Bordering Lewa Wildlife Conservancy to the west, the 142km² Borana Ranch is a former settler farm that has evolved into a model of integrated sheep and cattle herding, wildlife management and adventure-safari tourism. Borana is home to some 300 elephants (including 12 radio-collared matriarchs), four prides of lions, hyenas and cheetahs and a maximum of 32 visiting humans on safari. If you’re one of the latter, you can see the stunning landscapes of the ranch from a 4×4, on foot, on horseback (they have a stable of 26 horses suitable for experienced riders, plus other ponies for novices and children) or on a mountain bike. The most recent arrivals at Borana are 19 black rhinos, translocated here in 2013 from neighboring Lewa, with which Borana has recently combined territories by eliminating the fence between the ranches.
The privately owned Solio Game Ranch lies in the grasslands between Mount Kenya and the Aberdare Range. This landholding, once on a key migration route for elephants, and later a cereal and cattle ranch, was a pioneer in saving the Kenyan black rhino from extinction, breeding them here for subsequent translocation into Kenya’s national parks and other reserves. More than 70 indigenous black rhino now live here, alongside more than 140 white rhinos. While the ranch has been here for decades, Solio Lodge is a modern addition – a slick and spectacular hotel-style set up of six huge cottages with panoramic windows, luxuriously appointed bathrooms and open fireplaces. One of the cottages is family- sized and faces a small waterhole. As well as game drives, with virtually guaranteed rhino sightings, you can walk, cycle or ride among the wildlife (the lodge has its own stables) and do trips into the nearby Aberdare and Mount Kenya national parks.
The wild and hilly 240km² Lekurruki Community Ranch is a superb part of Laikipia that acts as a migration corridor between the Samburu Reserve to the north and the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy and Mount Kenya to the south. The wildlife conservation charity, Tusk Trust, has provided more than 20 rangers to patrol the livestock-free areas of the ranch in which cattle are not grazed. Although wildlife at Lekurruki can be hard to spot, this is excellent country for walking, birdwatching and appreciating the wilderness. And if you’re interested in learning about the local Mokogodo Maasai community, you’ll be able to make uncontrived visits to local villages and community projects.
A wildlife sanctuary and working cattle ranch on the banks of the Ewaso Nyiro, El Karama (‘treasured possession’ in Arabic) was named for purely sentimental reasons by its owners, the Grant family, who still live on the ranch, manage their Sahiwal cattle herd – a breed that originated in Pakistan: this is the only herd in Kenya – and run the conservancy and El Karama Eco-Lodge. The wildlife here is excellent, and can be outstanding, with good numbers of plains grazers always in evidence, including the rare Grevy’s zebra and endangered Jackson’s hartebeest, as well as plenty of elephant, fine reticulated giraffe showing off their boldly patterned hides against the backdrop of Mount Kenya, and lions and other predators, including occasional sightings of wild dog packs. Bush walks are conducted here by a very experienced, armed guide.
The busiest of the Laikipia wildlife sanctuaries, its eastern border just a few miles from the highland town of Nanyuki, the former Lonrho cattle ranch of Ol Pejeta is now owned largely by the international NGO Fauna and Flora International and is run as a not-for-profit business. With its rolling short-grass plains with thickets of acacia woodland, the 365km² conservancy has big concentrations of mammals, including all the native plains game, especially black rhinos. Critically, however, it combines cutting-edge wildlife conservation work with running the world’s largest herd of Boran cattle, Africa’s best beef producer. At night, the cattle are herded into mobile ‘bomas’ – predator-proof compounds – and by day they graze the conservancy savannah, under the watchful eyes of their herders, stimulating new pasture growth for the wildlife in a balanced system that shows that, when carefully managed, livestock and wildlife can co-exist.
Part of Ol Pejeta, in the east, was formerly the Sweetwaters Rhino Sanctuary. This is now fully incorporated into the rest of the conservancy and it includes a special compound for a blind black rhino called Baraka, who acts as an icon for Ol Pejeta and is slowly being acclimatized to human company. The rest of Ol Pejeta’s 100-plus black rhinos are much less easily seen, deliberately tucking themselves into dense bush in order to browse. Much easier to spot are the conservancy’s 19 southern white rhinos, as they tank their way across the plains towards the next bit of succulent grazing.