Tsavo West National Park

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Tsavo West National Park

Tsavo West National Park is located in the Coast Province of Kenya. The park covers an area of 3,500 square miles. The A109 road Nairobi-Mombasa and a railway line divide the Tsavo National Park into east and west. Tsavo West National Park is a more popular destination on account of its magnificent scenery, Mzima Springs, rich and varied wildlife, good road system, rhino reserve, rock climbing potential and guided walks along the Tsavo River.

The savannah ecosystem comprises of open grasslands, scrublands, and Acacia woodlands, belts of riverine vegetation and rocky ridges.

Tsavo remained the homeland for Orma and Maasai pastoralists and Waata hunter-gatherers until 1948, when it was gazetted a national park. At that time, the indigenous populations were relocated to Voi and Mtito Andei as well as other locations within the nearby Taita Hills. Following Kenyan independence in 1963, hunting was banned in the park and management of Tsavo was turned over to the authority that eventually became the Kenya Wildlife Service. Tsavo currently attracts photo-tourists from all over the world interested in experiencing the vastness of the wilderness and incredible terrain.

The Animals

You can see a great selection of wild animals and also the 'big five' in this National Park. Among the other animals you can expect to see include:

Cheetah                 Black Rhino
Crocodile               Coke’s Hartebeest
Giraffe                      Giant Forest Hog
Aardvark                Genet Cat
Monkey                     Gerenuk
Impala                       Hyena
Hippo                        Hyrax
Patas                         Antelope
Baboon                     Black Serval Cat
Dik-dik                       Jackal
Elephant                   Lesser Kudu
Lion                           Monkey
Leopard                    African Hunting Dog
Cape Buffalo            Mountain Reed Buck
Bush Pig                   Grant’s & Thomson’s Gazelle
Eland                         Fringe-eared Oryx
Waterbuck                Porcupine
Duikers                     Warthog
Olive Baboon          White-tailed mongoose
Suni                          Wildebeest
Giant Forest Hog    Zebra
Side-striped Jackal

Attractions and Activities:

Man-eaters and mane-less lion: Tsavo achieved notoriety in the 1900's when ‘the Man-eaters of Tsavo', a pair of rogue man-eating lions, preyed gruesomely on the builders of the Uganda Railway. Today the Park is more famous for the numerous prides of mane-less lion that patrol the plains and police the herbivore herds.

Bird watching: Highlights of the birdlife include those of the semi-arid zone, such as ostrich and golden pipit while perhaps the most conspicuous are the white-headed buffalo weaver and the brilliantly plumaged golden-breasted starling. Raucous hornbill is also prevalent as are such hole-nesting birds as parrot, barbet and roller. The Park is also famous for its Palaearctic migratory bird-banding project at Ngulia Lodge.

Game drives: Tsavo offers some of the most magnificent game viewing in the world - vast herds of dust-red elephants, fat pods of hippos, giant crocodiles, and teeming herds of plains game, a fantasia of bird life and some magical flora.

The magic of Mzima Springs: The lush, hippo-inhabited pools of Mzima Springs, fed daily by 250 million litres of water gushing from the lava flows of the Chyulu hills, provide an oasis of green, an under-water hippo-viewing chamber, two nature trails and some unique picnic spots.

Exploring the Shetani caves and lava flows: The volcanic convulsions of Tsavo’s landscape are riddled with lava flows, the most spectacular being the Shetani flow, a coalesced tide of tar-like lava that spewed down the Chyulu Hills as they burst out of the plains only a few hundred years ago. Shetani means ‘devil’ in Swahili and refers to the time, relatively recently, when the molten lava erupted from the bowels of the earth and engulfed the area. So terrifying was this event to the local people that they believed it to be the devil incarnate and tales are still rife of fire, hails of brimstone and evil spirits. The lava flow is also riddled by a series of caves, many of which can be explored, though caution is recommended.

The Ngulia Hills: 30 km from Mzima Springs, along a well-marked track, is the Ngulia escarpment, behind which rear the jagged peaks of the Ngulia Hills, a range of sheer cliffs that rise out of the plains to a height of 1825 m above sea level. Not only do the Ngulia hills offer magnificent vistas over the volcanic shoals of Tsavo but also, every year between late September and November, the adjacent Ngulia Bird-ringing Station plays host to one of the greatest avian spectacles in the world.

The Ngulia Rhino Sanctuary: In the 1960’s Tsavo had the largest population of black rhinos in Africa (between 6,000 and 9,000) and they were a common sight within the park. By 1981, however, Tsavo’s rhino had been poached to the brink of extinction and only 100 animals remained. Today most of Tsavo’s surviving rhino, plus a number of re-located animals, have been moved to the Ngulia Rhino Sanctuary where a meter-high electric fence surrounds an area of 70 sq km now designated an official sanctuary for approximately 40 rhinos. The Sanctuary also offers shelter to a broad range of other threatened wildlife to include cheetahs and leopards and the rare frog (Afrixalus pygmaeus septentrionalis), which occurs only in the area between Mtito Andei and Voi. The Ngulia Rhino Sanctuary is open 4pm to 6pm daily, entry free.

Chaimu Crater: The Chaimu Crater offers a spacious parking area and an exciting scramble up this volcanic cinder cone to the crater’s rim.

Roaring Rocks: Roaring Rocks offer a parking area and a winding nature trail leading to the top of this lofty outcrop of craggy volcanic rocks where the raptors glide past at eye level. There are two viewpoints offering magnificent vistas to the east and west of the park and two picnic sites equipped with both shade and seating.

The People of Tsavo

The early hunters of Tsavo: Tsavo's plains have been hunted since mankind first evolved, while loads of ivory and rhinoceros horn were first listed as cargo at the ancient port of Mombasa as early as AD 110, by the Greek writer, Diogenes. The methods of the early Tsavo hunters are also described in the following extract from ‘The Periplus of the Erythraean Sea' written by an anonymous Greek, travelling at some point between AD 95 and AD110:

The Elephantophagoi (Elephant-eaters) have a different method of capturing animals. Three men equipped with one bow and plenty of arrows dipped in snake-poison station themselves in a glade where the elephants come out. When an elephant approaches, one of the men holds the bow and the other two draw the bowstring with all their force, releasing the arrow, which is aimed at the middle of the animals flank, so that on striking it will penetrate the inner parts, cutting and wounding as it goes in.

The legendary longbow men of the Waliangulu: Between 5,000 and 10,000 years ago, Tsavo was inhabited by the ancestors of today's remnant groups of hunter-gatherers, primarily the Waliangulu or Sanye people who were wanderers of forest and bush and distantly related to the ‘click-speaking' Khosian peoples of southern Africa, such as the Bushmen of the Kalahari. The Waliangulu, who were famous for their elephant hunting skills, used massive long bows and arrows that had been dipped in a lethal poison, which could kill an elephant in a few hours. The poison and was made by boiling the bark and leaves of the Acokanthera tree (Acokanthera oppositifolia) for seven hours until a sticky tar like substance containing an extremely toxic glycoside known as ‘oubain' was produced.

The name Waliangulu means ‘meat eater' and for thousands of years these primeval hunters roamed the wastes of Tsavo killing elephant and other game for subsistence purposes. As the demand for ivory grew however, so the Waliangulu talent for hunting for survival was corrupted to become heedless slaughter for financial gain as the hunters massacred the elephants of Tsavo using long bows with bow-weights of over one hundred pounds. Finally, with the establishment of the Tsavo National Park, the reign of the legal hunter came to an end and the bulk of the Waliangulu were forced to turn to other means of survival whereupon it is thought that many dispersed along the Tana River and down to the coast where they merged with the Giriama people. As for those who chose to continue to hunt in Tsavo, they were outlawed as poachers.

The Maasai: The Maasai have long remained the ideal mental conceptualization of the Western European idea of an African ‘noble savage'. Tall, elegant, handsome; walking with a gentle spring of the heel, seemingly proud and indifferent to all but the most necessary external influences.

Perhaps the best known of Kenya's tribes, the Nilo-Hamitic Maasai are a nomadic people whose style of life has remained essentially unchanged for centuries. Their daily rhythm of life revolves around the constant quest for water and grazing for their cattle. Thought to have migrated to Kenya from the lower valleys of the Nile, the Maasai are distinguished by their complex character, impeccable manners, impressive presence and almost mystical love of their cattle. The latter is based on the Maasai belief that the sky god, Enkai, was once at one with the earth. When the earth and the sky were separated, however, Enkai was forced to send all the world's cattle into the safekeeping of the Maasai where, as far as the Maasai are concerned, they have remained. Brave and ruthless warriors, the Maasai instilled terror in all who came up against them, most especially the early explorers. ‘Take a thousand men' advised the famous explorer Henry Stanley when speaking of the Maasai, ‘or write your will'.

Today, cattle are still the central pivots of Maasai life and ‘I hope your cattle are well' is the most common form of Maasai greeting. The milk and blood of their cattle also continue to be the preferred diet of the Maasai people, while the hides serve as mattresses, sandals, mats and clothing. Cattle also act as marriage bonds, while a complex system of cattle-fines maintains the social harmony of the group. Visually stunning, the Maasai warrior with his swathe of scarlet ‘Shuka' (blanket), beaded belt, dagger, intricately plaited hair and one-legged stance remains the most enduring icon of Kenyan tourism.

How to Get There:

By Road: The Park is located 149 miles from Nairobi, 155miles from Mombasa (Mtito Andei Gate). The main access routes are through Chyulu Gate from Amboseli and Mtito Andei Gate from Nairobi.

By Air: There are 3 airstrips in the park.