In March 1898 the construction of the Mombasa to Kampala railway reached the Tsavo River. Colonel J.H. Patterson was sent to Kenya to supervise the construction of the railway and the Tsavo River Bridge. For several months, two man-eating lions reined terror on the 3000-man labour force of Indian and African workers at Tsavo River.
In December the same year, the lions brought the rail works to a complete standstill for three weeks as they had taken 28 Indian workers and an unrecorded number of African workers. On 9 December, Colonel Patterson killed the first of the two lions. He had been hunting them for several months and finally succeeded (whilst being propped up on a flimsy structure), approximately 1200 metres from the lions’ cave. On 27 December, the Colonel killed the second lion from a tree 1800 metres from their cave, effectively ending the terror and enabling construction of the railway to continue. In early 1899 the railroad head progressed to Nairobi.
Colonel Patterson found the lions’ cave, declaring it to be “beyond all doubt the man-eaters’ den” as hundreds of human bones and skulls were discovered inside.
In February 2013, we went to Tsavo West National Park to learn more about the history of the legendary man-eating lions and explore the second-largest park in Kenya.
Its label as the “Land of Lava, Springs and Man-Eaters” gives quite a good idea of what one can expect to find in Tsavo West National Park. Located in Kenya’s Southern Region, 240km from Nairobi, Tsavo West is a massive 9045 square kilometres. Closer to Mombasa than Nairobi, the park makes an interesting diversion from a coast holiday for a few days while not having to travel too far.
Accommodation is a bit limited on the Tsavo West side compared to Tsavo East, but there are a few lodges and campsites inside the park. Voyager Ziwani, Kilaguni Serena Safari Lodge, Severin Safari Camp and Finch Hattons fill the upper range of accommodation. Expect to pay around US$450-500 per person per night including all meals (a bit more at Christmas, New Year and Easter). Game drives, bush walks, laundry service, spa treatments and sundowners are available at the lodges. Finch Hattons was awarded Africa’s Leading Safari Lodge in the 2013 World Travel Awards.
If you prefer something a bit more budget-friendly, there is a campsite near Chyulu Gate. Kenya Wildlife Service also provides accommodation with Kamboyo Guest House and Lake Jipe Cottages.
There are a few sights around the park that are worth visiting. Poacher’s Lookout provides a great view over most of Tsavo West including the lava flows. At Mzima Springs a guide can explain the history of the area as you walk around. Most of the spring’s water goes to Mombasa while the rest flows into the Tsavo River. There is an underwater observation room where you can see the various fish species that inhabit the pool.
To visit the Man-Eating Lions’ Cave, you can get a ranger to escort you from Tsavo River Gate. There is a walking trail to the cave but being within the national park, you need a ranger while you are outside the vehicle. Tsavo West is also home to a Rhino Sanctuary which is free to visit with plenty of animals. It is only open between four and six in the evening however.
The wildlife you can see in Tsavo West includes hippos, crocodiles, vervet monkeys, dik diks, elephants, zebras, giraffes, Cape buffalo, black-backed jackal, eland, oryx, warthogs, impala, klipspringer, and lesser kudus. There is also plenty of birdlife including kingfishers, hornbills, starlings, helmeted and vulturine guineafowl, hoopoes, waxbill, barbet, mousebirds, and bush-shrike. The landscape is mostly brushy woodland making animal spotting a little bit more challenging than the open savannah of other parks. The elephants are red due to the colour of the soil with which they bathe themselves.
Have you visited Tsavo West National Park? Please share your experiences in the comments below. Or if you would like to visit Tsavo West please visit our website www.ota-responsibletravel.com and send us an enquiry today.