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Tsavo Parks and Chyulu Hills Complex

Date of Submission: 12/02/2010
Criteria: (ix)(x)
Category: Natural
Submitted by:
Kenya Wildlife Service
State, Province or Region:
Eastern and Coast Provinces
Ref.: 5515

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Property names are listed in the language in which they have been submitted by the State Party



Tsavo National Parks: S03 22 E38 35

Chyulu Hills Complex: S02 35 E37 50

This vast savanna National Park lies in low, semi-arid land at the eastern edge of the inland plateau, north of the main Mombasa-Nairobi road and railway. Tsavo National Park was originally established in 1948, but in 1949 it was separated into Tsavo West and Tsavo East for administrative purposes. Tsavo East National Park is located over four districts; Kitui, Taita Taveta, Tana River, and a small portion in Makueni. Tsavo East covers 11,741 Km2. Tsavo West National Park is wooded savanna stretching from the Athi River, north of the Mombasa-Nairobi road, south to the Tanzanian border. The north-eastern boundary along the Athi adjoins Tsavo East National Park. Tsavo West is located within Taita Taveta district, and borders with Makueni and Kajiado districts. It was gazetted as Kenya's second national park. It covers an area of about 9,065 square kilometers.

Much of the Tsavo Park is level, open grassland, with scattered rocky outcrops. The Yatta Plateau, along, flat-topped lava ridge, runs along the western boundary, and beneath it flows the Athi River; this joins the Tsavo River to become the Galana River, a permanent stream that cuts right across the Park. The seasonal Tiva and Voi Rivers are important features of the northern and southern sectors of the park, respectively. Along the rivers are narrow fringe of riverine forest and thicket, dominated by Acacia elatior, the Doum Palm Hyphaene compressa and the shrub Suaeda monoica. The northern part of the park is predominantly Acacia-Commiphora woodland. South of the Galana, this has been opened out over the years by fire and elephants to form open bushed grassland. Common shrubs here include species of Premna, Bauhinia and Sericocomopsis, and scattered trees such as Delonix elata and Melia volkensii. The Yatta Plateau has a cover of dense bushland, with stands of Baobab (Adansonia digitata). There are scattered seasonal pools, swamps and dams, but relatively few sources of permanent water. The vegetation is generally denser in the west where rainfall is around 450 mm per year, than drier east, which may receive only around 250mm.

Tsavo West has a more varied topography and a more diverse array of habitats than its neighbour. Most of the northern sector is Acacia-Commiphora bushland, with scattered trees such as Baobabs (Adansonia digitata) and Delonix elata. There are numerous rocky outcrops and ridges, and, towards the Chyulu Hills, ash cones and lava flows - some of them very recent. In the Ngulia area, a range of craggy hills reaches around 1,800 m. The southern sector consists of open grassy plains. The permanent Tsavo River runs through the northern part of the Park, with a fringe of riverine Acacia elatior and Hyphaene compressa woodland. In the far south-western corner on the Kenya-Tanzania border is Lake Jipe, part of which is in the Park. This lake is fed by run-off from Kilimanjaro and the North Pare mountains. It is bordered by extensive beds of Typha and has large permanent swamps at its eastern and western ends. At Mzima Springs, in the north of the Park, water that has filtered underground from the Chyulu Hills gushes into a series of clear pools, rich in fishes and fringed by Raphia farinifera and Phoenix reclinata palms..

The Tsavos are popular for their scenic features, that includes the Mudanda rocks, Lugard Falls, the Yatta plateau (It is about 290Km long and is one of the worlds longest lava flows), Aruba dam (was built in 1952 across the Voi river and attracts many animals and water birds), Tsavo and Athi rivers confluence to form the Galana river, the Mzima Springs with clear water with large number of fish and crocodile, high wildlife population and the popular legend of Tsavo "The Man-Eaters of Tsavo". The name 'Man Eaters of Tsavo' came about when; way back In March 1898 the British were building a railway bridge over the Tsavo River. Over the next nine months, two large male lions killed and ate nearly 140 railway workers. Before work could resume the lions had to be eliminated.

The Chyulu hills, which are situated 190 km south-east of Nairobi and 30 km south-west of Kibwezi, are of relatively recent volcanic origin, and the range is composed of ash cones and craters. The hills hold no permanent surface water, but rainfall percolating through the porous rock feeds many permanent fresh water sources in the surrounding plains, notably Mzima Springs and the Tsavo and Galana Rivers. The hills are relatively undisturbed and still shelter indigenous vegetation and wildlife. Rough grassland and thicket give way to patches of montane forest along the spine of the hills, mainly above the 1,800 m contour; the largest tract of forest is around the highest peaks in the central-southern portion. Characteristic trees include Ficus spp., Neoboutonia macrocalyx, Tabernaemontana stapfiana, Prunus africana, Strombosia scheffleri, Cassipourea malosana, Olea capensis and Ilex mitis, with islands guarded by Erythrina abyssinica. Lower down, there are areas of Juniperus procera forest and, particularly on lava flows, forest dominated by the blue-stemmed Commiphora baluensis.


Sixty of the 92 Kenyan species in the Somali-Masai biome have been recorded in Tsavo. The Park's huge area of natural habitat supports important populations of resident species, and it is also a very significant stop-over and wintering ground for Palaearctic migrants. The Ngulia area holds approximately 75 Black rhinos (Diceros bicornis) (threatened) in the Ngulia rhino sanctuary, on the Tsavo West, while the east holds a guess-estimate 35 free ranging rhinos. The Park holds substantial populations diversity of large mammals. Threatened: include African Elephant (Loxodonta Africana), Cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) and Leopard (Panthera pardus). Small herds of the critically endangered Hirola (Damaliscus hunteri) were trans-located in the 1960s and again in 1996 from Arawale National Reserve, and are managing to sustain their numbers. Two amphibian taxa, Afrixalus pygmaeus septentrionalis and Hyperolius sheldricki, are endemic to the Tsavo area (Duff-MacKay 1980). Bird species that use the area include the threatened Corncrake and near-threatened Basra Reed Warbler. Lake Jipe supports endemic fisheries including the Lake Jipe tilapia.

Chyulu hills are rich in diversity of vegetation (Luke 2003.) some 550 plan taxa exist, excluding numerous grasses. Amongst these are 37 species of orchids, mostly epiphytes supported by the heavy mists and the rare saprophyte (Epipogium roseum). Notable trees are Chionanthus mildbraedii and the most northerly population of Podocarpus usambarensis. The hills hold endemic races of Shelley's Francolin (macarthuri) White-starred Robin (macarthuri) and Orange Ground Thrush (Chyulu). A variety of large mammals occurs on Chyulu, including African Buffalo (Syncer caffer), Common Eland (Taurotragus oryx), Bushbuck (Tragelaphus scriptus), Mountain Reedbuck (Redunca fulvorufula), Steinbok (Rhapicerus campestris), Bushpig (Potamochoerus porcus), Leopard (Panthera pardus) and African Elephant (Loxodonta africana). The rich butterfly life includes the endemics Pentila tropicalis chyulu, Acraea anacreon chyulu, Papilio desmondi desmondi and the near-endemic Amauris echeria chyuluensis (Larsen 1991, Luke 2001).

Features of Tsavo National parks

MUDANDA ROCKS: The rock was used by the adjacent community to prepare 'billongs' (thin cut strips of meat that are dried under the sun) hence the name Mudanda. This is a long rock outcrop that is about 1.6Km long and on the eastern side is a water hole that dries up at rare occasions. This dam is fed up by rain water from the rock and a little rain may collect to form large quantities of water. The rock is a good tourist lookout for the drinking animals.

MZIMA SPRINGS: There are two large pools, connected by a rush of raffia palms. The spring creates a green oasis, which provides a strikingly beautiful contrast to the surrounding semi-arid land. The upper pools are the favored hippo wallow, while the crocodiles have retreated to the broader expanse of water lower down. These springs are the biggest attraction in this park, found 48 km from Mtito Andei and close to both Kilaguni lodge and Kitani bandas. It is also a rich habitat for crocodiles, birds and a source of water for many other animals in the Tsavo West National Park.

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

The park has the largest single population of African elephant now estimated at over 14,000 animals. Kisula Cave Complex found in the Chyulu hills includes extensive lava flows that have created some spectacular craters and hills, and it includes what is currently considered to be the second largest lava cave in the world.

SHETANI LAVA FLOWS AND CAVES: The 'Shetani' flow, a black lava flow of 8 km long, 1.6km wide and 5m deep, is a remnant of volcanic eruptions which were subject to tales of fire and evil spirits among local communities. The communities named the flow 'Shetani' meaning devil in Kiswahili after it was spewed from the earth just 240 years ago. A cave with two large openings and one ancient tree growing between them is located near the centre of the outflow.

MAN-EATERS CAVE: It is a small cave in a corner of a bay. This cave contained a number of human bones. Lt. Col. John H. Patterson proposed that the lions had used this cave as a hideout and den from where they unleashed their 9-month reign of terror.

The volcanic hills of Chyulu, ash cones and craters are outstanding examples of the major stages of the earth's history. Presence of numerous plant taxa, epiphytes, saprophytes and the beautiful montane forests also indicate on-going ecological and biological processes. Chyulu is an important corridor for Elephants that move from Tsavo to Amboseli game reserve.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

In order to protect this rich biodiversity, Tsavo National Park was established in 1948 covering an area of over 20, 806 square kilometres. It is thus large enough to include the most critical habitats essential for the survival of viable animal and plant populations.

Conservation issues

Wildlife poaching was a serious problem during the 1980s, when Black Rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis) were eliminated. The threat from poaching has considerably reduced. Tsavo East is large enough to form a fairly self-contained ecosystem but influences form the adjacent communities have started to affect the park. The key influences include livestock incursions into the park that compete with the wildlife and displace the lager herbivores. Frequent fires started by neighboring communities or from the Nairobi - Mombasa Highway from mainly motorists' damage the habitats and kill some species. The frequent road kills as a result of speeding traffic on the highway also causes unnatural loss of wildlife.

In Chyulu hills the lower eastern slopes of the hills were occupied in the past by agricultural settlers, who were displaced in 1988 to make way for the National Park. This has led to lingering resentment among those evicted, and difficulties in policing the park. There have been particular problems with forest burning and cutting. The hills provide wet-season grazing for Maasai pastoralists from the nearby group ranches. Regular burning of the grassland is also caused by meat poachers either driving game into snare lines or using the resultant new grass as bait. These annual grass fires are destructive provide access to the forests.

Comparison with other similar properties

The large diversity of wildlife in the Tsavos' is comparable to the numerous numbers of wildlife found in the Maasai Mara region in Kenya. This beautiful landscapes and diversity in numbers of mammals for both areas make them important area for both tourism development and conservation of vital species.

The Tsavos compares with the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania which is a world heritage site like Tsavo has little human influence with large numbers of elephants (though the Tsavos out do the Serengeti as Tsavos have the highest single population of elephants in Africa), black rhinoceroses, cheetahs, giraffes, hippopotamuses and crocodiles live in this areas, The difference lies in the species diversity and the varied landscapes. Tsavo has variety of vegetation zones, ranging from dense thickets to open wooded grasslands wetlands and riverine forests.

The Tsavo like Virunga national park in Congo are significant as stop-over and wintering ground for Palaearctic migrants, they are both important as ecologically as they provide a home for endangered mammal species and harbor large concentrations of wildlife.

The Chyulu hills can be compared to W National Park Niger, part of 'W' National Park that lies in Niger is situated in a transition zone between savannah and forest lands, Like part of the Chyulu hill lies in the transition zone between the Tsavo plains grassland and the Chyulu forest they represents important ecosystem characteristics of the Eastern African Woodlands/Savannah/Forest Biogeographical transition.

We propose for the serial listing of these two important sites. While Chyulu is important as a corridor for the movement of elephants from the Tsavos through Chyulu into the Amboseli National Park and acts as an important water catchment for Mzima springs, Tsavo and Galana Rivers; the Tsavo are important for the in-situ conservation of elephants, endangered Hirola, Greater Kudu and the Grevy's Zebra.