Meru National Park, where George and Joy Adamson released their most famous lioness, Elsa, back into the wild (a story immortalised in the book and film Born Free), is increasingly re-appearing on safari itineraries. After it was founded in 1966, the park, run by one of Kenya’s most energetic wardens, Peter Jenkins, was a popular destination for safaris. But it fell into neglect in the 1980s, and for more than a decade, into the late 1990s, this entrancing wilderness was virtually off limits due to out-of-control poaching. Then, championed by the International Fund for Animal Welfare, with the support of the EU, the park became a KWS cause célèbre and was comprehensively restored, with newly cut earth roads, a dedicated force of rangers led by a new warden (Peter Jenkins’ son Mark Jenkins), and a poacher-proof rhino sanctuary near the main gate which is home to both white and black rhinos.
Despite its relaunch, Meru is still one of the least visited of Kenya’s big parks, which is all to the good: this unspoiled 870km² stretch of well-watered, dense bush, acacia woodland and verdant, tall grasslands spiked with weird-looking doum palms is ripe for discovery. It has game viewing which now easily matches or exceeds the sort of safari experience you’ll have in popular parks such as Tsavo West or Tsavo East, with increasingly frequent sightings of all the ‘Big Five’, plus cheetah and numerous other savannah species.
Meru’s numerous streams and rivers are a characteristic feature of the landscape. Be sure to visit the Rojewero viewpoint and boardwalk – a lovely spot to stretch your legs and take in the dense riverine forest. There are good hippo, croc and fish-eagle-spotting opportunities in the area. Driving around Meru National Park through the thick bush, you’re also likely to have close encounters with some of the park’s huge herds of buffalo – the key prey for Meru’s lion prides.
As well as morning and evening game drives, if you’re in Meru National Park for several days, you might want to include a full-day drive down to the south of the park. The grave of Elsa the lioness is out in this remote area on the north bank of the Ura River, a major tributary that forms the parks’ southwest boundary. Continue reading “Meru National Park”