Tsavo West National Park covers 7,065 square km or 2,728 square miles, which is a little less than a third of the total area comprising all of Kenya’s national parks. With its diverse habitats of riverine forest, palm thickets, rocky outcrops and ridges, mountains and plains, it’s more attractive and certainly more accessible than its counterpart Tsavo East National Park. In the north of Tsavo West National Park, heavily wooded hills dominate; in the south there are wonderful views over the Serengeti Plains.
The Tsavo West National Park is located in the Coast Province of Kenya, Although Tsavo West National park and Tsavo East National Park were once a single mega- National Park in Kenya, they were separated decades ago, along a line coinciding with the Mombasa highway – and they feel like quite distinct national parks with different eco-systems: the open, flat-to-undulating plains and scattered bush of Tsavo East National Park and the much more wooded, hilly landscapes, dotted with volcanic cones and dramatic, black lava flows, that characterize Tsavo West National Park.
Just as Tsavo East National Park has its core area in the far south, so Tsavo West safaris invariably concentrate on a core part of the park, in the north, known as the Developed Area – a relatively small, 1,000km² areas north of the Tsavo River, with magnificent landscapes and a good network of sand and gravel park roads? This district’s well-watered, volcanic soil supports a good range of woodland and savannah habitats for the full panoply of Kenyan wildlife – although in the hilly bush, the animals can be hard to see.
The northern part of Tsavo West National Park is fascinating geologically: the whole developed area is dotted with old and new volcanic hills, ranging from pimples to great pyramids on the plain. The district was ravaged as recently as 200 to 300 years ago by a series of violent volcanic eruptions that devastated the area, and evidently killed much of the human population – local people still speak of ghosts and noises at night. West of Chyulu Gate, en route to Amboseli National Park, the road passes for several kilometers across a huge expanse of black lava rock, still barely colonised by plant life. And north of this area, a dramatic route climbs into the Chyulu Hills, out of Tsavo West National Park altogether and into the neighboring Chyulu Hills National Park, The most iconic attraction in to the Tsavo West National Park is Mzima Springs.
The developed area of Tsavo West National Park Kenya also has several steep, recent volcanic cones, one of which, Chaimu Crater, is a nature trail where, again, you can leave your safari vehicle and hike – though it’s best to do this early in the morning if you want to do the 30-minute hike to the summit as the heat on the cinder track becomes brutal as the sun rises. When you get to the top, you have superb 360-degree views of the Developed Area.
Another spot for a good scan with the binoculars is the wooded Poacher’s Lookout, which you drive up on a steep, winding track. You can often seen lesser kudu in this area. Further east, the much bigger Rhodesian Hill, Kichwa Tembo and Ngulia have some dramatic steep slopes and cliffs, but there are no easy ways to get to the top of them, without organising a special bush hike accompanied by KWS rangers well in advance. Marking the southern boundary of the Developed Area is the Tsavo River. This is strongly seasonal river, whose flow is very much determined by rain and snowfall on Kilimanjaro and its eastern foothills.
The sandy roads along the riverside are a good area for game drives, especially in the dry season. After heavy rain, however, the only bridge over the Tsavo, at road junction number 39, is prone to being damaged or washed away. When the Tsavo bridge is down, the whole of the rest of the park, south of the Developed Area, is inaccessible from the northern side. When you can get across, however, there’s a highly recommended long game drive to the southwest panhandle region of the Tsavo West National Park, through beautiful verdant woodland, following the east bank of the Tsavo River to its tributary, to its tributary, the Sainte Stream, in the Kilimanjaro foothills. Here, on the edge of the park, is the Ziwani Swamp.
Much of this area was converted to sisal plantations long ago, but there’s a beautiful dam and lake at Voyager Ziwani Safari Camp, that makes a good spot for a picnic. The hilly landscapes and woodland of Tsavo West National Park mean that spotting wildlife can sometimes be tricky. There’s plenty of it, however, including large numbers of elephants and good lion prides. There’s also a good chance of seeing black rhinos in the secure rhino sanctuary.
The experience of being on safari in Tsavo West is very different from a safari in Tsavo East or a Maasai Mara safari, where you often have views across wide-open country. Tsavo West safaris are more about unexpected sights as you turn a bend on a wooded track. Giraffe, impala, buffalo and Burchell’s zebra are all common species here. The birdlife in the park is outstanding – if you’re on bird watching safaris you’ll be knocked out by the number of sightings you have. The white-headed buffalo weaver is a particularly noticeable species, with its prominent bright red rump, and there are at least eight recorded hornbill species here.
If you have time for an all-day game drive to the southwest corner of the park, you could visit Lake Jipe, which is a real waterbird paradise. Until the time of the railway, the Tsavo West region had been inhabited for thousands of years by hunter-gatherers, with limited numbers of Kamba people moving through the region in the last thousand years or so, herding their livestock or looking for honey. Maasai cattle herders arrived in the eighteenth century from the Rift Valley further north, but the tsetse flies of the woodland that infected their herds with sleeping sickness put them off from spending long here.
Despite Tsavo West National Park’s good water, the drier plains of Tsavo East were a safer grazing area. The Tsavo West region became a national park in 1948 and safaris in Tsavo West became popular in the late 1960s when the first charter flights began arriving in Mombasa, and really took off when the Mombasa-Nairobi road was first surfaced in 1969.
Tsavo West National Park History
Although a few Early Stone Age and Middle Stone Age archaeological sites are recorded from ground surface finds in Tsavo, there is much evidence for thriving Late Stone Age economy from 6,000 to 1,300 years ago. Research has shown that Late Stone Age archaeological sites are found close to the Galana River in high numbers. The inhabitants of these sites hunted wild animals, fished and kept domesticated animals.
Because of the sparse availability of water away from the Galana River, human settlement in Tsavo focused on the riparian areas and in rock shelters as one moves west. Swahili merchants traded with the inhabitants of Tsavo for ivory, cat skins, and probably slaves as early as 700 AD (and probably earlier). There is no evidence for direct Swahili “colonization” of Tsavo. Instead, trade was probably accomplished by moving goods to and from the Swahili Coast via extended kin-networks. Trade goods such as cowry shells and beads have been recovered from archaeological sites dating to the early Swahili period.
19th-century British and German explorer’s document people we now refer to as Orma and Waata during their travels through the “nyika,” and generally viewed them as hostile toward their interests. Beginning in the late 19th/early 20th century, the British began a concerted effort to colonize the interior of Kenya and built a railroad through Tsavo in 1898. Legend has it that “man-eating lions” terrorized the construction crews; however modern scholarship attributes the Waata for kidnapping and killing Indian and British laborers in an attempt to stop the unwanted intrusion into their territory. Inevitably, the British colonial authority bolstered security for the construction effort and the railroad was built.
Tsavo remained the homeland for Orma and Maasai pastoralists and Waata hunter-gatherers until 1948, when it was gazetted a national park. At that time, the indigenous populations were relocated to Voi and Mtito Andei as well as other locations within the nearby Taita Hills. Following Kenyan independence in 1963, hunting was banned in the park and management of Tsavo was turned over to the authority that eventually became the Kenya Wildlife Service. Tsavo currently attracts photo-tourists from all over the world interested in experiencing the vastness of the wilderness and incredible terrain.
Tsavo West National Park Wildlife
Tsavo West National Park is a place that captures one’s interest! It is everything that a national park should be. This is the Tsavo National Park. Though many describe Tsavo West National Park as a minor safari destination, the reality is that this Tsavo West National Park offers the visitor a chance to witness one of Africa’s most beautiful and diverse wildernesses; with open plains, dense bush lands, hills, valleys, rivers, lakes and an array of wildlife.
Tsavo West National Park’s Black Rhino population is protected in the fenced in, 70 square-kilometer, Ngulia Rhino Sanctuary. The visitor can also expect to see large numbers of giraffe, elephant and buffalo here as well too. Water holes- some near lodges and camps- around the Tsavo West National Park attract a constant procession of wildlife. Elephants leisurely enjoy themselves at these points, with Impala and other antelope hanging around for the relative safety of the night floodlights.
Tsavo West National Park is home to big cats as well. Please note that these animals are not as accustomed to vehicles, as their counterparts in other National Parks and Game Reserves around the country. Chances for game drives in fully-open vehicles here are non-existent. The Tsavo West National Park might also offer visitors a chance to see the African Wild Dog. However, these animals use the vastness of the Tsavo West National Park, to remain elusive.
The Mzima Springs, found in the Park, offers a habitat to hippos, crocodiles, monkeys and a large variety of birdlife. The under water viewing tank at the springs provides a unique view of hippos and crocodiles underwater. The Ngulia Hills, on the northern part of the Tsavo West National Park, offers a natural checklist for the visitors. It over looks the Chaimu Crater, Rhino Valley, the Ngulia Rhino Sanctuary and the Tsavo River. Game drives in this area are quite productive. Dik-diks, antelopes and the beautifully marked lesser kudu form part of the highlight of the drive.
The Roaring Rocks Observation Point provides a wonderful view of this area. Breathtaking! The Ngulia Hill rise to a dizzying height, and conditions allowing, arrange can be made for rock climbing. The Tsavo River flows through the Tsavo West National Park. The river attracts wildlife, and game drives along the banks of this river, can be very rewarding. Towards Tanzania, the park takes up the landscape familiar to the Serengeti Plains and bushy vegetation.
The main water source here is the Lake Jipe. This relatively long lake makes the area rich in birdlife. The Tsavo West National park needs patience and desire to know more about it, from the visitor. This part of the world is surely Africa’s most beautiful and diverse wilderness.
Tsavo West Red Elephants
Tsavo West National Park is home to the largest population of red-skinned elephants who are one of the outstanding features in this game sanctuary and the only red elephants in the world. These elephants are actually the same color as every other elephant though they just appear red due to constantly dust-bathing with the Park’s fine red volcanic soil. Thousands of them now inhabit the Park after the devastating effects of the widespread elephant poaching which occurred throughout the 1980s.
The ivory trade ban almost a decade later completely halted the slaughter allowing wildlife-based photographic tourism to increase again, so the chances of seeing one are pretty high. Notable predators like the Masai lion, cheetah and leopard can be rather elusive added to the hilly landscapes and woodland of Tsavo West which makes spotting wildlife even more challenging. This is probably because they are not as accustomed to vehicles like their counterparts in other National Parks and Game Reserves around the country.
Its other major wildlife attractions include, Black rhino, Hippos, Cape Buffalos, Masai giraffe and even monstrous crocodiles The Park also has a variety of other smaller animals such as the bushbaby, hartebeest, lesser kudu, Mongoose, Hyrax, Dik- dik, and Nocturnal Porcupine that can be spotted in the dark.
Tsavo West National Park is an all year round exotic sensation which is ideal for those who want an exhilarating experience well away from the crowds. It is an excellent place for visitors who enjoy walking and who have time to spend days visiting its surroundings and the diverse habitats.
The Park’s flora teems with beautiful wild flowers which appear mostly during the short rains which quickly dot the ground with dainty blossoms each with a distinctly alluring aura. It is also home to diverse bird species featuring nearly 600 species including ostriches, kestrels, and buzzards, starlings, weavers, kingfishers, hornbills, secretary birds, herons, the threatened corncrake and Basra Reed Warbler. Reports of ringed birds have been received from as far as St.Peterburg in Russia and even in Oman; southwest Asia.
Tsavo West National Park being the Game viewing paradise that it is currently attracts photo-tourists from all over the world who are interested in experiencing the vastness of the wilderness and incredible terrains.
Man Easters of Tsavo West National Park
The Tsavo is timeless. It is one of Kenya’s most stunning national parks, unrivaled in its diversity of landscapes and wildlife. Say the word man eaters and most people won’t know what you re talking about. Add in a few more words, mix and say: ‘the man eaters of Tsavo’. Perhaps this will make sense now. If not, try another combination: “The Ghost in the Darkness,” the names of movies has infinite power over our memories: ‘ah yes…this was the movie where lions attacked a whole camp of railway line workers and halted the production. But what happened in the end, I can’t seem to remember?’
Although the movie was thrilling, the real story is far more intriguing: see the lunatic line at Tsavo National Park; the place where it all began. In 1898 the line that now divides Tsavo East and West was where the man eaters of Tsavo struck. 140 bodies later, the two lions that hunted and lived together were shot and killed by the person overseeing the railway at the time, Lt. Colonel Patterson.
Today, see the lunatic line at Tsavo, or take the lunatic express or the recently launched Madaraka Express. As the train slowly makes its way through the wilderness, you have momentary glimpses of giraffes and elands. The ‘red elephants’ famous in this area, given a red tinge by the ocher dust that is raised by their stomps and that falls in this area, make for fascinating viewing.
At the end of the 19th century, when the British East Africa Company announced that it was planning to build a line from Mombasa into the highlands and over the Great Rift valley, into Uganda, skeptics laughed, saying “It is naught but a lunatics line,” and so a new legend was born. The railway line, despite a few set backs such as the chilling kills made by the man eaters, eventually reached its target, and the name stuck.
See the lunatic line that is, according to one politician of the day, “Going from nowhere to utterly nowhere,” which today, is exactly the point: ‘nowhere’, but anywhere with elephants, lions, giraffes and majestic sunsets over vast plains that stretch out into, well…nowhere. Brilliant. See the lunatic line at Tsavo to witness history that had been forged with blood, sweat and tears. Or, as one railway report put it, “Man-eating lions, hostile tribes, wild animals that attacked the trains, mosquitoes, flies, locusts and caterpillars that caused the locomotives to slip on the rails.”
How to Get to Tsavo West National Park
The most recommended way is to use a Tsavo west safari company. It will give you tour guides/drivers to pick you up right at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi or Moi International Airport in Mombasa.
Depending on where you are based, you Kenya safari tour to Tsavo west can drive you via Nairobi or Mombasa road or Taveta or Voi road. There are several good airstrips for chartered aircrafts at Chyulu, Mtito Andei, Tsavo, Jipe, Maktau, Kasigau and Ziwani gates. By road From Amboseli (52km), head for the Chyulu Gate.
From Nairobi (272km), enter using the Mtito Andei Gate. From Mombasa (188km), use either the Tsavo Gate near Manyani, or the Mtito Andei Gate. There are also entrances at Maktau, Ziwani and Jipe, depending upon where you want to be within the national park.
Climate in Tsavo West National Park
Tsavo West National Park is just a few degrees south of the equator. The temperature remains the same throughout the year at 27-31°C (81-88°F) during the day and 22-24°C (72-75°F) during the night. Humidity is high from December through April. The rainfall defines the seasons. The long rainy season, or monsoon season, is from March to May. The shorter rains come in October through December.
Best Time to Visit January and February and are good months to visit for an African safari tour in Kenya to Tsavo West. You can also visit Tsavo West National Park between June to September. Visiting during the heavy rainy season of March to May should be avoided as the roads become very muddy. There may be some rain from October to December. Temperatures stay at a pleasant 27-31C (81-88F) during the day and 22-24C (72-75F) at night year round. The best months for birdwatchers to see migratory birds are October to January. The best times to view the park’s animals are early and late in the day, as they tend to sleep in the hot afternoon sun.
What to See and Do in Tsavo West National Park
Tsavo West National Park offers many activities and tourist attractions, as well as wildlife safaris. Lake Jipe attracts a lot of wildlife and is a good place for bird watching. It is fed by the run-off from Mount Kilimanjaro and the North Pare Mountains. Take a boat excursion on the lake, or explore the swamps at each end. Red Elephant – Lake Jipe, Tsavo West Mzima Springs is at the north end of Tsavo West.
Water from the Chyulu Hills runs from beneath the lava ridge and forms several natural pools. Fringed with palm trees, these pools are popular watering holes for birds and African wildlife. You can also watch the hippos bathing underwater here. Visit the Lava Flows and Caves for geological interest; explore the caves or hike along the lava flow. Bird watching safaris are best between October and January, featuring many migratory birds including African skimmers, red and yellow bishops, goshawks, buffalo weavers and palm nut vultures, to name a few.
The swamps on Lake Jipe and the acacia woodlands also attract many birds. In fact, over 500 bird species have been recorded in the park, including ostriches, kestrels, buzzards, starlings, weavers, kingfishers, hornbills, secretary birds and herons.
The cliff faces in Tsavo West offer some of the best rock climbing in Kenya. The views over the savanna plains are spectacular, and Mt Kilimanjaro can also be seen on occasion. Visit the 300m high, east side of Kichwa Tembo, the Great Tsavo Chimney and the Ivory Tower on Elephant Rock. Climbing can be arranged through the Mountain Club of Kenya.
Birds of Tsavo West National Park
Tsavo West National Park has a prolific birdlife with an astounding checklist of up 500 species on record. The Park lies within the migratory routes of pale arctic migrants which qualifies it an important spot for these species especially the rarely seen Sooty and Eleonora’s Falcons. The park is home to 61 of the 94 species of the Somali-Masai biome that occur in Kenya.
Four globally threatened species namely; Taita Thrush, Friedmann’s Lark, Lesser Kestrel and Basra Reed Warbler along with seven regionally threatened species namely; African Fin foot, African Darter, Great egret, Saddle-billed Stork, White-headed Vulture, Martial Eagle, and Violet Wood Hoopoe have been recorded at this site. Tsavo East National Park holds substantial populations of a diversity of other wildlife, from large and small mammals to amphibians, reptiles, rich flora, to insects just to mention but a few.
Mzima Springs Tsavo West
Mzima Springs is one of the main attractions in Tsavo West are the Mzima Springs, located 48km from the Mtito Andei Gate and close to both Kilaguni Lodge and Kitani Bandas. The two large pools, connected by a rush of rapids are replenished with two hundred and twenty million liters of crystal-clear water every day, from the underground streams stemming from the lava the Chyulu Hills, 40-50 kilometers away.
This fresh water at Mzima forms a haven to a huge variety of wildlife including hippo and crocodiles, but is an important source of drinking water for many animals including elephants, lion, gazelles, zebra and giraffe. The upper (or long) pool is the favoured hippo wallow, while the crocodiles have retreated to the broader expanse of water lower down.
There is a car park at Mzima and you are permitted to walk down to the water following a path, from here you may be rewarded with a sighting of animals coming down to the waters edge to drink as well as that of Hippos in the water. It is also worth walking around this lower pool where, if you’re stealthy, you have a good chance of seeing crocodiles, just make sure there’s not one on the bank behind you.
Chaimu Crater is west of bthe springs is the Chaimu Crater; this volcanic crater is less than 200 years old and composed mainly from black coke. It is well worth the tour and you can climb by foot. Animals to look out for in this area include klipspringer and the lesser Kudu antelope.
David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust
The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust is a small, flexible charity, established in 1977 to honor to memory of a famous Naturalist, David Leslie William Sheldrick MBE, the founder Warden of Tsavo West National Park in Kenya, where he served from its inception in 1948 until his transfer to Nairobi in 1976 to head the Planning Unit of the Wildlife Conservation & Management Department. His legacy of excellence and the systems he installed for the management of Tsavo and wildlife generally in Kenya, particularly in the sphere of wildlife husbandry and ethics, lives on.
The name of Sheldrick and Tsavo are synonymous and it is in Tsavo that the Trust places emphasis. 8069 sq. miles in extent, the Tsavo National Park is Kenya’s largest wildlife refuge, harboring the country’s single largest population of elephants and a greater biodiversity of species than any other Park in the world, since, by fortunate accident, there the Northern and Southern races of many species merge. Being of low and erratic rainfall, it is arid marginal tsetse infested land easily reduced to desert under domestic stock and as such unsuitable for ranching or agricultural activities.
The Tsavo West National Park’s very size is its strength, for it is self sustainable and ecologically viable without intrusive human interference of its wild populations, other than to monitor, learn, take heed and better understand Nature’s ways. Indeed Tsavo West National Park can boast a proven record in this respect, having weathered devastating droughts and violent flooding, epidemics of rinderpest plus natural population surges and swings triggered by elephant induced vegetational progression, yet its rich biodiversity remains intact, strengthened through accepting natural selection which is a vital tool to distil out imperfections and keep the gene pools pure.
Besides harbouring most of Kenya’s elephants, and providing the space they need for a quality of life in elephant terms, Tsavo is also home to the last of the great herds of buffalo in Kenya, the rare Hirola, or Hunters hartebeest, the largest population of lions left in Africa and a broad spectrum of other predators in healthy numbers, including the now extremely rare African hunting dogs, striped and spotted hyaenas (under pressure in small sanctuaries) with reported sightings by experienced Naturalists of Brown Hyaenas as well, previously not recorded in this part of the world.
Tsavo West Rock climbing:
In 1978 Bill Woodley, then the warden of Tsavo West National Park, invited the Mountain Club of Kenya (MCK) to explore the cliffs in the park. The setting for climbers is superb with elephant roaming the plains below the cliffs and eagles, vultures and falcons circling on thermals around the crags with Kilimanjaro frequently visible on a clear day. The rock-climbing is some of the best in Kenya; solid gneiss walls are often covered in holds and free of vegetation.
Cracks and corners abound, but tend to be more vegetated. The most impressive piece of rock, the 300m high east face of Kichwa Tembo, attracted the first explorers and resulted in the ascent of Great Tsavo Chimney. Mastadon took 3 visits before it was completed. A more recent route, Ivory Tower on Elephant Rocks, ranks with the best and hardest bush climb in Kenya.
Generally pegs need not be carried. Unless climbing in the shade, an early start is advisable as it often gets very hot on clear days. The permit the MCK has to climb here, and to camp by the Tsavo River, is a special privilege and every effort must be made not to jeopardize this situation by careless actions. Other climbers should initially contact the MCK if wishing to climb here.
Lake Jipe is located in the southwestern corner of Tsavo West National Park is Lake Jipe. 10km long and 3km wide it has huge reed beds and although there is game present, it is the rich bird life that is most impressive here. Pied Kingfishers, palmnut vultures, black herons and African skimmers, Purlpe Gallinule, Black Herons, the Pygmy Goose and the Lesser Jacana are all found in this area around the lake.
Ngulia Rhino Sanctuary
At the base of the Ngulia Hills, this 70 km2 fenced area has been established to protect and conserve the rare black rhinoceros and is now a reserve for more than 50 rhinoceros. The sanctuary can be visited by car as few roads are crossing the reserve and black rhinoceros are often seen in the Ngulia Rhinoceros Sanctuary.
Shetani Lava Flow and Cave
The Shetani flow, a black lava flow of 8 km long, 1.6 km wide and 5 meters deep, is the remain of volcanic eruptions . Climbing the flow is not an easy task as the thick black soil is composed of uneven chunks of solid magma. The cave, located near the center of the outflow, has two large opening and one ancient tree is growing between them. Although the cave is only few meters long, the exit is not accessible.
Chaimu crater – or the devil’s crater translated in Kamba is a tall rising hill clad in the brighten black color of the lava stones. This recent volcano can be climb as there is a track leading to the top. Climbing the hill is not easy as it can be very hot and the ground, where no vegetation is yet grown, is not very stable and slippery. At the top, the view is again breathtaking.
The Mudanda Rock is an Ayer’s Rock-like sandstone inselberg whose bare flanks form a natural water catchment area that feeds into a large, seasonal lake, attracting large numbers of animals. The Yatta Plateau is a 300km ancient lava flow that stretches along the east and north bank of the Athi-Galana. Its geomagnetic qualities are believed to play a role in guiding migratory birds and large numbers of Palearctic migrants can be seen in the area. The Lugard Falls are a series of short falls and steep rapids on the Galana River, where relatively harder rock has created a bottleneck in the valley and impedes the river’s progress. Crocodile Point, where the big reptiles can often be seen basking in the sun, is just downstream from here. At some point on most Tsavo East safaris, you’re almost bound to stop here to stretch your legs and takes photos.
|Languages spoken||English, Kiswahili|
|Currency used||Kenya Shillings (KES)|
|Area (km2)||7,065 SQ. KM|