Find paradise in the drylands in Samburu National Reserve. Samburu lies at the start of the former Northern Frontier District, Kenya’s vast northern desert and semi-desert country.

Set against a mountainous backdrop, this dry and harshly beautiful wilderness depends on the perennial flow of the Ewaso Ng’iro river for its existence. The river sustains a wonderful number and variety of African animals, with about 900 elephants roaming the reserve. The doum palms and acacia thickets lining its sandy banks and shallows give Samburu a unique character.

The abundant game includes species adapted to life in the northern drylands – Grevy’s zebra, gerenuk, reticulated giraffe, and beisa oryx with their magnificent sweep of horns. Blue-legged Somali ostrich strut the plains with bustling flocks of vulturine guineafowl, their capes of glossy hackles half covering their bright blue breasts. Birders will enjoy seeing many other birds on their game drives. The three Big Cats – lion, cheetah and leopard – also inhabit the area.

The most famous of these was the lioness Kamunyak (‘The Blessed One’) who adopted an oryx calf in 2002, chasing off any predators who came near. The calf did not survive and Kamunyak went on to adopt five more. Naturalists are still baffled by Kamunyak’s undeniably maternal behaviour.

The reserve is named for the people of this region, who were also drawn here by the Ewaso Ng’iro. The Samburu are semi-nomadic pastoralists, closely related to the Masai. They are proud of their own distinct traditions and culture.

Good things come in small packages: this is a relatively small reserve, which makes it easier to explore and to spot wildlife. But everyone loves more packages to unwrap: Buffalo Springs National Reserve lies on the southern side of the river and Shaba National Reserve abuts Buffalo Springs on the other side of the highway. Together the three reserves form a large protected wilderness and Samburu is an excellent base from which to explore all three. A bridge across the Ewaso Ng’iro links Samburu and Buffalo Springs and visitors can move between the reserves on the same day pass. Elephants need no pass – huge herds are often seen crossing the shallow river.

Conservancies to the north and west of Samburu extend the range for wildlife to roam and visitors to explore. Ownership by the local pastoralist communities gives them a source of income other than the fluctuating fortunes of cattle herding. The conservancies are all members of the Northern Rangelands Trust, which supports sustainable conservancies which benefit the local people and preserve wildlife.

Samburu National Reserve

Things to do in Samburu National Reserve

Rhino tracking on foot

Quadbike rides

Camel rides

Game-viewing drives

Cultural visits