Laikipia is a stark, arid wilderness in northern Kenya that’s home to the Big Five and healthy populations of African wild dog, reticulated giraffe, Grévy’s zebra and sitatunga antelope. One of Kenya’s best safari experiences, a Laikipia safari, in this elemental environment, puts you in touch with an ancient African landscape unblemished by humans.
We’d come to northern Kenya for a Laikipia safari. Set against the backdrop of Mount Kenya and the Matthews Range, Laikipia Plateau’s stark, mottled landscape is utterly beguiling, and one of Africa’s great Big Five wilderness areas.
We were woken early at one of Kenya’s best safari lodges. Warm clothes a steaming mug of coffee and we were good to go. We climbed aboard the open 4×4 and set off into the wilds, thrilled at the expectation of sightings to come. An elemental landscape unfolded before us in shades of gold and brown. We wended our way across semi-arid plains, along river banks, through dramatic gorges and over hills covered in acacia thickets.
On board our vehicle we had a guide and a local spotter. Laikipia boasts some of the best guides in Kenya … and our two hosts were no exception. They were from a neighbouring community and had been guiding here for many years. They knew the flora, palaeontology and history, and had an intimate knowledge of the rhino, cheetah and lion families that frequent this beautiful place.
‘Laikipia Plateau extends over 950,000ha,’ said our guide, Roger. ‘That’s roughly the size of Wales. It’s a patchwork of privately-owned ranches, wildlife conservancies and small-scale farms that have become one of the most important areas for biodiversity in the country. Because these are concessions, we can also offer quad biking, camel rides, night drives and walking safaris.
‘Our area boasts wildlife densities second only to the Masai Mara, and it’s the last refuge of Kenya’s African wild dog. Laikipia is also home to more than half of Kenya’s rhino population. It’s here that some of the most effective conservation work in the country is being done.’
On we drove into the rugged landscape, negotiating rough terrain. Our vehicle was amazing. It had features specifically designed for our comfort and for photography (my passion) – open sided with three rows of seats, photographic equipment stands, and charging sockets.
The strict limits on tourism numbers in this part of Laikipia meant that we effectively had a private game-viewing experience. The drive was outstanding, with plentiful rhino, elephant and buffalo sightings. We also came upon a herd of rare Grévy’s zebras (Laikipia is home to the largest concentration of Grévy’s in the world) and I took some great shots. On one occasion, we managed to drive right up to a pride of recumbent lions. What’s more, almost all our sightings had beautiful, snow-capped Mount Kenya as backdrop – fabulous for my photos.
The highlight of our Laikipia safari occurred as Roger was driving us back to camp. Rounding a bend, we came upon them quite suddenly: African wild dog! They were curled up under bushes having a snooze. The pack of 12, half of them still young’uns, watched us inquisitively.
Then they stood up, stretched, and took off at a canter. They leapt as one over a little ravine, an acrobatic sight of grace and wonder that quite took our breaths away. Within moments they’d disappeared into the underbrush. So entranced had I been, that I’d forgotten to take a photo.