You still don’t see Meru National Park on many safari itineraries. Of the main parks covered in this section, it is the least visited and most unspoilt and pristine. Abundantly traversed by streams flowing into the Tana River on its southern boundary, and luxuriantly rained upon, the rolling jungle of tall grass, riverine forest and swamp is lent a hypnotic, other-worldly quality by wonderful stands of prehistoric-looking doum palms.
True, the animals aren’t always as much in evidence here as they can be in some other Kenyan parks, though in recent years the wildlife numbers have been much improved, but the even more noticeable absence of minibuses and Land Cruisers more than compensates. After visiting some of the less bushy parks, where the animals can be spotted from far away, Meru’s intimate, unusual landscape is quickly entrancing.
Kora National Park, and the three national reserves south and east of Meru – Bisanadi, Mwingi and Rahole – are all in the Land-Rover-expedition category, a total of 4500 square kilometres of scrub and semi-desert, and dense forest where they fringe the Tana River. Because of the history of poor security in the area (though there have been no recent incidents), you do need to check out the situation very carefully with KWS in Meru National Park if you’re considering entering the Kora area.Read More
Exploring the park
Exploring the park
Meru’s many tracks are all good gravel and most junctions have signposts and numbered cairns. A popular hook for a fairly long drive is the loop down to the grave of Elsa the lioness, on the banks of the Tana. And there are plenty of other enticing areas to investigate without going too far. Driving in through Murera Gate, for example, turn immediately sharp left up to the “Kinna Triangle”, cross the Murera stream at junction #102 and pass a stupendous fig tree on your left. You then enter a beautiful area of thick vegetation, tall trees and high grass.
The Rojewero River
The Rojewero River, the largest of the park’s twelve main streams, is an interesting watercourse: densely overgrown banks flash with birds and monkeys and dark waters ripple with hippos, crocs and freshwater turtles. Large and very visible herds of elephant, buffalo and reticulated giraffe are common, as are, in the more open areas, gerenuk, Grevy’s zebra and ostrich. Predators were once scarce, though numbers seem to be on the up, and lion (which prey mainly on Meru’s big herds of buffalo) and cheetah are increasingly seen, when they are not hidden in the long grass – the smaller grazers must have a nerve-wracking time of it here. Large numbers of leopards captured in the stock-raising lands of Laikipia have been released in the park in recent years, but these cats are wary and you have little chance of seeing them.
Meru’s successful rhino sanctuary has been enlarged and is now protected by a fence and numerous rangers. The couple of dozen white rhinos are doing well, though the similar number of black rhinos suffer somewhat from tsetse flies. They’re monitored around the clock and well habituated to visitors, so sightings can be outstanding, with plenty of time to take pictures at close quarters.
Meru is the area where the passionate animal lovers and recluses George and Joy Adamson (he a hunter turned game warden, she a gifted watercolourist and writer) released their most famous lioness Elsa back into the wild in the late 1950s – a story that became the bestselling book and film, Born Free. After the couple separated, the misanthropic Joy conducted a series of long-term experiments with orphaned cheetahs and leopards in Shaba National Reserve – years of dedicated, lonely work cut short by her murder in 1980. George, meanwhile, moved to Kora National Park, adjoining Meru, where he lived in the bush and continued to work with orphaned lions. He was also murdered, in 1989, by poachers.