A change of scenery was in order so Mr Nomad and I, along with a couple of close friends, embarked upon a trip to discover what Samburu had to offer. We had heard wonderful stories of stunning landscapes and an abundance of animal and bird life so we booked into Samburu Game Lodge which can be found within Samburu National Reserve. Samburu National Reserve can be found at the south eastern corner of Samburu District in the Rift Valley Province of Kenya and was only a few hours drive from home. The Game Lodge where we were to stay can be found on the banks of the Ewaso Nyiro river and it is as a result of the lush vegetation along this river that there is a large concentration of wildlife.
What was of particular interest to us was that Samburu is famed for an abundance of rare species including the Grevy’s Zebra, Somali Ostrich, Reticulated giraffe, Gerenuk and Beisa Oryx. There was apparently, over 900 elephants to be found and an expansive number of large predators including lions, leopard and cheetah. The area is also known for a large population of Nile crocodiles. Rhinoceros can no longer be found in Samburu having been heavily poached.
The drive into Samburu National Reserve itself was wonderful. The semi-arid landscape was rugged in its beauty and we were lucky enough to see lots of elephants. I lost count at 20 of these enormous creatures which admittedly, were easy to spot as they had clearly been frolicking in the mud and had a red tinge to their hide.
Upon our arrival at Samburu Game Lodge, we were greeted warmly by the staff with a welcome drink and warm face towels drenched with eucalyptus and we were shown to our accommodation. Our accommodation was excellent – a river side cottage with stunning views up and down the river.
The cottage was rustic and charming and frequented by Vervet monkey’s and the odd baboon also made an appearance. The monkeys only added to the charm of the place.
There were also many lizards that joined us, including a large monitor lizard. A small gecko inhabited the bathroom which was more than welcome and certainly kept the insects at bay. The restaurant had a seating area outside it known as Crocodile Bar and we were informed by the staff that at approximately 7.00pm each day, the crocodiles would slither in from the river and rest below the veranda and the staff would quietly feed them!
We wasted no time after lunch going out into the reserve for a game drive to see what we could see and it was not disappointing. The statements of ‘abundance of wild life’ were true and we were lucky enough to see the rare Grevy’s Zebra, reticulated giraffe, Oryx, numerous gazelle and impala and even cheetah and lions! A male lion with a lioness, and what appeared to be 3 juvenile lions (we presumed them to be the cubs)! We witnessed 4 cheetahs feasting on a fresh kill, possibly an Oryx.
There were Dik Dik in plentiful numbers, along with the odd warthog.
There was plenty of bird life too, with huge eagles casting a shadow as they soared above us and the smaller but brightly coloured king fishers and starlings, and hornbills to name only a few. It was truly breath taking.
We returned to the Game Lodge for dinner that evening to be greeted by crocodiles. This really was a sight to behold – huge ancient beasts simply resting and lazing around for all to see. They were silent and slow, seemingly lethargic and some times verging on catatonic but they snapped into action when the chef tossed them a cow bone! The effortless crunching of the bones was a stark reminder of how deadly this ultimate killing machine could be. It was fascinating watching them, even when they were not eating and they simply reverted to doing absolutely nothing.
At dinner, we were joined by a couple of Genet cats. These beautiful cats precariously came down a tree next to where the crocodiles were resting and were just as curious as domestic cats. Mr Nomad tried his best to stroke one, but they were timid and shy. They had lightening reactions and were able to steal a bread roll but it was impossible to touch them. I strongly suspected Mr Nomad would get a ‘telling off’ by them if he attempted to touch one any way.
The second day of our stay was just as epic as the first and our drive into the bush again revealed many wonderful animals and birds. This time, we saw a Gerenuk in addition to all of the wonderful creatures we had already seen.
The Vervet monkeys were everywhere along with the Dik Dik, impala, gazelle, waterbuck, Grevys Zebra and there were many reticulated giraffe.
We failed to spot the lions that day but we did see the rather large paw prints of the male lion.
Our attempts to track the lion proved fruitless but we were still ecstatic that we had seen so many lions only the previous day.
Disappointingly, we had yet to see a leopard although they are notoriously difficult to spot owing to their elusive nature. We again saw the crocodiles although this time, they were basking along the banks of the river nowhere near to the Game Lodge itself.
Following an afternoon by the pool catching some rays, (whilst Mr Nomad enjoyed a rather strenuous deep tissue massage), we were about to embark on another trip into the bush to attempt to find the elusive leopard, when we were stopped in our tracks by the sound of gun fire. We had booked a guide to accompany us but he refused to come with us and recommended we did not leave the game lodge. The staff explained to us that there was a gun fight going on between rival tribes over cattle rustling and there was a very real danger that we could get caught in the cross fire! This was very worrying but surreal! The gun fire was loud and sounding closer to us by the minute so we took the advice on board and stayed in the game lodge, taking shelter in the bar.
The Samburu people are a sub-tribe of the Maasai and are semi-nomadic pastoralists who herd cattle, sheep, goats and camels. In this instance, the dispute was over cattle and from where we were sat, we could see the herds of cattle being driven rapidly over the plains, their cow bells clanking furiously as they hurried along and there was dramatic gun fire all the way. The staff who seemed to be standing guard over us explained that the conflict was with the Turkana people. Turkana people are native to Turkana county and they too, are semi-nomadic pastoralists. The region they come from borders upon Lake Turkana in the east, Pokot, Rendille and Samburu people to the south, with Uganda to the west and South Sudan and Ethiopia to the north. Apparently such conflict is a regular occurrence, and armed conflict had escalated in recent times centred on declining pastures for ever increasing cattle herd sizes. There was also armed conflict centred on the very fact that both sides were literally starving following severe droughts but again, because there is more cattle than the range lands can support. In this instance, we were informed that the Turkana people had stolen 2 cows from the Samburu people, and the Samburu people had retaliated by recovering those 2 cows but by stealing a further 600 cows using violence and force.
Whilst taking in these stories being regaled to us about the rival tribes, many of the fighting warriors were crossing the river only a stone’s throw from where we were sat. We watched them wide eyed as they took time out of the battle to drink from the river, using their machine guns to lean on while they took a breath… than they were off again, running down the river banks to catch up with their adversaries, and the gun fire would rain down once more.
Once this furore had calmed, we were preparing to go for dinner and darkness was seeping in and we heard very loud squawking and screeching from the Vervet moneys in a tree across the river. Somebody spotted the outline of a leopard on the other side of the river and the monkeys were the early detection system! The crocodiles which had been slowly snaking their way up the river about turned and swam rapidly to the shore and in spectacular fashion, a crocodile launched itself out of the water to attack the leopard who had been sneaking to the water’s edge for a drink! What a moment! It was too dark and too rapid a movement to snap a photograph but we could not quite believe what we had just witnessed! The leopard had the same lightening reactions as the Genet cat and had avoided being the crocodiles dinner and it lived to see another day. We felt truly honoured to witness such events and could only explain our trip to Samburu Game Lodge as magical. Every moment was exhilarating and each day brought a new adventure.