Samburu National Reserve

Samburu National Reserve Safaris

  • Famous for it's own Big Five - Grevy's zebra, Beisa oryx, gerenuk, reticulated giraffe, Somali ostrich
  • Home to over 900 elephants
  • Great game drives and game walks
  • 350 species of birdlife
When To Visit Samburu National Reserve:
  • Jan
  • Feb
  • Mar
  • Apr
  • May
  • Jun
  • Jul
  • Aug
  • Sep
  • Oct
  • Nov
  • Dec

Located 350km from Nairobi and totalling 104 sq. km, Samburu National Reserve has a lot to recommend it as a safari destination.

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!


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The birdlife in both Samburu and Buffalo Springs is very impressive. Over 350 species live here, including bee-eaters, eagles, guineafowl, hornbills, Marabou stork, secretary bird, spurfowl, starlings, sunbirds, vultures – and the gorgeous grey-headed kingfisher!

There is also plenty to see in Shaba National Reserve, located just east of Samburu. This is a semi-desert reserve comprising 130 sq. km of savanna, patches of woodlands, and open sites of lava rock. Its volcano, Shaba Hill, stands 2,145m above sea level, sides rugged with harsh ravines. The reserve contains forests too – the acacia and dhoum palms bordering the Ewaso Ng’iro River, which courses for 34km along Shaba’s northern boundary. This is an area of contrasts, with not only spectacular scenery but masses of wildlife!

Despite the reserve’s semi-desert status, it boasts numerous springs. Together with the rushing river, this makes for sufficient water sources to sustain a variety of animals. Lion, leopard, buffalo and elephant – four of the Big Five – may be viewed on game drives. Other carnivores include cheetah, jackals and hyenas, while the herbivores are also well represented. Grant’s gazelle, gerenuk, eland and impala favour the shrublands, whereas the grasses are popular with giraffe, zebra, oryx, and greater and lesser kudu. The hills are the habitat of hyrax and klipspringer. It is no wonder that Joy Adamson, of Born Free fame, selected this reserve for the release of a leopard, Penny.

Shaba’s birdlife is equally impressive! Vast flocks patrol the skies or swoop to the riverbank to quench their thirst. Species that thrive here include ostrich, guinea fowl, marabou storks, sandgrouse, doves – and the reserve attracts a number of birds considered under threat, such as the martial eagle, white-headed vulture, Williams’s lark and great egret.

Kalama Conservancy also benefits from hosting a stretch of the Ewaso Ng’iro River. This area has been created via lease and land-use agreements between local people and safari camps/lodges, to the advantage of the resident wildlife. Its location along a migratory corridor results in huge herds of elephant, zebra, and many more!

Finally, West Gate Conservancy is an interesting site to explore. Geographically similar to Kalama, this conservancy is located at the heart of the northern rangelands and it too lies along a migratory corridor. So visitors can expect to see large numbers of herd animals, all focused on finding the best food sources!

Samburu National Reserve and its surrounds contain a fabulous mix of camps and lodges, all offering great game drives and game walks. Other activities include camel safari and night drives! A couple of highlights comprise trekking along the river gorge in Shaba National Reserve to enjoy a picnic by spectacular waterfall Penny’s Drop. And it is also possible to get to know the local people, as cultural visits are offered from many properties

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