National Parks and Reserves in Kenya
About National Parks & Reserves in Kenya: Part I
In many respects, Kenya makes the perfect safari destination both for locals and for the ever growing number who visit Kenya. It certainly has enormous touring resources. There are no less than fifty National Parks, Marine Reserves and Conservancies which cover approximately 11% of the total surface area of Kenya. Kenya is a theater to experience the wild in whichever direction you take; in the savannah plains which cover 40% of Kenya, in the semi-arid desert environments which cover 3o% of Kenya, in the highlands which cover 20% of Kenya, or at the coastal strip which covers 10% of Kenya. The sharp contrast in environments is responsible for variety in range of Kenya’s spectacular reserves
Safari Tours in Kenya: Highlights, Part 1
The wildebeest, or gnu bring us to the largest migration of mammalian order to be found on the African savannas. Embracing close to two million animals, the great annual wildebeest migration constitutes, by sheer weight of numbers, one of the great wonders of the natural world and one of Africa’s most breathtaking wonders. A glance at the life of the wildebeest world may fills with despair those who hope for a fulfillment of the pledge that the lion shall on day lie down with the lamb. Only by the making of war by the carnivores, the masterly predators of the savanna, and the struggle for existence in which the weakest link and the weak are mercilessly obliterated, is the circle of life in African wilds maintained and perpetuated. Only through the occurrence of those silent and far-reaching tragedies in nature where those numbers are swept in unnumbered millions to swift destruction, can man maintain his place in life. This inexorable cruelty of nature’s law is, in the last resort, man’s cardinal defense against wild creatures. This is an important prescience to carry with you to every Game Parks in Kenya.
1. Lake Bogoria National Reserve
As is the essence with flamingos, they are unpredictable in their comings and goings, and one cannot be certain of their presence, but, at the 107 km2 Lake Bogoria, their spectacle is open for inspection year-round. The lake’s claim to fame is as a veritable flamingo water. At times, the flamingos assemble here in hundreds of thousands. The unmistakable epic pink line made by its flamingos has honoured Lake Bogoria with endless praise as the ultimate ornithological destination in Kenya. Historically, the largest congregation of these flamingos assemble when the lake’s waters are lowest, between August and early October. Originally known as Hannington Lake, Lake Bogoria also lacks little in scenery. Set hard against the steep slopes of the Rift Valley’s eastern wall, with the cliffs and gradients descending about 4,000 ft into the emerald green to azure water, it provides one of the most fetching sweeps in Baringo. It is also home to varied wildlife, most notably of its Kudu that are easily seen on the eastern shores. The other key attraction at Lake Bogoria is its series of gushing furmaroles and hot-springs half way along the western shore. From here, trippers may wish to have a meal or stopover at Lake Bogoria Spa Resort. Lake Bogoria is located 45 kms from Mogotio, 20 kms from Marigat, and about 25 kms south of Lake Baringo. The two lakes – Bogoria and Baringo – are remnants of a once continuous lake, and are now separated by the Loboi Plain, a wide extent of silt laid down by the original lake. Lake Bogoria is saline, and is fed by springs from the escarpment above it: a couple of impermanent tributaries on the west including the Emsoss River fed by the hot springs; and the Wasagess River flowing in from the north. The salinity of Bogoria intensifies to the south, reflecting the greater recharge from the north end. There is a possibility of subsurface drainage northwards, to Lake Baringo, situated some fifty feet lower, but most of the loss from this Lake is undoubtedly due to its ‘pervasive evaporation’ that causes its routine salinity.
2. Lake Baringo National Reserve
The 101 km2 Lake Baringo 25 kms north of Lake Bogoria is famed for its jazzy diversity of birds and its grandiose beauty once described by John W. Gregory (British geologist & explorer) as the most beautiful view seen in Africa. Its fresh nature is partly due to the fact that it has a submarine outlet discharging water northwards to Kapedo, and also that it accrues great quantities of fresh water from its inflowing rivers. The Lake, which is fed by Rivers Molo, Pekerra and Ol Arabel, has 13 islands each holding a unique beauty and mystery. It is possible to explore at least 7 of these islands – Lokoros, Rongena, Lengai, Devil’s Island, Samatian, Ol kokwe and Parmolos – in an afternoon’s adventure by means of motorized hop-on hop-off boat taxis. Adventure-makers whose only aim is to enjoy the aesthetics and serenity of the lake can take shorter trips aboard the tradition ambach boats popularly used by the Njemp, Tugen and Pokot anglers. Unique to Lake Baringo is its overt, undeviating and monotonous scrubland. Prosopis, a perennial thorny shrub native to the Americas, was introduced here in the 1980’s by Government of Kenya, with financial backing from the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO). It was intended to ensure self-sufficiency in wood products, make the environment habitable, and also to safeguard the existing natural vegetation from over exploitation. In some parts of the world where it has been introduced, there have been many benefits, but, at Baringo, especially around Lake Baringo, it became invasive and it has been of little use. Its other unique feature is a little-known wonder located high above its cliffs. The basalt cliffs of Lake Baringo are famous among bird-lovers as one of few places in Kenya to spot the rare Verreaux’s eagles, also known the African black eagle. “The cliffs of Baringo are their favourite haunt because these birds of prey are among the most prey-specific of any avian predator, hunting for rock hyrax, the close kin of the elephant” – Rupi Mangat. It is located 21 kms from Marigat.
3. South Western Mau National Reserve
The South Western Mau National Reserve is the new name for what has been known simply as the South Mau Forest, included in the Mau Complex, which was officially gazetted in 1954 as a Forest Reserve. The total combined area of the Mau Complex was estimated at 4,000 km2 of precipitous rugged forested country in the early 1960’s, now estimated at 2,773 km2, that’s ecologically and economically critical for Kenya and parts of East Africa. More than 10 million people depend on its rivers. It also influences the region’s micro-climate which creates ideal conditions to produce crops such as tea. Furthermore, it is one of Kenya’s main water towers. The destruction of more that 30% of Mau’s forest – either been cut down or degraded for putting tea production and other private sector industries – raised a national alarm, prompting establishment of secure protected reserves. The edge of the reserve is located 5 kms from Tirgaga Tea Factory at Ndarawetta. This is an all weather gravel road that climbs an easy gradient passing tea farmlands. Although it still under utilized as a destination, replanting the degraded forest areas and regulating access have commenced.
Elgeyo Marakwet County
4. Rimoi National Reserve
Established in 1983 and re-opened in 2016, the 66 km2 Rimoi National Reserve became the 50th and most recent national reserve to be established in Kenya. It occupies the western half of Kerio Valley Conservation Area – directly below the Kerio View Hotel. The eastern area of the Conservation Area is occupied by the Lake Kamnarok National Reserve, which it is separated from by the Kerio River and Elgeyo Escarpment. Its dramatic scenery and its prolific wildlife are some of its fantanstic highlights. Withal, the showstopper at Rimoi National Reserve are its groups of elephants which can sometimes be seen in herds of up to fifty. Although its parkways are motorable at most times of year, the cutbacks made by its resident herds of elephants make them somewhat uncomfortable for the regular saloon cars and are almost impassable during the rain season. Not to be omitted on a visit to Rimoi National Reserve is the famous Tabar Dam which is the epicenter of activities here. A favoured watering-hole, it is habitually visited by plenty of wildlife and bird life. Other highlights at Rimoi include the viewing points to Lake Kamnarok and Kerio Valley, and the nearby Kerio View Hotel.
5. Lake Kamnarok National Reserve
This tiny 1 km2 fresh water oxbow lake on the Kerio Valley, formed in 1961 as a result of the Kerio River remodeling its course, was gazetted in 1984 as a game reserve. Back then, Lake Kamnarok was known to host 500 elephants. Akin to many lakes on the Rift Valley, its actuality was jeopardized by farming pursuits and, following its nigh on disintegration and disappearance in 2008, the Elgeyo Marakwet and Baringo counties collaborated their efforts to revamp and restore the ecologically-diverse Lake Kamnarok and things are getting back to normal.
6. Mount Kenya National Park
Of the five mountains in Africa whose peaks rise over 14,000 ft, only three are permanently snow-capped – Kilimanjaro (19,340 ft), Kenya (17,058 ft) and the Ruwenzoris (16,763 ft). They were climbed in that order – Kilimanjaro being first in 1888, Kenya second in 1889, and the Ruwenzoris in 1906. Every year, thousands of people take to these three mountains for the hiking challenge. Mt. Kenya, which is more scenic than faunal, is the most-liked climbing destination in Kenya. The ascend to Point Lenana, 3rd highest peak, can be made through eight different trails but the two most popular are Naro Moru and Sirimon. The snowy peaks of Mount Kenya, lying just south of the equator, are the prominent landmark in Embu County, which is one of five counties whose borders extends to the tip of Mount Kenya alongside Nyeri, Meru, Tharaka Nithi and Kirinyaga. The encircling ring of land from 5,000 ft. to 9,000 ft. is comprised of protected forests. There is a hiking route that goes through Embu West, on its way up to Mount Kenya. The trail commences at the Irangi Forest Information Centre. It is reached by taking the turnoff before Melody Eco-Lodge and Kiarimui Centre. It is a 17 kms drive from here, on Mukuuri-Mbui Njeru Road, to Irangi Station.
7. Mwea National Reserve
Overlooking Kamburu Dam, and Machakos County, is the 42 km2 Mwea National Reserve, a haunt of brooding open grassland, scattered acacia and baobad with a few far-between rolling hills. Kamburu Dam, found on its east and southeast harbors an interesting variety of fauna and flora, notably of its crocodiles and hippos. A boat can be hired from park gate to explore Kamburu Dam. Also seen at Mwea National Reserve is the confluence of Thiba and Tana Rivers. It’s home to more than 200 species of birds including the rare Hinde’s babbler, endemic to Kenya. Created in 1979, it hosts a good concentration of wildlife including elephants, kudus, antelope, giraffe and Burchell’s zebra. An electric fence has been put up in some areas to keep wildlife in and poachers out. From Embu Town, it is reached on a good 41-kms tarmac road to Mavuria through Gachoka and Kiritiri, then on a 15 kms road which runs parallel to its northern boundary upto the park gate. There is a longer, alternate route from Nairobi via Thika, Matuu and Masinga Dam (160kms) on a good road which is surfaced until Masinga. 10 kms is covered on all weather road to Makima Gate.
8. Bour-Algi Giraffe Sanctuary
The 121 km2 Bour-Algi Giraffe Sanctuary, a community-based and community-held sanctuary located a short distance from Garissa Town, was established as an initiative by the locals to host the internally displaced giraffes that had been affected by the Kenya-Somalia border fracas. “First to arrive was a colony of 30 giraffes, some of which, residents say, had gunshot wounds” – Standard Media. With adequate protection and abundance of acacia trees, the giraffes prospered, leading to its recognition by Kenya Wildlife Service. Since 1991, the population has grown to over 60 reticulated giraffes that now call it home. The Bour-Algi Giraffe Sanctuary is hosted within the Bour-Algi Village, which is set along the riverine strip of River Tana. Today, this sanctuary is associated with the Giraffe Conservation Foundation, National Museums of Kenya, Wildlife Direct and the Somali locals, who collectively support it. Other wildlife seen here include Kirk’s dik-dik, Gerenuk, lesser kudu and warthog. It’s located 10 kms south of Garissa.
9. Rahole National Reserve
This is situated 72 kms north of Garissa Town and is contiguous with the Kora National Park to the west. The extensive 1,270 km2 Rahole National Reserve, which is by and large is a tract of dense thorny dry bushland, offers out of the ordinary scenery owing to the fact that it is a rarely explored reserve. While it is entirely safe to visit Rahole National Reserve, it has no accommodation and, likewise, the adjoining Kora National Park on the eastern flanks of Tana River, has no accommodation and trippers must be self-sufficient. Rahole once held significant numbers of elephants and rhinos which were raged by poaching in the 1970’s. At present, there are no displays of the big-game aside from giraffes.
10. Arawale National Reserve
This is situated 124 kms south of Garissa Town and is reached on B8 Garissa-Bura-Lamu Road which crosses it on the western flank. The 513 km2 Arawale National Reserve, made up of a sweep of arid bushland on the eastern bank of River Tana, is inter-territorial and is shared with Tana River County. Started in 1974, it was the first wildlife sanctuary set-up primarily to conserve the relic Hunter’s Hartebeest, locally known as Hirola, which is a critically threatened gazelle endemic to north-eastern Kenya and the southwest region of Somalia. There is no accommodation and adventure-makers who visit Arawale National Reserve must have a strong wish to venture off the beaten circuits and be fully self-contained. Most visiting Arawale Reserve make Bura the jumping-off place.
11. Boni National Reserve
On a much grander scale, but more easily approached from Lamu, is the 1,339 km2 Boni National Reserve, located at the extreme southeast corner of Garissa County, in between Dodori National Reserve, in Lamu County, and Lag Badana Bushbush National Park, in Somalia. Established in 1976, as a dry season refuge for elephants and other wild animals, this way-out backwoods reserve, covering a vast area of indigenous coastal forest, has a sizable concentrations of valuable hardwoods, most of which are listed as very rare, vulnerable or endangered. Its 680 km2 forest section is the only notable forest in Garissa County. Enclosed in this rarely visited forest are many ancient sacred and traditional groves used by the Bajuni, Somali and Boni Communities as well as a handful of historic sights and cultural landmarks. The open canopy forest of Boni National Reserve is a part of the broad and continental Northern Zanzibar-Inhambane coastal forest. In recent years, its gained unwelcome notoriety as a foxhole for the Al Shabaab.
Homa Bay County
12. Ruma National Park
Originally dubbed the Lambwe Valley Game Park, the 120 km2 Ruma National Park lying within the Lambwe Valley was set up in 1966 as a protection area for the endangered roan antelope. “This species has never been abundant in Kenya and the game laws of 1909 gave it special protection on account of its scarcity”. Located close at hand with Lake Victoria, and bordered by Gwasi Hills and the Kanyamwa Escarpment (in the east and west) and by the volcanic plugs of the Ruri Hills (in the north), the drive to Ruma National Park is a wildly beautiful one. Moreover, its relatively flat terrain which makes it easy to drive across the park offers unbroken scenery. This does, however, make it harder to spot game, because one can hardly see more than the length of the glades. It is found 42 kms from Homa Bay via C19 Homa Bay-Ruma Road and 28 kms from Ndhiwa.
13. Bisanadi National Reserve
The 601 km2 semi-arid patch covered by the Bisanadi National Reserve, 50 kms south of Garba Tula Town, is generally-speaking a wildlife dispersal area for the contiguous Meru National Park, Mwingi and Kora National Reserves. The veldt unspoiled wilderness of Bisanadi National Reserve, set in a virtually unpeopled, rugged and totally untamed boondocks, offers trippers an interesting excursion into an unusual landscape that is seldom travelled. There is no accommodation at Bisanadi National Reserve and callers to the park must have a strong mind to venture off-the-beaten-circuits. Bisanadi also offers avid anglers some pristine fishing spots along River Tana and River Rojewero. It is more easily accessed through the Meru National Park, using the Kenya Wildlife Service Murera Gate.
14. Buffalo Springs National Reserve
The 131 km2 Buffalo Springs National Reserve lying to the south of Samburu National Reserve, separated by the River Ewaso Nyiro, also forms part of the wide-ranging Samburu Wildlife Conservation Area established to safe guard the integrity of this great rangeland and to perpetuate its wildlife. Unique to both these reserves – Buffalo Springs and Samburu – is that they were the foremost reserves in Kenya to have google street view, providing virtual representation of their surroundings on Google Maps. Both offer good game viewing and much of their beauty arises from their wide and open un-tamed and un-fenced frontiers. Although their elephant and rhino populations were much reduced by poaching in the 1970’s, concerted efforts by both Government and conservation counsels have turned around their fortunes. The demographic cataloger of the elephants utilizing Samburu and Buffalo Springs National Reserves, collected from 1998 through 2003, designates that their elephant populations were increasing at an average rate of 4.6% per year. These free-ranging elephants constitute 18% of the 5400 elephants counted in the aerial census of 2002 within Samburu and Laikipia Counties. Ashnil Samburu Camp and Samburu Simba Lodge – both on the fringes of River Ewaso Nyiro – are the two main accommodations at Buffalo Springs National Reserve. The reserve is located 28.5 kms north of Isiolo Town.
15. Shaba National Reserve
Set up in 1974, just 52 kms from Isiolo Town, the exotic 60 km2 Shaba National Reserve, flanked to the north by River Ewaso Nyiro and more or less completely encircled by the expansive Sera Community Conservancy, offers one of the most secluded and ways-out idyllic safari destination in Isiolo County and perhaps in the whole of Kenya. The reserve itself is never without a good concentration of wildlife, and what’s more, its un-wooded landscape makes it easy to spot game. There is a road running along the banks of River Ewaso Nyiro, and around each bend in the river a wonderful ever-changing landscape unfolds. By evening, the sandy banks along River Ewaso provide a splendid set-up to enjoy the awesome eventides. Shaba National Reserve is home to Sarova Shaba Lodge and to Joy’s Camp. Sarova Shaba Lodge, situated alongside the striking River Ewaso Nyiro – typified by doum palms and sand banks – is a haunt of beauty, and although it’s off the beaten track, its boasts of a fulsome swimming pool and other amenities like electricity, bar, and gazebos. From either of these establishments, holiday-makers get to enjoy open-top game drives, guided bush walks and excursions to Magado Crater. It’s found 52 kms north of Isiolo and is served by two airstrips.