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Taking a walk among wildlife

Inside Kenya’s Great Rift Valley lies Crescent Island Game Sanctuary, Naivasha’s best kept secret. Here, wildlife lives in relative peace and tranquillity, a heaven and haven for herbivores, as there are no carnivores chasing after them.

Human interference is also minimal in the private island sanctuary in Lake Naivasha.

With a higher population of animals than many other parks in the country, Crescent is an ideal spot to walk among the habituated herbivore wildlife.

The island, in the shape of a crescent, can be accessed by boat or road. The area is unfenced and wildlife from the mainland freely goes in and out. Although still referred to as an island, the sanctuary was created in 1988, when the island became a peninsula.

My friend and I arrived there by boat at mid-morning from a nearby tourist camp. Crossing the fresh-water lake, we passed by a group of hippos, aptly referred to as a bloat. They could easily be mistaken for large rocks from a distance, as only their brown backs were visible, seemingly unbothered by the approaching boat.

The circumference of the lake is about 80km, and the deepest part is within the crescent at roughly 18 metres. The level of the water depends on when the last rainy season was.

The lake and its environs support plants that provide foraging and breeding grounds for more than 350 species of water birds. Any birders listening?

As we got closer to the island, there was a young male hippo looking lonesome under some dead branches by the shore, probably having been ostracised from the family we had seen in the middle of the lake.

A flight of white-breasted cormorant, perched on the branches of a tree that lay half in the water, welcomed us to shore. An official from the management of the island met us at the top of a small hill from where we could see Mt Longonot, Hell’s Gate and the Mau escarpment. And are those the Ngong Hills way off in the distance?

We paid the park fees — $8 for locals and residents and $30 for international tourists. It was unclear why the difference in park charges is so huge.

It was a relatively cool day, so the two-hour walk around was not too taxing. The island has mostly dry savannah vegetation, and we set off towards the left, without a guide. The guide is optional. From a distance we could see waterbucks and pelicans on the shore, some zebra and gazelles.

A few other tourists were on the island, and one lady started running towards the waterbucks, arms flailing. I understood how some ignorant tourists get trampled on by elephants or mauled by lions. Unfortunately, there were no lions, and we detoured to another part of the island to give the animals time to settle down again.

By the shore, there were fishermen working on their nets. There have been media reports of increased fish poaching on the lake by unlicensed people, and later that day we came across a group of armed rangers on patrol.

We walked over to the western side of the island, passing by a fish eagle atop an acacia tree, and horses from the neighbouring Sanctuary Farm grazing among the zebra. The farm offers horse rides around the island.

The western side has more trees, and thus more shade, and greener grass. Here, we found some giraffes, lazily chomping on leaves and twigs from the tops of the trees. Walking as slowly and as quietly as possible, we got to within three metres of them.

It was surreal. Their forelegs were longer than my height. One kick could kill me, but the gentle giants didn’t see us as a threat.

The giraffes, though out in the wild, are well habituated to humans and showed no fear, unlike the zebras and waterbucks we had passed by earlier that wouldn’t let us get within 30 metres of them.

I pondered how tame life is without predators. Could you really call it “life in the wild” with no problems, nothing to get the heart pumping, no predators chasing after you? The island is said to have some pythons but, thankfully, we did not come across any. The buffalo were also absent during our tour.

After a couple of hours’ walk in heaven, it was time to go back to the real world.

Crescent Island is an ideal day trip for picnics, in large or small groups. And for those celebrating Valentine’s Day, it would make a perfect location for wild romance.

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