Meru National Park has worn the crown of the hottest safari destination in Kenya for some time now. It owes this to a season of unpopularity which may well have been a blessing in disguise. The park, for a long time, was the haven for bandits and poachers. It soon disappeared from the travel scene and stopped featuring anywhere in tourist circuits. But during this period of obscurity, the Meru National Park built up its stock of game. Today, some travel experts say you stand a higher chance of spotting the Big Five in Meru National Park than in any other park in Kenya. Here are seven exciting things you can do in its 214,982 acres of pure wilderness.
1. Really See the Big Five
Established in 1968, Meru National Park suffered greatly in the 1980s due to poaching and cases of banditry that significantly diminished wildlife, especially elephants. It took the intervention of the Kenya Wildlife Service to salvage the park and reduce poaching incidences, but visitor confidence took longer to recover. The fauna and flora flourished during this period of low traffic and excellent security. Today the park is one of the most richly fulfilling in Kenya where visitors can easily see the Big Five.
You can also spot the beisa oryx, gerenuk, lesser kudu, grant’s gazelle, reticulated giraffe, endangered grevy’s zebra, buck, the rare, elusive greater kudu. Over 300 riverine, forest and arid dry country bird species live here.
A herd of white rhino are now breeding successfully. The animals may be seen at their compound near park headquarters or else feeding in the vicinity, escorted by a ranger. The rhinos, reintroduced from South Africa, had previously gone extinct in the area. Meru National Park gives you an authentic wildlife experience because animals here are not used to people.
2. Visit a Celebrity’s Grave
Visit the grave belonging to the celebrity lioness called Elsa. Elsa and her sisters ‘Big One’ and ‘Lustica’ were only cubs when Game Warden George and his wife Joy took them after they were orphaned. Big One and Lustica ended up at the Rotterdam Zoo in the Netherlands. Elsa stayed on with the Adamsons and eventually got released into the wild. Her story is narrated in several books by the Adamsons, as well as the 1966 Box Office hit, ‘Born Free‘. The lioness’ celebrity status has still not faded away. Travellers from far and wide come to pay their respects at her grave. Here also quietly rest the scattered ashes of Joy Adamson as Ura River that marks the boundary between Tharaka and Meru roars below.
3. See Very Old Baobabs
Visit several ancient giant Baobab trees dating back to the period in history referred to as Magna Carta, which is between 800 to 1,200 years.
4. Climb the Highest Point at Meru National Park
Mugwongo Hill bears the mark of the highest point in the Meru National Park. Among the Meru people, Mugwongo means an elephant’s tusk hence the place of the elephant tusk. History has it that the Mau Mau freedom fighters buried many tusks here although no one has ever found them. But Mugwongo Hill is more well known as the hill where George and Joy Adamson began their experiment preparing orphaned lion cubs for life in the wild. Nowadays at Mugwongo Hill, a lodge, Elsa’s Kopje sits. The name means ‘small hill’. Spot several lizards and geckos including the red-headed Agama that reside in the cracks on the rocks at Elsa’s Kopje and come out to bask when the sun gets out.
5. Explore River Tana in a Motorboat
The River Tana flows by the Meru National Park, and its 440 MI is explorable by motorboat. The river winds through the northern frontier down to the Indian Ocean near Lamu. Up here, its banks attract wildlife like Jam does flies.
6. Scale the Nyambene Hills
Another popular range of hills is the Nyambene Hills. Rising 3,400 FT, they provide a great climbing challenge. Evergreen grass surrounded by forest bushes will cover much of your ascent. As you get closer to the top, a cleared space comes into sharp focus. During the rainy season, water collects here forming a small pool. Locals call this place Kieni-kia-Ntubwarimu, which means the field of Ntubwarimu. It is a sacred shrine where community elders perform sacrifices and rituals in times of calamities like prolonged droughts, famines, epidemics and floods
Next time you are visiting the Meru countryside, plan to visit the Meru National Park. It is located right on the equator, about 78 KM (49 MI) from Meru town and about 293 KM from Nairobi. Any vehicle can negotiate the excellent system of park roads and tracks. The border between this park and the Bisanadi National Reserve in Isiolo is known as ‘Kinna’. It marks the division between the lands of the Meru and the Boran tribes.