The elephants on the bank
What you need to know:
- It’s surreal watching the elephants from atop a plateau, and them totally unaware of us. They are tiny figures from this height but still in full view.
- The little ones in the family run around the fig tree, always close to the elders. There are 19 in the family and making their way to the river for a drink.
- “These are the Laikipia elephants,” Karani continues. “They move all over, reaching the Aberdares, Mt Kenya and the conservancies.”
It’s morning at Thomson’s Falls in Nyahururu when Walter Muriithi of Panari Resort, Nyahururu, tells us, “The elephants have been spotted.” We rush out to drive the few kilometres around the forest which is bordered by local farms, and stop at the electric fence. It’s a deterrent to keep the elephants from raiding the farms.
Peter Karani, a community guide in the forest who has been monitoring the elephants since 2006, has been on the hunt for them since early morning. He meets us at the fence. “The elephants are deep in the gorge,” he says. “Follow me.”
We keep pace with him through the grass glade. A few metres from the fence the land gives away. We stand on the edge of the plateau, surveying the dramatic view.
Below us, at least 200 feet deep, the Ewaso Nyiro River flows. It’s a thin thread edged between the steep cliff-face and the forest. For a moment we forget about the elephants until Karani says, “Look there.” At first all our eyes can see is the forest deep in the gorge with its gigantic fig trees and other indigenous ones. Then as the eye adjusts to the colours and shapes, we see brown shapes moving between the trees. It’s a family of elephants.
It’s surreal watching the elephants from atop a plateau, and them totally unaware of us. They are tiny figures from this height but still in full view. The little ones in the family run around the fig tree, always close to the elders. There are 19 in the family and making their way to the river for a drink. “These are the Laikipia elephants,” Karani continues. “They move all over, reaching the Aberdares, Mt Kenya and the conservancies.”
I could spend hours just sitting on the rim of the plateau watching the world’s largest land animal but as the light fades, Karani suggest we leave the forest.
Until now, Nyahururu’s most famous hotspot was the thunderous Thomson’s Falls that’s very close to the Equator. Cascading 243 feet down the rocky chasm, it flows from the picturesque hippo pool fed by the massifs of the Aberdares and Mt Kenya. It turns into the mighty Ewaso Nyiro and continues through the drylands of the north and finally vanishes into another amazing wetland, the Lorian Swamp.
With the last light left, George Ndung’u, founder of the Nyahururu Bird Club and Olbolossat Biodiversity Conservation Group and I, opt to walk to the hippo pool walking over the metal bridge past the locals living within earshot of the hippos. In the eventide, the Aberdares are a soft hue against the skyline and looking down my eye catches sight of the gorgeous Long-tailed widow bird – a male in full breeding plumage. It’s so close I don’t even need a zoom lens to photograph its colours. And then it flies off to the long reeds in the pool with other males showing off their beautiful black tails flitting like ribbons amongst flocks of the less glamorous females.
The drought has been biting – the evidence lies in the cracked dry earth of the wetland with gigantic footprints of the hippos that we step over.
The pod of hippos is closely huddled in the deeper pool, the water turquoise blue. Children play by the edge of the pool near the settlement. A baby hippo follows its mother around.
It’s an enchanting evening with hundreds of water birds in so many colours – Red-knobbed coots, Yellow-billed ducks, Egyptian geese, Great white egrets, jacanas. Suddenly, they are a-flutter.
“It must be a raptor,” says Ndung’u and sure enough, a Great sparrowhawk flies across the pool, on the hunt.
Nyahururu on the Map
Nyahururu is a 200km comfortable drive through Njabini. It’s a beautiful road driving along the wide stretch of the Aberdares crossing the Equator near Nyahururu. Stay at the Panari Resort (www.panariresort.com).
For the outdoor, hike through South Marmanet forest in search of elephants, the Rumuruti forest, the hippo pools or down Thomson Falls. Drive further to Aberdare National Park, Sweetwaters, or take a different direction to Nakuru.