Shimba Hills National Reserve is the largest area of coastal rainforest in East Africa after the Arabuko Sokoke Forest. The reserve began its journey in 1903 as a national forest. Later, in 1968, a conservation area comprising the reserve and the Mwaluganje Elephant Sanctuary was established. In the early 2000s, the elephants increased to such unsustainable numbers that in 2005 the Kenya Wildlife Service had to translocate over 150 animals to the Tsavo East National Park. The translocation became known at the time as ‘the single largest movement of animals ever undertaken since Noah’s ark’. The 74,132-acre reserve consists of beautiful, lush scenery which would appeal to those wishing to take a break from the beach to view terrestrial wildlife. Here, you will see a unique and botanically rich coastal rain forest and open meadows. When you visit, make sure you do these eight things.
1. Admire Two of Kenya’s Most Beautiful Orchids
Kenya once had a vibrant population of orchids – about 200 species. Today you barely see 40% of this number. Habitat loss and horticultural collection and trade have sent these beautiful wild plants nearly to the brink of extinction. The Cycads face a similar fate. But at the Shimba Hills National Reserve, you can still see two of the most impressive orchids in Kenya which are endemic to this reserve.
2. See the Last of the Kenyan Sable Antelope
Shimba Hills National Reserve provides a sanctuary for the last breeding herd of the locally endemic sable antelope in Kenya. The antelope gets its name from the distinctive sable-shaped white and black marks on its face and horns.
3. See Kenya’s Highest Density of Forest Elephants
The elephant population at Shimba is so high that the reserve cannot accommodate them. As a result, numerous human-wildlife conflicts and extensive damage to the already endangered vegetation is the order of the day. In 2005, the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) relocated about 400 elephants from the reserve to the Tsavo East National Park. Other animals you are likely to see are the waterbuck, bushbuck, hyena, warthog, serval, duiker, suni and bushpig. The Maasai giraffe and the ostrich were reintroduced in the park although the reintroduction of impalas and zebras was unsuccessful.
4. Spot Rare Birds
Out of the over 111 bird species that live at the Shimba Hills National Reserve, 22 are endemic to the area and threatened. During Spring, in late March to early April, several migratory birds find their way here. Some birds you are likely to see here include the Ground Thrush, Crowned Eagle, Flycatcher, Sokoke Pipit and the Fischer’s Turaco.
5. See Rare Vegetation
More than 1,100 different plant species thrive at Shimba. Two hundred eighty of these exist nowhere else but in this park. Nineteen of them are rare.
6. Take a Cold Shower at the Sheldrick Falls
The Sheldrick Falls is a must-visit at the park. It is a 2 KM walk along a marked footpath that is best done in the company of a Kenya Wildlife Service ranger because elephants and a few buffalo occasionally show up. Between 10:00 AM and 3:00 PM, the escort is free but after that, you will have to pay KES. 300.00. If you are the bold type, then a cold shower of fresh spring water under the falls might crown the trip for you. You can even swim safely in the refreshing water pool or have a picnic by the cascades on the sand.
The water level in the pool varies with the season. During the rains, there is one waterfall, and the water level is high for a swim. When it is dry, the waterfalls become two, and the pool is too tiny to swim. A good time to visit is late in the afternoon. Named after the famous game warden, David Sheldrick, it falls 25 M-high. David, it is said, tamed the inhospitable Taru desert, now known as the Tsavo National Park, to become one of Kenya’s famous wildlife area. They say he was the first man in the world to see these falls that even the locals did not know existed.
7. Visit Mwaluganje Elephant Sanctuary
When the elephant population at Shimba Hills National Reserve became a problem, the Mwaluganje Elephant Sanctuary provided a solution. The sanctuary offers a route for the elephants to leave the reserve and reduce incidences of human-wildlife conflicts.
8. Camp and Picnic at the Reserve
Once you are through with your tour, the Sheldrick Falls Walk and the Ocean View picnic sites provide a great place to re-energise and take stock of the experience. Each picnic site can accommodate 50 people. If you need to stay longer, you can camp at the Makadara and Professional campsites. The former takes 50 campers and the latter, 100.
Shimba Hills National Reserve makes for a great day trip, especially if you are around Diani or Mombasa. The best places to maximise your wildlife experience are on the flat grasslands and Lango Plains near Giriama Point. Here you get a great view over rolling parkland to the slope. From here, it is also possible to look out to the Indian Ocean. Check the most current park entry rates at the KWS website before planning a trip.