The Meru National Park's claim to international popularity stems from the book - and movie - "Born Free". Authored by Joy Adamson, it tells about their lion and cheetah research. The famous "Elsa" lioness is the most famous of the lions in the park, and her grave is marked. The park lies about 348 km from Nairobi and covers an area of about 870 square kilometers. It contains terrain ranging between 1,000 and 3,400 feet above sea level, and hence contains diverse vegetation - from open plains and riverbanks dotted with doum palms to woodlands at 3,000 feet on the slopes of the Nyambeni Mountain Range. This beautiful terrain is crisscrossed by no less than 13 rivers and other smaller streams.
The park was opened to visitors in April 1968. It provides accommodation in the eight special campsites which must be pre-booked, a public campsite, KWS (Kenya Wildlife Service) self-help banda and Leopard Rock bandas. Visitors can view a wide variety of wildlife at the park - large prides of lion, large herds of buffalo, elephant, cheetah, leopard, lesser kudu, duiker, dikdik, hippo, and crocodile. There are also 300 species of birds, including the Pter's Finfoot, Pel's Fishing Own, kingfisher, roller, bee-eater, starling, and weaver birds. The park offers visitors spectacular views of Mt Kenya. Other parks nearby worth visiting include the Bisanadi, Kora, Rahole & Mwingi National Reserves.
Poaching used to be a major problem in the 1980s but the KWS security patrols have successfully driven out poachers and allowed wildlife populations to stabilize. Visitors can also fish for barbus and catfish at campsites and along the Tana River.
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