The Greatest Game Show on Earth
The Swahili word ‘safari’ means ‘journey’, and since the early European explorers set out on trips in Kenya the word has been adopted by all people to mean a journey to experience wildlife.
This module investigates why Kenya is the home of the safari, discusses how to get the most from the safari experience and looks at some of the country’s national parks and reserves.
Kenya today has nearly 60 natural parks and reserves, as well as seven marine natural parks and reserves spread along the coast. The first game reserves were formed in 1900 as part of early conservation moves in Africa, although it wasn’t until much later that the parks as we know them were formed.
Nairobi National Park, opened in 1946, was Kenya’s first national park and remains the only one of its type in the world to be within the limits of a city. The sheer number of national parks and reserves, each one with its own distinctive character, environment and variety of animals, means that no two are the same.
The Kenyan safari experience is unrivalled anywhere in the world.
The cost of entering a park will vary between US$15 and US$30, but when booking a safari, these charges will be included in the price.
The safari experience tends to start very early in the day. An early safari will increase the chances of seeing a number of animals, as they tend to be most active in the cooler mornings. Most safaris will then return to the lodges or camps for a long lunch, restarting late afternoon for the second outing.
As Kenya is equatorial, the sun generally sets at approximately 18:30 each evening, and few parks will allow people to keep travelling after sundown for fear of disturbing too many animals. This means a return to the lodges or camps for dinner and, if located near a waterhole, the chance of night viewings.
The vehicles used are purpose built for safari, with each seat being a window seat. Most are fitted with roofs that will lift up, allowing all passengers to stand to get a better view of the game. Binoculars and good cameras are recommended.
The drivers are all experienced game watchers and will prove to be invaluable in spotting distant game and bird life. They also communicate with other drivers within the area, so if one spots something of interest, they will let other vehicles know, increasing the chances of spotting all types of game.
The drivers, game keepers, and indeed the people of Kenya take great pride in offering visitors the ultimate game show, and the ultimate safari experience!
|When to experience a safari|
Most people safari in Kenya between July and September and between November and March – avoiding the rainy seasons.
Travelling at this time greatly increases the chances of seeing game – the grasses will be shorter and more game is likely to head to the waterholes in the evenings. However, these are also the times when prices are likely to be at a premium, and the parks are likely to be busier.
However, weather is not predictable and rains do not always arrive when expected. Often a bargain can be found out of peak season that may provide just as satisfying an experience.
It should always be remembered that a safari to Kenya is a fantastic experience anytime of year!
Maasai Mara Game Reserve
The Maasai Mara is most popular game reserve in Kenya – understandably so, since it offers some of the best game viewing in all of Africa.
The ‘Mara’ is 200 sq miles of reserve in southwest Kenya that extends southwards to the Serengeti in Tanzania. Made up of open plains, woodlands and Acacia forest, it plays host to abundant wildlife, including zebra, giraffe, gazelle, monkeys and of course the Big Five. It is famously the setting for the BBC series Big Cat Diary, which has featured some of the reserve’s cheetahs, lions and leopards.
The ‘Mara’ is also famous for its Migration, when over 1.5 million wildebeest, mixed with zebra and lions, head north from the Serengeti to the Maasai Mara across the Mara River.
Tsavo National Park
Tsavo Park is about the size of Jamaica and is split into Tsavo West and East by the Mombasa/Nairobi highway. It benefits from being just 3 or 4 hours drive from Mombasa, making it an ideal safari experience for visitors based on the coast.
The perfect place for those primarily interested in elephants. It is a park of wide open plains crowned by Kilimanjaro over the border in Tanzania. Amboseli is easily reached from Nairobi, and its relative small size makes game viewing excellent.
This park is in central Kenya and is one of the best examples of wildlife conservation and ecotourism in Kenya. There is a large healthy population of game in the area.
Samburu, Shaba and Buffalo Springs
All of these three reserves are in the north central Great Rift Valley area – an arid area where the Ewaso Nyiro River creates an oasis for an abundance of game. The river flows through these three great reserves and is where Joy Adamson, the author of Born Free, spent her final years. More recently, the hit TV series Survivor USA was filmed in Shaba.
Nairobi National Park
Kenya’s first national park hosts herds of zebra, giraffe, lions and rhinos. It is also a good spot for big cats, but no elephants live here. Few realise that the park is not entirely enclosed, and that many animals migrate in and out of the park with the rainy seasons.
The park also maintains an animal orphanage, and one of the largest butterfly houses.
The forests around the base of Mount Kenya (left) are rich in game, particularly buffalo and elephants. The area is also known for sightings of black panthers.
It is possible to climb slopes of Mount Kenya with some assistance!
A quiet place set in cool highland overlooking the Indian Ocean, this park benefits from being close to Mombasa. Shimba Hills is very good park for game and the forest is good for birdwatching. The Shimba Hills Lodge is set around a salt lick and waterhole.
Nearby is the Mwalunganji Elephant Reserve, a newly established sanctuary for several herds of elephant.
The forest is rich in game, and large herds of buffalo and elephants are often seen. Rare species include giant forest hog and Bongo antelope. Colobus monkeys (right) are also often seen.
Kenya’s ultimate destination for the adventure wildlife safari, the lake supports the largest population of Nile crocodiles in all of Africa – around 22,000! Lake Turkana also has a large hippo population. Boat trips are the best way to see both.
The lake’s rocky Central Island is home to many waterbirds and some very large crocodiles, while Sibiloi National Park on its northern shores plays host to seasonal populations of zebra, gerenuk, kudu, lion, hyena and cheetah.
Some of the shore area has recorded more than 400 bird species and the Acacia forest teems with birdlife. Lake Naivasha is also famed for its hippo population.
Lake Nakuru is world famous for its flamingos as well as being a sanctuary for rhinos – both black and white. Nakaru means ‘place of the waterbuck’, and lives up to its name. It also plays host to buffalo, zebra, the rare Rothschild giraffe, lions and leopards.
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