When I finally got the chance to see the Tsavo man-eaters, famous for having a taste for human cuisine, I had a few questions that I had to get answers to. Did they actually exist or were the Tsavo man-eaters a myth? How were they physically? Were they bigger and stronger than the other lions I had seen from other regions? How many people did they actually hunt down while the Kenya-Uganda railway was being built over a century ago?
Setting off from Nairobi early in the morning under the expert hand of our tour guide from Bountiful Safaris, we reached our lodge, tucked in the outskirts of Tsavo West National Park just before lunch. The air was heavy and there was no getting away from the sun’s glaring heat. I passed on the evening drive, choosing instead to laze around, building up my energy for the game drive the next day. The clear skies allowed Mount Kilimanjaro to vividly tower from afar, the beautiful sight capturing my very being – especially the fiery sunset.
Bright and early at the crack of dawn, feeling like an explorer of some sort, I boarded our van with others who were as excited as I was. The drive pleasantly taught me that there was much more to this gem of a place than just the lions. Actually, the man-eaters were just the cherry on top. Armed with a predisposed image of the lions in my head, I kept a keen eye out for them. After a relatively long drive enjoying the sights of kudus, elephants and giraffes we saw one male lion.
He was relatively small, with no mane at all! This I came to learn was due to the hot and relatively dry region. It is believed that the number of people killed by the two historic lions in 1898 was 35, while some others say it was actually up to 135. Mane or no mane, the king of the jungle still commanded attention with a demeanor that he alone possesses.
Several other animals call this place home – the African leopard, hippo, crocodile, black rhino, cheetahs and the Somali ostrich, as well as a vast variety of other birds.
As we drove back to our lodge, our tour guide engaged us on the epic rock climbing that the Tsavo is also known for. There are two cliffs that are a rock climber’s dream – Tembo Kichwa and Elephant Rock. But that is a story for another day.
After a hearty breakfast, we set off to explore Chyulu hills and also visit the Mzima Springs, which are home to a host of hippos and crocodiles. These are a series of four springs of crystal clear and clean water that not only support this ecosystem but also that of Mombasa city residents several kilometres away. The viewing chamber was the icing on the cake. This is a circular underwater compartment built on one of the pools at the springs. On a good day you’ll see the comic tip-toeing of an underwater hippo, or a crocodile in motion underwater, as well as fixate on the graceful swirl of the large fish.
As the sun confidently drew the curtains on that day, I crossed off another item on my list at the magnificent Tsavo.