We set off early on our third morning in Tsavo West to explore Mzima springs. This was only the second day in eight that I saw Mount Kilimanjaro’s peak. We were travelling north-west from the Kilaguni lodge to Mzima springs when our vehicle’s right rear tyre was punctured so we had to stop and repair it. When I say we, in fact Sammy who knew exactly what to do, fixed it, and in no time we were pneumatically restored and on our way.
“We need the tonic of wildness…At the same time that we are earnest to explore and learn all things, we require that all things be mysterious and unexplorable, that land and sea be indefinitely wild, unsurveyed and unfathomed by us because unfathomable. We can never have enough of nature.”
~ Henry David Thoreau
Although not a great image, the next image shows the graduations of light and colour stretching through the valley to the first range of hills and further to “Mount Kili” about 40 kilometres away. It also showed one of the few large open stretches of woodland savanna in what is a mountainous area.
It was still reasonably early in the morning and looking east into the sun we got some wonderful moody images of zebras walking through the golden flecked grass and with mist in the trees behind them. This has got to be one of the magic aspects about photography, when you realise that the light is golden and dancing and try to catch it.
“We wander for distraction but we travel for fulfillment”
The zebras all walked in single file through the grass, in strict hierarchy – as they do.
Mzima usually refers to the body’s state of health and well-being, literally meaning “full” or “whole.” It is an apt name for Mzima springs because it is an verdant oasis in the hot, dry, dusty bush. In the neighbouring Chyulu Range stand porous peaks of volcanic ash, whose youngest cones were formed about 500 years ago. Rising 2,000 metres above a dry woodland plain, these hills trap up to a metre of rain each year from moisture-laden winds. All that rain soaks into the sponge-like ash and percolates down until it hits impervious bedrock and begins its underground journey to Mzima Springs.
“For in the true nature of things, if we rightly consider, every green tree is far more glorious than if it were made of gold and silver.”
~ Martin Luther
The Chyulu range is composed of volcanic lava rock and ash, which is too porous to allow rivers to flow. Instead, rain water percolates through the rock, and is thought to spend many years underground before emerging 50 kilometres away at Mzima springs. Filtered over many years, the pure water gushes forth at a steady pace of more than 200 million litres a day, creating this oasis at the heart of Tsavo West National Park. The natural filtration process gives rise to Mzima’s famously clear stream, which flows through a series of pools connected by streams washing boulders to form rapids. You can see just how clear the water is as you can see the hippo’s body and legs quite clearly under the water.
Two kilometres downstream from the springs, the stream is blocked by a solidified lava flow and disappears below the surface again.
In one of Mzima’s pools this Reed Cormorant stopped for a break on a fallen tree trunk and was shaking water off its feathers. I would imagine it is quite difficult for the cormorants to hunt in such clear water but this character looked to be having a very busy time.
The area immediately around the springs and pools is verdant. The grass is thick, lush and green, and there are a variety of palm trees and many Fever trees. I find the colour combinations on the trunks of Fever trees fascinating. It is the only tree, I know of, which at maturity has a green trunk.
“What did the tree learn from the earth to be able to talk with the sky?”
~ Pablo Neruda
There are numerous paths which traverse one side of the pools. The paths guide bush lovers through the forested area in Mzima and follow old hippo trails.
“What an irony it is that these living beings whose shade we sit in, whose fruit we eat, whose limbs we climb, whose roots we water, to whom most of us rarely give a second thought, are so poorly understood. We need to come, as soon as possible, to a profound understanding and appreciation for trees and forests and the vital role they play, for they are among our best allies in the uncertain future that is unfolding.”
~ Jim Robbins
In one of the pools is an observation hut. It is a semi-submerged viewing hut where you can view hippos, crocodiles and fish underwater. Being semi-submerged makes it more interesting because to get to see what is going on above and below the water level. We were hoping to see crocs and hippos under the water but only got to see what looked to be a type of carp. You get a real sense of a diverse integrated ecosystem above and below the water level. I tried to take some images through the see-through glass of the submerged hut of the fish swimming around, but my focus was not up to scratch. This was one of the two large pools at Mzima spring which are connected by a babbling stream, fringed with lush reeds.
In the shade in the verdant oasis it is bursting with life, beautiful and tranquil – a break from the dust and heat of Tsavo. A family of Sykes’ monkeys seemed to agree with us.
Sykes’ monkey is also known as the white-throated monkey or Samango monkey. Thankfully this species has a ‘ least concern’ conservation status. Their coats are mainly a dark grey, the hair on their tail, limbs and shoulders is almost black and they have a brownish-yellow tinge to the hair on their back, face and top of their heads. Their white moustaches make them look old but they have large inquiring auburn-coloured eyes, and a flattened nose.
“There is no logical way to the discovery of elemental laws. There is only the way of intuition, which is helped by a feeling for the order lying behind the appearance.”
Sykes’ monkeys are semi-arboreal, semi-terrestrial and are therefore comfortable in both in the trees and on the ground. While we were wandering through the forested area around the springs they were playing and feeding on vegetation on the ground. Their main diet comprises shoots, fruits, leaves, flowers and berries, but they will eat eggs and insects when they can find them.
There were lots of species of wild flowers which attracted many types of flies, beetles, bees and butterflies. After hunting around a bit I think this might be a butterfly called an African Golden Arab, drinking nectar from a Wort Club (http://www.ngkenya.com/flora/plants.html).
Along the paths there were many what I think were Turbinas sprawling over the other vegetation. These flowers were a magnet for insects of all kinds.
All the insects buzzing around the multitude of flowers were in turn a magnet for the lizards like this agama.
Mzima springs was a unique place to visit, like nothing I have ever seen before. It was just busting with life.
“Walk tall as the trees, live strong as the mountains, be gentle as the spring winds, keep the warmth of the summer sun in your heart and the great spirit will always be with you.”
~ Native American proverb
Explore, seek to understand, marvel at its interconnectedness and let it be.