By: Joy Oakes

Posted: November 11, 2021
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Alumni Post

An Excursion to Tsavo West National Park


This was one of my favorite moments of the expedition, not because of the wildlife that we saw, but because of the peace I felt as we watched the sky light up.

This past week has been a whirlwind of activity as we transitioned from full-blown classes and turning in assignments to spending the night in tents in Tsavo West National Park. As we embarked on the three hour drive to Tsavo on Sunday morning, I was reminded that no matter how many bumpy roads you go on in Kenya, there’s always a bumpier one to come. We jolted to a halt at the first of many fascinating scenic landscapes, the Shetani Lava Flow. Students and professors alike stumbled out of the Land Cruisers to explore the black, crater-filled landscape. We continued on to Mzima Springs, where we battled vervet monkeys over our lunch, enjoyed an underwater view of the springs, and were thrilled by our first crocodile sighting. We travelled deeper into the park to find our home for the next four nights. The first night at the campsite resulted in the discovery of squatty-potties, delicious camp food, ticks, more ticks, and the sounds of elephants and hyenas at the watering hole a few hundred meters from our campsite.

Students arrive to the gates of Tsavo West National Park. (Photo: Eadaoin Kelly).

The next days were filled with guest lectures, field exercises, and game drives. We travelled to Chyulu Hills National Park, where rolling hills, pink flowering trees, and blue skies with puffy clouds created a picture-perfect landscape. We enjoyed a field lecture on the important role of Chyulu Hills in the surrounding watershed, then hiked our way up one of the hills for a breathtaking view.

Red roads and scenic hillsides of Tsavo. (Photo: Eadaoin Kelly).

Wednesday morning we rolled out of bed at 5:30 for a sunrise game drive, where we encountered black-backed jackals, a spotted hyena, and even a leopard. This was one of my favorite moments of the expedition, not because of the wildlife we saw, but because of the peace I felt as we watched the sky light up. Another highlight was the Ngulia Rhino Sanctuary, where we learned in detail about black rhino conservation and their biology first-hand from sanctuary officers. One car was lucky to catch a glimpse of the large yet elusive species. On our last day in Tsavo, we conducted a field exercise to determine the relationship between species frequency and habitats along two different transects in the park. We scrambled up a hill of volcanic rock for one last view of the park before packing up camp. Although I was sad to leave beautiful Tsavo, this feeling was smothered by my overpowering need to shower, which I happily did upon our return.

Juvenille elephant crossing the road during game drive. (Photo: Eadaoin Kelly).

In our time at Tsavo, I was impressed by the variety and beauty of the scenery surrounding us. Through our guest lectures I was surprised by the amount of time, money, and effort that is necessary for conservation of wildlife. I also realized that while I value seeing wildlife, the memories I have with the people around me are much stronger. I loved staying up by the campfire each night and talking with fellow students, staff, and night guards. Sharing our stories and cultures brought about conversations I won’t quickly forget. I learned why Maasai fear owls, got asked what state Chris Brown is from (it’s Virginia, I had to google it later), discussed polygamous marriage and children, and sang along to many Kenyans’ favorite American artist – Dolly Parton. These fireside interactions have led to strong connections with the people here and have greatly enhanced my overall experience.

Adult crocodile seen at Mzima Springs in Tsavo. (Photo: Katherine Foree)

Curious to learn a bit more about the SFS Kenya Center? Click here to read about why we’re based there, our environmental research focus, how we connect and support the local community, and even take a tour of the Center.

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