Tsavo National Park opened in 1948 and is one of the oldest parks in Kenya. It is divided into two – Tsavo East and Tsavo West – due to the railway that runs through the middle. The park covers around 22,000 km2 making it the largest national park in Kenya and one of the largest in the world. Tsavo East is generally flat, with dry plains across which the Galana River flows. While Tsavo West is more mountainous and wetter – dotted with swamps, lakes, and springs. Highlights include Shetani Lava Flows and Mzima Springs (Tsavo West), and the Yatta Plateau and Lugard Falls (Tsavo East).
Tsavo is known for its incredible birdlife (over 500 recorded species) and its large mammals such as the famous ‘tusker’ elephants, man-eating lions, leopards, cheetahs, zebras, warthogs, and giraffes. Despite the large populations of wildlife, the park is less popular than the likes of the Masai Mara due to the larger areas of ground to cover and denser woodland. It’s worth noting that Kenya banned hunting in 1977. This truly progressive move that no doubt played its part in ensuring Tsavo is home to so many animals today!
Average rating: 5.0 (very good)
Average cost: park entry for non-Kenyans is $52 for 24 hours. Accommodation is unlikely to be less than $100 a day. Adding in guide and car fees can take the cost up to around $150-$250.
Best time to visit: you can visit the park year-round.
How to get there: you can get there by train from Nairobi or Mombasa – getting off at Mtito Andei station to access the Tsavo West main gate, and Voi station for the Tsavo East main gate. Tsavo East can also be accessed through the Manyani, Buchuma, and Sala Gates. While Tsavo West can be accessed through the Man-Eaters, Chyullu, and Maktau gates.
Typical activities: 4×4 safari, animal watching, bird watching, camping, game drives, game viewing, trekking
Number of reports: 1
WILDLIFE WATCHING IN Tsavo
According to reports submitted to WildSide, the species visitors most want to see here are as follows:
African elephant – 100% OF VISITORS (1/1) REPORTED SIGHTINGS
With a population of over 12,000, Tsavo has the most African bush elephants in Kenya. So the chances of seeing elephants on a trip to Tsavo is pretty high! Large herds of elephants roam across the vast scrubland plains that make up most of the park. You can expect to see them throughout the day and night on safari, and likely from the comfort of your hotel! The park is also home to the famous ‘red elephants’ of Tsavo – the only red elephants in the world. They appear this incredible colour due to their constant dust-bathing in the park’s red volcanic soil. A study of the elephant population in Tsavo suggests that the Eastern part of the park is the best place to see these amazing animals.
Cheetah – 100% OF VISITORS (1/1) REPORTED SIGHTINGS
The last scientific assessment of the cheetah population in Tsavo was in 1990 when it was estimated there were around 440 individuals. Given the ongoing decline in cheetah populations in Kenya and more widely, Tsavo has been designated as a priority area for cheetah research and conservation. Visitors can see cheetahs in Tsavo although they are elusive! A guided safari – from a jeep or on foot – generally gives the best chance of seeing one. If you do spot a cheetah you can help to protect these beautiful cats by reporting your sighting to the Tsavo Cheetah Project.
Giraffe – 100% OF VISITORS (1/1) REPORTED SIGHTINGS
Tsavo is home to large numbers of Maasai giraffes making the likelihood of a sighting high. Sadly, however, giraffe populations are falling across Kenya and the Maasai giraffe is now restricted to parks like Tsavo in the southern part of the country. A study of the giraffe population in Tsavo East found that a decline in woody vegetation in the park has negatively impacted giraffe populations. The study also found that during the dry season they can be seen in large concentrations near rivers and the remaining vegetation. While in the rainy season they move away from the water and into the woodlands.
Lion – 0% OF VISITORS (0/1) REPORTED SIGHTINGS
The ‘man-eating’ lions of Tsavo are world-famous – having been dramatised in an endless series of books and movies. The stories are based on a pair of two large, maneless lions that killed at least 35 railway workers laying the track from Mombasa to Nairobi in the late 1800s. A study into understanding this behaviour found that tooth and jaw damage may have led the lions to kill and eat people. As they would have found it too painful to hunt their usual prey. Today, the chances of being attacked by lions are thankfully much lower! A guided safari gives the best chance of seeing them in Tsavo from a safe distance. Unusually, the lions here differ from those in other areas as the males have short manes or none at all.
Zebra – 100% OF VISITORS (1/1) REPORTED SIGHTINGS
Tsavo is home to a large population of zebras, and visitors are all but guaranteed to see them. The park supports both plains zebras and the endangered Grevy’s zebra. Since the 1970s the wild population of Grevy’s zebras has declined from around 15,000 to less than 2,500. Around 50 individuals were introduced to Tsavo in 1964 and 1977 although the population appears to have fallen to around 36. You can distinguish them from other zebras by their large ears, narrow stripes, and ‘mohwak’ style manes.
Leopard – 100% OF VISITORS (1/1) REPORTED SIGHTINGS
Although famous for its lions, Tsavo is also a great place to spot leopards. The size of leopard territories in Tsavo are among the smallest in Africa with an estimated density of around one leopard every 5.6 km². Leopard sightings are (relatively!) common for this elusive big cat. With reports suggesting the Ngulia Valley in Tsavo West is a hotspot. That said, leopards are notoriously hard to spot and sighting one of these cats is a rare and memorable experience.
Warthog – 100% of visitors (1/1) reported sightings
Warthogs can be seen throughout the area year-round. They are conspicuous and easy to spot with their upright tails, erect manes, and regal bearings. Warthogs are herbivores that spend most of the day foraging for food. Their keen sense of smell allows them to uncover roots, plants, and bulbs. Between 2007 and 2014, the warthog population in Kenya experienced a steady increase up to 16,000 before nose-diving to 13,500 following a prolonged dry spell.