Are you on a trip on the Western Kenya tourism circuit and would wish to see one of the largest aquatic antelopes only found in East and Central Africa?
Then King’wal swamp conservancy in Nandi County is the place to visit and have a glimpse of the rare antelope sitatunga.
Scientists say their rear legs are longer than the front ones and they spend most of the time in swampy, marshy areas with thick, long grass.
Located some 40 kilometres off the Eldoret-Kisumu highway, the King’wal marshland is a natural habitat for more than 200 of the swamp-dwelling antelopes.
The marshland is a stunning ecotourism and sight-seeing habitat patronised by local and international vacationers for culture and education.
Covering more than 10,000 hectares of wetland replete with papyrus plants, the wetland is also home to exceptional species of birds and reptiles.
To access the sanctuary, one can take the Eldoret-Kapsabet highway before making a turn onto a murram road off Chepterit trading centre.
The shy antelopes are known to come out of their hideouts in the evening – at around 6pm – to graze.
The male ones are brown and heavily built with semi-twisted sharp horns and sporadically fight for territorial dominance.
King’wal is one of the two swamps in Kenya hosting the rare antelopes. The other is Saiwa swamp in Trans Nzoia County.
Besides Kenya, sitatunga are found in Uganda, Tanzania, South Sudan, Rwanda, Angola and Ghana among others.
The Kenya Wildlife Services (KWS) and communities around the marshland have erected viewing towers for tourists to catch a glimpse of the antelopes.
“We have developed tourism infrastructure, mapped out resources inventory in biodiversity areas to safeguard the endangered sitatunga antelopes and attract more tourists,” said Mr Joshua Lagat of Mateget Conservancy Group.
Adjacent to the King’wal swamp is Keben springs, Nandi rock, Kaptumek game reserve and Kibirong swamp, where one can watch rare birds.
“Most of these ecotourism projects are community-driven where they are empowered on environmental conservation and promotion of tourism as an alternative source of income,” explained Mr Lagat.
He disclosed that previously, sitatungas were killed by farmers who cultivate crops near the swamp, while some of the locals hunted the animals for meat.
“Sustained conservation efforts have led to an increase in the population of the rare antelopes and boosted the number of tourists visiting the beautiful nature,” said Mr Lagat.
According to Nandi County Lands, Water and Environment Chief Officer Solomon Mangira, the devolved unit is losing millions of shillings in illegal poaching of the rare antelopes.
“There is a need to protect the sitatunga from poachers who believe its meat has medicinal value,” said Mr Mangira.
Security teams have been deployed to the swamp to stop poachers from killing the animals.
Statistics by the KWS indicate that Uasin-Gishu County has a population of 40 semi-aquatic antelopes at the Kesses scheme; Saiwa National Park in Trans-Nzoia has 60 sitatungas, while King’wal Swamp has 200.
According to the National Environmental Complaints Committee secretary, Dr John Chumo, measures have been put in place to protect the sitatunga from illegal poaching.
“The protection of sitatunga will also complement the survival of over 300 species of birds which coexist with the antelopes at the swamp,” said Dr Chumo.
He disclosed that the Kingwal swamp, with more than 300 species of birds, has been classified as an Important Bird Area (IBA) by the KWS and has the potential income generation to the local community through bird watching.