Ol Pejeta’s biggest project of recent years was its northern white rhino breeding programmed. The northern white rhino is a distinct sub-species of white rhino, and the last two individuals in the world (sadly, both females) live here in a closely guarded 30km² sanctuary. It was hoped they would form the nucleus of a breeding group from which Ol Pejeta can select for northern traits and thus steadily preserve the characteristics of the northern sub-species. But the death of the last male, Sudan, in 2018, means that the only hope now is for an IVF programmed using frozen DNA.
Most of the rhinos at Ol Pejeta have had their horns trimmed to reduce their value to poachers, but with rhino horn now worth up to $50,000 or more per kilo, the danger of poaching is critical: when you are on safari at Ol Pejeta, you are constantly aware of conservation issues and the huge stakes involved.
Ol Pejeta’s 1km² chimpanzee sanctuary is a welfare refuge for more than 40 confiscated pet chimps and orphans of the bush meat trade from several central African countries, notably Burundi. They live in two troops, separated by the Ewaso Nyiro River, and lead lives of relative freedom in their extensive, fenced enclosures, despite being prevented from breeding and being fed market fruit and vegetables rather than foraging for food. Visits, to the outside of the fence, are organised twice a day.
The 100km² Sosian Ranch is another of Laikipia’s mixed ranching and conservation areas, where they manage a herd of 700 Boran cattle alongside a wide range of wildlife, including large herds of elephants, reticulated giraffes and hippos and good numbers of predators, including wild dogs. The ranch works with its neighbour, Mpala Ranch, on predator research, particularly focusing on the wild dog packs that roam Laikipia. At Sosian, wild dogs can often be seen relatively easily, using radio-tracking equipment to track the collared individuals.
Preeminent among the traditional pastoral and wildlife areas north of Lewa is the Il Ngwesi Conservancy, a 145km² group ranch between the Mukogodo Escarpment and the Ngare Ndare River. It’s home to the 6000-strong Laikipiak Maasai community, who traditionally herd their livestock through this wild bush country. With the building of Il Ngwesi Eco-Lodge in 1996, they now combine their pastoral lifestyle with income generated by tourism and conservation. When it opened, Il Ngwesi Eco-Lodge was Kenya’s first community-run safari lodge. Operated on strict environmental principles, this delightful, six-cottage property, set on a stony, bush-covered hilltop, is entirely staffed and managed by people from the local community. Short game drives are available as morning and evening (and after-dark) activities but the main thrill here is walking through the bush and along the dry river beds, accompanied by guides and armed rangers.
With the meandering Ewaso Narok flowing along its northern boundary, Ol Doinyo Lemboro Ranch covers more than 80km² of rough and bushy grazing land, pimpled with rocky kopjes. The largely roadless ranch is now mostly devoted to wildlife conservation and open to visitors who stay at the single, small, environmentally friendly Laikipia Wilderness safari camp. The wildlife here is diverse: it’s good leopard country, has plentiful grazers and is home to hundreds of elephants. The region swarms with dik-diks and these form the main diet of the two wild dog packs that roam the area and are a highlight for visitors. Since 2012, both packs have denned on Ol Doinyo Lemboro.