After a slow drive from Mombasa we spent a night at a plush hotel in the metropolis of Voi. There it is in the left background. I think it was called Voi Safari Lodge. Don’t let Aitch tell you we didn’t spoil ourselves at times. The dining room had a linoleum floor, plastic chairs and metal tables, no table cloth. It was clean and the chicken and rice was hot and delicious. I had a Tusker beer and that was cold and delicious. As was Aitch’s ginless Gin n Tonic.
Then on to a destination I had looked forward to all my life: Tsavo National Park!
All my life? Just about. We got the quarterly African Wildlife magazines and I eagerly read about Africa’s great parks. I also knew of Bernhard Grzimek’s work in the Serengeti and his book Serengeti Shall Not Die. The great parks I knew and fantasised about included Kruger, Etosha, Luangwa, Masai Mara, Amboseli, Wankie, Ngorongoro, Gorongosa – and Tsavo. I remember seeing an aerial picture of the drought in Kenya and how the vegetation IN Tsavo was worse than that outside the park. The story was it was due to Kenya (Leakey?) refusing to cull elephants and other game. Of course it may have been a story by the pro-culling people in SA’s parks. Who knows? Lots of jealousy and rivalry among the ‘good people in conservation’!
. * Tsavo East * .
Chris and Tilde Stuart, great Africa-philes, chose Tsavo as one of ‘Africa’s Great Wild Places’ in their book of that name, mainly for the huge wild expanse of Tsavo East where you can drive for hours without seeing another vehicle.
Driving around Tsavo East was amazing. We hardly saw any other vehicles.
Firsts for us – ‘lifers’ – Gerenuk, Lesser Kudu and Vulturine Guineafowl:
Golden-breasted Starling, Red & Yellow Barbet, Superb Starling & White-headed Buffalo Weaver:
. * Tsavo West * .
We saw Kilimanjaro! We weren’t expecting to, but as we drove around we suddenly saw a snow-topped mountain top WAY higher than one would expect through the low clouds; way higher than the hills around us. We realised that it must be Kili, the world’s highest free-standing mountain!
Of course we should have realised we’d be close to Kili, but we didn’t give it a thought. We were in Kenya, Kilimanjaro is in Tanzania, and it just didn’t occur to us! That’s our pic of the low clouds on the left and an internet pic of Kili from Tsavo West. Our view was a glimpse through a break in thick clouds, though.
Here we also saw the magic clear waters of Mzima Springs.
Tsavo National Park was created in 1948. At approximately 21,000km², it is the largest protected area in Kenya. In the late 1960s, there were approximately 35,000 elephants in the Tsavo region. This population has suffered two population crashes, probably due to mismanagement or misguided management in both cases!? Firstly there were simply too many elephants, so in the drought in the early 1970s many died, especially pregnant females, females nursing a calf or young calves. Independent bulls’ mortality was lower as they were able to travel greater distances in search of vegetation and water.
The second crash was due to the illegal killing of elephants for their tusks. The bulls who survived the drought were now the victims. Kenya had banned legal trophy hunting in 1977. By the late 1980s, at the height of the ivory poaching era, about 6,200 elephants remained in the entire Tsavo region. Not all conservationists understand that when you fence an area, you have to manage that area. Pretending its still natural does a lot of harm; and allowing ‘rich donors’ to dictate what happens on unscientific grounds ends up killing many animals, and worse – their environment.