Tana River County

Discover Tana River County

The Kora Rock in Kora National Park.  Image Courtesy of KWS
The Kora Rock in Kora National Park.  Image Courtesy of KWS

Brief Overview of Tana River County

From its headwaters in the Aberdare Mountain Range to its terminus at Tana River Delta draining into the Indian Ocean, Tana River courses for almost 850 kms, making it the longest river in Kenya and whose importance for generating hydro-electric power and sustaining the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of people along the Tana River Basin are clearly and inextricably linked. From the Aberdare Mountain this flows east, north, east again before commencing on the lengthy 500 kms southerly course along the entire northern and western limits of Tana River County; whose name answers to the superlative presence of this mighty river. Tana River County is dominated by a complex ecosystem running from high canopy coastal forests, riverine forests, wooded bush land, thickets with grassland plains, and mangrove forests.  By far the most striking gamuts in Tana River County are River Tana Delta and its little-travelled 72 kms coastline.

Besides Tana River, there are several small rivers, more proper laghas, flowing in a west-east direction from Kitui and Makueni Counties that drain into Tana River. Even so, Tana River County is a predominantly arid area with little land use. The Pokomo, notable as the bigly ethnic community, survive on exiguous subsistence farming along Tana River. While the minority Orma and Wardei Tribes are pastoralists, habitually on the move in search of pasture for livestock. The pastoral communities make up about 14% of the population. Poverty levels stand at 77% making Tana River County the 5th poorest County of Kenya. There are seven large ranches in the County – Wachu (307 km2), Kibusu (250 km2), Haganda (120 km2), Kitangale (200 km2), Idasa Godana (510 km2), Giritu (433 km2) and Kondertu (200 km2) – and out of the seven ranches only Idasa Godana Ranch can be said to be active, with about 10% of its acreage put to use.

The principal line of communication in Tana River County is the B8 Malindi-Garissa Road through Garsen and Hola (Bura) that’s oriented north-south and running just 30 kms outside the eastern boundary for 347 kms from Malindi to Garissa. The second, but more engaged, road connects the B8 Malindi-Garissa Road with the A3 Thika-Liboi Road at Garissa, and this travels east to west for about 70 kms in the northern area of the County through Bangali. Owing to the comparatively low rainfall and to the indigenous practice of overgrazing with both cattle and goats, the vegetation profile over much of Tana Rover County is mainly of the thick thorn-bush type with restricted grass, excepting the riverine areas along Tana River marked by an abundance of greenery and woodlands. The ground slopes away southwards with few low hills. Tana River is one of six counties in the Coast Region. It borders Isiolo County (north), Garissa County (east), Lamu County (southeast), Kilifi County (south), and Kitui County (west).

Salient Features of Tana River County

  • County Number 04
  • Area – 38,862 km2
  • Altitude – 6200 ft
  • Major Towns – Hola, Madogo, Galole, Bura
  • Borders – Kitui, Garissa, Isiolo, Lamu, Kilifi

Brief History of Tana River County

Although Tana River County is a sparsely populated locale, it has a long saga of tribal conflicts. The conflicts have transformed Tana River County beyond local solutions largely owing to: its economic and political marginalization, its long and involved resistance to assimilation, its resource depletion, its demographic changes, its climatic conditions, its cattle rustling and small arms proliferation, and the adverse government policies. These conflict in Tana River County date back to the 17th century, when different communities started settling along the banks of River Tana – in particular the communities from Ethiopia and Somali.

Aerial view of the River Tana Delta.  Image Courtesy of David Beatty
Aerial view of the River Tana Delta.  Image Courtesy of David Beatty

Places of Interest in Tana River County

1. Adamsons Falls Bridge

The vintage George Adamson’s Bridge linking Kora National Park with Meru National Park and Mwingi North Reserve was named in honour of the renown explorer and reformist George Adamson, famous for his gutsy effort to revamp and improve Kora National Park. The steel fabricated bridge fashioned between 1986 and 1990 is crossed from Meru National Park that’s the usual jumping-off place to Kora National Park, and the universal welcome to land of “Born Free” – one of the world’s fairy tales on wildlife conservation recounted in the self-same titled bestseller penned by Joy Adamson. George Adamson’s Bridge also serves as a useful observation deck to sight the Adamson’s Rapids and Falls situated about 100 ms from the bridge. A lovely picnic site and walking trail have been in existence for years although seldom used. It crosses the mighty Tana River – Kenya’s longest – which also marks the northern frontier of both Kora National Park and Tana River County. From here, the stalwart Tana forms the natural eastern boundary of Tana River County before terminating at the Indian Ocean.

Spartial Location of Kora National Park
Spartial Location of Kora National Park

2. Kora National Park

Surrounded and linked to Mwingi National Reserve (west), Meru National Park (northwest), Bisanadi National Reserve (north) and Rahole National Reserve (east) at the northernmost corner of Tana River County, the remote 1,700 km2 Kora National Park, marked by dense dry bushland with sweeps of grassland, once held great numbers of elephant and rhino. However they were victims of the poaching wave which raged during the 1970’s, thereafter rendering it to a massive grazing rangeland. Kora’s claim to fame is that is was the base for the last of Kenya’s great eccentric – George Adamson. It is here that he lived out his twilight years releasing lions back to the wild. “Africa has strange tales to tell, but no greater paradox than that enacted by Adamson, for he lives in a cage and the lions lived outside it! While what he does is doubtful value for conservation, it is nonetheless something that will survive for centuries as an illustration of the unusual.” After Adamson’s death in 1989, Kora National Park deteriorated fast, with little game on show only for those prepared to search for it on foot. Of a recent development, efforts are underway to spruce up Kora’s infrastructure. For now, and much the same as Rahole and Mwingi National Reserves on either side, it is without accommodation. Highlights include: Adamsons Falls Bridge and Kora Rapids, Tana River, Adamson’s Camp or Kampi ya Simba (the former home for George and Joy Adamson) and pretty inselbergs. The park has good parkways. The most popular activity at Kora National Park is hiking up the epic and conspicuous Kora Rock. The easiest way to get to Kora National Park is via Meru National Park. It can also be accessed via Kaningo Gate through Mwingi.

Kora National Park – full of history and stunning landscapes – The Traveldote

3. Adamson’s Monument

“On August 20, 1989, at high noon, gun shots rang out at the Kampi ya Simba, also known as Lion Camp, within the Kora National Park.  George Adamson, fondly nicknamed Bwana Game after his 1968 biography, had died in a hail of bullets fired by Somali “shifta” bandits together with his two camp assistants”.  George Adamson died saving the life of a German visitor to Kora National Park.  On that fateful day, Kenya and the world lost a hero and an iconic reformist, who had dedicated his life to preserving this harsh natural habitat for wildlife, especially lions.  George Adamson spent most of his productive years restoring the 1700 km2 Kora National Park, from an untame aridland to a wildlife prolific park. The simple Adamson’s Monument earmarks the final resting place for one of Kenya’s most-celebrated conservationists, in company with his two wardens.

4. Arawale National Reserve

Situated 203 kms from Kora National Park and 124 kms south of Garissa, the 513 km2 Arawale National Reserve, composed of a gesture of arid bushland on the eastern flank of River Tana, is crossed by the B8 Malindi-Garissa Road on the western flank.  The inter-territorial Arawale National Reserve, shared with Garissa County, was established in 1974, as the foremost wildlife sanctuary in Kenya set up primarily to conserve the relic Hunter’s Hartebeest, locally known as Hirola, which is a critically threatened gazelle population endemic to north eastern Kenya and southwest parts of Somalia. There is no accommodation and the adventure-makers who visit Arawale National Reserve must have a strong wish to venture off-the-beaten-circuits. The gate is located 12 kms east of Hola.

The Hirola or Hunter’s Hartebeest is a very local from of the Hartebeest whose horns are longer than those of the true Hartebeest and bear some resemblance to those of the impala. It is far smaller than the common Kongoni, being only slightly larger than the impala. It has a long, ungainly face, a red coat and lyrate horns similar to the impala’s.

5. Hola Monument

The Hola Monument at Hola commemorates the 11 Mau-Mau prisoners killed during the 1959 Hola-Massacre, in Hola Prison.  The BEA Colonial Government had build the Hola Prison to detain hard core Mau-Mau fighters, in the isolated and semi-arid area of Hola.  Hola Prison would later spook the nation with lots of horror stories of cruelty and ruthlessness on the part of the British Forces.  At the peak of its calamities, Hola Prison housed 517 detainees in deteriorated and appalling conditions. On March 3, 1959, all hell broke loose at Hola Prison.  The protests by inmates over living conditions and iniquities was met with fury and destructive brutality. 11 inmates were clubbed to death by the sadistic wardens.

Spatial Location of Bura (Hola) in Tana River County
Spatial Location of Bura (Hola) in Tana River County

6. Bura Irrigation Scheme

Located on the west bank of River Tana about 490 kms east of Nairobi through Garissa, the 7 km2 Bura Irrigation Scheme, fitly getting underway in 1977 with financial assistance from World Bank, supports almost 6,000 families in Bura, a predominantly arid area. The idea of Bura Irrigation Scheme was mooted to grow and promote this remote and famine prone region. It also aims to create jobs and steady food supply.  Although Bura Irrigation Scheme has never hit its optimal stride, or achieved its yearly output projection, it remains one the most ambitious and epochal farm and irrigation schemes in Kenya and in East Africa.

7. Bura Mission Church

Established by the Holy Ghost fathers in 1892, Bura Mission Church became the first inland Catholic Mission in Kenya. It was started in 1892 by Monsignor De Courmont who was an Apostolic Vicar, and Father Jean Flick of Holy Ghost Fathers. Monsignor De Courmont had decided to move up and build a Church in Bura, away from the missionary busy Mombasa, and set up a mission post in the undeveloped and remote hinterland. They travelled for 11 days and nights to Bura with a caravan made up of 1 Muslim cleric, 6 askaris, and 16 Taita porters who carried a 40 kg load each. On September 30th, 1896, Bura Mission Church was unveiled and the first mass was celebrated on the same day. More than 120 years later, this stands proudly as the oldest Catholic Mission Church in Kenya.

8.  Tana Primate National Reserve

Located 202 kms from Garissa and 60 kms south of Bura, the 170 km2 Tana Primate National Reserve, of a semi-arid savanna with a 13 km2 fragment of riverine and forest fragment, is home to a good mix of intriguing wildlife most notably of the Tana magabey, after which the park is named.  The forest patch in Tana Primate Reserve support more than 57 mammal species, 261 avifauna species and 175 claases of flora. It was established to protect both the riverine forest and the rare mangabey and red colobus monkeys.  The highlight at the Tana Primate is spotting the abounding Tana magabeys, which are one of the world’s most endangered primates and endemic to this forest fragment found along the 61 kms stretch of the lower Tana River. The budget-friendly Mchelelo Bandas are the most convenient accommodation for explorers to Tana Primate.

Tana magabeys are one of the world’s most endangered primates and are almost endemic to this forest fragment. Mangabeys, any of 10 species, are fairly large monkeys. They have odd cheek pouches with deep depressions under the cheekbones. They are highly social, vocal, and nimble.

9. River Tana Basin

River Tana is, without question, the longest river in Kenya flowing for over 850 kms with a catchment area of about 95,000 km2, thence draining at the Indian Ocean at the Ungwana Bay in Kipini. It travels over five Counties of Kenya from its source in the Aberdare Mountains, west of Nyeri, with a river basin draining 21% of the Kenya’s land surface and is home to 18% of the country’s population. All along its course, it provides a vital lifeline for both the wildlife and for the people who live nearby Bura and Tana Delta Irrigation Schemes – which draw from River Tana.  Further upstream, River Tana Power Project, momentously known as Seven Folk Project, is Kenya’s indispensable hydro-electric source. Moreover, this contributes over 50% of Kenya’s river discharge to the Western Indian Ocean. At its terminus at the Indian Ocean, River Tana discharges on average 4,000 million litres of fresh water every year.  In Tana River County, the red muddy river flows parallel to its east border. One of the basin’s salient ecosystems is the Tana Delta at the coast. This biodiversity hot spot is home to a great many endangered species, and it was designated as a Ramsar site in 2012.

Spartial Distribution of the Tana River Basin in Kenya.  Image by Wiki
Spartial Distribution of the Tana River Basin in Kenya. Image by Wiki

10. Delta Dunes Lodge

Located 35 kms north of Malindi en route Garsen and Lamu, this is probably the only place in the Coast Region of Kenya which properly showcases the Tana River Dunes at its mouth side by side with clean empty beaches and the open ocean. Once a tiny lodge with just one cabin, in 1982, it’s now well known for its spectacular bird life, unfamiliar landscapes and comfortable ambiance with all-round spectacular views. Delta Dunes Lodge has seven-open fronted cottages perched on top of sand dunes on the side of Kipalo Hills, with a large central common area, and is the perfect location to experience these rare natural thrills for a day or two before heading out to Lamu. “It has fabulous views overlooking the Tana River on one side and the Indian Ocean on the other. Delta Dune is an Island Lodge”. Access to the lodge is from the B8 Malindi-Garsen-Garissa Road. After an hours drive from Malindi you reach a pick-up point where the host with a small boat waits for you to get you across Tana River. In 20 minutes, you are at the famous Delta Dunes Lodge formerly dubbed as the Tana Delta Lodge.

Spatial Location of Kipini in Tana River County
Spatial Location of Kipini in Tana River County

11. Kipini Conservancy

Located near Lake Kenyatta, the expansive inter-territorial Kipini Conservancy shared by Tana River and Lamu Counties is among the best preserved coastal areas whose ecological gamut is both wondrous and highly specialized, skirted by Tana River Delta and parts of Witu Forest Reserve. It is both a shelter and wintering habitat for loads of migratory bird populations. Kipini also offers a safe refuge for many threatened native shore birds. Moreover, archaeological sites containing the ruins of a stone cemetery, minarets and other intriguing historic buildings make up for a great historical adventure. The forest itself consisting of purely of natural trees and vegetation is rich in terms of resources owing to the trees that have got many uses including timber usage, medicinal value among others. Among the trees sighted in Kipini Conservancy include Dume plams, Triclulia Emetia, Mvule, Terminalia, black palms, elephant tree, among others. Additionally, it has a diversity of marine life associated with more than 1,000 coral fish and turtles. Several species of whales, dolphins and the globally threatened dugong can also be sighted. It’s located near Mpeketoni.

12. Tsavo East National Park

Tsavo East, on the other side of Mombasa Road, is the larger of the two Tsavo Parks and at nearly 14,000 km2 is the largest protected area in Kenya. Famous for its size and as the dais for big-game, Tsavo East National Park christened the “Theatre of the Wild” has larger elephant herds and its landscape wilder than in Tsavo West. This wondrous wildlife harbuorage, with endless bushland transmuted by striking ancient hillocks, is found over four counties: Kitui, Taita Taveta, Tana River, and a small portion in Makueni. It is patrolled by over 60 species of mammals, 400 species of birds and miscellany of flora.  The park is also guarded by the imperial lava marches of the 300 kms long Yatta Plateau. Tana River hosts 30% of Tsavo East National Park at its south-western frontier.

Views from the Tana Delta Dunes Lodge.  Image Courtesy of Trip Advisor
Views from the Tana Delta Dunes Lodge.  Image Courtesy of Trip Advisor

Geography of Tana River County

The major physical features in Tana River County is its undulating plain that is only interrupted in a few places by low hills: at Bilibil (near Madogo) and Bura, that are also the highest points in the County. The land in Tana River generally slopes south eastwards, with an altitude that ranges between 0 ms and 200 ms above sea level.  River Tana traverses the County from Tharaka, in the north, to Indian Ocean, in the south, passing through Tana Delta and covering 500 kms.

Land Use in Tana River County

The land in the county is largely non-arable (covering 29,798 km2). The rest is under forest (3,457 km2), arable land (2,547 km2) and national reserves (3,059 km2).  In a county where 77% of the population exist in absolute poverty, and with the population growth rate of 2.8%, the projected increase in population has a key and direct impact on the basic needs such as food, water, health and education for all ages.  The incidence of landlessness is high, about 95%, with a majority in the county living as squatters – since they hold no titles to the land.

Highlights in Tana River County

The main tourist attractions in Tana River County are Kora National Reserve, Arawale National Reserve and Tana Primate National Reserve.  The commonly sighted wildlife in Tana River County are its Red Columbus Monkey, Tana River Crested Mangabey monkeys, Elephants and Hartebeest (Hirola). Tana River Delta is one of the six delta areas of Eastern Africa, and the largest freshwater wetland systems in Kenya. The Delta is rich in biodiversity, supporting diverse species of both flora and fauna. It supports no less than 22 rare species of birds, making the delta one of the key sites in the country for water bird conservation.

Population in Tana River County

The projected population of Tana River County, in 2012, was estimated at just 261,348 with 130,875 being female and 130,473 male. The county has an inter-census population growth rate of 2.83%, which is slightly lower than the base national average of 2.9%. The ratio of male to female is 99:100, and the pattern was projected to hold much the same to June 2018.  The projected population density of Tana River County is 6 persons / km2. This was however expected to increase to 7 persons / km2 in 2015 and June 2018.  Tana River County has two urban areas – Hola and Madogo – having a total population of 36,099 in 2012.

Bura Irrigation Scheme.  Image Courtesy of Wiki Commons
Bura Irrigation Scheme.  Image Courtesy of Wiki Commons

Airports in Tana River County

Tana River has seven airstrips with major ones found at Hola, Bura and Garsen

Roads in Tana River County

The total road network in the county is 3,377 kms, with about 55% in motorable condition. The road network is composed of 1,108 kms (class A – E) of classified roads and 2,269 kms (class U) of unclassified roads. Out of this, only 449 kms is bitumen surface. The main road is B8 Malindi-Garissa Road that is dilapidated.

Climate in Tana River County

Tana River County has a hot and dry climate with average annual temperatures of 30 C, with the highest being 41 C in January-March and the lowest being 20 C in June-July. Rainfall is low, bimodal and erratic. Long rains occur in April-May. Short rains occur in October-November with November being the wettest.

Tana River County Distance Chart
Tana River County Distance Chart

Tana River.  Image Courtesy of Tana River Government
Tana River.  Image Courtesy of Tana River Government

National Monuments in Tana River County

There no designated national monuments in Tana River County

Tana River County Map

Tana River County Map