A Samburu safari in puts you in touch with the arid, wild north of Kenya. Take a game drive in this elemental wilderness and come face to face with the rare Samburu Special Five: beisa oryx, reticulated giraffe, Grevy’s zebra, gerenuk antelope and Somali ostrich.
We’d come to the arid home of the Samburu people. This part of northern Kenya is stark and soulful, a vision of ancient, untrammelled Africa.
Our first game drive in this magnificent landscape was breathtaking and set the tone for the rest of our Samburu safari. We woke in Moroccan-style accommodation and stepped out onto the verandah. The stunning view took in the Laikipia Plateau and jagged peak of Mount Kenya, rising out of the mist.
We set off soon after dawn, driving into a land bathed in salmon light. Wide, arid vistas opened up before us. Our vehicle was a comfortable Land Rover, customized to give us maximum visibility of the landscape and its creatures.
‘This reserve is famous for the Samburu Special Five,’ said Chris, our local guide. ‘They are the beisa oryx, reticulated giraffe, Grevy’s zebra, gerenuk antelope and Somali ostrich. We’ll try to find them all for you in the coming days.’
Chris knew the land and its animals intimately; he knew the weather and the roads (or how to get around where there were no roads), the people and the natural elements. Chris was born in a local Samburu village and he grew up surrounded by nature. The landscape became his classroom while plants and animals were the focus of his studies and his teachers. Being on safari with a Samburu professional guide, like Chris, meant that we not only encountered more animals, but we learnt how to read the book of nature through his eyes.
I’m passionate about birds and the reserve didn’t disappoint. Not only was there an abundance of species (more than 450 have been recorded), but the Samburu birds seemed relatively tame and could be easily spotted and photographed. Chris was a birdwatcher by instinct and by training, and shared his love of twitching with us. Within an hour of setting off, I’d already ticked off two species of vulture, three species of kingfisher, marabou stork, bateleur and a Somali ostrich, the first of our Samburu Special Five.
Mid-morning we came to a wide, muddy river. The Ewaso Ngiro, which slices through this otherwise bone-dry country, is the dominate feature of the reserve. The river acts as a magnet to thirsty animals. While we parked patiently on the bank, a herd of Grevy’s zebra and a reticulated giraffe came down to drink. Then a large and boisterous group of elephant arrived to splash about in the shallows.
Chris took us on a little walk along the bank. Being on foot allowed us to feel, touch and smell the trees, bushes, rocks … and even the animal droppings. Through Chris, we learnt how Samburu use various berries and leaves for medicines and the like.
The highlight of that day’s Samburu safari came on the way back to camp. Chris suddenly switched off the engine and allowed the vehicle to glide to a stop. Without a word, he pointed to a nearby tree. There, draped on a branch, was a large male leopard, a sinuous thing of spots and grace and untold beauty. Wow!