It’s dry by the lake

A view of the North Pare mountain in Tanzania, from Lake Jipe. PHOTO | RUPI MANGAT

What you need to know:

  • 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.

The road to Lake Jipe from Grogan’s Castle is a long, thin thread through a bush-filled veld of Prosopis juliflora, one of the most 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. “Half the lake lies in Kenya and the other half in Tanzania,” says Robert Muthangya, the KWS officer standing on the shore 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 heading towards the border of Kenya and Tanzania. From this end, the southern and northern Pare hills show in all their enormity, with the Usambara mountains just beyond.

These massifs are part of the Eastern Arc mountains that stretch between the Taita hills in Kenya, arching inland along the eastern coast of Tanzania.

SEVERE DROUGHT

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.

There are a few carcasses on the red earth, their bones 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. It’s hot and it’s lunchtime, so we opt to return to the lake.

“It’s a cat-and-mouse game with the pastorals,” says Stephen Okoth, a KWS assistant warden at the KWS quarters. He invites us to lunch – 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.

As we enjoy the impromptu meal, Okoth continues: “Lake Jipe is in the southern part of Tsavo West, which is 4,000 square kilometres. It’s huge and the borders are porous, so the herders sneak in. We arrest them but they keep coming back.

“The drought is severe,” he adds, “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.”

*****

Enjoy Jipe 

KWS (www.kws.go.ke) has beautiful, inexpensive self-catering bandas on the lake-shore –carry your food to cook in the equipped kitchen.

Enjoy a boat-ride on 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.

For a more up-market stay, check in Grogan Castle. Nairobi to Voi is 328km, and Voi to Taveta is 100km.

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