North of Laikipia, the hot, dry, relatively low country (around 800m above sea level) that heralds Kenya’s vast northern deserts and semi-deserts is the traditional homeland of the Samburu people, who were drawn to this region by the reliability of the Ewaso Nyiro, northern Kenya’s biggest and least seasonal river, for watering their herds. The wildlife is plentiful here for the same reason – dozens of species of plains grazers and browsers gathering in the thick acacia and doum palm forest along the river banks to drink and seek shade.
Focusing on the river banks and a few kilometers of dry bush on either side, the Samburu National Reserve is one of a pair of much loved reserves in northern Kenya, the other half being the Buffalo Springs National Reserve, on the south side of the river. Downstream, on the right bank and across the highway, lies the less well-known, Shaba National Reserve, with its gaunt scenery.
The Ewaso Nyiro and its tributaries flow north through Laikipia from the Aberdare range and Mount Kenya in the central highlands, and the main river then elbows east through a series of ravines, before tumbling out onto the sandy plains of the Samburu ecosystem and then meandering into the semi-desert beyond where it finishes in a vast seasonal marsh, the Lorian swamp. Although the river is almost perennial, it sometimes dries up in January or February.