Tsavo Rains

The November-December rains are a special time in Tsavo. Right before they arrive, the air becomes heavy with anticipation. Many plants and animals, aware of the impending deluge, will start to flower and breed, but most are more cautious and will wait until the first few storms have drenched the earth before wasting any energy.

This flower appeared nearly a month before the onset of the main rains after just one small shower. Photograph by Neville Sheldrick

In Tsavo, when it rains, it is all or nothing. Billions of dormant seeds spring to life and cover miles of bare earth with a thick, green carpet. Wild flowers spring up out of the moistened soil and creepers spread over and choke out trees and bushes. Birds get busy building nests. Guinea fowls, which normally flock in groups of 30 or more suddenly pair off and disappear and many animals that you don’t normally see make an annual appearance.

Wild lilies emerge and flower a few weeks after the rains begin. Photograph by Neville Sheldrick

Large monitor lizards bake themselves in the sun in the middle of roads and on rocky kopjes, but scuttle away to safety at any sign of danger. If the only way out is down, they will run straight off the edge of a 30-foot ledge and continue running when they hit the ground as if it were nothing.

Terrapins, which bury themselves in the mud during the dry season to hibernate, suddenly appear in the oddest of places, such as in puddles on the side of the road. Seasonal pools everywhere become populated, as if by magic, by fish. Lungfish lie dormant in a self-made mud cocoon and break free once the pool has filled. Several species of killifish, however, will lay eggs during the rains, which can survive for months at a time in the hot, dry dust, only to hatch and begin the process all over again when the water returns.

Terrapin swimming in a small puddle on a road in Northern Tsavo. Photograph by Neville Sheldrick.

The Tiva River, for most of the year, is a white-sand, dry riverbed but a few times in the wet season it fills up and carries thousands of tons of silt towards the sea, which it deposits in a large marsh near the edge of Tsavo East National Park. Here, elephants gather in large numbers and leave a labyrinth of trails through soft mud, easily visible from above.

Dry Tiva riverbed before the rains. Photograph by Neville Sheldrick

Bull elephant swimming in a swollen Tiva river. Photograph by Neville Sheldrick.

Large bull elephant crossing the Tiva River delta. Photograph by Neville Sheldrick.

Tiva delta near Ndiandasa. Photograph by Neville Sheldrick

Bisadi Falls on the Tiva. Photograph by Neville Sheldrick.

This year, at the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust’s Tsavo headquarters on the Mtito River, just over 14 inches of rain were recorded from the middle of November until now. This relatively small amount of precipitation, however, has completely transformed the area.

Lily that grows on the surfaces of rocky kopjes looks dead for most of the year but springs to life immediately after receiving rain. Photograph by Neville Sheldrick

Lily less than 24 hours after the first rain. Photograph by Neville Sheldrick

Lilies a few days after the first rainstorm. Photograph by Neville Sheldrick.

A few days after the first rain storm and the lilies have turned completely green and produced beautiful, aromatic flowers. Photograph by Neville Sheldrick.

A few days after the first rain storm and the lilies have turned completely green and produced beautiful, aromatic flowers. Photograph by Neville Sheldrick.

The day after a heavy rainstorm this colony of ants was spotted migrating across a road with obvious purpose. Photograph by Neville Sheldrick.

Athi river beginning to rise. Photograph by Neville Sheldrick.

Athi River just one hour later. Photograph by Neville Sheldrick.

The rains have now come to an end and so we must wait until next year for another respite from the baking heat that normally characterises life in Tsavo.


  1. Nice pictures Nev. Stunningly green right now. When are we going camping on the Tiva? :)

  2. Beautiful pictures! I love Tsavo at any time of the year. Hope,I can come for a visit again soon! :-)

  3. Stunning pictures of a stunning countryside. It is always amazing how nature deals with its circumstances. I know you will keep the eles and all the other creatures there safe.

  4. How wonderful! Thank you for sharing this journey of the elephant for us. We are now fostering a baby–toddler elephant cared for by your organization. His name is Bomani. We are fostering him–I say “we”, because it is my niece, her four children and husband who are fostering Bomani for a year. God Bless this organization.
    Thank you!

  5. Very spectacular pictures and scenery. With this type of pictures cant stop imagining how a safari would be in Tsavo with lovers of nature.

  6. Great photos Neville !!

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