A Wild Ride Through Lake Nakuru National Park

Perhaps the most distinct feature of Nairobi that separates it from other world capitals is its proximity to truly wild landscapes. How many other cities can you think of are home to both giraffe and elephant sanctuaries? Imagine if Yellowstone were a half-day’s drive away from Washington DC or New York, like the Masai Mara is to Nairobi. Add to that the giant hippo-filled Lake Naivasha. By the time we arrived at Kenya’s Lake Nakuru National Park on the 6th day of our tour, it felt like we had ventured deep into the heart of Africa. And yet, a look at the map showed that we had really only been circling the neighborhood.

Close Encounters of the Critically Endangered Kind

Lake Nakuru National Park is remarkable for its dense biodiversity. Within just over 100 square miles lives a broad array of birds, big cats, and other large mammals. Perhaps most significantly, it is home to some of the last remaining wild rhinoceroses on the planet. Poaching has devastated both the black and the white rhinoceros populations, and Lake Nakuru is one of their last protected habitats.

A sobering thought: at over $100,000 per kilo, rhinoceros horn is among the world’s most expensive substances by weight. Rhino protectors are directed to kill poachers on sight, yet the high black market price imperils the lives of the few remaining survivors. The fences bordering the park are less to keep the animals in than to keep people out.

We were told that this park would be our best opportunity for spotting one of these majestic and rare beasts. Still, we had to keep our expectations in check, because nothing is guaranteed on a wildlife safari. Especially when it comes to seeing critically endangered animals. Imagine our surprise when, within 10 minutes of entering the park, two black rhinos decided to walk right past our vans! You get excited to see every animal on safari, but there’s nothing quite like the sight of a rhino. With their massive heft and big horns, it’s like seeing a living dinosaur in the flesh. And yet these gentle giants just amble along peacefully in search of fresh grass.

Black rhinoceros in tall grass in Lake Nakuru National Park, Kenya

Black rhinoceros in tall grass

Black rhinoceros and zebras in Lake Nakuru National Park, Kenya

Black rhinoceros and zebras

Black rhinoceros and zebras in Lake Nakuru National Park, Kenya

Black rhinoceros and zebras

The park’s savannas are home to a wide variety of animals. At any given moment you’re surrounded by gazelles, zebras, water buffalos, warthogs, and birds of all shapes and sizes.

Lake Nakuru - wildebeests

Where the buffalo roam. Note the rhino hiding back there.

Grant's Gazelle in Lake Nakuru National Park, Kenya

Grant’s Gazelle

Adult zebra in Lake Nakuru National Park, Kenya

Adult Zebra

Baby zebra in Lake Nakuru National Park, Kenya

Baby zebra looks so cuddly!

Helmeted Guineafowls in Lake Nakuru National Park, Kenya

Helmeted Guineafowls

Warthog in Lake Nakuru, Kenya

“Hakuna matata” means no worries!

And always keep your windows rolled up when you see monkeys and baboons. They will steal your chips!

Baboon sitting on entrance sign for Lake Nakuru National Park, Kenya

Now just move your tail slightly to the left. Perfect.

Vervet monkeys grooming in Lake Nakuru National Park, Kenya

Vervet monkeys

Vervet monkeys being all cute in Lake Nakuru National Park, Kenya

Vervet monkeys

Young baboon going for a ride in Lake Nakuru National Park, Kenya

Young baboon going for a ride

Baboon family hugging in Lake Nakuru National Park, Kenya

Hug it out, baboon family. Hug it out

Baboon flashing its fangs in Lake Nakuru National Park, Kenya

Thought baboons were all cute and snuggly, right? Dead wrong!

The lake itself is alkaline and full of algae, and thus a popular destination for flamingos. In the past, the sight of millions of pink flamingoes amassed in a fuchsia feeding frenzy was considered one of the world’s greatest wildlife spectacles. Increased rainfall in recent years has flooded the lake and disrupted the water balance. As a result, a large section of the forest is now submerged, and most of the flamingos have gone elsewhere for their briny snacks. Still, there is a tremendous amount of birdlife on the lake’s shores. (If you want to see some great shots of flamingos, check out my post from Eduardo Avaroa National Reserve, Bolivia.)

A flooded forest in Lake Nakuru National Park, Kenya

Spooky, isn’t it?

Yellowbilled stork coming in for a landing in Lake Nakuru National Park, Kenya

Yellow-billed stork coming in for a landing

Sacred ibis in Lake Nakuru National Park, Kenya

Sacred ibis

African spoon bill in Lake Nakuru National Park, Kenya

African spoon bill

Flamingos in flight above Lake Nakuru National Park, Kenya

Flamingos in flight

Flamingos prepare for landing in Lake Nakuru National Park, Kenya

Flamingos prepare for landing

Pelican in flight in Lake Nakuru National Park, Kenya

Pelican in flight

It’s hard to beat the views of the park from Baboon Cliff.

Chestnut-bellied Starling looking out over baboon cliff in Lake Nakuru National Park, Kenya

Chestnut-bellied Starling

Baboon soaking in the view from a tree above Baboon Cliff, in Lake Nakuru National Park, Kenya

It’s called Baboon Cliff for a reason

Superb Starling in Lake Nakuru National Park, Kenya

Superb Starling

Despite its relatively small size, there are several different environments within Lake Nakuru National Park. This wooded region felt like another park compared with the savanna we crossed in the morning. We were even lucky enough to spot a herd of white rhinoceros!

Female waterbucks in Lake Nakuru National Park, Kenya

Female waterbucks striking a pose

Impala herd in Lake Nakuru National Park, Kenya

Impala herd

A group of endangered white rhinoceros in Lake Nakuru National Park, Kenya

White rhinoceroses!!!

Giraffe in Lake Nakuru National Park, Kenya

Giraffe

Giraffe reaching for a bite in Lake Nakuru National Park, Kenya

Giraffe reaching for a bite

The big excitement of the day came in the form of a pride of lions resting just off the road. They were mostly hidden in the thick brush – had there not been a few other safari vans giving away the location we probably would have driven right past them. Despite their size, they camouflage well. As if I needed a reminder not to walk in lion territory.

Everyone in the van jostled for the best viewing position to make them out in the bushes. The unobstructed views were fleeting, but man, were they amazing. We watched with rapt attention, waiting for the lions to move a head, stretch a paw, or roll over into sight. Seeing such powerful predators up close was spellbinding – the thought that they could pounce on us in one leap only added to the exhilaration. This was easily one of my top highlights from our whole time in Africa.

Female lion in bushes in Lake Nakuru National Park, Kenya

Female lions

Female lion in Lake Nakuru National Park, Kenya

Female lion

Male lion in Lake Nakuru National Park, Kenya

This male lion didn’t show his face for long, but when he did… wow

Male lion profile in Lake Nakuru National Park, Kenya

What a profile

Male lion close-up in Lake Nakuru National Park, Kenya

Wow

 

I hope you enjoyed this photo safari through Lake Nakuru National Park.  I’ve got tons more from the rest of my travels around the world. Check them out by following the links below. Think a friend would find this interesting? Sharing is caring!

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