Kenya // The Rift Valley //

Lake Nakuru’s wildlife


Fortunately, in view of the flamingos’ here-today-gone-tomorrow caprice, there’s a lot more to the lake’s spectacle than the pink flocks. Its shores and surrounding woodlands are home to some four hundred other species of birds including, during the northern winter, many migratory European species. Towards the end of the dry season in March, the lake is often much smaller than the maps suggest and, consequently, water birds are a greater distance from the park roads.

There’s a good number of mammals here as well. The lake isn’t too briny for hippos – a herd of a dozen or more snort and splash by day and graze by night at the northern end. Nakuru has also become a popular venue for introduced species: there are Rothschild’s giraffe from the wild herd near Kitale, and lions and secretive leopards from wherever they’re causing a nuisance.

In the early 1990s, a number of black rhinos were relocated from Solio Game Ranch, and ten white rhinos were donated by South Africa in 1994; the park now boasts around 60 black and 40 white rhinos, one of the highest concentrations of rhino in the country. Electric fencing has been installed around the entire perimeter of the park – the only park in the country to be so enclosed – with the intention of maintaining a viable number of rhinos in a zone secure from poachers.

Nakuru may be Swahili for “place of the waterbuck”, and the park is waterbuck heaven. With only a handful of lions and small numbers of leopards to check their population, the large, shaggy beasts number several thousand, and the herds (either bachelor groups or a buck and his harem) are large and exceptionally tame. Impala, too, are very numerous, though their lack of fear means you rarely witness the graceful flight of a herd vaulting through the bush.

The two other most often seen mammals are buffalo – which you’ll repeatedly mistake for rhinos until you get a look through binoculars – and warthog, scuttling nervously in singles and family parties everywhere you look. Elephants are absent, but you’re likely to see zebra, dik-dik, ostrich and jackals and, in the southern part of the park, eland and Thomson’s and Grant’s gazelles. More rarely you can encounter reedbuck down by the shore and bushbuck dashing briskly through the herbage. Along the eastern road, near Lake Nakuru Lodge, are several over-tame baboon troops to be wary of. The park is also renowned for its very large pythons – the patches of dense woodland in the southwest, between the lakeshore and the steep cliffs, are a favourite habitat. The star turn of recent years was the arrival for a few days in 2011 of three wild dogs, the extremely rare and elusive nomadic hunter, a strong sign of their revival in Kenya.

Lastly, if you tire of the living spectacle, go looking for the Lion Cave, beneath Lion Hill ridge in the northeast; it’s an excavated prehistoric rock shelter and rarely contains lions.

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