one day, the park offers more than you can explore in weeks. Tsavo East is known as the ‘Land of Lava, Springs and Man Eaters’. That in itself gives a glimpse of what to expect at Tsavo.
Our stay at Tsavo West was characterized with rainfall. This means that animals were not so bothered to move about from their comfort zones for water and prey. We managed to see elephants, rhinos, buffaloes, giraffes, antelopes and zebra. We had an elderly guide, Muchoki, he was in Tsavo when KWS was incorporated! Through the park, he made it more interesting with lessons about the different animals and their habitats more than staring outside to catch a glimpse of wild animals. It is advisable to go for a game drive early morning or late evening. The park has also introduced night game drives at a cost of Kshs. 1500 per person from which you can get to see animals mostly from the cat family; leopards, lions, tigers and such.
From my personal experience, it is more educative and interesting having a guide who’s been longer at the park for the whole scoop. Our experience at Tsavo East and Chyulu with less experienced guides almost ran blank.
Tsavo West also offers a variety of over 600 birds and insects. Birds include flamingos which I did not know have the male as the pretty ones and the female having feathers that resembled blankets. From our guide, I learnt that in bird species, the male are the fairer looking ones.
- Mzima Springs
Mzima springs captured more than my imagination. We had spent a part of the morning at the Warden’s office. The warden, Mr. Collins Omondi is a very charismatic and friendly man. I asked him lots of questions; mostly conservation based which i will highlight later. When he mentioned Mzima Springs and Lake Jipe as the only sources of water at the park as wide as 70,000 Kms Squared, I thought the park was in terrible danger of extinction, someday.
That was until we got to Mzima springs. This is the most serene place I have been in a while, since beaches in Bali. I do not even know how to describe Mzima Springs. I will just say it is Tsavo West’s best kept secret. The springs host a variety of fish, snakes, crocodiles and hippos among other water wildlife. The site is kept well, clean and wit paths full of education themselves. Along the pathways, there is signage with skeletons of wildlife and stooges of trees with information about their history, their lifestyle and what they contribute towards humanity.
The two large pools, connected by a rush of rapids are replenished with two hundred and twenty million liters of crystal-clear water every day, from the underground streams stemming from the lava the Chyulu Hills, 40-50 kilometres away.
- Shetani Lava
Shetani Lava is another major attraction st Tsavo West. The site, expansive lands covered in volcano lava is named after some traditional stories by the Akamba and Taita people. The lava flow is the subject of local superstition undoubtedly because people had witnessed it as a molten flow coming from the black cone “shetani”; whose fiery activities must have also been. Witnessed in the last few hundred years ago; approximated to be 400 years by our guide who has served KWS in over 30 years, even before KWS was established. Shetani; the lava’s given name means devil in English.
- Chaimu Crater
Chaimu crater is another attraction at Tsavo West National Park. Just west of the springs is the Chaimu Crater, this volcanic crater is less than 200 years old and composed mainly of black coke. It is well worth the visit and you can climb by foot. Animals to look out for in this area include klipspringer and the lesser Kudu antelope.
- Lake Jipe
We never got to Lake Jipe because of limited time to explore. But I gathered from our guide that Lake Jipe has huge reed beds and although there is game present, it is the rich bird life that is most impressive here. Pied Kingfishers, palmnut vultures, black herons and African skimmers, Purlpe Gallinule, Black Herons, the Pygmy Goose and the Lesser Jacana are all found in this area around the lake. Above the lake, the Tanzanian Pare Mountains form an impressive backdrop, especially if you are there to see it at sunset.
KWS operates much like a multinational, or like a country. Each park can be taken to be a branch or a province with its entire ecosystem under a Warden. Tsavo West is unique and the challenges it faces are progressively being dealt with as Warden Omondi informed us. Among developments in progress are:
- A community programme to educate the neighbouring communities on wildlife conservation and coexistence.
- Recruitment of folks from the community as vigilante on wildlife poaching. The vigilantes are progressively undergoing training under KWS to help educate the community and help KWS execute its conservation mandate.
- Establishment of more pocket friendly guest houses for short visit and budget guests with emphasis on local tourism.
- A fund is also being developed to fence parts of Tsavo West that are prone to poaching. Tsavo in itself is a very big national park to be fenced at once; it will probably take years, and a whole lot of money.
You should make a point, you and your friends; with a manageable budget you can get to see the wonder that is Tsavo West and Kenya. See the rest of the photo galleries HERE.
Thank you @KWSKenya.
Till then, Cheers!