Do not wear any bright colours otherwise they will spot us. Always remain behind a ranger and follow my instructions. Speak in whispers and tread very carefully so as to maintain silence. Be aware of your surroundings and always look out for the largest tree around you should the animal become agitated for any reason.
I know right? How can you not be excited when listening to a brief like that? My hands are clammy and my heart is tripping like an EDM track at what seems like 100 beats per minute. I’m nervous and excited about one of the most unique wildlife experiences you can have in Kenya I’m going to be tracking one of the most endangered species in the the world, the black rhino…on foot.
I was last in Sera back in 2014 and a year later a number of Black Rhinos were translocated to the conservancy to establish the first wild breeding population of rhino in Northern Kenya in 35 years. A total of 11 individuals from Nairobi National Park, Nakuru National Park and Lewa Wildlife Conservancy were moved to the newly created 21,460-acre sanctuary in Samburu County to start a new life, signalling the first time a local community will be responsible for the protection and management of this highly threatened species. Lots of firsts here.
Among the cool crew on this trip are Ranger Jimmy Lekiondo, 25 years of age who always wanted to study medicine but now finds himself of the front lines of conservation (photo is a screen shot from a hilarious interview we had)…
…and private guide extraordinare (and guide trainer) Andreas Fox. Trained as a lawyer, his daily routine now consists of him interpreting land, sky, flora and fauna for us mere mortals. If that wasn’t enough he’s also quite the writer (The fact that the article is partly about me is purely coincidental).
A 2hr drive from Isiolo (6hrs if coming from Nairobi) gets us to our first campsite near the bandas along the Kauro Lugga where I stayed the last time I was here. Literally 5 minutes after arriving we get quite a nice reception.
A group of about 20 elephants cross the lugga right in front us and disappear into the thick bush, now that’s what you call luck. An hour later a lone individual joins us down to the campsite watering hole for a drink, and I get my favourite photo of the trip.
That evening Andreas gives an astronomy lesson on the lugga. The moons out (much to my dismay) but Northern Kenya has such clear skies that the constellations are always so visible.
With our trip starting on such a high note it almost feels like it cant get any better but the next morning we’re up early…
The Rhino Sanctuary
So back to tracking the rhinos, the lead ranger for this part of the our adventure is Ray. He is part of the team that tracks and monitors all the rhino in the sanctuary on a daily basis.
The rhinos are tracked by means of a transmitter that you can see the ranger on the right holding in his hand. So it’s a case of drive, stop, and listen for the beeps that indicate the general area the rhino are in.
We mince our way through the scrub in absolute silence, the rangers more stealthy than us. Among our group (me) there’s quite a bit of nervous giggling plus our ignorance of bush craft has trampling around like a herd of elephants. I cant believe I’m going see a rhino in the wild, on foot. How did I end up here?
After 15min of walking through the bush Ray raises his hand for silence, and gestures for us so move forward, sloooowly, and a few meters away we finally get a proper look.
This is Cedric one of the 5 males in the sanctuary. We’re lucky to find him in a relatively open area so get to spend some time watching him peacefully graze before he heads deeper into the bush.
It’s difficult to hard to describe the feeling of getting to see these animals out in the wild with nothing between you and them but a few blades of grass. Even with all the adrenaline rushing through me at that moment I still realize I am part of an extremely special moment.
That afternoon back at camp, Andreas places a camera trap at a near by watering hole to see if we get any visitors that night.
Nice to think about all this activity going on so close around us while we’re deep in our sleep. I have to get me one of these traps if I can ever afford one, it’s an interesting way to view wildlife while out camping.
Kisima Hamsini (50 Wells)
New day and a new location because why not? That morning the more energetic among us go hiking up the hill in the background.
We leave the Rhino Sanctuary headed for Kisima Hamsini for our last night. The wells that are dug into the bedrock have been in use by the Samburu community for longer than anyone can remember. They rarely dry up (if ever) and are an anomaly in this normally extremely arid area.
I never got the herders name name, it just wasn’t that kind of scene. I’m always so concious of just rocking up out of nowhere and pointing a camera in someone’s face as they go about their business. Feels weird sometimes.
That evening we camp at the nearby Gong Rock, our last campsite of the trip.
The name Gong Rock came about as it has a slab of rock at the top that gives off different musical tones when struck. You can see indentations left by years of hits and I let my mind wander as I imagine what this could have been used for. Some kind of ceremony? A healing process? A celebration of sorts? Just for fun? Unfortunately we might never know.
That evening some of us don’t bother with tents and just sleep under the stars, if you have never tried this, it’s awesome when the weathers warm.
- All camping in the conservancy and sanctuary require campers to be entirely self sufficient.
- The Kauro bandas are no longer available as per my previous article as they have now been taken over under an agreement between Saruni and the Sera communities.
- However all other activities and experiences are still open to the public. Camping in conservancy – Ksh 2000 a day, camping/access to Rhino Sanctuary Ksh 3000 a day, Walking With Rhinos experience Ksh 5000 per person, ranger fees per day Ksh 1000.
- For any additional information and bookings contact NRT Tourism on 0701 295 357 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
To help you plan your trip and find your way around I have mapped out the conservancy on an app I can’t live without, Maps.me. The app is free and best off all the maps off-line so no cell network required. Download the app, download the Kenya map and you’re good to go!
A lot has changed in Sera in the last couple of years, the conservancy is now in an extremely advantageous position to attract more visitors and indeed more investors; With the increased funds from tourism all efforts should be focused on financial independence from external donor funding thus creating a community that can be proud to stand on their own two feet.
For this to be realized a lot depends on us the visitors believing in areas like this enough to come out of our comfort zones, add a little adventure to our lives and place value on on great projects like this by visiting. Areas like Sera and indeed a large part of Northern Kenya are one massive playground and just like this elephant we meet on the drive out….there’s a surprise behind every corner.
*I should mention that all the close wildlife encounters contained here were conducted under the supervision of well trained professionals. It would be a very, very bad idea for you to attempt this under any other circumstances.*
*** Asante sana as always to the Northern Rangelands Trust for making this trip possible ***