As all of us have an interest in wildlife and, in some cases, birdlife the Kenyan Wildlife Service (KWS) website has been a great source of information on the national parks and reserves. The KWS is a massive organisation that manages about 8 per cent of the total landmass of the country. This includes 22 National Parks, 28 National Reserves and 5 National Sanctuaries, together with 4 Marine National Parks and 6 Marine National Reserves.
The difference between a National Park (NP) and National Reserve (NR) is interesting and I found this official definition of a NR : "A National Reserve...is a local term denoting area preservation where the reasonable needs of the human inhabitants living within the area must take preference. It is in the nature of a compromise between a National Park and a Game Reserve, where the establishment of a National Park – although eminently desirable – is not easily possible".
For instance, the Maasai Mara is a NR with the land still owned by the Maasai people and they derive revenue from its use as a NR. In addition, they still have, to an extent, access / grazing rights. The western part of the NR is managed by the Mara Conservancy on behalf of the local authority. This is a big business with US$235k being collected in entrance etc fees of which US$ 129k went to the local authority, with the remainder used to manage the NR.
So, what are the candidate attractions - i.e. those we can visit without spending too much time driving ? The following are some of the more obvious, although the other three may well have different ideas :
- Aberdare NP : Described as "majestic peaks, moorlands and falls" - Scotland with Lions ! It is also the home of the famous "Treetops Lodge" where Princess Elizabeth heard of her father's sudden death and that she was now Queen.
- Ambolseli NP : Famous for photos of big tuskers with the snows of Tanzania's Mt Kilimanjaro in the background. In a US$ 1.35 operation, KWS have recently moved 7,000 zebras and wildebeests here to restore the predator/prey balance. This was needed following the fiercest drought in 26 years that devastated the ecosystem last year when 50% of Amboseli’s wildebeest and zebra population was lost.
- Hells Gate NP : This small park, close to Lake Naivasha, is named after a narrow break in the cliffs and is unusual in Kenya in that you can hike and cycle amongst the game.
- Lake Naivasha NR : This is on the edge of Hells Gate NP and in addition to a healthy population of Hippo has a wide range of bird life.
- Lake Nakuru NP : The major attractions around this soda lake include many Flamingo (Greater and Lesser) and both Black and White Rhino.
- Mt Longonot NP : Close to Hells Gate NP and Lake Naivasha lies about 90km from Nairobi. The ecosystem mainly comprises of the mountain rising to 2,776m above sea level. In addition to the wildlife, other attractions include the extinct volcano and the crater forest, views of Lake Naivasha.
- Mt Kenya NP : Mt Kenya, at 5,199m, is the second highest peak in Africa. It is an important water tower in the country providing water for about 50% of the population and 70% of Kenya’s hydroelectric power.
- Marsabit NP : Quite a long way north of Nairobi, it has densely forested mountains with three crater lakes. It is said to be the last refuge of the huge-tusked bull elephants
- Massai Mara NR : Is the quintessential safari destination with rolling savannah covered with thousands of animals - you expect to hear David Attenborough's whispered tones as a background to every view. Unfortunately, we will not be there when the great Wildebeest Migration passes through this area (luckily I will still be there in August / September when it usually arrives) !
- Ol Pejeta Conservancy : The only place in Kenya where there a Chimpanzees and it is also the home of the largest Black Rhino Sanctuary in Africa - it also is home to some incredibaly rare Northern White Rhino. If we visit, it would probably the only change we would have for bush walks and night game drives.
- Ruma NP : Only 10km east of Lake Victoria - it's off the usual tourist circuit and, as a consequence, receives few visitors. It comprises savannah open grasslands & woodlands with a variety of wildlife. The most notable is the Roan Antelope which is not found anywhere else in the country.
- Tsavo East & West NPs : Combined these NPs cover almost 21,000 Sq Kms divided by the Nairobi to Mombassa road. The western portion is more popular on account of its magnificent scenery, Mzima Springs, rich and varied wildlife, good road system, rhino reserve, rock climbing potential and guided walk. Tsavo is also famous for a pair of man-eating lions that caused mayhem by killing 140 workers on the railway as it passed through this area.
In addition there are the attractions of Nairobi in which we might indulge at the start and/or end of our trip :
- Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage - Daphane Sheldrich was the first person in the entire world to successfully hand rear newborn Elephant orphans and this orphanage now extends it care to Rhinos as well as wider conservation initiatives.
- Nairobi NP - the Big Five within sight of the City's skyscrapers. A visit here would also allow us to acquire a KWS Safari Card. This is, in effect, advance payment for entrance, vehicle and camping fees at most NPs & NRs that means that entry to most parks is now 'cash less'.
- Giraffe Centre - dedicated to the protection and reintroduction of the Rothschild Giraffe
- Snake Centre - As well as research work & displaying some of Africa less-seen animals, the Centre acts as a refuge to a number of abandoned, threatened, rescued and unwanted reptiles.
- Railway Museum preserves and displays of East Africa's railways from their inception to the present day
- Carnivore Restaurant is considered ‘Africa's Greatest Eating Experience' with every type of meat imaginable, including a selection of game meat, roasted over charcoal and carved at your table. They also have a vegetarian menu.
I suppose it will be a balance between seeing different parts of Kenya against spending too much time travelling. Although some of the distances on the map may not look too far, the predicted travelling times are much longer than might be expected. However, whatever we decide, I don't think we will be spending a great deal of time searching for President Barack Obaba's ancestral roots.
We are all meeting up on 17th April to sort out what we would like to do and what is reasonably possible. Watch this space for final details !
Although I've taken out the usual travel / medical insurance, I've also become a member of the Kenyan Flying Doctor Service . At a cost of only $20 / £13 for annual membership, it seemed too good a bargain to miss !