Travel to Africa conjures up tantalizing images of vast, rolling plains, carpeted with tall grass, acacia trees, and thorny shrubs —where man lives at peace with nature in its most pristine. And Kenya, the ultimate safari destination, serves a delightful cornucopia of all these and much more. Voted the number 1 travel destination in Africa by the World Travel Awards in both 2020 and 2019, the country boasts many panoramic palm-fringed beaches both on the south coast and north coast, many world-class national parks set on the backdrop of a stunningly diverse landscape, and an impressive wildlife population you’ll find anywhere else on the planet.

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Among the top national parks are Maasai Mara Game Reserve —the theater of the spectacular wildebeest migration, and Tsavo National Park, one of only 5 on the planet featured in Netflix's docuseries —Our Great National Parks—narrated by President Barack Obama. This article lets you in on the incredible wildlife at Tsavo National Park.

At the turn of the 19th century, the British Government was constructing a railway line to connect the east African coast to Lake Victoria—as an access route to Uganda. Described by Winston Churchill as the “Pearl of Africa,” the British saw more potential in Uganda than in Kenya. It had just been discovered that Uganda was the source of the Nile which in turn economically sustained Egypt. In the 19th-century geopolitics, control of Egypt was crucial. Whoever controlled Egypt would control the Suez Canal, a critical sea portal between the West and the East. Kenya, Uganda’s eastern neighbor, appeared dull and drab, with swathes of an uninteresting bush. A huge workforce, largely from India, was quickly assembled for the railway construction work. However, when the workers reached the vast, rolling plains around Tsavo, they would face one of their most formidable challenges yet. The man-eating lions of Tsavo threatened to derail the work or stop it altogether.

Workers would go to sleep but end up devoured by the Tsavo man-eaters. Until of course, John Henry Patterson, an Irish member of the British Army, pulled the trigger on the world-famous beasts to dramatically end that brief but painful period. Instantly, it became global news. The man-eaters of Tsavo had so captured the global public imagination that their dead bodies fetched a then decent sum of $5,000 from the Chicago Field Museum of Natural History—from where they now give visitors a death stare. The name Tsavo has since evoked images of wildlife, roaming wildly—on a wild African terrain. That fame is not very far from reality.

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The Wildlife At Tsavo National Park

While lions granted Tsavo its global fame, elephants now outnumber lions in what is Kenya’s largest national park and the oldest—after Nairobi National Park. Tsavo was established in 1948 on a sprawling 8,036 square miles dotted by baobab trees, acacias, and fading vegetation—that quickly springs to life on a whiff of a raindrop. For every three elephants in Kenya, two are in Tsavo—in numbers that total an impressive 12, 000. 10% of Africa’s great tuskers, known for their amazingly big and long tusks, roam the thorny savanna of the Tsavo plains framed by beautiful, rippling hills. Travelers should check out Dida, just such a tusker—and one of only 30 still remaining on the planet. Whichever way one looks at it, Tsavo is one of the finest spots on the globe to see the largest land animals on earth. And at Tsavo, they come in their attractively unique red, because of continuously rolling on the vivid red dirt of the park.

But that’s not to say that lions are few or hard to spot. In fact, of the big cats, lions are the easiest to see. Like the Tsavo elephants which are unique because of their red color, Tsavo lions also stand out because of their maneless necks. Or, if the manes are present, they are usually a tad shorter and thinner. And leopards, which are known to be notoriously elusive and one the hardest to spot, are more easily seen at Tsavo. One perfect spot for this memorable encounter is in Ngulia Valley—in Tsavo West.

  • The Best Place To Stay In Order To See Leopards At Tsavo: Ngulia Safari Lodge, 260 kilometers from Nairobi through the Mtito Andei Gate or 250 kilometers from Mombasa through the Tsavo River Gate.

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80% of eastern black rhinos live in Kenya and Tsavo is one fine spot to see these amazing animals. If someone is up for this adventure, Ngulia Rhino Sanctuary, just 12.4 kilometers from Ngulia Safari Lodge, is home to about 80 black rhinos. There are also many buffaloes, the evocative image of black fighting power. Then there are cheetahs, warthogs, zebra, giraffes, gazelles, gerenuks, wildebeests, elands, hippos, crocodiles, waterbucks, kudus—and the beautiful fringe-eared oryx—found only in southern Kenya and Tanzania, in addition to several species of birds.

And for its other stunning attractions, Tsavo National Park should be on everyone’s travel plans.