Have you ever heard of Lake Kamnarok Reserve? No one will fault you if you say no. Few people know it. Yet this is the home of Lake Kamnarok where the second largest population of Nile crocodiles in Africa lives. The largest is Lake Chad. The reserve, gazetted in 1983, sits in the spectacularly beautiful Kerio Valley that furrows the North Rift. Here, it borders Lake Baringo.
It is the floating Narok or white water lilies that give the ox-bow lake one of its names. The Narok constitute a significant source of food for the Tugen people, especially in times of hardship. No part of the plant goes to waste. You can boil and eat the roots or you can grind the rest of the plant into a kind of millet to make porridge.
The lake itself has had its ups and downs. Back in the 1890s, it was only a swamp. Between 1901 and 1927, a massive downpour caused it to expand rapidly. Then in 1935, a drought caused it to dry up. When the waters returned after the drought, they brought with them a new member of the community – the Nile Crocodile. The ancient reptiles quickly adapted to their new environment, multiplying in number to give the lake its second name, ‘the place of a thousand and one crocodiles.’ Nowadays the crocodiles are no more than 3,000 – a far cry from some 20,000 in a past not too far gone.
Today the 21,671-acre Lake Kamnarok Reserve has lost a significant population of its birdlife. With luck, however, you can still spot the African Jacana, grebe, hammerkop, heron, egret, ibis, tree duck and the Egyptian goose.
It is also possible to catch families of elephants as they take shelter from the heat under the close cover of the bush during the day. In the evening, you may even see them as they go down the banks of Kerio River to quench their thirst. Other wildlife you are likely to see here include the bushbuck, dik-dik, olive baboons, vervet monkeys, impala, leopard, hyena and waterbuck.
Should you not be fortunate to spot any wildlife at Lake Kamnarok Reserve, blame it on human activity and hyacinth. Farming and charcoal burning are the most significant human culprits. The water hyacinth, on the other hand, is threatening to choke the lake to death. If nothing happens to stop this destructive trend, you may need to add Lake Kamnarok Reserve to your bucket list much sooner than you had planned.