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Tsavo East National Park

Tsavo East National Park covers 13,700 square kilometres of Kenya, which is nine times the size of Masai Mara National Reserve. Tsavo National Park refers to both Tsavo East and West National Park, which are separated by a road and railway. Together these parks cover 4% of Kenya, forming one of the world’s largest national parks. The two parks have separate ecosystems: Tsavo East National Park is flatter with open plains and scattered bush while Tsavo West National Park has a hilly landscape with volcanic cones and lava flows.

Tsavo East National Park, one of Africa’s spectacular safari destinations, has a semi-arid climate, and numerous attractions, from big five animals to birding opportunities with dry-country birds. Tsavo East National Park stands today because of several factors, one of them was the land’s unsuitability for farming.

Let’s share a bit about Tsavo East National Park’s history to give you an insight into the park’s origin.

The‌ ‌History‌ ‌of‌ Tsavo East National Park

Tsavo has a rich historical background with a few known stone age archaeological sites that tell us a story about human evolution from hunters to slave traders to today’s humans. During the late stone age period, numerous human settlements resided close to the Galana River. These people fished in the river water, hunted wild animals, and kept cattle.

  • 11th to 15th Century: During the Swahili period, the inhabitants of Tsavo traded slaves, cat skins, and ivory to the merchants via the Swahili coast.
  • 1898: The British built a railway in Tsavo. During the construction, the crew were attacked by man-eating lions. The lions were put down by Lt Col Patterson, but by then they had already killed around 135 crew members.
  • 1948: Based on the documents prepared by explorers, in the 19th century, the area was homeland to two tribes. First the Watha – the hunter-gatherers; and second the Orma – the pastoralists. However, they were displaced when the region was gazetted as a national park for wildlife conservation.

The Watha people were forced to relocate to Mitto ANdei, Voi, and locations near Taita Hills. The Orma pastoralists were also driven off the land along with their livestock. The park was officially established, but despite this the animals were still hunted.

  • 1963: When Kenya gained its independence 14 years after the establishment of the Tsavo National Park, the authorities banned hunting in the park. The park’s authority was handed to the Kenya Wildlife Service.

Wildlife In Tsavo East National Park

Contrary to popular belief, not all adult male lions have a mane. Tsavo East National Park can attest to this fact as it houses a healthy population of more than 600 adult Tsavo lions – a species known for its lack of manes. Apart from lions, cheetahs and leopards are also frequently spotted in the region. It also has hyenas who are forever on the scent of their prey.

Elands, plains zebra, gazelles, Grevy’s zebra, hunter’s hartebeest, and lesser kudus are often seen feeding on the 118 plants found in the Tsavo East National Park. The park also has dik-dik,  gerenuks, fringe-eared oryx, and klipspringers.

At the beginning of the 19th century, Tsavo had 60,000 elephants. But large-scale poaching caused a 90% decline in the elephant population. It has taken years for the elephant population to stabilize and today there are more than 6000 elephants in the region.

Tsavo East National Park has more than 500 bird species. Some of the rare bird species in the parks are African finfoot, golden pipit, golden-breasted starling, martial eagle, Somali ostrich, Taita fiscal, and vulturine guinea-fowl. Savannah monitor, a medium-sized monitor lizard, can be spotted prowling the plains and preying on small animals.

Tsavo East National Park Premier Attractions

  • Aruba Dam: The Aruba Dam spanning the Voi river is well-known for its wildlife. The water source attracts a large concentration of animals. Tsavo lion prides are often spotted at the dam. The open grasslands at the Bachuma Gate, a short distance from the Aruba Dam, is the perfect habitat for cheetahs.
  • Mudanda Rock: The Mudanda Rock overlooks a natural dam that attracts hundreds of elephants during the dry season. The top of the Mudanda Rock provides a perfect vantage point to watch the gathering wildlife, which includes leopards.
  • Galana River: The Galana River runs through the heart of Tsavo East National Park, surrounded by dusty plains. Visitors can spot hippopotamus, waterbucks, dik-diks and crocodiles in the river water. Somali ostrich has also been spotted in the region. Along the river is one of its foremost attractions, the Lugards Falls, with a beautiful landscape of water channels and striated rocks. Another popular attraction, the crocodile point, is set high above the Galana River offering a perfect view of the crocodiles in the river.
  • Yatta Plateau: At 290km in length, the Yatta Plateau has the world’s largest lava flow. It runs along the western boundary of the Tsavo East National Park above the Athi River.

When To Visit Tsavo East National Park

Except for the peak monsoon months (April, May, and November), Tsavo East National Park is a year-round safari destination. The park is amongst a few of Kenya’s lesser crowded safari destinations, which allows visitors to take in the full beauty of the reserve. Of course, the dry season makes it easier to spot the wildlife gathered around the watering holes. The lack of vegetation further aids visitors in their endeavour of wildlife viewing.

For travellers interested in the beautiful lush landscapes of Tsavo, January and February are the best times to visit the park. The best time for birding in Tsavo East National Park is November to April. During this time, several Eurasian migratory species are present in the park.  Bird watchers can visit the park year-round to spot the resident bird species.

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