Tsavo National Park (20,812 Sq. Km) - East & West Combined
At the turn of the 19th Century, few people lived in the vast scrubland of the present Tsavo National Parks. At that time the area was considered uninhabitable due to its barrenness and the presence of tsetse fly which prevented the keeping of cattle. Moreover, frequent slave raids from the coast caused general insecurity in the area so much so that by the time Colonel Patterson was posted there to build the Tsavo bridge and take over the construction of that section of the Uganda Railway in 1898, most of the scrubland had been left free for wildlife. He reported a mass of game everywhere. Other travelers through the area at that time were also impressed by the abundance of game. Game was everywhere the explorers went. Then followed the explorers with fast vehicles, firearms, and greedy markets for game trophies in Europe and Asia. This depleted game animals so much that the Kenya Colonial government initiated immediate measures to protect the remaining wildlife herds. Numerous game Ordinances were proclaimed. On the basis of these Ordinances, Nairobi National Park was established as the first National Park in the country in 1946. Two years later, Tsavo National park was established as the second wildlife sanctuary in Kenya and the largest National park in Africa and possibly in the world.
The park lies about 240 Km or halfway between Nairobi and Mombasa. It is divided into two sections for administrative purposes. The eastern section or Tsavo East lies East of the Nairobi-Mombasa Road/Railway in the country of the "Man Eaters of Tsavo", where two lions believed by the natives to be not real animals but devils or spirits or their two departed chieftains who had assumed the shapes of lions to protest the construction of the railway line through their territory and who were out to stop or destroy the progress of the construction in retaliation for the insult they had suffered. Whatever the explanation, the two man-eaters astonished everyone including Col. Patterson by the manner in which they waged intermittent warfare against the railway builders for over nine months escaping any attempt to kill them and always succeeding in snatching and carrying away a coolie or a construction worker every night they attached. They caused a reign of terror in the construction camps and eventually succeeded in bringing the whole construction works to a complete standstill for about four weeks. At last the brutes were destroyed by Col. Patterson but not until they had claimed over 28 lives of the railway construction workers. Today many of the Tsavo lions are maneless or show only a very small mane. This trait they inherited from those man-eaters of long ago, but these days they are content to kill only their legitimate prey.
The two park sections contain various habitats such as open plains, savanna land and desert scrub, acacia woodlands, rocky ridges and outcrops, hill and riverine vegetation belts covered with palm thickets.
Tsavo West National Park (9,065 sq. Km.) is made of recent volcano lava flows. Its North-Western section is on the western region . To see a series of these young lava flows (about four hundred years old) from the most recent and bare to those already well covered with vegetation is a lesson in natureís slow process of creating life on the ground originally devoid of it. The lava mantles fearfully called "Shetani" or the Devil Mountains", absorb rain water which flows underground down the lava ridge for 40 Km. to emerge as the crystal-clear Mzima Springs. The famous springs create a home for thousands of aquatic animals especially hippos which are easily observed from the safety of an underwater observation point especially constructed for the purpose. The springsí riverine vegetation of wild date palms, Raphia palms and acacia provide a good habitat for elephant, impala, giraffe, zebra and a host of chattering birds and monkeys. After a series of pools, the water disappears underground again to emerge as Mzima river before joining Tsavo River and providing habitats for animals before joining Athi River in Tsavo East to flow down as Galana River over Lugardís Falls.
On the extreme south-west of the park is the beautiful lake Jipe on the border with Tanzania. The lake is fed by an underground flow from the snow-capped peaks of Mt. Kilimanjaro. It offers a spectacular bird colony with black heron and Pygmy Geese dominating the scene. Ngulia escarpment and Ngulia hills 1820m (5,974 ft.) have become a haunt for thousands of migratory birds from the northern hemisphere. The birds come there during autumn and fall seasons making the area one of the bird spectacles in the world and providing important information about the migratory routes and habits of many bird species common to the northern hemisphere.
Tsavo East National Park (11,747 sq. km) is an open dry animal wilderness with almost the same fauna and flora as Tsavo West. Its physical features are dominated by Yatta Plateau one of the longest lava flows in the world and the Athi River which starts as a small stream on the slopes of Ngong Hills south-west of Nairobi. It flows through Kajiado, Machakos and Kitui Districts before running through the park where it provides the much needed water in the dry wilderness. In the middle of the park, the river (now called Galana) disappears through a narrow rocky gorge to emerge in a spectacular waterfall called Lugardís Falls after the first British Proconsul in Uganda who was the first white man to see the falls in 1891 when he led the IBEAís convoy through there on the way to Uganda. The Falls form a series of pools below the rocks with sand banks where the largest colony of crocodile in both parks live. The rest of the river provides scenic drives through remnants of forests full of birds and game especially in the morning or evening at watering points.
Mudanda Rock between Voi and Manyani provides another attraction in the park. The rock forms a water-catchment area which creates a natural dam at its base. Elephant and other game come to drink in the dam during the dry season thereby creating a beautiful concentration of the mammals which can be viewed by visitors from the safety of an observation point above the dam. Another important game run in the park is the man-made Aruba Dam (85 hectares) in the middle of the hot waterless Taru Desert which is the only permanent water hole in the park.
Giant baobab trees which live as long as 1,000 years, with their bulky trunks and branches resembling stumpy fingers are bare for most of the year adding to the odd appearance of these spectacular trees. The annual blossoms of acacia trees and Desert Rose after the rains form some of the biggest flora attractions in the Park.