The days for the Nomadic Family Unit in Kenya are fast running out so Mr Nomad and I are attempting to have as many last minute adventures as is possible in our remaining time and a weekend at Laikipia Wilderness was another wonderful example of what Kenya has to offer, and just what we will miss.
Laikipia is the county within which we live in northern Kenya so this stunning location was on our doorstep and with a tough and rugged 4×4 vehicle, it is easily accessible if you can make your way through the African bush where there is no tarmac, where the wilderness is truly wild. This is of course, if there has been no deluge of precipitation from the rainy season which transforms the red mud roads and black cotton soil into slippery quagmires.
We ventured up to Laikipia Wilderness on a particularly dry weekend so the dust was choking, along with the searing heat from an ever-intense sun. The countryside was spectacular as we trundled along, taking in the wild life as we travelled although in the mid-day heat, the animals were sheltering in the shade so spotting them was difficult. We did see many impala and dik dik, along with zebra as they mooched around in the scorched grass, feasting on the tundra in the knowledge that predators would be resting from the heat until the temperature dropped later on.
There was also plenty of vulterine guinea fowl scuttling around like vintage buxom ladies lifting their bustle as they flitted about. Guinea fowl do not appear to be the brightest of birds and I liken them to a pheasant, although Kenyan in descent, as they run from the grunting sounds of the car completely panic stricken and often, suicidally darting in front of the car.
Our arrival at Laikipia Wilderness was announced by the resident dogs and we were greeted by numerous members of staff who fussed around us and showed us to our accommodation. This authentic safari camp can be found nestled in the hill side above the Ewaso Narok river and overlooks the millions of acres which make up an epic and unique landscape. We were offered coffee and cake and after such refreshment, we climbed to the very top of the mountainous hill to rest a little on an enormous swinging sofa. This was fantastic as it offered an amazing view point allowing us to take in a stunning vista of the vast rolling plains of what seemed like the entire county of Laikipia. We certainly got the feeling of being on top of the world!
These views were unrivalled and awe inspiring and after clambering down, we set off on a game drive out into the bush to see what wild life we could spot.
Laikipia is famed for its abundance of mammals and big game, and this particular location is renowned for a healthy Wild African Dog population and even, a melanistic leopard, or black leopard. African wild dogs, also known as painted dogs are one creature that we have yet to spot in Kenya. Their population was decimated in 2017 when there was an outbreak of canine distemper but since this time, they have bounced back and their packs are growing in numbers. We were informed they hadn’t been seen in the area for a while but we were always hopeful. One of these such dogs has been collared for research purposes and our guides who accompanied us brought the tracking device with them, but we were to learn that this does not make it any easier to find any wild life.
The very rare Black leopard has been sighted in this immediate area on numerous occasions but Mr Nomad and I have long since accepted that leopard are simply too elusive to be spotted so the chances of seeing such an exquisite creature were slim to none. That said, it is an absolute joy to know that these animals do exist, that they are not just some camp fire legend or fable and are thriving in the shadows.
Laikipia Wilderness is a camp which can be found quite literally in the wilderness, in the middle of nowhere and is rather isolated from any other forms of civilisation which has largely been able to allow the wild life to remain free from human disturbance. The camp has an aversion to all things plastic and is run as environmentally friendly as is possible.
Our tent was rustic and the bathroom ‘open air’ which lends itself to feeling at one with nature, although we did still have a flushing toilet which in the bush, really is a luxury. The lack of light pollution from nowhere-near-us urban conurbations made for some rather epic star gazing with an intensely clear sky.
Within the first half an hour of our first game drive, a magnificent leopard was spotted by our guide, Francis. We were accompanied by a driver and guide, Stephen, a guide or tracker by the name of Simon and Francis acting as a ‘spotter.’ We were astounded. We had not had much luck in spotting these elusive creatures in recent times and I had no idea how Francis had seen this flighty creature as it bounded away from us through the long scorched grass but what a find! We were rendered speechless and watched this majestic cat as it scurried through the bush, attempting to sneak its way through without being noticed. The car circled slowly around the dense brush and we watched avidly but then made our way off to allow the leopard to go about its business without becoming distressed at our presence.
We spotted plenty of elephants and giraffes as the vehicle rambled around, and we saw impala, gazelle, zebra both common (or Burchell’s zebra) and the endangered Grevy’s zebra, black backed jackals and once more, plenty of guinea fowl. We were amazed at just how much wild life there was around us and we were ever grateful that it come out to play for us. We also glimpsed a fair few bat-eared foxes which was a lovely sight.
Attempts were made to track the wild dogs and even, lions but these furry critters remained unseen by us on this evening. That said, we were still buzzing at the sighting of the leopard.
Whilst we had not seen any lions on this game drive, we certainly heard them through the night, their roars echoing across the valleys as we tried to get some sleep. They sounded close by to the camp and such noises along with the chattering of the hyenas, the vibratory humming of the insects, the chirping of the crickets and the throaty throbbing from frogs and toads reminded us that we were very much close to nature and the sounds of the African bush were most definitely something that we would both miss when we leave Kenya.
The following day saw us take a swim in the mighty Ewaso Narok river. There had not been much rain of late so the water levels were much reduced and the waterfall which would normally have been crashing down around us into a large naturally formed pool was non-existent. This did not stop Mr Nomad leaping from the towering rocks into the river and we enjoyed a splash around in the warm water, trying to avoid the baking heat of the day.
We had a delightful bush lunch and then continued on our journey, snaking through the foliage along the banks of the river and to our amusement, came across a pod of hippo’s basking in the water only around 100 metres or so from where we ourselves had been swimming! There were around 10 of these giant creatures and we were thrilled to be able to see them. We kept our distance from them though as they are notoriously aggressive and in fact, kill more people every year than lions. They had initially been basking on the river banks, lolling around in the sun but then launched themselves into the water upon our approach.
Late afternoon saw us venturing back out into the bush for yet another game drive. Mr Nomad and I cannot get enough of this amazing environment and all it has to offer so we grasp every opportunity to get out and take in the stunning sights. The landscape itself is fabulous and with the presence of the wild life, it really is second to none.
We had been in the vehicle for no more than half an hour when Francis, our trusty spotter saw yet another leopard. This time, a kill had literally just been made so the lucky leopard sloped off with an impala in its jaws. We were amazed! The leopard was eager to escape from us and galloped off at high speed not leaving any footprints in its wake, although the drag marks from the dead impala were clear to see in the baked earth so as we saw the leopaord seemingly disappear, we realised it had hidden the kill in the bushes until our threat (as it perceived us to be!) was averted.
We were given permission to seize this moment to mount our Trail Cam at the kill sight, to see if we could capture images of this majestic cat retrieving its dinner. This was incredibly precarious as the leopard would not want to leave the meal for too long to be snaffled by other predators so it would have been waiting literally only metres from where Mr Nomad alighted the vehicle to hurriedly mount the Trail Cam whilst guarded by Stephen and his trusty panga (machete) with Francis frantically assisting in finding a suitable branch to mount the camera.
Simon waited in the car with me and forbade me from exiting the car as the threat posed by a hungry leopard was not one to be sniffed at. To say our guides were nervous was an understatement and in fact, the car was turned back on so the engine noises would deter the leopard from stalking us!
The Trail cam mounted, we set off again to leave the leopard to collect its food and we travelled into the bush to see if we could spy any other animals. We were to return to collect the trail cam later, knowing the leopard would be only minutes from collecting its kill.
We were once again lucky to spot various creatures including a herd of elephants tending to their babies, having been to the river for a drink, and we saw plenty of giraffe. In fact, giraffes were plentiful and we felt as if we had seen ALL of the giraffe.
We carried on past the elephants and as we sauntered along, we could see a huge herd of buffaloes on the other side of the river. Just as our eyes were drawn to the buffalo, another leopard was spotted. We actually thought the guide, Simon, was joking with us because we had been saying that we hadn’t seen that many leopards in Kenya to date but to our utter surprise, this was no joke and we were speechless to see yet another of these gloriously beautiful big cats flitting up the river bank, weaving its way through the curious and nervous buffaloes.
To say Mr Nomad and I were astounded may well be an understatement! Three leopard sightings in only two days was unbelievable! The beauty of these animals cannot be overstated and we were transfixed as we watched the leopard make its getaway.
As we switched our attention to the buffalo who seemed to be extra nervous, we then saw dik dik fleeing and it dawned on us that in the absence of the leopard, the prey animals were still acting nervously so after turning the car towards the bush, we saw a huge hyena relaxing in the grass. We couldn’t believe our luck! The hyena then gathered itself and wandered out to cross the river, closely followed by two other hyenas! No wonder the buffaloes and the dik dik were more skittish than normal.
This had been a fabulous day and the wild life had come out to play for us, notwithstanding that those African wild dogs still eluded us. And we could barely contain our excitement when returning to the Trail Cam a couple of hours later to see what it would reveal.
And reveal it did. Mr Nomad had, in his careful placement of the said camera, managed to capture footage of the leopard returning to the bush to collect its hidden prize. This was truly an unforgettable moment. We also witnessed in the same footage a curious hyena coming to the bush to sniff the spot where the dead impala had laid, but it was too late to the party to share in the bounty. We were overjoyed at seeing this!
It is such a rarity to see a leopard but to see one with a kill, then hiding that kill, then collecting it was a treat which we had never witnessed before. We were humbled by this event and this was yet another arm-pinching moment. Even the guides who worked in this wilderness every single day and had accompanied us were thrilled to see such a sight, and their enthusiasm for nature was contagious. We were buzzing and this magic had alleviated our disappointment at being unable to locate the wild dogs that simply could not be found.
The leopard sightings had more than made up for this and Mr Nomad and I consider ourselves to be incredibly lucky and privileged to have witnessed all of the amazing things that we have come across in this epic environment.
The vista offered from a swinging sofa perched at the top of a hill had been superb, offering stunning views over the never ending plains of Laikipia and the abundance of wild life had made this safari rather special and unforgettable.