When Count Telekis’ companion, Von Holnel, described Samburu National Reserve as ‘teeming with game, especially buffalos and rhinos’, the period was the early 1860s and the reserve was part of ‘big game country’ which attracted famous hunters like Arthur Neumann who set up a camp on the site where Samburu Lodge now stands.
Years later in 1948, a portion of that big game country was sculpted away to form the Samburu National Reserve which then was part of the expansive Marsabit National Reserve. It was Senior Game Warden of Samburu District, Rodney Elliot, who later suggested that the area north of Ewaso Nyiro River could be turned into a separate reserve.
And so in 1962, with the help of the Elsa Trust, the 40,772-acre Samburu National Reserve was born, just next to the Buffalo Springs National Reserve, with Ewaso Nyiro River separating the two. A year later in 1963, the Minister for Local Government recommended that it be administered by the African District Council of Samburu, today, Samburu County.
Samburu National Reserve is one of 2 areas in where conservationists George and Joy Adamson raised Elsa, the celebrity lioness that featured in the book and subsequent film, ‘Born Free.’ It was also the home of Kamunyak, the other famous lioness that adopted an oryx calf.
Today you cannot hunt inside Samburu National Reserve but you can experience the rich diversity of game that it has including the rare northern specialist species such as the grevy’s zebra, Somali ostrich, reticulated giraffe, gerenuk and the beisa oryx, also referred as Samburu Special.
It is also possible to catch (not literally!) a large population of elephants that number some 900 strong. Large predators such as the lion, leopard and cheetah are also possible to sight. Wild dog sightings are also a common attraction to this unique protected area.
If you are very lucky, you may chance upon the critically endangered pancake tortoise (malacochersus tornieri). Your chances of viewing game increase tremendously during the dry season when the wild animals converge at the Ewaso Nyiro River, their main source of water during this time.
If you are a bird lover, Samburu National Reserve has over 450 species of birds that are a mix of the arid northern bush country birds and a number of riverine forest species. You could, for instance spot a kingfisher, marabou, bateleur, guinea fowl, Somali ostrich, the pygmy falcons, goshawks and the sparrow weaver.
Some bird species of global conservation concern like the lesser kestrel and the Taita falcon are possible to sight here as well. The African darter, great egret, white-headed vulture, martial eagle and the yellow-billed ox-pecker, all classified by IUCN as vulnerable, have also been spotted in the reserve.
Getting to Samburu National Reserve can be accomplished by road or air. The road trip is about a 6-hour drive from Nairobi, crossing the equator and bypassing Mount Kenya on the Isiolo-Marsabit road. The main point of entry for travellers driving from Nairobi to Samburu is the Archer’s Gate, a 354 KM (220 MI) journey.
If the idea of a 354 KM road trip does not sit well with you then you can settle for a flight. AirKenya operates a daily flight to Buffalo Springs and Samburu twice daily. The flight takes between 45 minutes and 1 hour from Nairobi, depending on whether it’s direct or not. If you are arriving from Nanyuki, you can use Tropic Air.
Prepare to part with KES 500 to gain entry if you are an adult citizen. Adult residents will pay KES 1,000 while non-residents will pay USD 70 for adults and USD 40 for children. April through October is usually more cooler with some rain and maybe more comfortable to visit. Go see if you can spot Kamunyak, she has not been seen since February 2004.