Although I’ll make the occasional trip to the zoo, from a photography perspective I’m not much of a fan. There’s just no thrill in photographing a ‘wild’ animal in an enclosed environment where it has little choice but to pose for the visiting paparazzi. With that in mind, I recently visited Kenya’s Haller Park on the outskirts of Mombasa with a degree of skepticism. Billing itself as a Game Sanctuary sounded, to me, like a fancy way of saying ‘zoo’. It’s hard to sell the prospect of a zoo in a country famed for its spectacular safari destinations. Mombasa is only a couple of hours drive from the country’s largest National Park, Tsavo East, which is home to the Big-Five. How does a zoo compete with that on its doorstep?
The simple answer is, it doesn’t. Haller Park, as it turns out, is far from a zoo. What it offers is a world class tutorial on sustainable development and eco-tourism; a project that has heralded international acclaim from none less than the United Nations Environmental Program.
So, with no further ado, here are five great reasons why you should visit Haller Park on your next trip to Mombasa, Kenya:
The Sustainability Concept
Somewhat unbelievably, Haller Park used to be the site of the Bamburi Cement limestone quarry; a desolate wasteland devoid of any flora or fauna. It was only when Rene Haller, a Swiss environmentalist, was given the responsibility of rejuvenating the site in 1970 that the land was given a new lease of life. A slow and laborious environmental project took hold, first starting with tree planting, followed by the gradual reintroduction of wildlife. The harsh quarry conditions meant that the project was very much trial and error regeneration. But very slowly, Haller Park was born.
Haller’s vision combined ecology and economic growth for the surrounding area; making Haller Park both environmentally and financially self-sustaining. This visionary approach landed Haller with the United Nations Environmental Program’s Global 500 Roll of Honor award, putting him alongside illustrious company including Sir David Attenborough, Jimmy Carter, Jacques Cousteau, Jane Goodall, and Wangari Maathai.
Today, Haller Park continues this legacy of environmental and economic sustainability and finds itself acting as a model for similar projects globally.
The Haller Park Wildlife
The highlight of a trip to Haller Park is the wildlife, which includes a butterfly house, reptile center, crocodile farm, fish breeding ponds and a game sanctuary. In particular, the ‘game sanctuary’, which is better described as a contained area of open grassland and ponds, is home to orphaned and previously injured eland, oryx, buffalo and hippo.
However, none of the wildlife at Haller Park is more famous than Owen and Mzee. Owen, one of the resident hippos, was orphaned during the 2004 Tsunami. Upon arrival at Haller he was promptly ‘adopted’ by Mzee, a 130-year-old tortoise. The interaction between the two unlikely species left many baffled. But the endearing relationship became international news and has led to a series of children’s books, a website and their very own charitable foundation.
Outside of the ‘planned’ wildlife interactions you’ll also very likely spot an abundance of free-roaming wildlife, including monkeys and giant tortoises (the latter of which we even had to avoid running over as they strolled about in the parking lot). Be aware that the vervet monkeys are very food motivated and not shy; so, keep your snacks stored away in a zipped bag unless you fancy a VERY interactive wildlife encounter.
The Haller Park Giraffe Feeding
If there’s anything that the last 12 months on Instagram has taught me, it’s that people love interactions with giraffes. Seriously, there are a heck of a lot of ‘influencers’ out there keen to have ‘candid’ brunch interactions with the giraffe at Giraffe Manor in Nairobi!
But if you aren’t planning on visiting Nairobi on your Kenyan safari, or you can’t afford a stay at Giraffe Manor (its Instagram fame is reflected in its prices), then Haller Park offers up a budget-friendly giraffe interaction alternative. Sure, it may not be quite as glamorous, but the interaction is no less genuine and comes at the cost of a mere bag of food.
The Haller Park Nature Trail
Although the highlight is undoubtedly the wildlife, it’s also worth wandering the park’s many trails (Haller Park used to be called the Bamburi Nature Trail). If nothing else it’s a great way to escape the Mombasa heat as you’ll find yourself sheltered by damas, coconut palm and casuarina trees. If you want to wonder the trails and wildlife areas with a guide, then you can pick one up at the visitor’s center.
Supporting the Wider Work of the Haller Foundation
The Haller Foundation was registered as a UK charity in 2004 and seeks to support both rural and urban communities in Kenya develop in a sustainable and environmentally sound way. The Foundation’s projects include facilitating access to clean drinking water, the construction of a health center, vocational skills training, environmental awareness building, and supporting subsistence farming. Make sure to visit the foundation’s website to learn more about the wider work the they are doing in the broader community in Mombasa and beyond.
At the time of writing, you can hand feed the giraffe daily between 11:00am and 3:00pm. The hippos, eland and oryx are fed at 4:00pm (you don’t get the chance to feed those yourself). Finally, the crocodiles are fed at 4.30pm – and you shouldn’t want to feed those yourself!
Haller Park is located about 20 minutes north of Old Town Mombasa which means your options for getting there (assuming you don’t have a car) are taxi; matatu (which is the closest you’ll get to a public bus system); tuk-tuk (a motorized tricycle with covered cabin); and boda-boda (motorcycles). To my mind the only truly viable options are taxis and tuk-tuks. Matatus are often ridiculous overcrowded with a difficult system to navigate. Boda-boda are, in my opinion, your best bet if you wish to end your life prematurely. Tuk-tuks can be hailed, aren’t shared, and are perfect when the traffic is bad (they can weave through small spaces that taxis can’t). There are both registered and unregistered taxis. To make sure you get a registered taxi look for the registration papers on the windscreen; they are otherwise undistinguishable. As with pretty much anywhere else in Africa, just make sure you negotiate your fare in advance (you may also be asked to pay in advance if the driver needs to fill up specifically for your trip – that isn’t unusual, so don’t be worried).
At the time of writing the entrance fees amount to about USD 14. They are however payable in Kenyan Shillings, so just make sure that you arrive at Haller Park with plenty of change.