SAMBURU, June 25 – When I left Nairobi at around 10am, I did not know that it would take us five hours to reach the Samburu National Reserve located on the banks of the Ewaso Nyiro.
I also did not know that this reserve characterised by a parched landscape of hills and plains some 350 kilometers from Nairobi, is situated in the heart of Kenya and not in North-Eastern Province as widely believed. Geographically, it is located in Samburu District of the Rift Valley Province.
"This reserve is actually in the centre of Kenya," quickly points out Samburu National reserve chief warden, Simon Leirana as we checked into the Samburu Sopa lodge.
"To be exact, if Kenya was a palm, then we are in the middle," interjects Fred Suiyanka, the Manager at the Lodge, who was queuing with Samburu dancers to welcome us to the facility.
The first thing I noticed on this safari is that the 165 km² reserve is less crowded than most Kenyan reserves maybe because it’s particularly not well-known.
We got here after passing Isiolo town and branching off at Archers post. The road has just been tarmacked and we are told that the government plans to tarmac the remaining 500km stretch to Moyale.
The reserve is rugged and a semi-desert, but you will notice that it is home to plenty of wild animals immediately you enter the KWS gate modeled like a Samburu manyatta.
Before we got here, we crossed the equator at Nanyuki three hours after leaving Nairobi.
In the northern hemisphere, we passed the snow capped Mt Kenya lying astrand the equator line and huge blue mountains serve as a back drop to this game reserve.
The environment at the reserve is enchanting. In the middle of the reserve, the Ewaso Nyiro flows through doum palm grooves and thick riverine forests that provides water without which the game in the reserve could not survive in the arid country.
But the river was the source of agony in March 4 this year after it burst its banks sweeping some lodges and destroying property worth millions of shillings.
But most of the hotels are now up and running.
"This was a rare spectacle, scores of tourists on holiday and staff sought refuge in trees until the water subsided,” said our tour guide cum-driver.
Across the river is the Buffalo Springs National Reserve. A bridge that connects the two is now called the ‘table bridge’ after the raging floods swept ground around it. Nearby is the swampy wilderness of the Shaba National Reserve.
The Samburu game reserve is renowned for its rare species of animals that can only be found in this park, like the long necked Gerenuk, Gravy’s Zebra, Reticulated Giraffe, and the Beisa Oryx.
The leopard is a frequent visitor in this park and most evenings it pays a courtesy call to the lodge’s guests as it feeds on some bite on a tree across the river.
The park has wide variety of animal and bird life and can turn even the most reluctant guest in to an avid bird watcher. With over 350 species of bird life, the reserve is considered by Ornithologists as a bird viewing paradise.
These include Somali Ostrich, Grey-Headed Kingfisher, Sunbird, Bee-eater, Marabou Stork, Tawny Eagle, Bateleur, Vulturine Guineafowl, Lilac-Breasted Roller, Palm Nut Vulture, Red-Billed Hornbill, Secretary Bird, Verreaux’s Eagle, Superb Starling, Yellow-Billed Hornbill and Vultures.
The abundant variety of animal life here includes several species considered distinct to the region, including its unique dry-country animal life: All three big cats, Lion, Cheetah and Leopard, can be found here, as well as Elephants, Buffalos and Hippos.
"The only animal that we don’t have is the rhino, which was annihilated by poachers some years ago," says Mr Leirana.
Other mammals frequently seen in the park include Gerenuk, Grant’s Gazelle, Kirk’s Dik-dik, Impala, Waterbuck, Giraffe and Nile crocodile.
In the evenings, you can watch the gigantic crocodiles fight over big chunks of meat as they are fed by the lodge staff at the riverbanks or as they get out of the river to relax. This is a great photo session opportunity as you sip cocktails and watch the African sunset in orange flame sky.
The Samburu National Reserve was one of the two areas in which conservationists George Adamson and Joy Adamson raised Elsa the Lioness made famous in the bestselling book and award winning movie Born Free.
The reserve is also the home of Kamunyak, a lioness famous for adopting oryx calves.
I’m also told that if I thought the five-hour drive was time consuming, next time I should consider taking a flight, which takes approximately 45minutes.