Saturday, 10 September 2011

Memories of Tsavo East

With just two weeks remaining till we depart, let's take one more look at some more magic moments from previous visits to Tsavo East National Park.  With so many wonderful memories from previous visits here, it is difficult to know what to include and what to miss out, so we decided the easiest way to start would be to look at some of the places in Tsavo East that we have not already mentioned.

Galana River
The Galana River is the only continuous source of water in the whole Park.  It forms just outside the boudaries of the Park at the confluence of the Athi and Tsavo Rivers.  Being the only permanent water supply, it is a haven for all sorts of wildlife, including some of the largest Nile Crocodiles we have ever seen and pods of Hippos.
Some of the crocodiles in the Galana are HUGE!
There are many hippo pods along the Galana
When photographing crocodiles, it is very easy to think that they are lumbering, slow creatures but it is not wise to let your guard down, as they can launch themselves out of the river with lightning speed with just one flick of their tails!  On land they are much less mobile and they are quite thrilling to photograph.  It is amazing to think you are photographing a creature that has outlived almost every other creature on this planet, as they are virtually unchanged since the time of the dinosaurs!
On land you can get close but if crocodiles are in the water, they can launch themselves 20 feet up the bank with a flick of the tail, so it is not a good idea to get too close to a crocodile in the water!
Along the banks of the Galana we have also seen a multitude of birds, Masai Giraffe, Bushbuck, Waterbuck, Impala, Grant's Gazelle and the delightful little Dik Dik.  These tiny foot-tall antelope are unique in the antelope world, as they usually mate for life.
The pretty little Dik Dik mates for life
 Having such an attraction to all these animals, means that the Galana River is also prime hunting ground for predators and we have been fortunate to meet, not only several Lions in this area but also a pair of Cheetah.  Tsavo actually has one of the largest populations of Cheetah outside of places like Etosha in Namibia but the often dense scrub can make them very hard to find.
Finding Cheetah in Tsavo East is a rare delight, despite the healthy population, they can be very difficult to find
 Shortly after the Galana River enters the Park, it reaches Luggard's Falls.  During a long day in the vehicle, searching for wildlife around the Park, it is refreshing to be able to take a break and get out at Luggard's Falls to explore the fascinating patterns which have been carved into the sandstone over millenia.
The water has carved some bizarre patterns into the rocks over time

A chance to stretch the legs and explore the artistry of the Galana River on its way through Luggard's Falls

Mudanda Rock
Mudanda Rock is a massive sandstone rock near the western border of Tsavo East National Park.  Looking like a miniature version of Uluru, it forms a massive dam, creating an almost permanent waterhole at its base.  The first time we visited Mudanda Rock, we did so on the recommendation of some South African friends we had met at the Ndololo Public Campsite.  They suggested it would be wise to take our pangas (machetes) with us if we climbed the rock, as it is a prime Leopard or Lion lookout.  We arrived at the bottom of the rock, grabbed our cameras and did not forget to take our pangas.  The view from the top was breathtaking, as the Park spread out before us, as far as the eye could see.  We had not been there long, when we heard a noise behind us.  Spinning round and fearing the worst, we discovered that the distant growl belonged to a minibus.  Within moments, a dozen women in flowery dresses and high heels were hiking up the rock towards us.  Sheepishly we dropped the pangas!  They turned out to be a group of school teachers from Nairobi on a staff day out and they a had a good few laughs as we explained how we had been duped by our South African friends.  We shared our binoculars and long lenses with them so that they could get a better view of the animals below, then just for a change, we became the photographic subjects, as they proceeded to take photographs of the crazy Scottish people they found on top of Mudanda Rock!
Karen looking down from Mudanda Rock

Pipeline Road
The Pipeline Road is actually a contractors' road to allow servicing of the water pipeline that runs all the way from Mzima Springs in Tsavo West to Mombasa, passing through Tsavo East along the way.  The pipeline springs leaks frequently, creating impromptu waterholes along the road, which attract plenty of wildlife, including Burchell's Zebra, Coke's Hartebeest, Eland and Buffalo.
Burchell's Zebra drinking at a small waterhole created by a burst water pipe

More than a cow!  The Cape Buffalo is one of the most dangerous animals in Africa

There are several primate species in Kenya but the two most common in Tsavo East National Park are the Yellow Baboon and the Vervet Monkey.  The Vervets are pretty little monkeys, which generally don't bother humans, although they are not adverse to raiding tents or stealing unattended items.
The pretty Vervet Monkey is delightful to have around ~ until it steals your dinner and runs off with your underwear!
The Yellow Baboon, on the other hand, can be a pest!  It only takes one irresponsible tourist to throw food to a Yellow Baboon and a whole troop can become a serious problem for other visitors!  Baboons, like all primates, are intelligent opportunists; they can count and they know when they out-number you!  During one safari at Ndololo Public Campsite, Karen had taken the dinner dishes to the stand-pipe to wash them, whilst Jason and I tidied the food away.  The Baboons immediately recognised that Karen was alone and began to crowd in closer and closer towards her.  I grabbed my panga and walked towards her slapping the blade on my boot as I went, which quickly dispersed the baboons.  However, they immediately recognised that Jason was now on his own and began to crowd around him, shuffling to within 18 inches as he packed up the food.  Just when he was starting to worry, he dropped the retaining strap for his Trangia cooker and the Baboons immediately scarpered, screaming in terror.  Baboons are absolutely terrified of two things: Leopards and snakes.  They obviously must have thought a snake had just emerged from Jason's cooker!
Young Yellow Baboons can look very sweet but they can grow into big troublemakers!
A full-grown adult male Yellow Baboon can be an imposing sight
Adult male Yellow Baboons have a peculiar way of showing dominance
This is one of our friend jason's photos.
Image © Icarus Images
All-Time Favourites
We couldn't conclude a look at previous memories from Tsavo East without mentioning bats.  As a zoologist, Karen's particular area of expertise is in bats and we have been fortunate to find and photograph three species of bat in Tsavo East.  These fantastic creatures make up one fifth of all the mammal species in the World and they perform functions that no other species does.  Without bats the problem of disease and illness spread by biting insects would be so much worse, yet these delightful little animals get a terrible press.  They are regularly portrayed as evil in both movies and folklore, when in truth they are more helpful to us than we could ever imagine.  During one safari in Tsavo East, we entertained a local safari guide's guests in the evening by letting them hear the different calls of bats, using Karen's bat detector.  They went away knowing how to differentiate between communication calls, normal echo-location and hunting echo-location.  If you want to see bats in Tsavo East, a good place to start looking is in the Makuti roofs of the tourist lodges!
The African Heart Nosed Bat emerges in early evening and hangs from low branches, listening for the footsteps of its favourite beatle prey!  If there are no beatles about, it will use echo-location to hunt moths and other flying insects

Sundevall's Roundleaf Bat eats insects like mosquito, using echo-location

Possibly Ruppel's Pipistrelle, this bat is a beautiful and dainty little insectivorous bat

We will conclude this post with one final Tsavo East moment, which has been frozen in our memories for all time.  In the still of dawn, as the orange light of morning peaked over the horizon, we sat in wonder as a small family of elephants quietly browsed by.  The only sound was the chewing of foliage as they passed not twenty feet from us, with the first rays of dawn light silhouetting them and illuminating the flies around their heads.  The sights, sounds and smells of that moment will live with us forever!
Magic moments like this are what makes life worth living!
That takes us back to the start, and the reason we have chosen to do a "live" blog from our safari this year.  We hope you have enjoyed this post and will consider making a donation to our chosen charity Save The Elephants through our Just Giving Page.

Our next pre-safari blog will look at memories from the second location on this year's itinerary, Tsavo West National Park.


  1. Great blog, but your Ruppel's pipistrelle is a Sundevall's Roundleaf bat!

  2. Well spotted, I should have checked with Karen before I named it - doh! Thanks for the correction, I will re-name it correctly now (boy am I going to get a talking to!) ~ Howard

  3. OK ~ I just got my roasting from Karen. I had mixed up names from her notes when I wrote this page of the blog. Percival's Trident Bat was one of the names she had as possible identification for the one I mistakenly names as Ruppel's Pipistrelle. Ruppel's Pipistrelle is one of the possible names she had for the bat I have mistakenly named as Percival's Trident Bat! I have now learned my lesson - don't try to be clever! She had not positively identified either bat! I have now altered the picture labels and will not be nosing in her notes again! Oops!

  4. beautiful pictures! The bat species are, from top to bottom:
    heart-nosed bat (Cardioderma cor)
    Hipposideros sp.
    Nycteris sp. (slit-faced bat)

  5. Would you add your bat photos as a citizen-science observation to the AfriBats project on iNaturalist ( AfriBats will use your observations to better understand bat distributions and help protect bats in Africa.

    Please locate your picture on the map as precisely as possible to maximise the scientific value of your records.

    Many thanks!

    1. I'm not sure how much use these would be to your research. Two of the bat images are from 2008 and the other is from 2006. We will be back in Kenya this year, so we'll take the bat detector with us and see what we can find.

  6. Thanks for your interest - every single observation will be useful to the project, so please consider sharing them with AfriBats:

    Additional observations from Kenya would be most welcome, enjoy your trip, and happy bat spotting!

  7. Hi Howard & Karen, I'm curious to hear whether you've made any new bat observations.

    In any case, we'd be delighted if you would share those above, they are excellent!

    All the best, Jakob