Samburu, Buffalo Springs and Shaba National Reserves
Samburu National Reserve lies 325 km north of Nairobi in the hot and arid fringes of the vast northern region of Kenya. The Reserve is within the lands of the colourful Samburu people, close relatives of the Maasai, and harbours a number of wildlife species rarely found elsewhere in any numbers. These include Grevy's zebra, the reticulated giraffe, and the Beisa oryx, all species found only north of the equator. The long-necked gerenuk is a graceful antelope which spends much of its time in a bi-pedal stance seeking succulence among the withered scrub which dots this harsh terrain. Scenically and faunally dramatic, for most of the year Samburu is sere under the unsympathetic equatorial sun. But relief comes from the wide swathe of the Ewaso Ngiro River , which rises some hundreds of kilometres to the west on the foothills of the Aberdares and which vanishes beyond Samburu in the recesses of the Lorian swamp.

The river is at its best in the Reserve, broad and sluggish with a large population of crocodile seen on sandbanks at almost every bend. In the lower reaches, where permanent pools have formed as a tributary joins the river, are hippo. The river is fringed with giant acacias, figs, and doum palms, all of which provide shade and sustenance to the wildlife which comes to water. Elephant roam the gaunt hills which punctuate the scrubland and where occasional clusters of the vividly coloured desert rose challenge the arid surroundings. These elephant seek solace and contentment in the shallow waters of the river and from time to time a visitor finds herds bathing and drinking in a spectacle of unconscious pleasure.

Buffalo Springs National Reserve

Buffalo Springs National Reserve is separated from the Samburu Reserve by the river; less hilly and less dense than its neighbour it is equally as attractive. The Reserve takes its name from an oasis of limpid crystal clear water at the western end of the sanctuary. In addition to the wildlife found in Samburu, the common zebra is also an attraction often marching with its cousin the Grevy, although they do not interbreed. An unexplained phenomenon is why the common zebra is not found on the north side of the river. Birdlife, too, is prolific with the Somali ostrich dominating the plains. Larger than its southern relative the Maasai ostrich, it is more easily distinguished by its indigo legs and neck. Next in size is the kori bustard who stands a metre high. His behavior is unpredictable, at times running or crouching at the first sign of danger and at others completely fearless of humans. The male has a remarkable display inflating his neck and neck feathers until the head seems to disappear then raising his tail until it lies along his back.

Shaba National Reserve

These two reserves, with Shaba which lies east of the road linking Isiolo with Marsabit, form a trio of unusual and attractive game sanctuaries very different from others in Kenya. Shaba has a particular place in the history of Kenya game conservation for it was in this reserve that the authoress, Joy Adamson, was murdered early in 1980, her trilogy of books on the rehabilitation of the compliant leopard to a wild environment unfinished. The reserve takes its name from a massive cone of volcanic rock which dominates the region and evidence of the intensity of its upheaval is demonstrated by the formidable lava flow which the traveler has to cross to reach the reserve and the lodge. The Reserve's northern boundary is marked by the wide, sauntering motion of the Ewaso Ngiro on its way to Chanler's Falls and beyond to its final destination at the Lorian Sw& the tall doum palms which mark its course in silent contrast to the rugged and pitted tracts which make up much of the sanctuary. Many small hills dot the landscape and with four springs Shaba is better watered than its neighbors.

Heavy downpours during the rainy months may render the already rough tracks accessible only for four-wheel drive vehicles. But this only serves to make the 220 sq km reserve even more of a getaway delight. And that is the essence of Shaba. It is a place for the connoisseur, where the quality of the experience exceeds the quantity of wildlife.

Special thanks to the Kenya Association of Tour Operators for helping GORP develop Kenya parks information.

Published: 28 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 23 Oct 2012
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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