TSAVO WEST NATIONAL PARK
Tsavo West National Park is located in the Coastal region of Kenya. The park covers an area of 9,065 square kilometers. The A109 road Nairobi-Mombasa and a railway divides it from the adjoining Tsavo East National Park. Together with adjoining ranches and protected areas, they comprise the Tsavo Conservation Area. Tsavo West 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 park is operated by Kenya Wildlife Service.
Together with Tsavo East, Tsavo West work together as part of the Tsavo Conservation Area. Although the eastern park is renowned for its abundance and diverse wildlife, West is the more popular of the two parks because of the stunning landscapes.
Tsavo West National Park is more mountainous and wetter than its counterpart, with swamps, Lake Jipe and the Mzima Springs. It is known for bird life and for its large mammal’s e.g. black rhino, Cape buffalo, elephant, leopard, hippo and Masai lion. There are also other smaller animals that can be spotted in the park, such as the bush baby, hartebeest, lesser kudu and Maasai giraffe. Birdwatchers also have plenty to be excited for with over 500 species of birds found within Tsavo national park. Ostriches are the largest birds however, they are accompanied by kingfisher, hornbills, herons, starlings, weavers, buzzards, kestrels, among others.
Mzima Springs is an oasis of green in the west of the park that produces an incredible 250 million liters of fresh water a day. The springs, whose source rises in the Chyulu Hills, provides the bulk of Mombasa’s fresh water. A walking trail leads along the shoreline. The drought in 2009 took a heavy toll on the springs’ hippo population; the population is stable at around 20 individuals. There are also crocodiles and a wide variety of birdlife.
Ngulia Rhino Sanctuary
At the base of Ngulia Hills, this 90-sq-km area is surrounded by a 1m-high electric fence and provides a measure of security for around 80 of the park’s highly endangered black rhinos. There are driving tracks and waterholes within the enclosed area, but the rhinos are mainly nocturnal and the chances of seeing one are slim – black rhinos, apart from being understandably shy and more active at night, are browsers, not grazers, and prefer to pass their time in thick undergrowth.
These archaic creatures are breeding successfully and around 15 have been released elsewhere in Tsavo West National Park. For all the security, one rhino was poached from inside the sanctuary in April 2014, with two more taken on 31 December 2016 amid reports of budget cuts and diminishing resources to fight poaching. Even so, there are plans to expand the boundaries of the sanctuary to the south.
Rising more than 600m above the valley floor and to a height of over 1800m above sea level, this jagged ridgeline ranks among the prettiest of all Tsavo landforms, providing as it does a backdrop to Rhino Valley. The hills can be climbed with permission from the warden, while the peaks are also a recognized flyway for migrating birds heading south from late September through to November.
Shetani Lava Flows
About 4km west of the Chyulu gate of Tsavo West National Park, on the road to Amboseli, are the spectacular Shetani lava flows. ‘Shetani’ means ‘devil’ in Kiswahili: the flows were formed only a few hundred years ago and local peoples believed that it was the devil himself emerging from the earth. This vast expanse of folded black lava spreads for 50 sq. km across the savannah near the Chyulu Hills, looking strangely as if Vesuvius dropped its comfort blanket here.
The last major eruption here is believed to have taken place around 200 years ago, but there are still few plants among the cinders. It’s possible to follow the lava flows back from the Amboseli–Tsavo West road to the ruined cinder cone of Shetani. The views are spectacular, but you need to be wary of wildlife in this area, as there are predators about.
Chaimu Crater & Roaring Rocks
Southeast of Kilaguni Serena Lodge, these two natural features offer stunning views of the Chyulu Hills and birds of prey circling high above the plains. The Roaring Rocks can be climbed in about 15 minutes; the name comes from the wind whistling up the escarpment and the persistent drone of cicadas. While there’s little danger, the KWS does warn in its guidebook to the park that in Chaimu Crater ‘be wary when exploring since the crater and lava may shelter snakes and large sleeping mammals’.
Close to (and geologically part of) the Shetani Lava Flows, Shetani Caves are a result of volcanic activity. You’ll need a torch (flashlight) if you want to explore, but watch your footing on the razor-sharp rocks and keep an eye out for the local fauna – we’ve heard rumours that the caves are sometimes inhabited by hyenas, who don’t take kindly to being disturbed. Some of the Tsavo West lodges charge US$50 per person for guided excursions out here.
A short distance northwest of Severin Safari Camp, this hilltop vantage point offers fine views out over the park, and especially fine views west to the plains of the Amboseli ecosystem and Mt Kilimanjaro.
This lake (pronounced ji-pay) lies at the extreme southwestern end of the park and is reached by a desperately dusty track from near Taveta. You can hire boats at the campsite to take you hippo and crocodile spotting on the lake. Huge herds of elephants come to the lake to drink, and it’s particularly good for wildlife near the end of the dry season. Conversely, large flocks of migratory birds stop here from February to May.