Size can be an extremely relative affair. Trying to thread a needle? The piece of string might as well be a tree trunk. Attempting to tell the story of your country one travel article at a time? You might as well be a grain of sand on a beach. Conservation, just like any other industry, is not immune from lure of the larger, sexy projects but if you dig a little deeper it’s interesting just how some of the smaller conservation areas play a much larger role than one would think. So does size really matter? I’m in to find out.
Kimana Sanctuary is located near the small town of Isineti, Kajiado County in Southern Kenya. It is an integral part of the Amboseli eco-system and its small size of 5,700 acres belies it’s extreme importance as a wildlife corridor linking the conservation areas of Amboseli, Chyulu Hills and Tsavo West National Parks. Formed in 1996 as one of the very first community conservancies in Kenya, the sanctuary has weathered some ups and downs throughout the years culminating in the recent new beginning and improved partnership between the 480 community shareholders, Big Life Foundation and the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust.
Nairobi – Kimana
Trip day begins with me dragging myself out of bed at 5am, I’m travelling with Peter Ndungu travel photographer extraordinaire, we’ve never met but I have followed and admired his work over the years and I’m quite excited (and nervous as always) to finally meet. After a quick meet and greet and stowing away his his suspiciously compact luggage (more on this later) we make like a tree and bounce. Camping awaits!
We drive down the Mombasa Road highway relatively easily due to the early hour but as always I still breathe a sigh of relief when turning off at Emali an onto the smooth clear tarmac of the C102. By 830am we’re in Isineti village wolfing down chapati mbili-mbili with large mugs of sweet milky tea.
After some retracing of steps due to the lack of signage we are well met by Elijah at the sanctuary’s main gate and head in to find our campsite.
It’s difficult to put into perspective just how small (relatively speaking) the sanctuary is but you really wouldn’t know it. Within the first kilometer from the main road in the first ten minutes we have already seen numerous warthog, Burchells Zebra, wildebeest, Thompson gazelle, eland, baboons and vervet monkeys.
And a further 5 minutes in and we come across the big boys.
The Elerai Camp site is about 3 kilometers from the main gate and situated in a well shaded site beneath towering fever trees along the Kimana River.
It can be a slightly distracting place to set up camp, what with all the curious visitors.
I don’t know what this lad was trying to achieve prancing past the toilet. Peter is having none of it and safely ensconces himself in the car. I won’t go as far as describing him as ‘scared’ lets just say he’s extra cautious around wildlife.
When the coast clears, we check out the facilities, there’s a separate bathroom with a ‘safari’ bucket shower and ‘luxury’ toilet. It’s well equipped with a bucket for collecting water from the river and a kettle for heating it. I’m impressed by the small touches here, campers will agree that we don’t need much but it’s always welcome when something has been thought through.
As lunch-time rolls around it becomes clear why Peter’s bag was so light – he didn’t carry any food – to a camping trip. Why does this sound so familiar? It’s lucky Kimana is quite close to civilization so this time a Hunger Games-type crisis is averted.
When I say the sanctuary is small it’s no exaggeration. Driving along it’s outer edges the neighboring farmland and settlements are obvious to the eye. Behold the thin line of conservation.
For the 3 days we’re here the timetable is pretty much the same. Early wake up calls to catch the sunrise with Mount Kilimanjaro on her best behavior. It’s quite true that the mountain may be in Tanzania but the best view is Kenya.
Every time I travel with someone they invariably become part of my photographic story, it’s something I can’t help.
Wildlife photography requires quite a bit of stalking, you’re not going to be able to do this in a national park that’s for sure.
This freedom gives some gives great wildlife photographic opportunities even for me who rarely has the patience for it.
Amboseli National Park
Kimana Sanctuary is also a great base to explore Amboseli National Park from, another 5am wake up call is needed for us to attempt make it there in time for sunrise. The drive takes us 50min although after leaving the tarmac the road condition to the park gate is deplorable.
A very wet Amboseli, I’ve never seen it quite like this.
Its a pretty gray morning but we make do, you can’t find much to complain about when you’re in one of the most famous parks in the world.
I don’t mean to sound ungrateful but after a couple of hours here I’m already dying to get back into the little sanctuary.
During my stay I continue to be curious about just how narrow the corridor is and Saidima, a burly talkative Big Life ranger from Namelok with a constant grin on his face offers the short trip to what I call the ‘bottle neck’.
Within the corridor.
My crude elementary diagram of just how narrow this corridor is. At 275m at it’s narrowest (I measured) it’s fascinating to me how different life would be for 1000’s of animals and humans if it were not kept open.
I’m amazed and honestly just a little bit shocked at what a tiny funnel the corridor creates for all this migrating wildlife. With 100’s of 1000’s of acres on either side of it, this slim piece of land is what prevents us humans from conflict with numerous animals that call this eco-system home.
That Evening Light
Evenings mirror mornings, driving the around the sanctuary
Conversations around the fire are as always wide and varied but it’s especially cool when you’re both learning something from each other. I’ve learned a lot about photography from Peter on this trip and in turn I’ve taught him…to remember to carry food? I hope so.
We are lulled to sleep by a lion call somewhere in the distance. Nestled within my tent, I think of calling out to Peter to see if he’s okay but I remember he isn’t scared… he’s just extremely cautious.
Nairobi to Kimana Sanctuary – 220km or 3hrs. Tarmac all the way except inside the sanctuary.
Kimana Sanctuary to Amboseli – 33km or 45min. 10km of tarmac and 23km of extreme corrugation.
Need to know
- Campers have a choice of 3 campsites, Elerai, Olchani and Oltepesi. They are in order of preference.
- Spring water at the river campsites available for both cooking and washing. Firewood is also provided.
- Roads are well graded for the most part so SUV/safari van is okay. However in the rainy season this would be 4×4 access only.
- Safaricom mobile network is weak but available.
- Sanctuary is poorly signposted but this will change soon. Luckily a map is supplied however without corresponding signs on the ground navigation is a bit difficult.
- As always I have mapped the entire sanctuary on Maps.me and you can use this app on your phone for offline navigation. (Map should be live by 30/11/18).
Entry Fees & Contact
Fees (per day): Citizen/Res Ksh1000, Non Resident $25. Children under 10 years go free and ages 10-18 pay 50%.
Camping fee (per day): Citizen/Res Ksh2000, Non residents $35. Please note that these fees include your entry fee. Children under 10 years go free and ages 10-18 pay 50%.
Contact and booking info: www.kimanasanctuary.com
Besides the ad-hoc campsite we once came across on lake Amboseli I’ve always thought it strange that for it’s popularity the Amboseli area doesn’t really have cool campsites to write home about. Add to that why Amboseli National Park has no campsite within the park itself is something that still baffles me to this very day.
Due to this Kimana Sanctuary becomes a welcome addition to the area and it’s difficult for me to fault this first part of the trip; a beautiful campsite, stunning surroundings and with really fair (in my opinion) camping costs especially in light of what you get for your money.