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Haller Wildlife Park (Mombasa, Kenya)

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Haller Park is the largest animal sanctuary in Mombasa. The Park boasts an enormous variety of animals, reptiles, insects and botanical gardens.

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      08.01.2011 07:17
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      A marvellous place to get close to nature.

      ~~How did we get to Haller?~~

      During our recent trip to Kenya we decided to pay a visit to an attraction that a lot of the other guests in our hotel had recommended. We walked down the hotel Drive and after a bit of haggling with a Tuk-Tuk driver paid over the princely sum of 500 Kenya Shillings. (approximately £4.25) This was to take us there and collect us at 5pm when the park shut.

      ~~Shaken but not scared!~~

      Being driven in a Tuk Tuk feels like being on the back of a yellow three wheel motorbike surrounded by a large flattened and shaped tin can, sat on 'upholstered' seats with all the give and pliancy of Margaret Thatcher's politics. Add the lethal combination of a seemingly twelve year old driver with ADHD and a fetish for speed that would put Jeremy Clarkson to shame! Driving up the Malindi road towards Mombasa took about ten minutes but it put me and God back on speaking terms! It would appear that the driving population of Mombasa had all been schooled at the same place. (Probably founded by Eivil Kneivil!) We got there, shaken but not scared. Terrified? yes, we got past merely being scared!
      You have got to ride in a Tuk Tuk. It is a defining moment in a Kenyan Tourist's experience!

      ~~Park yourself!~~

      The last half mile of the drive involved going down a dusty track past a concrete factory. Standing at the side of a large fuel tank in the factory grounds was a large and elegant Oryx! I couldn't help thinking that not many factory workers in England would come outside for their lunch break and have to share the lawn with one of these lovely but very large creatures. It puts throwing your crusts down for the pigeons into perspective! We later found out that the herd of Oryx from Haller Park walk out of the park nearly every day to go and graze around the concrete factory. When we had finished our tour of the park we came outside just in time to see them all trooping back in again! They have the most beautiful twisted horns that are about two to three feet long. The males can stand up to six feet tall at the shoulders so I can understand why they are allowed to come and go unmolested. I wouldn't want to argue with them! It was fabulous to be surrounded by them as they ambled past and through the entrance gate. The cleaner told us how dangerous they were but fortunately he told me after they had walked past. (Otherwise I would have done what any sensible person would do and gawp from a distance.)

      ~~In we go!~~

      A little shop and entrance kiosk stand at the park gates, "Jambo Mama" was called out to me as I went into the kiosk to pay. The kiosk man had the widest and most beautiful smile of greeting. He directed us up a path past a large pond to where we would be allocated a guide. At the end of the path was a large Masai type hut/ reception hall. We went in and were invited to sit and watch the documentary that was currently playing on the monitor whilst we waited for an english speaking guide. David Attenborough was playing and we happily sat in the shade of the thatched roof and listened to him expounding on the flora and fauna of Kenya. After about a ten minute wait our guide arrived, a young Kenyan man named Oscar. He spoke excellent english and had an encyclopeadic knowlege of the park. He explained that without the cement factory there would have been no park. The site for the park is a reclaimed lime quarry which when the factory had extracted all the viable limestone (fossil coral) had become an arid wilderness.
      The Bamburi Cement company decided to reclaim the quarries which seemed to be an impossible job. In 1959, Dr. Rene Haller was hired as manager of the garden department and given the task to beautify the area.He embarked on the reforestation project and with the help of millions of centipedes managed to return the earth to a condition where trees and wildlife could flourish. It really is a remarkable transformation and all credit to the far sightedness of the company and Dr Haller.
      An excellent account by Dr Haller of how this was all achieved can be found at
      http://www.cosy.sbg.ac.at/~zzspri/travels/BANweb/bantrail.html

      ~~When is a rock not a rock?~~

      Our guide led a small group of us out into the park and my eyes lit on a sign saying "PLEASE DO NOT SIT ON THE TORTOISES!" The sign amused me. Previously my experience of tortoises hadn't led me to imagine anybody would want to sit on one! As if on cue, a very large 'rock' got up and ambled over to us! Our guide explained that this was one of the many Aldabra giant tortoises that had been rescued and brought to live in the park. They are not native to Kenya but sailors had imported them as pets and some others had been washed ashore. They are very similar to Galapagos tortoises with the same life span of roughly 200 years. They liked to be scratched under the chin, just like cats, and would stick their heads right out and go into a bit of a trance whilst you scratched them. I was fascinated and excited to be this close to them. Bidding farewell to the bold 'boulders' we followed Oscar who gave us a brief outline of the tour and finished by promising us that at the end we could watch crocodiles playing volley ball with chickens. The mind boggled!

      ~~Snakes Alive!~~

      We followed the guide into an area of pens and very large glass fronted observation enclosures. This was my least favourite part of the park, not because of the snakes and reptiles contained in there but because of the dull nature of the enclosures. I felt sorry for the creatures enclosed in them, they were very clean but sparse and utilitarian. I got the feeling that concrete was the material of choice in this area!Some of the snakes were used to 'milk' for anti venom production. All of the reptiles in this enclosures looked healthy and lively but I was glad to leave and enter the more natural areas of the park.

      ~~I want my Mummy!~~

      We were led down a winding trail as our guide told us the story of one of their more remarkable animal rescues. A young Hippo (Owen) had been washed away by the dreadful Tsunami which struck the pacific coast in December. He was brought to Haller park and formed an attachment to Mzee one of the Giant tortoises. They slept, ate and played together. I bet Mzee didn't expect to become a surrogate Mum at the age of 130! There are wonderful pictures in the visitor centre and shop of the two of them together and there is also a book written about them. Eventually Owen had to be parted from Mzee because of his size and boisterousness and he was paired with a slightly older Hippo named Cleopatra who had been a pet, she had to be rehomed at Haller when she caused serious damage to a car which was parked in her favourite resting place! Cleopatra is now very protective of her toyboy and they look set to live happily ever after!
      We were lucky enough to see the pair of them having a good old wallow in their private pond. Beauty is certainly in the eye of the beholder and Cleo was obviously very smitten with Owen, judging by the way she followed him round and nuzzled up to him. I must admit to some difficulty imagining her as a pet.

      ~~A fishy tail~~

      Haller contains a fish farm where Tilapia are bred for mosquito reduction and they also make good eating. It produces 30-35 tons per year which is a valuable asset to the park. They were originally bred to deal with the algae and weed in the ponds to help make them viable for wildlife.
      We also saw a series of pens for young crocodiles to keep them safe from the larger members of the family who would happily munch on them given half a chance. There was a pen which contained a large brood of eggs which had hatched into 'white' crocodiles. These were quite large but had to be kept seperate because they were too vulnerable and too different to be placed with the other adult croc's.

      ~~Giraffe to do that!~~

      A real highlight for children (and me!) was being able to hand feed the giraffes. They inhabit a huge forested compound, at one end of which is an observation and feeding deck. The height of the deck meant that the giraffes heads were at the same level as the visitors and at 11am and 3pm a big bucket of pellet food is provided and visitors can feed any of the animals that present themselves. I never dreamt that one day I could have a giraffe eating out of my hand. They are stunningly beautiful close up and they took the food delicately and gently. Their eyelashes are so long I had a hint of envy! It was a truly remarkable and memorable experience and it makes me smile when I remember it.
      The availability of free food was not lost on the opportunist monkeys of the area, who spend a lot of time stealing the pellets and filling their cheeks with them. Every single monkey on the deck looked like they had a serious case of the Mumps because their cheeks were so full of stolen food!
      A nice touch in that area was a giant fossil clam shell with a cold water tap over it which was being used for visitors to wash their hands after feeding the giraffes. The park is full of these clam shells some of which measure about five foot across.

      ~~Flora, not just fauna!~~

      One remarkable aspect of the park was the diversity of the plant life. There were indigenous plants and trees growing alongside others which had been planted specifically to aid the reforestation and naturalisation process, I was fascinated by the fast growing Baobab trees. Our guide showed us a massive tree which had only been planted 26 years previously. It was hard to believe the rate of growth there. The flowers growing wild were fabulous in their colours and perfumes. I am no botanist and can't recognise many plants but I could see that there was a huge range of plant life that had been introduced by man or that had arrived courtesy of Mother Nature. The Strangling Fig vine was one of the latter and it was amazing to see how their roots reached down from where they had started to grow in the tree tops and completely enveloped (and often killed) the host trees. Over the years, over 180 species of indigenous trees and bushes have been planted. Of course the ubiquitous Neem tree was present in large numbers. This is known in Swahili as the Doctor Tree and is used widely to treat malaria, sickness, headaches and a wide range of other ailments. Apparently monkeys use it if they are feeling a bit under the weather too!
      The trees and bushes provide valuable food, shade and shelter for the wildlife at Haller and it's almost worth a visit for these alone. The smell of the flowering jacaranda bushes will stay me as part of the complex and evocative smell of Africa.

      ~~What else did we see?~~

      I realise that this recounting might be getting a bit lengthy so I will skim over watching the other set of mighty hippo's emerge from their lake to be fed. Except to say that a flock of Geese nearly became history as they stood, rather negligently, between the hippo's and their dinner. The grazing antelope showed a bit more sense and scattered at the first ripple in the lake. The keeper made me smile because he was obviously cursing the Hippos for something or other, the hippos were totally and magnificiently impervious to his shouting at them. He might as well have tried arguing with the food bucket.
      The birds were spectacular and amongst the ones we saw were... Crowned crane, Marabou, Oxpeckers (very obligingly sat on some oxen), Egyptian geese who were oblivious to Hippopotami!, Weaver birds and their 'balls of string' like nests, Guineafowl and Yellow billed storks. We saw lots more but I don't know what they were called!
      At one stage we rounded a corner of a trail and came across a huge Water Buck grazing unperturbed in a clearing. He was very calm and stopped his grazing for a minute to have a good look at us. His eyes were dark and liquid and so beautiful!
      We saw so much wildlife in our two hour visit to the park that it is really impossible to do justice to it all. We didn't have enough time to see everything and will definitely visit again next time we go to Kenya. In fact it's quite a good reason to go back isn't it? "Quick Russ, book a flight now! We missed seeing the Zebra at Halller". I wish!


      ~~That Crocodile is Offside!~~

      Our tour finished at the crocodile lake where dozens of huge crocodiles were amassing at one end. A lot of them were just asleep on the banks, presumably they were still full from previous days 'Volley Ball Matches'. When we arrived we saw a cable strung across the end of the lake and one of the keepers was busy stringing a chicken carcass to another cable. An ingenious pulley device enabled him to position the chicken over the crocodiles and raise and lower it quickly. I was told by Oscar that this wasn't simply to entertain the tourists, it also provided exercise and competition for the crocodiles. He also said that in the wild, croc's could last a year after a good meal.( It's a good job my husband isn't a crocodile, he can't last four hours without being stoked up again!) The keeper reeled the carcasse over the lake and then the skirmishes began. It is very impressive to see a fully grown crocodile launch itself more than ten feet in the air to snatch it's food. It is unbelievably impressive to watch a dozen or more trying to do the same thing at the same time. I was amazed that they didn't seem to come to any harm in the resultant melee! The keeper was very skilled at snatching the chicken out of reach if he thought one crocodile was getting too much to eat and then allowing others to succesfully snatch the chickens. All in all it was an odd but exciting spectacle. I am glad that I saw it and it was a spectacular way to end the tour.

      ~~General Points about Haller~~

      The tracks and paths are uneven and sometimes quite hilly so wear comfortable shoes. The heat is blistering so a hat is necessary, not all areas have shade.
      Take water, two hours is too long to go without a drink, (unless you're a camel!)
      There are a lot of water areas and the Tilapia fish don't get all the lavae so mosquito repellent is a good idea too!
      I wouldn't try to visit Haller if I was confined to a wheelchair, the access paths are too uneven.
      Some of the paths are difficult but not impossible for buggys or pushchairs too.
      The toilets are clean and well maintained but scarce.
      This is a great place for children but they have to be meticulously supervised, many of the areas are not child proof and little Fred could easily become part of an impromptu volley ball game!
      The place is fabulous and good value for money but give yourself plenty of time to have a wander after your guided tour. We missed quite a few things including the restaurant where you can eat Eland or Crocodile! I would have liked to see the menu if nothing else!
      If you are lucky enough to be in the vicinity of Momabasa do go and say hello to Owen from me. It's a place not to be missed!


      ==Contact and Entrance Details==
      8 km north of Nyali Bridge Mombasa on the Malindi Rd,
      Telephone 041-548 5901,
      Open daily 0800-1700,
      Adults approx £6.50, Children £3.20.

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