Jaunt at Jipe

With an amazing raptor-filled day in Tsavo West

Published Saturday magazine, Nation newspaper 22 April 2017

Above: Lappet-faced vulture with Tawny eagle in Tsavo West National Park at Lake Jipe on the Kenya-Tanzania border
Copyright Rupi Mangat

Aeriel view of Grogan's Castle with Kilimanjaro Copyright Grogan's Castle
Aeriel view of Grogan’s Castle with Kilimanjaro Copyright Grogan’s Castle

The road from Grogan’s Castle is a long thin thread through a bush-filled veld of Prosopis juliflora, one of the most terrible invasive plants in the world. These water-suckers compete for water with indigenous species and are so aggressive that one was found with roots at 175 feet deep in the earth.

A dwarf mongoose scuttles across the road and onto a red termite mound. Closer to the gate at Lake Jipe fishermen busy themselves repairing their nets.

North Pare Mountain that is part of the amazing Eastern Arc mountains stretching from Taita Hills in Kenya into Tanzania Copyrigh Rupi Mangat
North Pare Mountain that is part of the amazing Eastern Arc mountains stretching from Taita Hills in Kenya into Tanzania Copyrigh Rupi Mangat

“Half the lake lies in Kenya and the other half in Tanzania,” tells Robert Muthangya, the KWS officer standing at the shores of the beautiful 35-square-kilometre lake whose waters are fed by the aquifers of Kilimanjaro. The north face of the Pare Mountains in Tanzania towers over the blue waters with waders like Great white egrets, darters, cormorants, jacanas, plovers and the awesome African fish eagle.

We take the road less travelled pointing to the international borderline between Kenya and Tanzania. From this end, the Pare show in all their enormity– the southern and northern Pare with the Usambara mountains faint beyond . These massifs are part of the Eastern Arc mountains that stretch between the Taita hills in Kenya and arch inland along the eastern coast of Tanzania  – a biodiversity hotspot for endemic plants and animals found nowhere else on the planet.

The drought is biting with only the hardiest trees like the Delonyx elata and the baobab holding their fort. In the silence of the wide wilderness, it’s only us and the wildlife – large herds of eland, impalas, gazelles, giraffes, zebra, a few ostrich and secretary birds stalking for snakes.

Driving deeper into the park, the sign points to Maktau and Salaita Hill – both places of prominence during WW1 where the Germans from across the border fought the British on this side – a war that had nothing to do with Africa.

A few carcasses with bones scattered lie on the red earth and bleached white by the merciless sun. It’s a good time for the vultures – a Lappet-faced vulture stands on the rim of a water-pan filled with a few inches of rain from a week ago after many months. It’s in the company of a trio of tawny eagles bustling around the bemused vulture.

At another waterhole a pair of bateleur eagles is perched on the tree beside it while White-backed vultures begin to ride the rising thermals.

A herd of cows graze unperturbed in the park – alone. By now it’s too hot and lunch time – so we opt to return to the lake.

“It’s a cat-and-mouse game with the pastoral,” tells Stephen Okoth, a KWS assistant warden inviting us to share a meal as we pass by the KWS quarters. It’s fresh tilapia bought from the fishermen who fish in the reserve. Close to two years ago, a species of tilapia was introduced into the lake that’s the reserve for the fishing industry. Lake Jipe boasts an endemic tilapia Oreochromis jipe that’s now listed Critically Endangered by IUCN.

As we enjoy the impromptu meal, the ranger Adan Abdi Kore turns up. In 2006 he helped me down into the caves of Chyulu.

“Lake Jipe is in the southern part of Tsavo West which is 4000 square kilometres,” continues Okoth. “It’s huge and the borders are porous, so the herders sneak in. We arrest them but they keep coming back.

Red elephant of Tsavo - she's walking to the lake (Jipe) for a splash and a drink Copyright Rupi Mangat
Red elephant of Tsavo – she’s walking to the lake (Jipe) for a splash and a drink Copyright Rupi Mangat

“The drought is severe,” he continues. “And we’ve lost a lot of wildlife to it.” The good news is that poaching is under control thanks to the collaboration amongst all. “We had one elephant poached in June last year. He was about 35 years old. But the poachers escaped across the border.”

Driving out of Jipe the trio of red elephants with a young calf are returning from the lake with a clear waterline across their massif frames showing how deep they went.

Enjoy Jipe

Stunning birds: Lilac-breasted rolllar and Carmine bee-eater on same branch in Tsavo West Copyrigh Rupi Mangat
Stunning birds: Lilac-breasted rolllar and Carmine bee-eater on same branch in Tsavo West Copyrigh Rupi Mangat

KWS www.kws.go.ke has beautiful inexpensive self-catering bandas on the lake-shore – all you need is to carry your food to cook. The kitchen is equipped. Enjoy a boat-ride in the lake, bird watching and game drives in the southern part of Tsavo West National Park that shares the international border with northern Tanzania.

Check KWS for current rates and advisory into national parks.

Distance: Nairobi to Voi-328 km

Voi to Taveta -100km

For more up-market stay – check in at Grogan’s Castle https://loveandroaddiaries.wordpress.com/2017/01/23/hotel-review-grogans-castle-hotel/ built by Grogan colourful character of the Cape to Cairo walk between 1898 and 1900 – supposedly for the love of a woman.

Or Lake Jipe Safari Camp http://lakejipesafaricamp.com/  by the KWS gate to Lake Jipe

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