National Parks, Reserves & Conservancies
Kenya has some of the largest, longest established, most famous and widely visited National Parks and Reserves in the world. It also has some of the smallest, least known and far-flung. Of the 58 National Parks and Reserves in Kenya, Amboseli, Tsavo, Mara and Samburu are probably the best know.
Kenya’s wildlife is protected in National Parks and Game Reserves administered by the government and now over 70% of wildlife lives on Group Ranches and privately owned Sanctuaries and Conservancies. The result of these Private partnerships is an area of wilderness where wildlife shares the land with people and livestock. Together with the strong emphasis on involvement of traditional people and cultures, as well as the active protection of the environment and its wildlife these areas are protecting a way of life for the local community as well as much of Kenya’s wildlife.
For example ‘The Northern Rangelands Trust’, with a membership representing over one million acres has the following objective: conservation of natural resources and alleviation of poverty through employment and tourism based income generating projects. Tourist camps and lodges in these Conservancies provide employment which requires training thus resulting in the transfer of technology within the community. Apart from education (schools, scholarships & education equipment) new concepts for Pastoralists to preserve the land and avoid turning grazing lands into deserts are being taught (it is continued uncontrolled over grazing allowed by humans that is the culprit, not the livestock). Funds generated from tourism are put back into the local community by means of hospitals, dispensaries and mobile clinics, water projects, bee keeping, setting up of workshops to make hand made bead and basket work which in turn can be sold back to the tourists visiting the area.
The Aberdares National Park
‘Land of highlands, moor lands, peaks and falls’
This park is one of the oldest in the country and famous as the place Queen Elizabeth learned of her accession to the throne at Treetops Lodge. The Aberdares are an isolated volcanic range that forms the eastern wall of the Rift Valley and the third highest mountain range in Kenya. The unusual vegetation (dense forest, bamboo and alpine moor lands), rugged terrain, streams and waterfalls combine to create an area of great scenic beauty. The high altitudes (rising to over 13,000ft) mean that it is frequently cold and misty.
The park is home to the rare Bongo. Giant Forest Hog, Leopard, Buffalo, Rhino and Elephant inhabit the forests and on the high misty moor lands there are various antelope including Eland and Duiker. Spectacular waterfalls plunge into churning pools and trout-filled streams cascade through mossy dells. A haven for anglers, walkers, ornithologists and lovers of solitude alike.
Altitude: 1,829-4,000metres above sea level
Area: 767 sq km
Location: Central Highlands, west of Mt Kenya
One of the world’s highest National Parks, Mt Kenya is an imposing snow-capped extinct volcano, east of the Rift Valley, with its Northern flanks across the Equator. The mountain has three main peaks - Batian (5200m) and Nelion (5188m) and Point Lenana (4,985m). Mt Kenya is the highest mountain in Kenya; it is the only place in the world where snow is found on the Equator.
The mountains slopes are cloaked in forest, bamboo, scrub and moor land giving way on the high central peaks to rock, ice and snow. The moor land vegetation is unique to East African Mountains; it includes blue-flowering lobelias which grow to 10ft high and giant groundsel which reach 19ft.
Both the Kikuyu and Masai regard the mountain as the home of their Supreme Being, Ngai. Mt. Kenya is an important water catchment area, supplying the Tana and northern Ewaso Nyiro systems. A climbers Mecca, in four days you can ‘conquer’ the easiest peak, Lenana and see the glaciers, lakes and tarns. There is also some very good trout fishing in some of the lakes.
Amboseli lies immediately North West of Mt. Kilimanjaro, on the border with Tanzania. One of the oldest and most visited parks Amboseli covers 392 km2, and forms part of the much larger 3,000 Km2 Amboseli ecosystem made up of 6 communally owned group ranches. Mt Kilimanjaro provides the perfect backdrop for classic wildlife photography. Large concentrations of wildlife occur here in the dry season and you are guaranteed to see large herds of Elephants easily visible across rolling grassy savannas.
The National Park embodies 5 main wildlife habitats (open plains, acacia woodland, rocky thorn bush country, swamps and marshland) and covers part of a pleistocene lake basin, now dry. Within this basin is a temporary lake, Lake Amboseli, that floods during years of heavy rainfall. Water flowing underground from Mt Kilimanjaro up wells in a series of lush swamps and marshland that provide dry season water and forage for wildlife. Amboseli is famous for its population of large mammals. The swamps are a centre of activity for elephant, hippo, buffalo and water birds. Bird life is abundant and over 400 species of birds have been recorded here.
Altitude: 1,100 – 1,200m above sea level
Area: 392 sq kmLocation: Kajiado District, Rift Valley Province
“Hemingway’s ‘Green Hills of Africa’
The narrow 80km long Chyulus are one of the world’s newest mountain ranges, the most recent volcanic peak having been formed only 500 years ago. The range offers a fascinating mix of volcanic ash cones and barren lava flows, where rough grassland and thickets give way to patches of mountain forest along the spine of the hills. Stunning views of Mt Kilimanjaro to the west are a back drop to miles of dry and dusty Maasai land. The Park is a vital water catchment area for the Kenya coast. The forested ridges create their own rainfall and water percolates down into fast flowing subterranean rivers. These eventually join melted water from Mt Kilimanjaro and feed into the lush oasis of Tsavo West’s most popular feature, Mzima Springs.
The surrounding area is set up as a Private Conservancy area in conjunction with the local Maasai community who have agreed in principal to set aside 70,000 acres as a core conservation area as well as creating wildlife corridors to keep the ancient migration routes open from Amboseli through to the Chyulu National Park and therefore onto Tsavo. This will be land set aside for wildlife making a major significance in conservation terms not only for the Chyulu Hills area, but also for the Amboseli / Tsavo ecosystem as a whole.
Altitude: 1,500 – 2,160m above sea level
Area: 471sq km
Location: Makueni District, Eastern Province and Kajiado District, Rift Valley Province
“A remote and rugged Wilderness”
Meru National Park was made famous by the books of writer and painter Joy Adamson and later by the release of Elsa, heroine of ‘Born Free’, back into the wild. Situated east of Mount Kenya and over the high Nyambene Hills, little visited, utterly unspoilt, Meru is the most geographically diverse Park in Kenya. The unusual doum and raffia palm are found here along the banks of the Tana River which eventually winds its way down to the Indian Ocean coming out between Malindi and Lamu. Overall there are three vegetation zones, acacia thorn bush in the south, woodland with some swamps in the north-east, acacia grasslands in the north-west, with the savannah cut through by several rivers
The park is home to many of the species found in northern Kenya – reticulated Giraffe, grevy’s zebra, lesser kudu and gerenuk. There are also elephant, buffalo, lion and cheetah and over 300 species of birds. During the dry months game concentrates around the northwest plains with its marshes and year round rivers.
Kora, Meru’s sister Park is famous as the former home of naturalist George Adamson. A vast area of acacia bush land, from whose alluvial plains rise stark granite kopjes and low hills.
Altitude: Meru 366 – 914m above sea level Kora 250 – 440m above sea level
Area: Meru 870 sq km Kora 1,787 sq kmLocation: Meru, Meru District, Easter Province Kora, Tana River District, Coast Province
Tsavo National Park covers more than 20,800 km2, it is Kenya’s largest national park and is split into Tsavo East and Tsavo West by the busy Mombasa/Nairobi road and railroad.
This is a hot dry region with less than 20 inches of rainfall per year, but the stunning landscapes and the sense of isolation felt in this vastness puts you in touch with real Africa. The joint mass of Tsavo East and West forms one of the largest national parks in the world and covers a massive 4% of Kenya’s total land area.
“Theatre of the Wild”
Made famous by the “Man Eaters of Tsavo”, covers an area of about 12,000 km2, 40% of Kenya's parks' total area. Due to its size, the park is one of the world's wildlife and biodiversity strongholds. The Yatta plateau, a long, flat topped lava ridge, runs along the western boundary of the park. Beneath it flows the Athi river which joins the Tsavo river, just above the Lugards Falls, to become the Galana river, a permanent river that cuts right across the park. The seasonal Tiva and Voi rivers are important features of the Northern and Southern sectors respectively.
A dramatically presented theatre of the wild, this vast park lies in low semi arid country with open plains alternating with savannah bush and acacia scrub, emerald-fringed riverine vegetation is found along the meanderings of the Galana River. Lugards Falls on the Galana river is not a true falls but a series of rapids. Visitors can walk down to the river to view the rapids populated at the foot by giant crocodiles.
Game viewing during the dry months along the Galana River can be very rewarding with large herds of elephant, buffalo and plains game coming down to drink and take refuge from the searing heat. The prolific bird life features 500 recorded species.
Before the Park was gazetted this area was inhabited by the Waliangulu, who were famous for their elephant hunting skills. They used massive longbows and arrows, that had been dipped in a lethal poison, which could kill an elephant in a few hours.
Altitude: 150 – 1,200m above sea level
Area: 11,747 sq kmLocation: Southeast Kenya, inland from the coast
“Land of Lion and Lava”
Covers 9000 km2, approximately 30% of Kenya's area under parks, and contains a diversity of habitats, wildlife and a mountainous scenic landscape. The park is a vast expanse of savannah stretching from the Athi river, North of the Mombasa/Nairobi road and south to the Tanzanian border. The North Eastern boundary along the Athi adjoins Tsavo East National Park. Tsavo West has a more varied topography and a more diverse array of habitats than its neighbour. The park's habitats include open plains alternating with Savannah bush and semi desert scrub, acacia woodlands; rocky ridges and outcrops and more extensive ranges and isolated hills; belts of riverine vegetation; palm thickets and on the Chyulu hills, mountain forest. At Mzima Springs, in the North of the park, water that has filtered underground from the Chyulu Hills gushes from below a lava ridge into a series of clear pools. This oasis attracts many animals and an observation tank in the top pool enables you to watch hippo and crocodile from underwater.
The prolific bird life features 600 recorded species. The park supports all the members of the ‘Big Five’ as well as the country’s largest elephant population.
Altitude: 150 – 1,800mts above sea level
Area: 9,065 sq kmLocation: South-west Kenya, inland from the coast
These three small adjoining national reserves lie on either side of the Northern Ewaso Nyiro River, 340km North, North East of Nairobi. They were established in 1948 as the Samburu Isiolo Game Reserve, part of the once extensive Marsabit National Reserve. The 3 individual Reserves were gazetted in the 1970’s and are managed by their respective county councils, Samburu and Isiolo. This area of the region to this date is referred to as the Northern Frontier District. Culturally, Northern Kenya has always had a strong influence of Somali, Oromo and Borana communities and tribes, who have lived as nomads in the area for many centuries.
Samburu National Park
Samburu National Park
“Domain of doum palm & desert rose”
Samburu is situated on the banks of the Ewaso Nyiro River, the life blood of this dust-dry desert region. This hot and arid area is characterised by a parched landscape of hills and plains. Ololokwe Mountain provides a stunning backdrop to this reserve and is a memorable feature of the breath taking views as you pass down the slopes of Mount Kenya into the low country of the NFD.
The presence of the river and its shady trees attracts plenty of wildlife. Samburu is home to large herds of elephants, and the Reserve is well known for providing the opportunity to see wildlife unique to the dry north of Kenya such as Gerenuk (these distinguished looking gazelle have long necks and stand on their hind legs to feed), the endangered Grevy Zebra, Beisa Oryx, Reticulated Giraffe and the Somali Ostrich. The 3 big cats are also found here. For birders, around 365 species have been recorded and the River area is particularly rewarding.
Area: 104 sq km
Location: Rift Valley Province, Samburu District
Buffalo Springs located on the other side of the river from Samburu. It takes its name from the pools and springs of fresh clear water, which bubble in its midst, and act as a magnet for congregations of wildlife, especially during the dry season. The springs also act as a draw to literally thousands of sand grouse and doves. The reserve is characterised by large tracts of bush land, open areas of lava rock with scattered grass and shrubs. This is also a narrow band of riverine forest along the Ewaso Nyiro river. Typical of a dry country ecosystem, wildlife watching varies greatly as the animals move about in search of water and pasture. Wildlife viewing is similar to that of Samburu. Large herds of Elephant also roam the reserve. Bird life is abundant and includes the blue-shanked Somali Ostrich.
Altitude: 850 – 1,230m above sea level
Area: 131 sq km
Location: Eastern Province, Isiolo District
Shaba lies 9km east of Buffalo Springs National Reserve, from which it is separated by the main road from Isiolo to Marsabit. Its Northern section includes a 34km stretch of the Ewaso Nyiro river; here and elsewhere in the reserve are numerous springs and swampy areas, although some have bitter tasting water. The starkly beautiful landscape is dominated by Shaba hill to the south, at the foot of which is a rugged area with steep ravines. The sandy soils are volcanic in origin. 17 permanent springs attract large congregations of animals during the dry season including the unique northern game similar to Samburu and Buffalo Springs.
Area:Location: Eastern Province, Isiolo District
“Arena for the greatest wildlife show on earth” – “Of Golden plains and scattered Flowers”
World renown for the awe-inspiring annual migration of wildebeest, the Mara is Kenya’s most visited protected area. Technically an extension of Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park, the Mara constitutes only 4% of the entire Serengeti ecosystem. Its rolling grasslands, meandering rivers and towering escarpments offer one of the world’s most rewarding and evocative wildlife arenas. The Maasai Mara National Reserve is administered by the local county council. It offers breathtaking views, an extraordinary density of animals including the "Big Five" and many varieties of plains game.
Between the end of July and November, over one and a half million wildebeest accompanied by half again as many zebra and gazelle, migrate from the short grass plains of the Serengeti to fresh pasture in the grasslands of the Mara. Moving in groups of up to 20,000 at a time they thunder across the plateau hesitating only briefly to cross the Mara River, where many fall prey to the waiting crocodiles. Toward the end of October they begin crossing back into Tanzania. The actual timing of the migration, however, is dictated by the weather and does not always run to schedule. Due to the abundance of herbivores, the Mara is famous for the ‘big cats’ and hosts the largest population of lion.
The Mara is also one of Kenya’s most important bird areas, boasting over 550 resident and migratory species.
Altitude: 1,500 – 2,170 metres above sea level
Area: 1,672 sq km
Location: Rift Valley Province, Narok/Transmara Districts
“The Great Rift Valley possesses the most diverse human population, language and way of life on the planet” – Ernest Hemingway
Kenya straddles the centre of the Great Rift Valley, the vast prehistoric fissure that stretches from Jordan to Mozambique. Some 20 million years ago the earth's crust was weakened and it tore apart creating a split thousands of kilometres long down the continent of Africa, up to 62 miles (100km) wide in places. Volcanic eruptions on either side caused the floor to sink into a flat plain creating the Great Rift Valley. It is one of Kenya's characteristic features and divides the country in half, from north to south, with stunning panoramas and beautiful escarpment backdrops.
The narrowest point is just north of Nairobi at 45 km wide. The valley floor is at its lowest near Lake Turkana where there is virtually no distinction between the Great Rift and the surrounding desert. As it heads south, however, the valley walls form sheer cliffs rising to 6,232 ft at Lake Naivasha. After Naivasha, the valley descends again to 1,900 ft at the Tanzanian border. Subterranean movement is common today as the Rift Valley is home to thirty active and semi-active volcanoes and countless hot springs along its length.
The Kenyan section of the Rift Valley is home to eight lakes, of which two are freshwater and the rest alkaline. The string of lakes known for their stunning scenery and variety of bird life each have varied water composition ranging from freshwater to very saline and brackish, with different bird life attracted to each. The uniqueness of the alkaline lakes lies in their high concentration of sodium carbonate from the surrounding volcanic rocks. This creates an ideal breeding ground for algae and a thriving environment for fish, which in turn attracts millions of birds to feed on the abundant food supply.
"The Jade Sea"
"The Jade Sea"
Lake Turkana (6405 km², elevation 360 m, 250km in length) is the largest of the Kenyan lakes, on the border of Kenya and Ethiopia, it is the largest desert lake in the world.
lake is fed by Ethiopia’s Omo River in the north and the Turkana and Kerio
rivers in the south, it has no outlet and is alkaline.
Lake Baringo (80 sq miles, elevation 1000 m) second largest of the Kenyan Rift Valley lakes, this fresh water lake is shallow only being about 5m at its deepest. The traditional fishing ground of the Njemps tribe who are the only pastoralist fishermen in Kenya, they fish in papyrus rafts unheeded by the hippos and crocodiles. The lake is surrounded by volcanic ranges and the air is mostly hot and sultry and is more often than not filled with the sound of birds. Over 400 species of birds have been recorded and this wealth of bird life makes the Lake a must on any ornithological safari itinerary.
Lake Bogoria (34 km², elevation 990 m) this shallow soda lake is situated within a National Reserve. This long, slender soda lake lies at the foot of the towering Laikipia Escarpment. Towards the southern end of the lake are a series of geysers, boiling pools and hot springs erupt out of the ground. The 107sq km National Reserve also protects one of Kenya's remaining herds of greater kudu. The lake is often fringed by a mass of pink flamingos and pelicans, but the region is best known for the physical beauty of the setting.
Lake Nakuru National Park
“One of the most fabulous bird spectacles in the world’
Formed 12 million years ago and sunk deep in the Great Rift Valley, one of earth’s most phenomenal geological features, Lake Nakuru is ringed by shoals of extinct and dormant volcanoes and is presided over by the Menengai Crater.
Lake Nakuru is world famous for the 1.5 million-strong population of Lesser Flamingo and smaller number of greater Flamingo, which frost its blue shores sugar pink. It also plays host to over 400 species of bird life, being the second most prolific ornithological site in Kenya. Lake Nakuru is a very shallow, strongly alkaline lake that occupies about a third of the park. The lake water supports a dense bloom of the blue-green algae called spirulina platensis, the major food source for the flamingo, which produces a pigment that turns their plumage pink.
The landscape includes areas of marsh and grasslands alternating with rocky cliffs and outcrops, stretches of acacia woodland and rocky hillsides covered with a unique Euphorbia forest on the eastern perimeter, which is the biggest in Africa. As well as being an ornithologist’s paradise it is an equally rewarding game viewing venue. Nakuru has proven to be an excellent and safe site for the Rothschild Giraffe and Black Rhino. You will always have a good chance of seeing Leopard. It is a good spot for hippo, reedbuck, and defassa waterbuck.
Altitude: 1,756mts above sea level
Area: 188kmsLocation: Nakuru, Rift Valley Province
Lake Elementaita is a shallow soda lake which lies between Lake Nakuru and Lake Naivasha. Elementaita is the most alkaline of the three. For Flamingo, the high alkalinity encourages certain minute plants to breed which can then be extracted from the water. In dry times the lake becomes a bed of acrid dust that blows away in the wind.
Lake Naivasha (160 km² — varies somewhat with rainfall, elevation 1,890 m), this freshwater lake, is at the highest altitude in the string of lakes. The fertile soils and fresh water supply have made this one of Kenya’s major centers for floriculture and other horticultural practices. The farmlands which surround the lake give way to forests of acacia.
Recognised for its abundance of bird life and beautiful scenery, with the nearby attraction of Hell’s Gate National Park (it’s vertical ochre-cliffs and awesome scenery is well-known as one of the places to rock-climb in Kenya), Lake Naivasha is a popular destination and something of a Mecca for bird fanatics. The lake is a shimmering waterscape of floating hyacinth surrounded by mountains, and the skies above are pierced by the distinctive cries of the fish eagle. Boat trips are a popular way to explore the lake where local fishermen glide happily amongst a large population of hippo.
This shallow soda lake covers over 100km2. The sun baked salt flats and volcanic springs of Magadi create a unique ‘out of this world’ atmosphere. This lake is dominated by a brilliant pink and white crust of sodium carbonate which, in places, measures up to 30m deep. Mined by a local soda company, the crusty surface forms a maze of rail tracks, some lined with mining settlement linked by a criss-cross of causeways. The lake is backed by the purple-blue scarp of the Nguruman Mountains. The bird life is exceptional and at certain times of year, the lake is alive with anything up to 20,000 Lesser Flamingo and some unusual waterfowl. Several hot springs feed the lake.
“At the forefront of Kenyan wildlife conservation”
Laikipia District is a vast plateau to the north west of snow-capped Mount Kenya, straddling the equator at the heart of Kenya’s Rift Valley Province. It spans an area of over 9,500km², and forms part of the 25,000km² Ewaso ecosystem. The plateau extends from the foothills of Mount Kenya to the wall of the Rift Valley at Lake Baringo and stretches northwards towards Samburuland. These plains are physically diverse and scenically spectacular, covered by open grasslands, basalt hills, lonely kopjes and dense cedar forests, fed by the Ewaso Nyiro and Ewaso Narok rivers.
With its vast open plains made up of largely privately-owned ranches and community-owned group ranches, the Laikipia Plateau is widely acknowledged as Kenya’s emerging tourist destination with ideals and practices that are at the forefront of eco-tourism. The result of this is an area of wilderness where wildlife shares the land with people and livestock.
Laikipia is home to ethnically diverse communities, including the Mukogodo Maasai, Kikuyu, and Meru, who live side by side with Europeans, Turkana, Samburu and Pokot. The various indigenous communities have joined together in partnership with settlers and ranchers to create a conservation and wildlife haven. The combination of abundant wildlife and exceptional scenic beauty provides the basis to many new developments in high quality ecotourism.
Despite being a non-protected area, total numbers of wildlife in the entire area are higher than in any of Kenya’s protected areas with the exception of the Maasai Mara. The so-called "Ewaso ecosystem" is larger than all of Kenya's protected areas except Tsavo. Laikipia and the Ewaso ecosystem is home to the second largest population of elephant in Kenya (6,000+) and hosts the highest populations of endangered species in the country. Laikipia supports eight heavily protected rhino sanctuaries, which together hold over half of Kenya’s black rhino population. The Ewaso also provides a safe haven for endangered Grevy’s zebra (70% of the world’s population), reticulated giraffe, as well as Africa’s only expanding population of wild dog and significant numbers of other large predators. Laikipia’s biodiversity is globally unique and its wildlife is entirely sustained by private and communal landowners.
At the forefront of this Conservation effort is the Laikipia Wildlife Forum and the Mpala Research Centre which is based in Laikipia. Scientists and Researchers actively monitor Laikipia’s environment and its wildlife, helping to ensure that man and beast can live comfortably side-by-side.