The Kenya Safari Heritage

A Look Into the Kenya Safari Heritage


Sala's Camp Mara - A Look into Kenya Safari Heritage
Sala’s Camp, Masai Mara Game Reserve, Kenya. Courtest of SA Lodges

Brief Overview of the Kenya Safari

It’s no secret that Kenya safaris are among the sought holidays, and it certainly has enormous wildlife resources. Kenya has no less than 50 National Parks and Reserves which cover about 11% of her land surface area. Within this protected areas are a grand arena to experience some of the wildest safari still left on our planet, with unquestionably astounding wildlife displays. The sharp contrast in Kenya’s ecological gamut is, without doubt, responsible for the variety in scale and range. Safari as we know it now took some form of organizational frame in 1946 with the establishment of Nairobi National Park, Kenya’s first. The general concept of Game Parks in Kenya resonated with that signed on August 25, 1916, by President Woodrow Wilson that led to the creation and protection of the 35 National Parks in the United States of America. Closer to home, National Parks were officially designated as areas set aside for conservation in perpetuity, and which farming, livestock keeping and human residence are barred. The concept was embraced with as much gusto as was hotel investments. Emboldened, the Government agencies as well as devoted non-government organizations began the forbidding task of protecting wildlife after almost 150 years of wanton big game hunting, ivory trading and the most brutal acts against wildlife in the history of Kenya. Of a more recent development, the concept of private wildlife conservancies kicked the campaign a notch up bringing to the forefront unlikely heroes and brilliant visionaries. Moreover, only 35% of Kenya’s wildlife is found within nationally protected areas, with almost 40% in privately protected areas. The famous Kenya safari mix is a complex one, with many setbacks and pitfalls, and although the situation is not where many expect, the progress has been A1, momentous and extraordinary, in a turnaround that has earned global acclaim.

A Look into Kenya Safari Heritage

Eccentrics of the Kenya Safari

The difference between a National Park and a National Reserve is historical and somewhat obscure today. Before 1976, when there were two bodies responsible for wildlife conservation in Kenya – the Game Department and the Trustees of National Parks – a Park or National Reserve could be proclaimed to protect a locale of faunal interest. However such a designation did not preclude human activities or residence. They were called Park or National Reserve depending on which body looked after them – Game Department or National Parks. Just to confuse the matter a bit further, there were nature sanctuaries within the forest reserve system which were looked after by the Forest Department. The Wildlife Management Act of 1976 sought to bring all these institutions, other than those under the Forest Department (now Kenya Forest Service) under one authority. Just before his death the late David Sheldrick stated that Meru National Park was the best run in the country. This was also a warm tribute to the warden of the time – Peter Jenkins – who had converted it from a ramshackle reserve into a park Kenya would be proud of. Sheldrick, the first warden of the Tsavo Parks, had taken up office at a time of wanton poaching. He estimated that there were more than 1300 men in the Tsavo Parks illegally hunting. Ultimately, big game plummeted fast that it prompted his intervention and intensified Government’s effort to stop poaching. At Kora National Reserve, George Adamson set up base in the 1970’s at a time when it was raged by a wave of poaching. Adamson, one of the great eccentric conservationists Kenya has yet been blessed with, lived his twilight years here, freeing lions back to the wild and rehabilitating the Reserve.

SAFARI in Kenya (at Tsavo East National Park) by Kubson Production

Status of Wildlife in Kenya

The extent of national conservation strategies necessary to conserve vulnerable wildlife species in Kenya will be hard to square with the alarming rate wildlife is diminishing globally, in a planet on the brink of overload. 107, the number of animal species in Kenya which are classified as threatened species. Of these: 55 are classified as vulnerable; 34 as endangered; and 16 as critically endangered. The destruction was swift. 20000, the number of black rhinos in the 1970’s in comparison to today’s 900 – with only 300 white rhinos left in the wild. 15000 the number of lions in the wild in 1990’s: Today only 2000 exist with 100 dying yearly. 167,000 the estimated number of elephants in the 1970’s. Today, in part thanks to determined conservation efforts, an estimated 31000 exist in the wild.

Much less widely reported were results of studies by Dr Joseph Ogutu and colleagues at International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), which reveal that Kenya’s wildlife numbers are plummeting. Some of our most treasured animals, such as hirola, rhinos, cheetah, lions, and giraffe, are being pushed to the brink of extinction.


History of Wildlife Conservation in Kenya

For the past 27 years, steps forward in nurturing Kenya safari have taken place since the debut of Kenya Wildlife Service in 1990. None, though, has been taken in a time of scaled loss of wildlife and habitats. The next leap in conservation of wildlife looks set to change that. All the probable solutions to the self-inflicted mess requires a significantly new approach, not least because of international concerns, but locals actively want greater conservation efforts that would bring them appreciably closer to the glory days as ‘the paramount safari country’. The past year’s near continuous human-animal conflict has done little to reduce the risk of extinction of vulnerable species, which continues to rise with the wanton slaughtering of lions, spotted hyenas, elephants, among others. The risk shows no signs of receding before the turn of the new decade. After that we may be grappling with a run-away extinction of Kenya safaris and celebrated wildlife. Conservationists for example warn that, if little changes, lions could be extinct in Kenya in just 20 years and in less time for the black rhino and spotted hyena.

The Consensus on Wildlife Management in Kenya

A consensus is slowly emerging that, if the prospect facing wildlife in Kenya is to be averted or weathered, there should be greater level of integration in the conservation efforts, with tighter constraints on the slaughter of animals. Some countries, in the same situation, have tiredly worked to put in place sustainable approaches. South Africa and Botswana have had, responding to a similar crisis and in large part to sustain a thriving tourist market, embarked on country-led approaches to manage wildlife. The ‘Conservation and Management Forum for Lions and Spotted Hyenas’ headed by Kenya Wildlife Service quotes an official who points his finger on one of the spot of the problem facing large carnivores in Kenya: “The growing competition for space with an ever increasing human population, persecution by pastoral communities and farmers living close to them, reduction in wild prey base, and land-use changes constitute the threats”.

A Look into Kenya Safari Heritage

Threats to Safari & Wildlife in Kenya

The oldest problem facing wildlife in Kenya is a dark craft, which fanned by the fashionable society and a lucrative Asian market for animal bones, tusks, hides and sometimes teeth, warrants no introduction here. Another weighty problem facing wildlife is human population growth, which has encroached into wildlife domains, reducing the range for wild herbivores and carnivores. Kenya’s native large carnivore species – lion, leopard, cheetah, wild dog, spotted and striped hyenas – have been expatriated from at least 62% of their historical range. In Nairobi, as an example, the growing economy has expedited a distressing influx into the city and more and more settlements are developing around the Nairobi National Park. Among the more recent concerns is the building of a railway line across Nairobi National Park and the immense pressure by hotels to build as close to the wildlife as possible. We are yet to foresee the outcome of the bloom.

The Wildlife Conservation Deficit

The conservation deficit in Kenya’s wildlife is hardly new. The first Government deliberately shirked it, in favour of infrastructure development. And having just emerged from the colonial era, the priorities were to augment an economy that would allay the dark continent image and place Kenya prominently on the map. Thanks to the decisive interventions of the second government, anti-poaching laws were enforced and the Kenya Wildlife Services was established under CAP 376, to conserve and manage wildlife in Kenya. Still less chargeable, the Kenyan conservationist efforts incorporated many less direct approaches from the start. Poaching persisted as the number one threat. Now that the crisis had struck, all the deemed responses to the conservation efforts had now been found wanting. Scores of local and international conservation institutions working tirelessly to conserve and manage Kenya’s wildlife quite frequently felt hardhearted, and the wildlife marginalized. The conservation game is complex. First of all, the zones outside the demarcated government reserves are not party to some legislation, making them prime war grounds. Further, the compensation package devised by Kenya Wildlife Services erodes even further its ability to control the fate of wildlife. Crucially, anthropogenic activity has had significant effects on Kenya’s wildlife as land changes use and humans occupy areas once roamed by wildlife.


A Different Approach to Kenya safari

If the Kenya safaris are to survive, it will likely be done by impinging on current conservation efforts yet further. Conservation output is hard to sell. Majority of the people involved in the human-animal conflict consider it a crisis they didn’t create, and conservation efforts they don’t want. And as nothing but heaven is impregnable to vice, it unavoidably happens, that in as much effort is put in by wildlife conservation bodies, a small dark part of our society lured by the black market will be orchestrating schemes to poach the vulnerable species. And what of the Kenyan parliament? It has, if anything, widened the deficit it is meant to make up. It has increased its powers, and salaries with every new government; but it has done little in the wildlife conservation fight, considering safaris are a key income earner. In the county governments and in the national government alike, frustration with the parliament has been growing. It is almost always in favour of more spending and new regulation. Any justification that this is what voters want is thwarted by the fact that the voters show ever less interest in it – voter absenteeism has risen steadily with every passing election and generation. If a more tightly knit conservation strategy is the refuge, then there is hardly a shortage of ideas about what to do. The most obvious is to ensure that wildlife stays within their ecological functional reserves using interventions that require minimal management: to limit the extent of human encroachment to territories demarcated for wildlife. Another possibility is to establish conservation zones around the demarcated reserves which will boost conservation efforts, specially for the large carnivores. The constraints on settlement need not imply common rules on spending. Each county should institute new mechanisms for the local people to receive benefits from hosting, protecting, and showcasing the wildlife.


7 Successful Wildlife Conservancies in Kenya

The conservancy concept has evolved in Africa over the last 30 years and has spread fast. Conservancies in Kenya are regarded as a way of involving local communities with wildlife conservation. The purpose of a conservancy is not the same as a nationally protected reserve like a park and they do not replace these areas, instead they complement them. Conservancies provide a range of local values, including clarifying and firming up local land tenure over pasture and grazing areas, improving security through networks of community scouts and communications infrastructure and law enforcement bodies, and providing a legal structure for communities to enter into third-party joint ventures with tourism investors in order to generate revenue from wildlife. Conservancies in Kenya are represented Kenya Wildlife Conservancies Association “who work with landowners and communities to sustainably conserve and manage wildlife and their habitat outside formal protected areas to perpetuate Kenya’s heritage

1. Solio Game Reserve

Solio Game Reserve. Image Courtesy of African Safaris - A Look into Kenya Safari Heritage

More popular as Solio Ranch, the 300 km2 privately-run Solio Game Reserve began in 1970 by Courtland Parfet is notable as the first conservancy in Kenya dedicated to the preservation of the endangered rhinos. Up until now, it’s still an indispensable forte in many rhino conservation projects, and its success in breeding rhinos and providing a safe habitat for them to thrive is a highlight of Kenya’s conservation efforts. Callers to the inter-territorial Solio Ranch, shared by Nyeri and Laikipia Counties, can enjoy uninterrupted open-top game views of the prolific wildlife with the option of self drive or guided tours. “The wildlife experience at Solio is intense and exclusive with 19,000 acres of conservancy surrounded by 45,000 acres of ranch and just one lodge” – Safari Collection. A trip through the elaborate network of roads around Solio Ranch would not be complete without visiting the rhino sanctuary and the bespoke Solio Lodge. The main gate is located 22 kms from Nyeri, along the B5 Nyeri to Nyahururu Road.

2. Lewa Wildlife Conservancy

Lewa Wildlife Conservancy. Image courtesy of Ndege News - A Look into Kenya Safari Heritage

24 kms from Meru Town en route Nanyuki the B6 Embu-Meru Road meets A2 Nanyuki-Meru Road on an approach which would cut across Lewa Conservancy and Ngare Ndare moving forward. Lewa Conservancy, which stretches across north from the intersection lining-up with the A2 Road as its eastern limit and bound in the north by Leparua Community Conservancy in Isiolo County, was begun in 1983 as Ngare Sergoii Rhino Sanctuary and reestablished in 1995 as Lewa Wildlife Conservancy. Its far-reaching wildlife conservation projects have anted-up the complex game of endangered wildlife bouncing back and a second chance to thrive. A multi-award recipient for its conservation model, inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2013 and featured on the IUCN Green List of successful protected areas, Lewa is the nexus of conservation and sustainable tourism in Northern Kenya and their working model has provided a framework used widely in the region. Today, the 250 km2 Lewa Wildlife Conservancy, that is contiguous with Ngare Ndare Forest Reserve in the south, is home to 11% of Kenya’s rhinos and the world’s largest bevy of Grevy’s zebra. 70 other species of mammals including elephant, lion, giraffe, leopard and buffalo also roam freely here. Almost 50,000 people directly benefit from Lewa’s projects in education, health, water management, infrastructure upgrades, micro-enterprise projects, improved security and much more. Lewa is home to five luxury lodges – Craig’s House, Sirikoi House, Kifaru House, Lewa Wilderness and Lewa Safari Camp. In addition, travellers can enjoy three additional accommodation options at the adjoined Borana Conservancy: Borana Lodge, Laragai House and Arijiju Lodge.

3. Ol Pejeta Conservancy

Ol Pejeta Wildlife Conservancy - A Look into Kenya Safari Heritage

Dubbed “the Best Western” owing to a subtle resemblance of a classic western movie scene, the obscurity of Nanyuki has always been fascinating. Spatially, it marks the northeast gateway into Nyeri County and conversely as a gateway to Northern Kenya. Nanyuki is also the main jump-off to the ranches of Laikipia. World-famous as a model for conservation of wildlife in Kenya, the 360 km2 Ol Pejeta Conservancy, located west of Nanyuki Town, boasts the largest sanctuary for the endangered black rhino in East Africa. Ol Pejeta Conservancy burst into international fame as the home to the last remaining “Northern White Rhino” in the wild, indelibly named as Sudan. In addition to the 100 plus rhinos which thrive in Ol Pejeta Conservancy, it hosts all members of Africa’s high-minded big five – lion, buffalo, leopard, elephant and Cape buffalo – which represent safari royalty. Then, there’s their Chimpanzee Sanctuary which is the only place in Kenya where these rare primates can be sighted. On the whole, close to 1,000 mammals coexist in Ol Pejeta Conservancy handily spotted on wildlife tracking tours. It is located 22 kms west of Nanyuki along C76 Nanyuki-Rumuruti Road. Launched in 1988 on 24,000-acres within Ol Pejeta Conservancy, Sweet Waters Tented Camp is one of its eight accommodation options; the other seven are: Ol Pejeta House, Ol Pejeta Bush Cottages, Ol Pejeta Bush Camp, Porini Rhino Camp, The Stables, Pelican House and Kicheche Laikipia Camp.  Sweet Waters Tented Camp is consisted of 50 beautifully-appointed safari-style bandas that overlook a large watering-hole where considerable wildlife gathers throughout the day to recharge. Aside from relishing these views, travellers to Sweet Waters Tented Camp may take part in one of sundry enriching adventures centered around nature and wildlife. For those who fancy adventure extraordinaire, Ol Pejeta offers private air excursions around Laikipia, and the Northern Frontier.

4. Ol Jogi Conservancy

Ol Jogi Wildlife Conservancy | authentic-africa - A Look into Kenya Safari Heritage

Some of Laikipia’s greatest attraction today are found in the middle of Laikipia Plateau in award-winning safari properties. They are unique in that they cater, luxuriously, for the wealthy travellers. The 58,000-acres privately-run Ol Jogi Wildlife Conservancy, set dead-center on the plateau (with Sosian Ranch to the west, Ol Lentille Conservancy to the north, Mukogodo Forest and Il Ngwesi to the east, and Ol Pejeta Conservancy to the south) is hailed as one of the most remarkable private wildlife conservancies in Africa, epitomizing Laikipia as the most enliven wilderness in Kenya. Booked onliest by families and friends with deep pockets, it offers a wildlife experience on fleek perhaps like no other. The lodge and house are set on the side of an isolated hillock, above mile upon mile of savanna, and boasts of a paradisal pool, a chain of ornamental lakes, riverine drifts of Ewaso Nyiro River, and such facilities as riding, air safaris to Suguta Valley and superb garden greens. The top of the hill is an easy-to-reach beyond-money vantage point to sight the dramatic scenery interspersed with wondrous kopjes, which is easily combined with look-sees of its private animal orphanage (hosting the only bear in Kenya), walking with baboons tour, touring the Twala Cultural Centre and open-top game drive. Ol Jogi is rented on exclusive terms and accommodates a maximum of 14 guests. It’s found about 48 kms north of Nanyuki via Nanyuki-Ol Jogi Road. It is also reachable via small charter planes.

5. Namunyak Conservancy

Reteti Elephant Sanctuary in Namunyak Conservancy. Image courtesy of Ami Vitale - A Look into Kenya Safari Heritage

The intrepid who decides to travel up into Northern Kenya – it is 223 kms from Archer’s Post to Marsabit – now travels on tarmac all the way through some of Kenya’s most beautiful scenery. Also unique to the stretch of road from Archer’s Post to Merille, 104 kms, is that it cuts through two protected areas: Namunyak Conservancy (west) and Sera Conservancy (east); redolent of the surpassing 60 kms stretch of road along the A104 between Mtito Andei and Manyani that cuts through Tsavo East National Park. Founded in 1996, the 3,440 km2 Namunyak Conservancy is comprised of six Samburu Group Ranches that joined hands to better manage land and provide a safe range for wildlife to thrive. Namunyak, meaning ‘blessed’ in Samburu, is notable as the first community conservancy established in Northern Kenya and which has grown into a treasure trove for safari enthusiasts who can explore its rare and uncatalogued floral diversity and the outstanding wildlife displays. Likewise, Namunyak serves as a vital wildlife refuge for varied species and is home to plentiful populations of giraffe, gerenuk antelope, leopard, African wild dogs, impala, lion, greater kudu and elephant. Equally stirring are the landmarks and formations: Mount Ololokwe, Mathews Mountain Range and Kitich Forest. It is also home to Sarara Camp and Kitich Camp. Namunyak Trust HQ is about 80 kms northwest of Archer’s Post, via A2.

6. Sera Conservancy

Inside Sera Conservancy. Image courtesy of Asilia Africa  - A Look into Kenya Safari Heritage

More proper Sera Wildlife Trust, the 3,450 km2 Sera Conservancy arrays the largest widlife conservation area in Northern Kenya. Its western border runs astride the A2 Isiolo-Archer’s Post-Merille Road for 104 kms from Archer’s Post until Merille Town; extending about 30 kms at its widest easterly towards Merti and Barata. It was established in 2001 under Northern Rangelands Trust with the aim of bringing together three historically rival ethnic groups and to foster conservation and sustainable use of resources in their traditional lands. Unique to Sera Conservancy is that it is the only place in Eastern Africa where visitors can actively track the black rhino on foot, and is the only sanctuary in Eastern Africa to operate a sanctuary principally dedicated to the vital conservation of the endangered black rhinos. Despite its size, Sera Conservancy has real beauty about it, with plenty of mind-blowing landforms. The landscape is typified by a mix of bush and grassland with a few forest patches teeming with respectable wildlife. It is also well watered. Some of its perennial streams including Kisima Hamsini, Lenkolii, Lerigrig, Lontopi and Lchoro losowan. Other water sources include boreholes, hand pumps and shallow wells at Kapai, Chapulo, Lesura, Losesia, Laresoro, Lbaa Lolparuai, Sereolipi lugga, Kauro, Naitolai, Lenkaya, Lantana and Turgung. In recent times, the discovery of a ‘Rock Gong’ and ‘Rock Painting’ at Kisima Hamsini, mused to be a few thousand years old, highlighted its historic importance. Its HQs office is located about 47 north of Archer’s Post.

7. Oserengoni Wildlife Conservancy

Oserengoni Wildlife Conservancy  - A Look into Kenya Safari Heritage

Formerly known as the Oserian Ranch, the 18,000-acres private sanctuary and adventure site has for years focused on extenuating the age-old human-wildlife conflicts in Lake Naivasha Ecosystem. Oserengoni Wildlife Sanctuary works to guard and conserve endangered wildlife through sustainable programs centered on preserving and perpetuating a natural balance.It has two luxury properties – Chui Lodge and Kiangazi House. The wildlife sanctuary surrounding Chui Lodge was created in the mid 1990’s with the sole purpose of giving the resident wildlife a place of safety and refuge. Over 18,000-acres is girded by an electric fence, as much to keep illegal cattle grazers out as it is to keep the wildlife from straying into the nearby farmlands. Within the sanctuary and game corridors there are over 50 mammal species, that include, leopard, topi, zebra, serval cat, impala, warthog, and lesser galago. All year round, there are over 400 species of birds that thrive in the different ecosystems. On the other hand, Kiangazi House offers pretty views of the Great Rift Valley and the shimmering Lakes Oloiden and Naivasha. Kiangazi House is located 5 kms from Elsamere Nature Reserve.

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