Peep at wildlife haven which may outshine the Maasai Mara
Story by BRYAN HARRIS
High up on the list of excellent places to visit, close to the slot reserved for the world’s Seventh Wonder — the Maasai Mara Reserve — is the Samburu National Reserve. And even better, it is off the beaten track.
Driving there takes five to six hours on fairly good roads, with much to see en-route. By plane, it takes a bare 60 minutes to the adjacent Buffalo Springs Reserve airstrip.
Also nearby is the Shaba Reserve.
River Uaso Nyiro. It is key to the region’s success as a wildlife refuge as it provides almost year-round water for humans and animals. Photo by Brian Harris
The three reserves have a spectacular landscape of dry bush, yellow grassland and acacia thickets. They are ringed by towering mountain ranges, dominated by the sheer-sided Ol Olokwe. The trio are home to an abundance of wildlife not equalled even by the Mara.
Still, it was good to hear that the Mara had been declared a World Heritage site by Unesco, and rated by some as a Seventh Wonder of the modern world.
Saved for posterity
Now it can take its rightful place, alongside other natural and man-made wonders such as the Grand Canyon in the USA and the temples of Angkor War in Cambodia. Thereby, it will secure special care and attention and will be saved for posterity.
Expect the Mara to be more popular then ever, especially now that tourist arrivals to Kenya have broken through the million number. Even more visitors are expected in 2007, with many of those travel advisories consigned to the waste bin.
While in no way detracting from the famous Mara, which will be the country’s biggest tourist draw for a number of reasons, topped by near certainty as the place to view the ‘Big Five’, other parks and reserves should be adequately publicised. (The Big Five are, elephant, lion, buffalo, rhino and giraffe.)
Visit to the arid north
It’s not the fault of promoters for concentrating on the Mara and a few selected parks. They are driven simply by what tourists and other clients want. But for anyone to come and leave Kenya without a visit to the arid north is to miss out on colourful and natural scenery.
Take the Samburu reserve. It is easily accessible by road and air. Together with the nearby Buffalo Springs Reserve and the Shaba Reserve, it makes for scenic landscape and abundant wildlife unequalled even in the Maasai Mara.
Unequalled, that is, in variety — and not in sheer numbers. Here are to be found at least six animals that are unique to the area. These are the reticulated giraffe, Grevy’s zebra, the Somali blue necked ostrich, the gerenuk and the Beisa oryx. Elephant, leopard, lion and cheetah are seen frequently and, although rhino are listed, it is doubtful that any remain as permanent residents. Birdlife is prolific, running to perhaps 500 species. Again, this beats the Mara hands down.
Perhaps key to the region’s success as a wildlife refuge is River Uaso Nyiro, which separates Buffalo Springs and Samburu reserves. It winds around Shaba and provides near year-round water for humans and animals.
From a trickle or less, it can, following heavy rains in the Aberdare or Nyahururu ranges, be a raging torrent, carrying all before it. Within weeks, however, it usually reverts to a gently flowing stream, so shallow for the most part that elephants can ford it pretty much where the fancy takes them. And crocodiles emerge from the muddy water to warm themselves on a convenient sand bar.
Try watching this idyllic scene while parked under the shade of an acacia tree. You will be transfixed by the beauty of it all. Once in Samburu reserve, you quickly get the sensation that civilisation has been left far away, so pristine and unspoiled is the landscape.
These days, there is a multitude of places to stay at, most of them strategically placed along the Uaso Nyiro river. For those who want to get even closer to nature, there are several camp sites with all the necessary amenities.
Choosing to indulge ourselves, we opted for the Samburu Game Lodge, one of two properties operated by Wilderness Lodges Limited in the reserve. Both properties have been recently refurbished and upgraded.
Searching for game
The rooms, in particular, have been tastefully done, as has the dining area. At other times, we enjoyed relaxing by the swimming pool, or meeting at the Crocodile Bar overhanging the river to partake of a sundowner and compare notes after a day’s searching for game on the hot savannah.
Whichever way you travel to Samburu, you might be lucky to be treated to a full-on view of Mt Kenya’s majestic, snow covered peaks, particularly early in the day before the warmth of the sun causes them to cloud over.
Surprisingly, very few people know when Kenya came by its name. Many believe this happened around the turn of the 19th century, in 1901 to be precise, the year the Uganda Railway finally reached Port Florence (present day Kisumu). But that is not so.
Dark rock and white snow
Although Uganda got its name in 1894, Kenya became a country in its own right only in 1920. Before then, it went by the undistinguished title of East Africa Protectorate.
The country’s name, of course, was taken from the mountain which, in Gikuyu, is Kirinyaga. In Kamba, it is Kii-nyaa. Both names refer to the black and white plumage of the male ostrich, redolent of the peak’s dark rock and white snow.
Seen from Nairobi, the mountain appears to consist of a single peak. But, in fact, there are two — one just a few metres higher than its twin.
The first correct entry to be drawn will win two nights for two at Samburu Game Lodge.