The Conservation Area:
• Is the largest protected area in Kenya
• Holds the largest elephant population in the country
• Is one of the largest contiguous protected areas in Africa
• Occupies about 52% of the total protected areas in Kenya, and about 4% of Kenya’s surface area
Due to its massive size, harsh environment and frequent drought, the land inside the protected areas provide the best possible habitat for wildlife.
If just left alone without encroachment, Tsavo can sustain it’s wildlife forever.
Kenya, one of the most politically stable countries in Africa, designated this land as a National Park in 1948. Tsavo is considered one of the world’s biodiversity strongholds, and its popularity is mostly due to the vast amounts of diverse wildlife that can be seen, including the famous ‘big five’ consisting of lion, black rhino, cape buffalo, elephant and leopard. The park also is also home to a great variety of bird life.
The slightly larger Tsavo East is generally flat, with dry plains across which the Galana River flows. The Yatta Plateau – the world’s longest lava flow at 290 kilometers – rises above the Athi and Tsavo rivers which converge to form the Galana River. Most of the park consists of semi-arid grasslands and savanna.
Tsavo West National Park is more mountainous and wetter than its counterpart, with swamps, Lake Jipe and the Mzima Springs. Mzima Springs produces 250 million gallons of fresh water per day, filtered down from the Chyulu Hills. Through pipelines it provides water to all of Kenya from there to the Coast. The Springs are an oasis that is home to abundant Nile crocodiles and hippos and a popular drinking spot for elephants, zebras and gazelles whilst blue and vervet monkeys cavort in the surrounding acacia trees.
Tsavo West is also home to the Ngulia Rhino Sanctuary. In the 1960’s Tsavo had the largest population of black rhinos in Africa (between 6,000 and 9,000) and they were a common sight within the park. By 1981, however, Tsavo’s rhino had been poached to the brink of extinction and only 100 animals remained. Today most of Tsavo’s surviving rhino have been moved to the Ngulia Rhino Sanctuary where an electric fence surrounds an area of 70 sq miles and holds approximately 56 rhino.
While Tsavo holds the largest elephant population in Kenya, the number of elephants has dwindled from 45,000 in the 1960’s to 11,500 in 2012. In the 1980’s, there were steep declines due to drought and poaching which brought the population down to under 5,000. It has increased since that time, but the rate of increase is lower than the rate at which elephants are dying. Due to poachers, and an increased ivory industry in China, the number of elephants continues to decline at an increasing rate – 2011 was the worst year in history for elephants in Africa since before the Ivory Trade Ban in 1989. Some projections estimate that if these patterns don’t change, African elephants could be extinct by 2025.
Elephants are the keystone species that allows Tsavo’s entire ecosystem to sustain itself and upon which many other organisms depend. Their eating and travel habits clear pathways, and keep the grasslands and savannas intact. They find and open water holes in dry riverbeds in drought, and help plant trees and bushes through their dung. Without elephants, Tsavo would change irreversibly. They are giant “canaries in the mine shaft” that indicate whether an environment can support life.