Samburu Reserve

The remote location of the three adjoining game reserves of Samburu, Buffalo Springs and Shaba make them some of the least visited in Kenya. Being uncrowded also makes them among the most pleasant of the parks to visit. The three parks are often treated as one - not least by the wildlife itself. Situated in the hot and arid north, formerly known as the Northern Frontier District, with daytime temperatures reaching up to 40oC between January and October the land is baked a reddish brown for most of the year.

The Samburu National reserve has as its backdrop the great table mountain Ololokwe. Vegetation is limited to a narrow stretch of doum palms tamarind and some woodland bordering the Ewaso Ng'iro River. Away from this is hot dusty scrubland and acacia woodland. Termite mounds and weaver bird nests are common Samburu sights. Some mammals are well adapted to this desolate landscape and are rarely seen in less harsh climes. The rare Grevy's zebra, Beisa Oryx and reticulated giraffe are among these. Crocodile and hippo dwell in the river. The long necked gerenuk or 'giraffe necked antelope' as it's also known, can often be seen on its hind legs seeking food from desiccated bushes. Leopards are rarely seen, birdlife however proliferates with large flocks of guinea fowl drinking from the riverbanks in the afternoon. One downpour can turn the normally brown baked land green overnight.

A daily highlight of the area's dry season is the visits to watering holes called 'Sarara Singing Wells' by Samburu warriers. The warriors descend into the holes which can be up to 10m deep. They then pass water hand to hand up to the waiting cattle while chanting their traditional Samburu songs. Buffalo Springs is linked to Samburu to the south by a bridge crossing the Ewaso Ng'iro which was built in 1964. It shares much of the same wildlife as Samburu but intriguingly is also home to the common zebra not found just over the bridge on the north side of the river. A crater in the park was created by some misjudged bombing by an Italian pilot in the Second World War. It has since become a clear water pool and is apparently safe to swim in.

The 3rd and largest of the 3 linked reserves is Shaba National Reserve (246 sq km). The park is names after the sandstone Mount Shaba which lies partially within the reserve and 5000 years ago oozed lava down the Nyambeni Hills. With 4 springs Shaba is ironically better watered than Buffalo Springs or Samburu. Heavy rainfall can make the tracks only suitable for 4 wheel drive vehicles which adds to its reputation of exclusivity for many travellers seeking a 'genuine' Kenyan experience. Heavy poaching has made the local wildlife shy although it is still possible to see elephant, cheetah, waterbuck and leopard as well as the mammals which are adapted for the harsher conditions of the north as seen in the Samburu Reserve.