By Stella Deane
Over 60 years ago Kenya’s first generation of pioneer wardens, Bill Woodley, Peter Jenkins and David Sheldrick, travelled the main Nairobi-Mombasa road to Mtito Andei, then just a dusty dirt road, to begin the daunting task of transforming untouched and largely unexplored and inhospitable arid semi-desert wasteland into the famous National Park that Tsavo is today. It was in those times an unattractive tangle of dense thicket, which was home to thousands of black rhino, un-friendly elephants, which had suffered years of hunting and poaching by humans, and lions that had always had man-eating tendencies, whilst the buffalo were extremely dangerous when encountered at close quarters. Added to this Tsavo was home to a multitude of poisonous snakes, scorpions and other stinging insects, bird eating spiders that leapt up at one if disturbed, not to mention the ever present threat of deadly malaria.
A few early European explorers had ventured through Tsavo and the Taru Desert on their quest to reach the hinterland – men such as the German missionaries, Krapf and Rebmann, who were the first white men to see the snows of Kilimanjaro and Mt. Kenya in the early l800’s, Lord Lugard who walked up the Sabaki/Galana river (and had his finger bitten by a crocodile at what is now Lugards Falls), Joseph Thompson who arrived some years later, and so graphically described the wilderness to the world and who befriended the Masai, Colonel Patterson who oversaw the laying of the railway line, and who shot the two notorious man-eating lions which devoured almost l00 Indian railway workers.
When Tsavo was first gazetted as a Park in l948, the wildlife of the area remained all but invisible until one stumbled upon them at close quarters, following narrow elephant trails that wound through dense Commiphora dominated thicket, sweltering in the intense heat that seemed bent on sucking every morsel of moisture from tired torn human bodies. There were no roads for Tsavo’s pioneer wardens to follow, no aircraft from which to take a look at the challenges that faced them, no hand-held radios to keep in touch with one another and base camp, no telephones or other mod-cons at their disposal – just one vehicle, some old fashioned ex-army tents that did not zip shut, and a haversack to carry their few personal items. Their work-force consisted of a handful of raw labourers armed with only pangas (machetes), jembes (spades) and shovels to carve out the very first tracks leading to who knows where. More....