Just a 10 minute walk from our house on Lake Victoria in Kenya, right where the dirt road becomes paved on its way into Kisumu City, sits the small but impressive Impala Sanctuary. Recommended by our host, we dropped by early one morning to check out the wildlife.
Extremely cheap for Kenyan citizens (under $2USD), though a bit pricier for us tourists (~$15USD), this park was set aside to protect dwindling grazing land for a herd of impala outside the growing Kisumu City center. Established in 1992, the park has expanded its purpose and also houses caged rescue animals. Some of these animals were rescued as orphaned babies, others as injured adults, while others were removed from life-threatening confrontation with human settlements.
The first rescued orphan we met was a young female leopard, abandoned at birth and raised from a tiny cub by the park staff. As we watched her perched up high in her tree fort, we were approached by her keeper, offering to take my camera inside the cage for some fence-free photos. We gladly accepted.
The keeper explained that he has been working with this big cat for the whole two years of her life, all the way back to bottle feeding her when she first arrived. They clearly had a bond as she perked up when he entered the cage and followed him around energetically.
When he returned to us with my camera and the pictures he had taken, he presented us with a unique opportunity. The park also housed two rescued cheetahs, similarly raised in captivity and quite accustomed to people. Would we like to go into the cheetah cage to meet them? Um…yes please!! We were escorted to the cheetah enclosure along with the two cheetah handlers and met Alisha.
The young female cheetah dozed and purred loudly as we scratched behind her ears. I was surprised at the coarseness of her fur…not actually soft at all! We were then led over to the male, stretched out under a tree. As I crouched down behind him, he immediately turned and causally swatted the air in my direction - a clear sign he was not receptive to our interaction. Casual swat or not, I jumped back and everyone made it clear it was time to get out of the cage…now. We had no objections and high tailed it out of there, happy for the amazing experience, and that nothing went wrong!
We got a second great interaction when we reached the rescued monkey cage. There were two young female residents, both friendly, fully vaccinated, and disease-free, and eager for some playmates. We were escorted into the cage and within seconds, for the second time on this trip, Doug had a monkey on his head!
Jenny, a blue monkey, was several months old and quite rambunctious, grabbing Doug’s hat and glasses and throwing them to the ground. She kept jumping between us, hanging from our arms, and climbing all over us. Again I was surprised, this time to learn that her hands were as soft as old worn leather. Her cage mate, who’s name and species I do not remember, was much more shy, only coming by for a few seconds for a curious hello.
We left the monkey cage, after a brief search for the padlock, which Jenny had run off with, and we continued on. Our unsolicited tour guide led us around the remainder of the park to see olive baboons, hyenas, buffalo, ostrich, rhino, serval cats, and lions. No one had to tell us to stay on the outside of this cage!
In contrast to the rescued animals, there are a few groups that roam free in the park as well. Of course, you can tell from the name, there is a large impala herd, but also a group of vervet monkeys, a handful of zebra, and countless birds. We came across the zebra while exploring one of the parks many trails. They kept their distance, but continued to graze as we stood nearby.
Overwhelmed by the experience so far, we decided to part ways with our “guide”, gave him a tip for his time and effort, and headed to the hotel/restaurant inside the park for a refreshing beverage. Right on the shore of the lake, we certainly couldn’t complain about the view while we sipped a cold local beer.
As we made our way back to the park entrance, we came to a large picnic area and found the impala herd grazing there. With dozens of females and a few immature males in the group, the dominant male kept his eye on us as we wandered around snapping photos.
Alongside the impala were a large group of vervet monkeys running free as well. There was a constant rustle in the trees as they bounded in and out of the branches, tumbled around on the ground, and chased after each other. Though right next to them, they never interacted with the impala, both groups completely ignoring each other. They certainly took notice of us though.
A few of the vervets tried to approach us, but having had enough up close interactions for the day, we kept our distance, especially from the mother and baby. We had such a great experience thus far, and these guys were not hand raised, there was no need to push our good luck any farther. Instead we made our way home, happy with our adventures!