Something of a conservation miracle, Meru National Park was dragged back from a state of near decimation from poaching in the early years of the 2000s. Visitors have returned, but not as yet in force, and of the main parks in the region it is the least visited and most unspoilt and pristine. Safaris in Meru are still an exclusive experience, and you’re unlikely to see many other vehicles while out on game drives.
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. There are increasingly frequent sightings of all the Big Five – the huge herds of buffalo and elephant are seen regularly; the park has a healthy lion population (no doubt some descendants of Elsa); large numbers of leopards captured in the stock-raising lands of Laikipia have been released here in recent years; and the handful of rhinos (both black and white), translocated here from other protected areas in Kenya in 2002, have grown steadily in numbers since. 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.