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Elsa’s heritage alive in Meru National Park

SUNDAY MAGAZINE
By Jeckonia Otieno | March 23rd 2016
Elsa's grave at Meru National Park. (Photo: Jeckonia Otieno)

Meru National Park is one of the country’s biggest parks and is known for rehabilitation of elephants from other parks and reserves.

The park is home to lions and is key to activism on protection of the big cats. This heritage was founded on the movie, Born Free which was about a lioness named Elsa.

The movie remains a heritage of the park after two actors Virginia McKenna and Bill Travers sought to relive the life of George and Joy Adamson, a couple who lived in the park.

The Adamsons’ life is remembered mostly due to the fame attached to Elsa who was brought home, alongside two other lions, by George after he killed their mother in self defence.

At the border between Meru and Tharaka Nithi counties, along a river bank, lies Elsa’s grave. It has inspired so much interest in conservation of lions in the park and beyond.

Elsa lived in the park between 1956 and 1961 and George would take a walk with her together with other lions. This dalliance with lions helped change many people’s perspective about lions and the need to conserve them.

A few years ago, before a fence was erected around the park to prevent human-wildlife conflict, elephants would go to give birth at the Ngaya Forest but population explosion and development around the park stopped this.

The park has a wide variety of birds including the marabou storks which are important in cleaning what other carnivores have left behind. They are in the cleaning ministry with hyenas which are so many that we kept bumping in to them when we were conducting a census of lions.

The exercise was being conducted by Kenya Wildlife Service rangers and officers from the Born Free Foundation, an animal Charity that Bill Travers and Virginia McKenna started.

Meru National Park has several steams running through it, and their waters are clean because they are not polluted by humans.

If you go on a game drive in the afternoons, you are likely to spot browsers such as antelopes, dikdiks and gazelles but not carnivores because they hunt at night. There are also baboons, monkeys and foxes.

The park has a rhino sanctuary which also houses buffaloes. If you want to see more animals, you can cross over to the Kora and Mwingi National Reserves. There are accommodation facilities in and around the park.

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