Northeast of the highway, the railway, and the apparent natural divide that separates Kenya’s northern and southern environments, lies Tsavo East National Park. Although it is the larger part of the combined Tsavo parks, the sector north of the Galana Riverhas few tracks and is much less visited. South of the river, the great triangle of flat wilderness, with Aruba Damin the middle, has become popular with safari operators, since it offers a pretty sure chance of seeing plenty of animals, in a very open environment, just half a day’s drive from most coastal hotels.
Apart from some tumbled crags and scarps near Voi, and the rocky cleft of the Galana River (fed by the Tsavo and the Athi), Tsavo East is an uninterrupted plain of bush, dotted with the crazed shapes of baobab trees. It’s a forbiddingly enormous reserve and at times over the last three decades has seemed an odd folly, especially since its northern area was closed to the public for many years due to the long war against elephant and rhino poachers. Since the 1990s, this campaign has been largely won and the elephants are once again on the increase, their numbers swelled by a major KWS translocation operation that moved three hundred elephants to Tsavo East from Shimba Hills. Rhinos are still very rare in Tsavo East and numbers exceedingly hard to estimate but it’s believed there may be about fifty individuals, mostly in the north, but occasionally seen south of the Galana, in the triangle between the Galana, the Mbololo stream and the highway. With the northern sector secure and rangers in place, the whole of Tsavo East was opened for tourism in 2006, though infrastructure north of the Galana is still basic.
With minibus safaris increasingly taking in Tsavo East, the emptiness of the park is no longer as overwhelming as it was, but the park’s vastness means that for much of the time, you will still have the pleasure of exploring the wilderness completely alone. It’s easy to get away off the two or three beaten tracks, and you may find something special – a serval perhaps, or a lesser kudu. You are certain to see a lot of Tsavo East’s delightfully colourful elephants, be they huge, dusty-red adults, or little chocolate babies fresh out of a mud bath.