To the north-east of the Great Rift Valley, and north-west of snow-capped Mount Kenya, the high plains of Laikipia are increasingly recognized as one of Kenya’s best safari regions, challenging the Maasai Mara for overall safari experience, if not for raw numbers of animals. You won’t need to escape from the crowds here: in an area not far off the size of Wales, there’s plenty of room for a few safari visitors.
Between Mount Kenya and the northern deserts, these high rangelands spread out between north-flowing streams and rivers, which flow throughout most of the year into the Ewaso Nyiro, northern Kenya’s greatest river.
Formerly a patchwork of huge ranches, and still an important livestock district, Laikipia is now where some of Kenya’s most encouraging conservation success stories are unfolding. The environment here is managed to protect the wildlife, to promote a personal and small-scale approach to adventurous and often luxurious safari tourism, and to generate an income for the local Samburu and Ilaikipiak and Mokogodo Maasai communities.
Laikipia harbors a wealth of endangered species, including roughly half of Kenya’s 600-odd black rhinos. As browsers rather than grazers, black rhinos do well in the same environment as cattle as long as the bush isn’t cleared. Also on the increase in Laikipia are wild dogs, with several packs here and good chances of seeing them: Laikipia is now their second most important range in Africa. Spotting Grevy’s zebras –the handsome, radar-eared, fine-striped species – is almost a certainty, as a quarter of Africa’s remaining population lives in Laikipia. You can find most of Kenya’s more common wildlife in Laikipia, too, as well as more than 2,000 elephants, which migrate between the slopes of Mount Kenya, the Laikipia safari conservancies and the Samburu region.
The animals in Laikipia, especially the rarer species, tend to be closely managed, with predators often radio-collared in order to track them, and wildlife rangers monitoring individual rhinos, keeping an eye on them day and night. While this might strike you as unnatural, it’s hard to argue with the results – better understanding of animal movements, behavior and population trends, and even occasional opportunities for visitors to be directly involved in wildlife conservation activities.
The efficiently managed Lewa Wildlife Conservancy protects more than 65 black and more than 50 white rhinos as well as around 350 Grevy’s zebra and a population of the rare sitatunga, a semi-aquatic antelope more usually seen in central Africa (though recent reports suggest that the conservancy’s big cats may have annihilated them). One of the oldest of the Laikipia conservancies, Lewa includes the rolling grasslands of Lewa Downs, and a mixture of riverine woodland, scrubby bush and open plains – an excellent range of environments for a very wide variety of game.
If you’re a runner, you might want to know about the Lewa Marathon, run on the conservancy every June to raise funds for conservation and development. You could combine a safari with running with the wildlife, along with more then than 1,000 other entrants from Kenya and around the world.