• Photo: Peter Guttman/Peterguttman.com

Tsavo East

Tsavo East—11,747 square km (4,535 square miles)—is a fairly harsh landscape of scrubland dotted with huge baobab trees, and photographers will revel in the great natural light and the vast plains stretching to the horizon. There's lots of greenery along the banks of the Voi and Galana rivers, and the big Aruba Dam, built across the Voi, attracts game and bird life galore. You'll see herds of elephants and buffalo, waterbuck, and all kinds of animals coming to drink at the dam. The Lugard Falls, on the Galana River, is more a series of rapids than actual waterfalls; walk along the riverbank to catch a glimpse of the water-sculpted rocks. Another fascinating feature in the park is the 290-km-long (180-mile-long) Yatta Plateau, one of the world's longest lava flows. It runs parallel to the Nairobi/Mombasa Highway and is 5 to 10 km (3 to 6 miles) wide and 305 meters (1,000 feet) high. Mudanda Rock, a 1.5-km (2-mile) outcropping, is a water catchment area. You'll see plenty of wildlife coming to drink at the dam below. There's a lot of game in this park, including zebras, kongoni antelope, impalas, lions, cheetahs, and giraffes, and rarer animals such as the oryx, lesser kudu, and the small klipspringer antelope, which can jump nimbly from rock to rock because of the sticky suction pads under their feet. And yes, it's true: those fat and hairy marmotlike creatures you see sunning themselves on the rocks—the hyraxes—are first cousins to elephants.

The park became infamous in the late 1890s because of the "Man Eaters of Tsavo," a pride of lions that preyed on the Indian migrant laborers who were building the railway. More than 130 workers were killed; the incident was retold in the 1996 thriller, The Ghost and the Darkness, starring Val Kilmer. In the 1970s and '80s Tsavo became notorious once again for the widespread poaching that decimated the elephant population and nearly wiped out rhinos altogether. Today, thanks to responsible management, enlightened environmental vision, and proper funding, both elephant and rhino populations are on the rise.

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