elephant safari

The Wonders of Samburu

After eighteen frustrating months of coronavirus sequestration, the SDS team ventured out in October and November for an extended safari through most of Kenya’s better-known national parks.   Each was unique and superb in its way, with wide variations in landscapes, habitat and even wildlife.  Kenya is an astonishing country for so many reasons, not the least of which is its incomparable ecological diversity.  That’s why each reserve we visited merits its own blog entry.  I’ll do these in conformance with our itinerary, which began in the arid region well north of Nairobi at Samburu National Park. 

Samburu is reliably lovely and fascinating regardless of the travel season, and its birds and wildlife are among the most rich and varied in all of Africa.  We stayed at the Elephant Bedroom Camp, which is nestled in a stand of doum palm trees and perched on the gently sloping banks of the Ewaso River.  The camp has earned its reputation as a place where close encounters with wild animals, particularly the biggest, grayest and most wrinkled ones, are fairly commonplace.  We were graced with visits from Samburu’s giants on a daily basis, but these occurrences always took place on peaceful if not downright friendly terms.  On more than one occasion we were routed around huge bull elephants on the footpaths to our tents, and at lunch one day we hosted the intimidating fellow the locals affectionately refer to as “Obama.”    He strolled quietly through the dining area without disrupting our meal before easing his way out of our camp.  This proximity to elephants is the most appealing of Elephant Bedroom Camp’s many virtues.

The team arrived at Samburu in hopes of seeing some of the wildlife that is unique to East Africa’s desert country.  The subspecies on this list includes the Somali ostrich, Grevy’s zebra, reticulated giraffe, Beisa oryx, vulturine guineafowl and the gerenuk.  Samburu is also exceptional leopard habitat, so we were naturally optimistic from the outset that we’d have quality sightings of these elusive cats.  We were lucky on every count. 

On our first morning game drive we crossed paths with a female leopard draped across the branch of dead tree, resting comfortably but calling intermittently for her cub.  We were able to photograph her descent to the rocks below as she continued her search through an ancient lava bed.  By day’s end, she’d located the youngster and we were able to photograph her again, this time at sunset under the canopy of a tree with the cub in full view.  On the same game drive we were also fortunate to see the vulturine guineafowl, a uniquely colorful bird … much more beautiful than its more common relative —  the helmeted version.

Mother leopard in search of her cub
Vulturine Guineafowl

The gerenuk is a striking example of the evolutionary power of nature.  It most resembles an impala in shape and color, but over the eons it has developed an elongated neck which is essential to its ability to reach vegetation well above the desert floor.  Unlike other antelopes, it stands upright on its hind legs to access its food.  It is commonly seen at Samburu, and we caught a glimpse almost every day.  We would see the gerenuk again a few weeks later in the semi-desert country around Tsavo West National Park.

The gerenuk … an evolutionary marvel.

The first sighting of the reticulated giraffe always stuns the first-time visitor to Samburu.  In shape and size it is very much like all giraffe subspecies, but its tile-like pattern distinguishes it from the rest.  And the deep burnished red coloring defies description.  This extraordinary animal would make the trek to Samburu worthwhile even if there were no other species in the reserve.  Unfortunately, its range is confined to the Samburu/Laikipia region and it is officially considered endangered.

The most beautiful of all giraffe subspecies.

The elephants at Samburu are also remarkable.  They are walking tributes to adaptability and perseverance, and they seem to thrive in this dry and difficult environment.  For now, the population appears to be healthy … and you are liable to encounter them at any time on a game drive, particularly on those trails that parallel the Ewaso River.  The austere landscapes make haunting and beautiful backdrops for photographing them in the early morning light when they make their trek toward the Ewaso.

Trekking to the Ewaso.

For these reasons and many others, Samburu ranks highly on our list of favorite African reserves.  It was the perfect place to begin an epic safari.

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