Meru National Park, where George and Joy Adamson released their most famous lioness, Elsa, back into the wild (a story immortalised in the book and film Born Free), is increasingly re-appearing on safari itineraries.
After it was founded in 1966, the park, run by one of Kenya’s most energetic wardens, Peter Jenkins, was a popular destination for safaris. But it fell into neglect in the 1980s, and for more than a decade, into the late 1990s, this entrancing wilderness was virtually off limits due to out-of-control poaching.
Then, championed by the International Fund for Animal Welfare, with the support of the EU, the park became a KWS cause célèbre and was comprehensively restored, with newly cut earth roads, a dedicated force of rangers led by a new warden (Peter Jenkins’ son Mark Jenkins), and a poacher-proof rhino sanctuary near the main gate which is home to both white and black rhinos.
Rhino Sanctuary: A signposted hard right not long after entering Murera Gate takes you to Meru’s 48-sq-km Rhino Sanctuary, one of the best places in Kenya to see wild rhinos. At last count, this fenced portion of the park was home to 25 black and 55 white rhinos, many of whom were reintroduced here from Lake Nakuru National Park after the disastrous poaching of the 1980s.
Wildlife: Most people will appreciate Meru National Park for its northern specials, which are animals that are specially adapted to arid conditions. The Reticulated Giraffe is distinguishable by its dramatic pattern. Grevy’s zebra occur alongside the smaller and more common Burchell’s zebra. This is one of few places to encounter the shy lesser kudu and the impressive looking Beisa oryx. Most odd of them all is the gerenuk with its elongated neck.
Meru offers good overall wildlife viewing and is home to the Big Five. Elephants are particularly common and relaxed. Big cat sightings are a bit hit-and-miss and more difficult after the rains when the grass is long. There is a chance of spotting a white or black rhino in the drive-in rhino sanctuary, although the vegetation is extremely thick. Hippos and Nile crocodiles are common along the Tana River.
Getting there: Meru National Park is located 355km/220mi northeast of Nairobi and 60km/37mi east from Meru town. Many people visit Meru by 4×4 on an organized safari while visiting several other parks. However, there are daily scheduled flights from Nairobi to one of two airstrips inside the park. It is also possible to organize a private charter from any other park or Nanyuki. The distance from Samburu NP is about 150km/93mi and the driving time is about two and a half hours.
Transport links to Nairobi are very good as this is East Africa’s main transport hub. International flights arrive in Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (NBO), 15km/9mi southeast of Nairobi.
Where To Stay: Located on the border of the park, Rhino River Camp features six en-suite guest tents set within 80 acres of private wilderness. Mesh and canvas flaps allow cool breezes and light to flow freely during the day. There is a separate zen zone for quiet time. The Karen Blixen Suite is perfect for couples and small families. Offbeat Meru Camp is located in Bisanadi National Reserve that shares a border with Meru National Park.