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Kelly Encounters Black Leopard and Wild Dogs in Kenya

Kenya has long been regarded as the birthplace of safari and it is arguably one of the best wildlife destinations on the continent. My recent visit to the country not only reaffirmed this for me, but it also served to remind me of how much else Kenya has to offer. This is a destination that you can return to again and again, the sheer diversity of experience on offer is astounding, it doesn’t matter if this is your first safari, or your tenth, Kenya will have something to delight you.

I started with a night in Nairobi having caught the British Airways daytime flight from London. This was quite nice as the following morning I felt refreshed and excited to start my safari. I caught the early flight from Wilson Airport up to the Laikipia Region, this was my first visit to the area and I was really looking forward to seeing it. Laikipia is a huge tract of wilderness running from Mount Kenya in the east to the Great Rift Valley in the west, comprising a mixture of private ranches, game sanctuaries and community lands. It offers an incredible range of activities, and a visit here is more about exploring the wilderness than traditional game viewing, though that can be good here too as I was about to find out. My first stop was Loisaba in the north of the region, where within five minutes of arriving I saw Grevy’s zebra and reticulated giraffe, both of which are endangered species and are not widespread in terms of habitat.

From Loisaba I moved across to neighbouring Ol Malo. This is a stunning area where the focus is very much about getting out and enjoying the wilderness. Ol Malo is essentially a beautiful playground, with activities including horse and camel riding, river tubing and mountain biking, game driving, cultural visits, helicopter trips to Lake Turkana, sleepouts and more!

My last stop in this part of Laikipia was Laikipia Wilderness Camp overlooking the Ewaso River on a private ranch. In recent years the whole Laikipia region has risen to fame as being one of very few places in the world where black leopards have been spotted. To date it is believed that five black leopards are present in the area, and one is being regularly seen near this camp. I was staying only one night… surely I couldn’t be that lucky? But I was! I had the most phenomenal sighting of a very relaxed female black leopard and even saw her interacting with a male ‘regular’ leopard.

The following morning, I was still on cloud nine and had planned a walk with my guide (something the camp is well known for), but as we were about to head out, we heard that the resident pack of wild dogs had just crossed into the area, after an absence of a few months. Wild dogs are one of my all-time favourite sightings (probably now tied with black leopards), so we shot off in the vehicle in search of them. We found the whole pack of 22 dogs (including eight puppies) all happy and healthy and had the privilege of spending the next few hours with them. Suffice to say I honestly cannot remember a more fantastic 24 hours than I had here; it was simply incredible.

From here I travelled further south for my final few nights in the Laikipia Region, to the Ol Pejeta and Lewa Conservancies. Here the scenery changes once again and the focus becomes a little more on game viewing. These conservancies are a great place to see both black and white rhinos, which we did in abundance, and I was lucky enough to see cheetah here too which is a less regular occurrence.

The next stop on my journey was the Masai Mara where I spent six nights travelling through the Greater Mara Conservancies. I visited Naboisho, Olare Motorogi and Mara North conservancies which all lived up to the Mara’s reputation for excellent cat sightings. I saw a huge number of lions, three leopards and even two cheetah. Another highlight for me was a really good sighting of a bat eared fox, a creature that is usually very elusive. I also spent a highly amusing 30 minutes watching some very curious hyena cubs wreak havoc amongst the adults. A trip to the Mara is never going to be disappointing as the wildlife densities are just so good, and this combined with the sheer quality of the guiding makes for a very memorable stay. I did also venture into the main reserve, where my game viewing continued to be good, but it was noticeably busier. This is where the conservancies really come into their own. They are Masai owned and there is no fencing between them and the main reserve, so the wildlife moves freely. The benefit is that they are not open to the public, and you therefore get a much quieter and more exclusive experience.

A safari in Kenya is very often followed by a stay on the Kenyan Coast making the perfect combination; the exhilaration of a safari followed by a few days relaxing on the beach. So, after what was quite an action packed 12 nights, I headed east for some sun, sea and sand. There are direct flights from the Mara over to the coast (though you may stop at a few airstrips along the way), so it’s a relatively easy connection. I chose to spend a couple of nights on the southern part of the coast that incorporates both Galu beach and Diani beach. This is a really lovely area characterized by white sands and crystal-clear waters, with a surprisingly good choice of accommodation options. Whether you prefer something small and down to earth, something very private and luxurious or just a decent large resort, there’s likely to be something to suit. The other benefit is that in comparison to other nearby beach destinations like Zanzibar, staying within Kenya will offer you far better value for money.

Including Laikipia, the Masai Mara and the Kenyan Coast in an itinerary strikes the perfect balance between adventure, wildlife and relaxation, and would have broad appeal to both families and couples or solo travellers. It is very much a winning combination!

Kelly stayed at Tamarind Tree Hotel, Ol Malo, Laikipia Wilderness, Kicheche Laikipia, Lewa Wilderness, Kicheche Valley, Encounter Mara, Kicheche Bush, Offbeat Mara, Kicheche Mara, Serian the Original, Kichwa Tembo, Pinewood Beach Resort and Kinondo Kwetu.

Kelly visited Elewana Loisaba Tented Camp, Elewana Loisaba Star Beds, Elewana Loisaba Lodo Springs, Sosian, Ol Pejeta Safari Cottages, Lewa House, Lewa Safari Camp, Kifaru House, Hemingways Ol Seki Mara, Mara Nyika Camp, Mahali Mzuri, Mara Plains, Mara Toto, Mara Expedition Camp, Elewana Elephant Pepper Camp, Ngare Serian, Serian’s Kimya Kimya, Karen Blixen Camp, Little Governor’s Camp, Governor’s Main Camp, Olonana, andBeyond Bateleur Camp, Msambweni House, Asha Boutique Hotel, The Maji Beach Boutique Hotel, Alfajiri Villas, Waterlovers Beach Resort, Swahili Beach Resort, The Sands at Nomad and Almanara.