Samburu and the Mathews Range offer an outstanding wilderness and scenic experience in Northern Kenya.
Samburu is a relatively small reserve, but is continuous with two further protected areas, the Buffalo Springs Game Reserve and Shaba National Park, and some surrounding community lands offering low-impact tourism.
The reserves lie at an altitude of around 3000’ about 100 kms north of Mount Kenya, and have a typical semi-arid habitat comprising essentially of acacia bush thicket, doum palm groves, and riverine woodland opening out into patches of saltbush grasslands and seepages. The Ewaso Nyiro River is the region’s lifeline, and responsible for the large animal populations, especially elephant and leopard, viewings of which are excellent.
Other key game species encountered include Grevy’s zebra, Reticulated giraffe, Beisa oryx and the long necked gerenuk. The bird species are representative of the drier habitat, and include such delights at the vulturine guineafowl and golden breasted starling.
The people of the region include the colourful Samburu (cousins of the Maasai), the Sakuye, Ndorobo, Somali and Boran. The Samburu can often be seen on the borders of the reserves tending to their livestock.
Samburu and Buffalo Springs are very busy reserves, but the community lands to the north and west of the reserve offer greater exclusivity and more flexibility with activities.
Northern Kenya is dominated by arid desert and it is therefore quite a surprise to find lush riverine valleys and thick forested slopes in the heart of it all, but the Mathews Range is just that. Careful management of certain areas at the southern end of the range has created a huge growth in animal numbers, especially the elephants which have previously been victims of poaching.
A visit to the Mathews Range should not really be about game viewing (though the elephant and leopard viewing can be good, and rare species such as gerenuk and lesser kudu can be seen), but rather more about the wilderness experience, the magical scenery, exclusivity and relaxation, walking (unlimited), birding and the superb cultural interaction that can be enjoyed (including the famous ‘singing wells’). When people claim Kenya is ‘over-crowded’ with tourists, they clearly do not know about places such as the wonderful Namunyak Conservancy in the Mathews. In addition, the nearby Reteti Elephant Orphanage offers a fantastic and exclusive insight to the plight of orphaned elephants and is well worth a visit.
In the neighbouring Sera Conservancy a population of black rhino are carefully monitored and looked after, and it is possible to track these pre-historic beasts on foot through the harsh wilderness. This is one of only a few places in East Africa where this is possible, and easily the most wild environment in which to do it.