This past month I was fortunate to travel to Taita Hills Wildlife Sanctuary (a wildlife reserve adjacent to Tsavo West National Park) located at the heart of Taita Taveta county.
Our mission started at around 7 am at the Sarova Stanley Thorn Tree restaurant where we were treated to a scrumptious breakfast before embarking on a 7 or so hour drive to our destination.
Covering an area of 28,000 acres Taita Hills Game Sanctuary is a private game sanctuary separated from the vast Tsavo west by a road. Animals roam freely between the two areas and in the hills that dot this sanctuary. Consisting of mainly grass plains and woodlands it is home to 300 species of birds and a host to many wild animals such as lions, oryx, lesser kudu, zebra, impala, dik-dik plus a wide variety of smaller animals. The variety of animals which live in this small sanctuary are often easier to spot than those in the larger Tsavo Parks.
During this trip I was able to go for a couple of game drives. In this early morning drive it took just a few minutes to spot lions! A lion and 2 lioness.
The usual suspects, zebras impalas and gazelles were there as well.
Giraffes and elephants were there in plenty. If you love elephants then you’re sure to get your fill of them in the sanctuary.
On one of the drives we came across a herd of buffaloes crossing the road.
The little calf almost got trampled in the melee.
When you’re not looking out for animals you’ll be mesmerized by your surroundings. The Taita Hills is a beautiful place – a landscape of hills and rolling savannah plains.
As expected the sunsets are a sight to behold.
Taita Hills Wildlife reserve is unique in comparison to other reserves/parks I have visited because apart from seeing animals there is a bit of history embedded in it as well. The surrounding areas were the battle ground of the German forces and the British Army during WW1 in what came to be known as the ‘East African Campaign’.
The East African Campaign was a series of battles and guerrilla actions, which started in German East Africa (modern day Tanzania) and spread to portions of Mozambique, Northern Rhodesia, British East Africa (Kenya; Uganda ) and the Belgian Congo.
In Kenya most of the action occurred in the Taita Taveta county which straddles the border with Tanzania. The main objective for the German forces in East Africa, led by Paul Von Lettow-Vorbeck, was to force Allied governments to keep military forces and supplies in Africa, rather than send them to fight in Europe. By threatening the important British Uganda Railway, Von Lettow hoped to bait British troops to invade East Africa, and keep them distracted from the major action going on in Europe.
I was able to visit two war sites, Mashoti and the bridge at Mile 27. The bridge at Mile 27 is more than a hundred years old and was the site of a fierce ambush by the Germans on the British army. A major attack was launched in the area on September 29, 1914. The Germans were initially at the receiving end, losing about 30 of their African soldiers alongside 3 German soldiers. The British then got decimated after a relief party that was to arrive by train failed to get off the carriages in time. The Germans, having bloodied their enemy and in light of their superior numbers, made a tactical withdrawal, but failed to blow up the railway line – a crucial mistake as the line then moved on and served as a main supply route for the troops deployed in the area.
The bridge at Mile 27 to the far left next to the tree.
The railway line
Mashoti is the other war site we visited. The word mashoti is said to be a corruption of the words more shots … not a verifiable fact but nonetheless an amusing one. This site is further from the entrance to the sanctuary but still easily accessible as it is right off the road. This was the site of a British fort. The fort was built by the Loyal North Lancashire Regt in late 1915. The trenches and typical regulation design is said to be by the ‘book’. The trenches are not as deep as they were 100+ years ago as they have filled up over time but they are clearly visible to the naked eye.
The most sobering thing I learnt during my tours is that despite more than one million Africans employed as auxiliary personnel, there are no monuments or cemeteries in their memory! If you visit the nearby Commonwealth war cemetery in Voi all you will find is graves of the Europeans who fought in the war. As it is with history, the Africans who gave their lives are more or less forgotten .Fortunately, some of their stories were recorded in the early 1980s and you can listen to them here.
If you end up staying at Taita Hills lodge make sure you visit their museum on WW1 in Africa. You will be able to see artifacts associated with the war that have been collected over time.
If you are interested in learning more about WW1 in Africa here are some helpful links.
Disclaimer: this trip was courtesy of the Sarova Hotels but any views expressed are my own.