It is situated on the banks of the Ewaso Ng’iro River, which, running from the glaciers of majestic Mount Kenya, supplies water for wildlife all year round! It is this reliable water source that first attracted the herders, now known as the Samburu people, to the region. The Samburu remain here today and it is a privilege for travellers to observe their ways of life, similar to yet distinct from the culture of the Maasai.
Along the river banks, there is abundant acacia forest in addition to groves of doum palm, providing both food and shade. Otherwise, the reserve is sandy savanna that yields long grasses during the rains in April and November. The same is true of nearby Buffalo Springs Reserve, 131 sq. km on the Ewaso Ng’iro’s south side. Both Samburu and Buffalo Springs can get quite busy, so to avoid the crowds we tend to recommend staying in areas bordering the main reserve. Samburu and Buffalo Springs are accessible from Shaba National Reserve, Kalama Conservancy and West Gate Conservancy. Each of these areas is well worth a visit, ideal for a bit of time out from the busier regions!
Of all the animals in Samburu and Buffalo Springs, the reserves are most famous for their own Big Five – Grevy’s zebra, with their smart pin-stripe pattern; gerenuk, of the impressively stretchy neck; Beisa oryx, with pointed horns and distinctive markings; reticulated giraffe, clad in attractive coats; and Somali ostrich, a feathery delight. Of the traditional Big Five, rhino have fallen prey to poachers, but there are plenty of lion and leopard, and buffalo, plus ample elephant – in fact, elephant are the most dominant mammal here, with approximately 900 individuals in resident at last count! And it is possible to get up and close-ish to them, for the ultimate elephant experience.
Indeed, Samburu is home to the Douglas-Hamilton family, elephant researchers – Saba Douglas-Hamilton and her father Iain presented the BBC documentary series The Secret Life of Elephants in 2009. Today, Saba directs the family’s own property, Elephant Watch Camp.
There are cheetah too in Samburu and Buffalo Springs, though these big cats are fairly rare, as well as hyena and even occasional wild dog. The savanna provides grazing for a good range of herbivores, while the river is home to hippopotamus and crocodile. Other mammals to spot are Grant’s gazelle, Kirk’s dik-dik, impala, waterbuck, warthog and olive baboon!