Steve Mitchell visits the Samburu National Reserve and tells us about the Samburu Special Five, the vastly different terrain of the region, the sacred mountain and the Samburu people.
Meeting Samburu’s Famous Five
Kenya’s diversity is astonishing, with landscapes that simply take your breath away: the vast savannah plains of the Mara, the flamingo colonies in the Great Rift Valley lakes, Laikipia’s imposing Mount Kenya and the lovely Indian Ocean coastline.
A world away from the Mara, we flew to Kenya’s famed far north and onwards to Samburu.
From the moment of touchdown at Kalama airstrip, there is no mistaking the arid, semi-desert terrain that greets you: the air is dry, and the soil a deep crimson, shimmering with shades of ochre. This is a different country from the soft long grass of the Mara, and we were particularly taken by the profusion of weavers’ nests, and the abundance of Dik-diks, tiny antelope that mate for life and are always found in pairs.
For wildlife aficionados, the Samburu National Reserve offers an opportunity to see animals that thrive in this stark but beautiful habitat, and in particular the quintet labeled as the Samburu Special Five: Somali Ostrich, Grevy’s Zebra, Reticulated Giraffe, Beisa Oryx and the elegant Gerenuk.
Whilst we were lucky to experience some great sightings of the traditional Big Five including a family of lions, a herd of elephants coming down to the river to bathe and a young leopard with a fresh kill, it was Samburu’s special residents which kept us engaged: marveling at the specially adapted neck of the Gerenuk, dazzled by the ultra thin stripes of the Grevy’s, and in hot pursuit of a Somali Ostrich, which proved to be the most elusive of all.
Presided over by Mount Ololokwe, a sacred mountain visited by journeymen who come here to pray for rain and healthy cattle, this region offers a gentle introduction to Kenya’s northern frontier and the culture of the Samburu, said to be closely related to the Maasai. Their traditional way of life is well preserved, and as we sat in a dry riverbed at sunset and treated to song and dance surrounded by a hundred lanterns, our lasting impression was not the place nor the animals, but rather the pride and generosity of the Samburu people.
Fast Facts: The Samburu National Reserve
- The Reserve is bordered by the Ewaso Ng’iro River (‘the river of brown or muddy water’) – the lifeline of the Reserve
- On the far side is the Buffalo Springs National Reserve
- The park is 350 km north of Nairobi and covers 165 km/sq
- This Reserve was one of the two areas in which renowned conservationists George and Joy Adamson raised Elsa the Lioness made famous in the best selling book and award winning movie Born Free
- The Samburu National Reserve is also home of Kamunyak, the lioness made famous for adopting oryx calves
Note from the Editor: One of the great joys of owning a lodge means we are always warmly welcomed pretty much everywhere – lucky us. Steve & Ali were hosted for the weekend at Saruni Samburu, designed and built by Angama Mara’s master builder, Mark Glen. This lovely lodge perches on the edge of a rock face boasting endless views over the Reserve.