Meru National Park (870 sq km - 336 sq miles)
Location: North-Eastern Kenya, 348 km (216 miles) from Nairobi, 85 km (53 miles) from Meru.
Altitude: 305-1,036 metres (1,000-3,400 feet)
First opened: April l968
Wild and scenically beautiful, dotted by picturesque small and larger hills, bisected by the equator and thirteen rivers and numerous mountain-fed streams, this park is a great favourite of all who love Kenya's north, where the light always seems at its most intense, more so than anywhere else in the country. It is an exciting landscape, much favoured by photographers and artists.
Entry from the west is by the Murera Gate, by the Bisanadi Gate from the north-east, and by the Ura Gate from the south. Two airstrips serve the park in which there are eight special camp sites -- which must be pre-booked with the Kenya Wildlife Service -- and one public camp site, or there is accommodation at Meru Mulika Lodge and at Leopard Rock Lodge, at which latter there is also pleasant self-service accommodation in KWS bandas. As most of the driving is on infrequently used tracks, a 4-WD vehicle is essential.
The diverse landscape includes thorny bushland in the north, woodlands at 914 metres (3,000 feet) on the slopes of the Nyambene Hills north-east of Mount Kenya, and the Punguru, Kiolu, Kindani, Rhino, Mughwango, Murera, Bisanadi, Kinna and Mulika plains in the park's west, where the banks of the meandering rivers are dotted with doum palms. Dense forests of doum and raffia palm grow along the watercourses. Sedges occupy the riverine swamps. The rainfall in the west of the park is almost double that in the east. One area has been designated a wilderness, where no tourists are allowed to enter, nor are there any trails there to follow.
Hippo and crocodiles abound in the rivers and fishing (mainly barbus and catfish) is permitted at the camp sites along the Tana River.
Mammals include buffalos in herds said to be among the largest in the country, prides of lions, elephant, cheetah, leopard, lesser kudu, zebra, black rhino, reticulated giraffe, gerenuk, Grant's gazelle, duiker and antelope including Africa's smallest, the dik dik.
In the mid l980s the park suffered seriously from poaching which has since been driven out by the armed security patrols of the Kenya Wildlife Service and the elephant population has stabilised itself with breeding herds settling down.
Over 300 bird species have been recorded including the not-so-easy-to-find Peter's finfoot on the Murera and Ura Rivers; Pel's fishing owl, kingfishers, rollers, bee-eaters, starlings, weavers and a bird-watcher's wealth of others.
Established initially as a l,167 sq km (450 sq mile) game reserve in l959 by the Meru District Council, a reduced area of 870 sq km (336 sq miles) was gazetted as a national park in December 1966 and opened as such in l968. Its strong Adamson connections date back to 1958, for it was there that George and Joy Adamson released their famous -- though tragic -- lioness Elsa, and Joy Adamson sat down to type Born Free, a world best-seller as both a book and a film. It was there, too, that Ted Goss, the park's warden, was later to offer Joy and George a sanctuary in which to rehabilitate into the wild the lions which had been used for making the film of the book. Virginia McKenna as Joy, and Bill Travers as George, were the stars and both of them, through their Kenya experiences, were to become ardent conservationists.
First setting up their camp near the reserve headquarters at Leopard Rock, Joy later moved with her cheetah, Pippa, to her own camp 'under a tamarind tree beside a stream called Vasorongi' to give her the solitude and concentration she needed to study Pippa. Her book, The Spotted Sphinx , tells the Pippa story. Pippa's grave, marked by a simple cairn, is in the riverine forest near the Rojowero confluence, where the great Tana tumbles over Adamson's Falls, the last of its major rapids and cataracts before broadening out on its long course to the sea. George chose the twin-humped Mughwango Hill for his own camp with his lions.
The Tana divides Meru National Park from the Kora Game Reserve, also very much Adamson country as, too, is the Shaba National Reserve (See Kora National Reserve -- North-East Kenya, and Shaba National Reserve -- Kenya North).