Samburu: The Elephant Experience

Kenyan wildlife reserve offers unique safari experience.

ByABC News
September 25, 2009, 12:51 PM

SAMBURU, Kenya, Sept. 26, 2009— -- Kenya is famous for its wildlife parks -- seeing the big five and the great migration in the Masai Mara, rhinos at Nakuru, flamingos on lake Navaisha. But the intrepid safari-goer who wants a wildlife adventure off the beaten track, should head to Northern Kenya and the Samburu National Reserve.

Samburu, along with the neighboring reserves of Buffalo Springs and Shaba, is located roughly midway between Kenya's capital city of Nairobi and Ethiopia. Unlike most of Kenya's more famous parks, the reserve is made up of desert terrain. It's hot, dry and mountainous.

There are the requisite lions, leopards, and cape buffalo found at nearly all of Kenya's parks, but Samburu has something special.

"The uniqueness is we have rare species of wildlife you only find north of the equator," Simon Leirana, the chief warden of the Samburu National Reserve told ABC News.

The most famous and rare animal tourists come to see is the Grevy Zebra. On the endangered species list, these zebras have finer, closer-set stripes than other zebras, as well as exceptionally large ears. They are the largest of all zebra races, and are closely related to the wild donkey. According to the Africa Wildlife Foundation, because of habitat destruction and poaching for their unique skin, there are less than 2,500 left in the world.

Grevy Zebras can only be found in Northern Kenya and Southern Ethiopia, with the largest population living in Samburu. You can spot hundreds of them in just one-day's game drive as they gallop in herds across the vast dusty open fields.

Other animals unique to Northern Kenya include: the Somali Ostrich, the largest living bird at an average of height of eight feet, distinctive from other ostrichs because of its blue grey long neck; the besia oryx; and the reticulated giraffe, originating in Somalia and having large geometric, deep brown spots.

While elephants are by no means unique to Samburu the reserve does have one of the highest populations in Kenya. Oria Douglas-Hamilton runs Elephant Watch, an eco-friendly luxury camp devoted to tracking and watching the 66 elephant families living in around Samburu.