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Dear Reader,

Welcome to another Bush Telegraph Newsletter and season's greetings to you all.

We hope that some of you will include "Magical Kenya" on your travel plans for 2016.

 Our web site, www.safarikenya.eu has been upgraded to now include the Elewana Collection, formed by a merger between Cheli & Peacock and Elewana, so they can now offer the best of lodges in Kenya and also Tanzania, plus two exotic coastal destinations.

November Masai Mara wildlife report

4 December 2015

Weather and grasslands

November was a surprisingly warm and wet month with rainfall increasing in the latter weeks with a total rainfall of 207 mm. Last year we had 116mm of rain in November.

Humidity levels were high with an average of 85%. The Grasslands plains have improved tremendously with grass levels covering at least one foot in most areas of Musiara. Paradise Plains still has long grasses for rainfall here in this region was heavier than other areas. The marsh water level also rose to quite an extent with water flowing over the culvert on many occasions. The Mara River rose high enough to flow over the bridge upstream near the Siria escarpment. Some of the Warburgia trees are fruiting and this is a little early although sudden changes in weather patterns can induce changes in the trees.

Alessandro Redaelli

On the plains:

Zebra have been crossing again this month and this is due to the recent rains. The majority of these zebra are the resident Loita herds that are now coming back. There have been large crossings and despite the high water levels a few were taken by crocodile. Zebra were seen crossing at the main crossing points below Serena and more commonly downstream of the main crossing. On the 16th, 18th and 23 there were some good crossings with as many as 1,000 animals crossing at one time. On the 26th there were three zebra taken at the crossing point below the main crossing and an estimated herd size of 500 animals crossed here at 10.30am. There was a smaller crossing at the cul de sac crossing point on the 30th with none being taken by crocodile, the water level was high at this time and all animals crossed onto the east side.

Photo courtesy of Alessandro Redaelli

With the good rainfall we have seen more elephant coming through into the Musiara Marsh and grassland areas. Blossom the large bull elephant that likes to reside in between the camps was seen at Governors Camp at the end of the month, he was travelling with another male of equal age a size.

Photo courtesy of Patrick Reynolds

Resident bull buffalo will also be seen in the east and west marsh, the larger herds of Cape Buffalo are spread out across Bila Shaka and Rhino Ridge. Giraffe will be seen in all areas of the riverine woodlands of the Mara River and the Bila Shaka river bed areas. Large dominant bull giraffe are also being seen lately within the camp grounds and will also be seen feeding off the leaves of the Warburgia trees within periphery of the riparian woodlands. Superb sightings of large breeding herds of Impala will be seen daily out in the open glades along with large troops of Olive baboons.

There are a few male Grants gazelles within the west marsh environs and some of these, males are closely grazing close by with the Impalas.

A small breeding herd of Eland had passed through the west marsh grasslands earlier on in the month and these have now moved in to the northern plains of Masai land. Defassa waterbuck will also be seen in the west marsh glades and also in the northern marsh grasslands, males are generally about 25% larger than the females. Only males have horns, prominently ringed and as long as 100 cm. The horns are widely spaced and curve gracefully back and up. Topi females are still giving birth with some large breeding herds will be seen on Topi Plains, Rhino Ridge and Paradise Plains; it is at this time of year again that the Cokes Hartebeest will also have young calves. Two more Oribi have been seen on the open plains of Rhino Ridge, these small antelope are not often seen here and sightings of these ungulates are a bonus.

The eggs from female crocodile on the opposite bank at IL Moran camp hatched on the 15th of this month, she has been laying her eggs on this spot of the west bank for a number of years now and it is always nice to see her choosing to come back and nest on the opposite bank to camp.

Photo courtesy of Patrick Reynolds

Spotted hyenas are still prevalent within the Musiara area and are seen in large clans particularly in the Paradise and Rhino Ridge areas; recently the North West side of the marsh have a large clan of Hyena. These animals compete strongly with lion and if lionesses are on their own they can often be overruled and kills taken over. An Aardwolf was seen on the 17th near the escarpment rocks in the northern reaches for the Musiara Marsh. Many Bat Eared Foxes and Black Backed Jackals will be seen well spread out across the open plains. Serval cats have also been seen regularly with a male on Paradise Plains that is seen regularly hunting. We have had good sightings of ground hornbills with the west Marsh being a good place to see and hear them. Two marsh Mongooses were seen near the marsh itself and not far from the culvert; this brings the species count to 6 species that are available to be seen, the two gregarious and social and more insectivorous mongooses namely the Banded and Dwarf will be seen daily throughout the camp grounds. The larger white tailed mongoose is more nocturnal in its feeding habits and these will also be seen sometime in the evening as they patrol the camp grounds.

Large flocks of open billed storks were being seen flying over the marsh during the earlier weeks; also many of them landing and feeding off water snails that were in the marsh. Whenever there is a reasonable rain pattern it is quite interesting to see that this particular stork species would seem to materials out of nowhere.

Photo courtesy of Dave Richards


Little notes: Yaya the young marsh Lioness that is the daughter to pride lioness Sienna has two little cubs that are approximately one month old-Sienna is a grandmother now!! They are in the Bila Shaka river bed that is not far from the airstrip. Kabibi another of the young lionesses of the marsh pride and is the daughter to Bibi the eldest of the marsh lionesses, she has also two cubs who were seen on the 2nd; Kabibi's cubs are a little older and would be nearly six weeks old, the sire to these two lots of cubs is likely to be the solitary male Lion known as 'Bahai'.

During November the marsh pride has been seen mainly in the south Marsh and southern areas of the Bila Shaka. They were feeding off warthog and zebra. Siena was looking well and her left side wound is still open although looks like it is drying up, the important aspect is Sienna looks well and feeds which is a good sign. Red and Tatu the two sub males who are a little over 3 and a half years old are also being seen with their mothers Sienna and Charm. Siena has three cubs that are now 23 months old, a male and two females.

Charm has two cubs that are now 16 months old of which there is a male and female. On some occasions they have all been near to Rhino Ridge while hunting zebra. The Madomo pride of eight lion, of which the sub adult male Pengu who is 3and a half years old and two cubs that are 16 months old were being seen on Rhino Ridge and also close to Paradise Plains on the southern front, they were seen on numerous occasions hunting zebra and topi.

Photo courtesy of Moses Manduku

Some members of the 2nd breakaway pride who went over to the Trans Mara last September are being seen in the north marsh area of Masai land.
The Musketeers are still being seen in the paradise region, Scar has been seen more often on the Trans Mara conservancy. Hunter and Sikio are the two males that will often be seen together.


Romi the female leopard who has two cubs that are four months old; she is being seen daily near the north end of the Masai conservancy and not far the Mara River, later in the month she brought her cubs down to the BBC campsite area on the river and this is where she had her first litter.

The female leopard 'Bahati' who is being seen on the Talek Rive she has two cubs that are approximately four months old, she has been seen to be eating warthog and Impala recently. With the weather being heavy and rainfall dictating movements, leopard sightings have been slim.

Photo courtesy of Alessandro Redaelli

Siri the female leopard of the Serena pump house area has a 17-month-old male cub who still hunts within his mother's home range; he is being seen more often than the mother Siri. Siri herself has been seen on two occasions this month and is still showing that she is lactating we have not had a reports to the contrary that if she has any cubs.


Malaika the female with her two cubs 17 months old, later on in the month she lost a cub on the Talek river to crocodile and apparently they had intended to cross here. Malaika and her cubs move around a lot; the short grass plains of the Masai conservation areas and within the Trans Mara are popular places to see them.

The female Cheetah Nora is with the two cubs that are five months old; she has been seen although not so often in the Masai conservation areas near the Ngiatiak and Talek areas, she and her two cubs also move around in search of prey and out of the way from predator aggression.

Another young male is being seen within the conservation areas to the south east of the reserve, shorter grasses in these open plains areas are preferred habitat for cheetah.

Why we love December in the Masai Mara 3 December, 2014

Following the short rains in November, the grasslands now look green and begin to grow again. This dense new carpet of green growth contains many nutrients for the plains game; white tissue paper flowers grow across the plains. The Baboons love to feed on these flowers. Early mornings are around 18 degrees Celsius, midday around 30 degrees Celsius and evenings are a balmy 26 degrees Celsius. There are often scattered bursts of rain in the afternoons, settling the dust and cooling off the day.

Photo courtesy of Patrick Reynolds

With the Wildebeest mostly gone, Elephant families return, crossing the Mara River on a daily basis and fanning out in the Marsh areas. Watermarks on their bodies show the river levels on their bodies with the youngsters having to swim across. They are frequent visitors to camp feeding in the forests.

Photo courtesy of George Murray

The majority of the plains game from impalas, gazelles, topi to the warthog have had their young and now the process of rutting has started. Males are busy re-establishing their territories especially after a shower of rain, as their scent markings will fade. The impalas are the most raucous as the males chase each other around, white tails fluffed out, heads held high in the air and letting out a loud series of grunts. This serves to assert their dominance as well as impress the does. The females already in season will not relent or be impressed so easily, they will make sure their male suitor has stamina. Thomson's gazelles will run miles in pursuit of a female. It will be another 6 to 8 months before we see the offspring, which will tie in well with the lush grass, brought about by the long rains in April/ May. Warthogs are busy defending their young, families graze close to their burrows ready to dart back down at the first sign of danger. Giraffe are plentiful passing through the woodlands and campgrounds.

Fairies whispers fly in the wind. As thousands of caterpillars hatch and mature they leave the forest full of silk threads dangling from the trees and they fly off with the wind. We see these after the first showers of rain and are a sign of caterpillars around which in turn means we should see lots of beautiful butterflies and moths in the months to come.

There are large clans of Hyena on the plains, large clans of hyena will compete strongly with lion for food and each other, and we have seen hyena clans busy scent marking their territories and clashing and clashing with rival neighbouring clans often to the death.

Photo courtesy of Joelle Delloye

Hippo pods are dispersed within the Mara River with some young calves being seen within the River.

Sighting of Serval Cats increase in the grasslands. In the early mornings we see Bat Eared foxes and their pups forging for termites near their mounds and on occasion Aardvarks on their way back to their burrows after a night spent digging for termites. Some of the Termite funnels have small mushrooms growing on them.

Lions from the Marsh Pride frequent the Musiara Marsh, Woodlands and Plains close to Governors Camp. They hunt warthog, waterbuck, buffalo and Grants Gazelles and there are often cubs within the pride. Frequent Leopard sightings in the forest between our camps. With the explosion of young antelope on the plains the cheetah have been hunting well.

Photo courtesy of Darrell Davison


December is an interesting month for birding with a few flocks of migratory birds flying through the Mara including Black Storks, White Storks and Spoon-Billed Storks and the Rufus-Bellied Herons who are back in the marshes after a long absence. Double-Toothed Barbets nest in the trees around camp. The Teclea bushes fruit which the Bulbuls love and the Black and White Casked Hornbills are seen more readily.

Ol Pejeta rangers rescue a baby rhino in need of dire medical attention

A two-week-old southern white rhino calf has been rescued by the Ol Pejeta wildlife and veterinary teams, after being abandoned by his mother.

When northern white rhino patrol rangers found the limp body of a tiny rhino calf, they feared the worst. As they got closer, they found that the baby was alive, but unable to stand. His sickness had caused his mother to abandon him, a common occurrence with many wild mammal mothers. At just two weeks old, he is heavily dependent on her milk and protection - and didn't stand a chance alone in the wilderness. The rangers called in the veterinary team, who found the little rhino to be severely dehydrated, with an abnormal body temperature.

He was taken into captivity for emergency care and further inspection. The rhino was given oral rehydration, followed by rhino calf milk formula, but the team had no idea what to expect. Their prayers were answered just two hours later, when, fueled by hydration fluids and milk, the calf was walking and jumping about his pen energetically.

The vet team found that the rhino has 'persistent urachus'. This is the failure of the rhino equivalent of a belly button to close up after birth, and leads to urinary problems. There are three options with this condition:

Leave it to heal alone

Conventional medical treatment to close it by chemical cauterization or


Desperate to avoid potentially dangerous surgery, our vet team decided to see if the little rhino could heal by himself. With close monitoring, regular feeding and hydration, the team were thrilled when, after several worrying days, the rhino finally passed stool successfully. This is a sign that his organs are working properly, and the naval opening has now regressed fully. Our vets will continue to monitor him and administer further treatment but it is now safe to say that the baby is out of danger.

We are hopeful that he will continue to go from strength to strength, and when he is old enough, the rhino will be reintroduced back into Ol Pejeta to be wild once more. As such, his human contact is being restricted to just two caregivers.

We never like having to take an orphaned wild animal into our care, although when you look at his face, it's hard not to smile!

This little guy will need all the support he can get - donate now to help our team get him better! If you want to name him (and when else do you get the chance to name a rhino!?), get in touch with our marketing department for more details!

8 unexpected uses for elephant dung 

Written by: Willow Alexandria Brough 

When you're as big as an elephant, you have to spend a good deal of your time eating. Due to their enormous size, these gentle giants consume 200-250kg of food on a daily basis. This is enough to produce a whopping 50kg of dung. 

In Botswana, where the highest population of African elephants reside, their numbers have reached an estimated 130,000 - that amounts to a grand total of 650,000kg of droppings left behind on the ground each day. It is not surprising then, considering the vast quantity available, that people have thought up some pretty creative uses for elephant dung over the years. 

As the old adage goes: "Waste not, want not!" and Lelobu Safaris suggests these 8 useful ways to make the most of all that poop: 

1. Mosquito repellent 

Lighting up a piece of poop to keep the mozzies away might not sound incredibly appealing to some, but I can promise that if you ever find yourself out in the bush with no alternative, the bites on your ankles will quickly change your mind. Luckily just the smoke from burning a dried-up chunk of dung is enough to repel mosquitos, which saves you from having to rub it on your skin. Surprisingly, it also doesn't have a particularly pungent smell and is actually less offensive to your nostrils than the average spray-on repellent. 

2. Lifesaving water 

I genuinely hope you'll never be in a situation where squeezing the last remaining liquid out of fresh elephant dung is your only option. However, for the sake of survival, if you are ever lost with no water in an area where elephants roam, this is a solution; albeit a rather undignified one. On first thought it might seem like drinking from any animal's excrement is a surefire way to make yourself ill. Surprisingly though, there is very little bacteria to be found in elephant poop, which makes it far less dangerous than dehydration. 

3. Mild pain killer and a remedy for a bleeding nose 

As a result of the large variety of fruit and plants that an elephant will consume throughout the day, their waste products are a one-stop shop for traditional healing. In their faeces you can find traces of most of the foliage that a medicine man would use in his treatments. 

Once it has been lit and the flames have been blown out, allowing it to smoulder, all it takes is one deep breath of smoke and that headache should be gone. As well as curing headaches, dulling toothaches and limiting other pains, elephant dung is known to clear the sinuses and cure bleeding noses. So rather than searching the savannah for the herb or bark used to cure a specific ailment, just consider inhaling some elephant poop instead! 

4. Eco-friendly paper 

Despite the vast quantities of food that they shove in their mouths, an elephant digests only about 45% of what it consumes. As elephants are herbivores with highly fibrous diets, much of the undigested material passes straight through them as intact fibres. And this is why their excrement can easily be made in to paper products. Today our paper is most commonly made with wood fibre pulp, but a similar pulp can be derived from the fibres in elephant dung. The average elephant excretes enough to produce 115 sheets of paper each day. This 'poo paper' does have a slightly different texture than we're used to, but I would rather write on slightly rougher paper than watch our forests be chopped down. 

5. A coffee brew 

You've probably already heard of those trendy coffee beans that are passed through the digestive systems of civet cats. The beans are collected from their stool then washed, dried and roasted by brewers before being sold for ridiculous sums of money. Well, now it seems that someone in Thailand's Golden Triangle has had a similar idea, but on a much larger scale. Instead of civets, a herd of 20 elephants are pooping out coffee beans worth US$500 per pound. They're calling it Black Ivory Coffee, and are serving it exclusively in five star resorts across Asia and the Middle East. The only place you can buy it elsewhere is The Elephant Story - a small store in Texas where all profits go to the conservation of the species. As elephants are herbivores (unlike civets) and the fermentation process they use to break down the cellulose in their food brings out the sweet, fruity flavours in the bean and gives the coffee its chocolatey, cherry taste. All traces of bitterness vanish, and it has even been described as a sort of tea-coffee hybrid due to its softness on the palate. 

6. Bizarre beer 

The success of Black Ivory Coffee has inspired an even stranger drink - Un Kono Kuro. The name of this strange beverage is a pun on the Japanese word for crap, which is 'unko'. Those same beans that were excreted by elephants are then fermented into beer by the Sankt Gallen Brewery. Its flavour is similar to that of the coffee - mellow and sweet, with its initial bitterness giving way to a hint of chocolate. One satisfied reviewer went so far as to refer to the aftertaste of the beer as more of an afterglow. With such a demand for this novelty alcohol, Un Kono Kuro was so successful that its online store sold out within minutes of its launch. 

7. Biogas 

Sources of green energy are becoming more important by the day. With fossil fuel supplies dwindling and global warming taking its toll, the time to find alternatives is now. Luckily, some zoos and sanctuaries are wising up and starting to make use of the resources right under their feet. With the help of biogas digesters, the waste products of herbivores can be used to generate gas for stoves, heat and even electricity. And as we all now know, thanks to the amount that they poop, elephants are a perfect candidate. As the digesters break down the organic waste, methane and carbon dioxide are collected to be used in stoves or gas powered engines. Nutrient-rich bio-slurry is also created during this process, which can then be used as a fertiliser. Biogas from manure isn't effective enough to meet all of our energy needs, but if used correctly in combination with other methods, it could have a significantly beneficial impact on our world. 

8. A home 

Alright, this last one isn't for us humans, but a lump of elephant excrement can actually be a habitat thriving with life. Elephants are known by scientists as 'eco-system' engineers. This means that they are capable of controlling the availability of resources for other organisms by modifying the physical environment. Many types of insects make these piles of poop their home, including beetles, scorpions, crickets and millipedes. Lured in by their taste for creepy crawlies, several species of frog seem to have developed the same habit in Sri Lanka. As well as creating a highly-nutritious home for some of the smaller creatures, it also benefits those who would want to eat them. Animals like honey badgers and meerkats will paw through them, snacking on the bugs and grubs hidden within.

And this concludes our chat about crap. Remember, just because we call something a waste product doesn't necessarily mean we should waste it.

10 Kenyan highlights from Saba Douglas-Hamilton 

Saba Douglas-Hamilton ©Sam Gracey 

Saba Douglas-Hamilton is an award-winning wildlife filmmaker, TV host, conservationist, and co-director of her family's tourism business - Elephant Watch Safaris. Her life in Africa, and work as a wildlife filmmaker, has led her to some of the remoter parts of the planet, where she has studied rare and endangered species in their natural habitats and experienced the frontline of conservation first-hand. 

Born in Kenya with lions, giraffes and warthogs in her back garden, and speaking Kiswahili as her first language, Saba became entranced with wildlife at an early age. Her childhood was spent bumping around in the back of an open Land Rover between Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda, while her parents studied elephant behaviour then later battled to save pachyderms from the illegal ivory trade. At the age of thirteen, barefoot and unruly, Saba was sent off to the United Kingdom to be educated, and went on to study at the University of St. Andrew's in Scotland, where she obtained a first class Masters degree in social anthropology. 

She started work in conservation immediately after graduating, initially for Save the Rhino Trust in Namibia, where she ran a community conservation project to protect the rare desert-adapted black rhino. She later joined Save the Elephants in Kenya as the first chief operations officer, where she helped to set up a research station in Samburu National Reserve that now monitors a population of over 900 elephants. For the last decade Saba has been a trustee of Save the Elephants and has lectured extensively to raise awareness about conservation issues. With ivory trade at an all-time high, the charity is focused on stopping the killing, thwarting the traffickers and reducing demand for ivory worldwide. In 2014 she stepped down from her role as a trustee to become the chair of STE's advisory board and the head of special projects.

In 2000 Saba was talent-spotted by the BBC Natural History Unit and began her career as a wildlife filmmaker, hosting nine TV series including Secret Life of Elephants, Big Cat Diary, Big Bear Diary, Unknown Africa, and over 24 wildlife documentaries. She directed two award-winning films for Animal Planet - Heart of a Lioness and Rhino Nights - which documented previously unknown behaviour for the first time. After her children were born, Saba took some time out to run the family's unique eco-lodge, Elephant Watch Camp in Samburu, north Kenya, and has recently returned to filmmaking to work on a 12-part series for the BBC - This Wild Life - about life and conservation in the bush with her husband, Frank Pope, and their three young children. 

Samburu National Reserve ©Daryl Balfour, Elephant Watch Camp 


I'm a firm believer in responsible tourism. With the sixth extinction looming, we must all join hands to stem the tide. But to earn the term "eco", tourism has to be linked to real conservation action. This is our focus at Elephant Watch Safaris and luxury tented camp - founded by my mother, Oria Douglas-Hamilton 

- that now provides critical support to conservation NGO Save the Elephants (STE), rallying people to the environmental cause and helping raise funds. 
My family has been based in the Samburu and Buffalo Springs national reserves for the past 18 years, studying a resident population of about 1,000 elephants and pioneering this new form of conservation tourism. Frank and I moved up here on a more permanent basis last year to lend a hand, bringing our kids in tow. 

The greater Samburu/Laikipia area, which includes the Ewaso ecosystem, is home to about 6,000 free-roaming elephants, as well as a plethora of other unusual or endemic wildlife. And this is why we chose these northern rangelands as STE's core research area. 

The presence of abundant fauna is largely thanks to the tolerant attitude of the pastoralist communities that live here. The Samburu, Rendille, Turkana, Somali and Borana tribes are stoic and hardy nomads that have become our neighbours, workmates and friends. Some are also passionate ambassadors for wildlife, so it's been a deeply rewarding journey for all of us, and the relationships that we have forged are yet another reason why this place has become our home. 

We are also fortunate enough to share this expansive wilderness with Grevy's zebra, reticulated giraffe, gerenuk, Beisa oryx and Somali ostrich, which are all endemic to the area. Numerous antelope, all the big cats, and wild dog can also be seen, and there are even rhino further to the north that were recently reintroduced in the Sera Conservancy. 

WHERE TO STAY: Built on the banks of the Ewaso Nyiro River, Elephant Watch Camp is an exquisite blend of Afro-Italian flair and eco-chic. It's both feminine and bohemian, luxurious and conscientious. The camp specialises in extraordinary elephant encounters and, because we can individually recognise the elephants and they know us, we are accepted into the heart of each family. This makes for an experience I can only describe as being akin to swimming with wild dolphins. 

Be aware that Samburu is a malarial area so it's always best to take a prophylactic or, at the very least, do what you can to avoid being bitten by wearing long sleeved tops and trousers in the evenings. There are also snakes and scorpions, but most of the time they stay well out of your way. The only things that you really need are a decent pair of binoculars to appreciate the stunning diversity of animal and bird life, a good sun hat, and lightweight clothes to protect you from the sun. 

WHEN TO GO: After the rains that fall in November and April, experienced female elephants encourage the formation of super-herds in anticipation of the arrival of dominant musth bulls. This makes December or May the best times to come and watch the elephants, as it's when they are feeling fat and frisky. Having observed each individual elephant's trials and tribulations for almost two decades, we have fascinating insights into the lives and minds of these intelligent, sentient creatures. It is as close to an elephant paradise as it gets.

The easiest way to get to Samburu is on a scheduled Safarilink or Air Kenya flight from Nairobi. Or you can drive north along the Cape to Cairo highway via Thika, Nanyuki and Timau, skittering across the foothills of Mt. Kenya then winding down a long escarpment towards Isiolo and Archer's Post, where you enter the national reserve. Door-to-door, it takes about six hours by road, but you can stop for lunch en route at the famous Barney's (La Rustique) restaurant at Nanyuki airstrip or the Trout Tree that is closer to Naro Moru. It's about a three-hour drive to Samburu from either of these restaurants, so you can still arrive in good time for a sundowner. 

Camel safari with The Milgis Trust ©Helen Dufresne 


Frank often teams up with David Daballen, our head of field operations, to put GSM-collars on elephants in the northern rangelands in order to analyse how they are using the landscape. The idea is to try to see the world from the elephants' perspective, and more importantly, to define the critical corridors 
that link up protected areas through the movement data. This knowledge helps us to plan for the future of elephants in a rapidly changing world. 
The most recent operation was in the Milgis ecosystem, which is based around the broad ephemeral Milgis River on the southern side of the Ndoto Mountains, where our friend, Helen Dufresne, has a camel camp. She has been my role model since I was a little girl, and she runs walking safaris through this wild mountainous landscape with Samburu warriors as the hosts. What I love best about Helen is her gentle approach, as she never carries a gun. 

WHERE TO STAY: The Milgis Trust, in partnership with Wild Frontiers, offers truly unique walking camel safaris through this area. The camels are used to carry the camping gear and supplies, while guests are free to explore this rugged, wild landscape that is home to one of Africa's few remaining nomadic tribes. Through these philanthropic safaris, the environment is kept pristine and the Samburu feel happy to see guests, as they understand and appreciate the benefits of conservation efforts. 

WHEN TO GO: On safari you will sleep out in the open beneath an infinite temple of stars, with just a mosquito net to keep the bugs and beasts at bay. Snatches of sounds waft in on the wind - warriors singing in the distance, a lion's roar, the low frequency rumbles of elephants. As a result, the drier seasons are the best times to go on these safaris. 

Lake Turkana from a plane ©Lorna Buchanan-Jardine 


The magic of the Northern Frontier District, or the alliance of conservancies known as the Northern Rangelands, is that it gets better the further you explore. Each time I venture out there, I feel a magnetic pull to head ever northward, beyond the Milgis and the Ndoto Mountains, into desert country - first the Kaisut, then the Chalbi, and finally the black lava moonscape and turquoise waters of Lake Turkana. 

Lake Turkana is the world's largest permanent desert lake, and the lake's Central Island is an active volcano. A number of national parks border the lake while the area is widely known as the 'cradle of mankind' due to its historic fossil finds. 

This stunning lake is accessible by 4WD or an off-road motorbike. However, be warned that there are no handy fuel stations or corner shops to turn to when supplies run low. This is a real back-of-beyond adventure. Remote mission stations will occasionally sell you fuel at extortionate prices, and you can buy very basic supplies in some of the small villages, but it's best to be completely self-sufficient and prepared. 

WHERE TO STAY: To avoid any stress, fly with Tropic Air to camp in the remoter spots, such as on South Island, or to go fishing for Nile perch. 

Alternatively soar across the jade sea to the paleontological digs on the western side, which are run by Louise Leakey, the youngest matriarch in her family. 

If you're heading to the area, it is also worth including the Suguta Valley and Lake Logipi in your northern adventures with Tropic Air. Located south of Lake Turkana, the valley provides some of the most spectacular desert landscapes, while thronging flocks of flamingoes will leave you awestruck on the lake's shores. 

WHEN TO GO: During the dry season you'll rarely need a tent, so plan to travel any time from June to October or January to March to sleep under the stars. 

Samburu tribesmen ©Elephant Watch Camp 


The biggest tusker we know comes into Samburu National Reserve only once a year when he's in musth. We collared him a while back and found that he spends most of his time up near Sarara, a beautiful camp on the Namunyak Wildlife Conservancy close to Ol Donyo Sapache, a mountain sacred to the Samburu. He hides there in thick bush during the day and ventures closer to human settlement only at night. 

Close to this camp are the singing wells, which are dug by Samburu nomads during the dry season and are sometimes as deep as seven men standing ankle to shoulder. The herders climb into the shaft then pass the water from man to man until it reaches the top where it's poured into hollow logs from which the livestock drink. As they work, the men sing hypnotic chants that boast of their prowess, their claim to all of God's cattle, and the ferocious raids that make them rich. 

If you're in need of a strenuous hike, it takes four hours to get up the sacred mountain followed by another two to get down. The Mathews Range of mountains is close by and home to an isolated population of De Brazza monkeys, which are evidence that the Congo rainforest may once have stretched from the west coast to the east coast of Africa. 

WHERE TO STAY: Stay with one of Africa's biggest tuskers at Sarara Camp - an old style safari camp with six luxury tents that are each positioned to make the most of the stunning views of the Mathews Range. Or stay at the newest addition to Sarara - their Star Camp, which is only accessible by foot and bush pony, and is a two-and-a-half hour journey through the forest from the original camp. The exclusivity of this camp offers the remarkable opportunity to immerse yourself in the serenity of this wilderness. 

WHEN TO GO: While daytime temperatures remain high throughout the year in this region, and annual precipitation is low compared to other areas of Kenya, the area still experiences two dry seasons and two rainy seasons. The long dry season from July to October is often considered the best time for bush travel as the animals gather around the few water sources and the dry terrain is more conducive for excursions. 

Scheduled flights are offered from Nairobi Wilson airport to Nanyuki, Lewa Downs and Kalama. These can then be followed by a short private charter flight or road transfer to Sarara. While flying between camps can add to the cost of your trip, it is advisable to cut out long road journeys when possible to give yourself more time to enjoy your holiday. 

The peaks of Mount Kenya ©KenyaTreks/Gamewatchers Safaris 


At some point in the 1950s, the frozen skeleton of an elephant - nicknamed Icy Mike - was found inexplicably high on the scree-slopes of Mt Kenya at 14,000ft. A few years ago, we tracked the carcass down to take a GPS of its exact position, which made for an interesting exception in our archive of data recording elephant movement. 

It's only when you near the soaring cliffs of the mountain's dizzying 17,050ft twin peaks, Batian and Nelion, that you experience Mt. Kenya in its full magnificence. The most popular trek is to the summit of Lenana, the third highest peak, which can be done over a long weekend if you're fit. 

Attempting the technical routes up the higher peaks takes at least seven days, if not more, and requires an experienced lead climber, as well as an aptitude for high altitude. 

WHERE TO STAY: There are decent huts to stay in most of the way up, which you can book through the Kenya Wildlife Service. Please take note that porters understandably resent having to rescue anyone whose gear they've not carried, so do be sure to employ the locals! If you're more interested in trout fishing than hanging off an icy cliff face, stay in one of the gorgeous Rutundu self- catered log cabins that lie just an hour's hike away from Lake Alice.

Alternatively, if you're not a climber and would rather view Mt. Kenya from a helicopter, then stay at Sirikoi Lodge and take an early morning scenic flight over its peaks. A small, family-run lodge in Lewa Wildlife Conservancy on the northern slopes of Mount Kenya, it not only boasts fabulous comfort and world class food, but it has also recently been announced as the 2015 Eco-Rated Lodge of the Year by Ecotourism Kenya. 

WHEN TO GO: The driest period to head up Mt Kenya is in January and February, which can be associated with blue skies for days on end. The highest rainfall on the mountain occurs between late March and mid-May so this period is best avoided. However, rain, and even snow higher up on the mountain, can be encountered at any time of the year, so it's always best to get out in the mornings when the weather tends to be best. Temperatures can vary throughout the day but can fall to below freezing at night, so be sure to pack your thermals if you are planning to take on its slopes! 

Sundowners in the Maasai Mara ©Richard's River Camp 


A short hop to the south of Kenya on a scheduled flight will get you to the famous Maasai Mara, which plays host each year to the annual migration of a million or so wildebeest. Long lines of hungry antelope leave the barren plains of Tanzania to trek 400km north in search of fresh pasture, only to race south again when the first hint of rain conjures the Serengeti's phosphorous-rich grasslands back to life. Hordes of predators are attracted by the chaos and lie in wait to feast on the weak and the vulnerable. 

There's nowhere like the Mara to experience the high-octane action of big cats hunting. I'm not keen on river crossings unless there's no one else about, but with hippos rescuing baby zebra or chomping at drifting wildebeest, it's a glimpse into a world that has largely disappeared elsewhere; a wild world that shaped much of our own evolution and to which we are inescapably linked. 

WHERE TO STAY: It's a good idea to stick to the smaller high-end camps like Richard's River Camp, Serian or Asilia Africa's Rekero Camp. Not only will each of these camps tailor your experience, but they know the ins and outs of the predators so will be sure to give you an exclusive experience. 

Alternatively, if your passion lies behind the lens, join Africa Geographic Travel on a five-day photographic safari and enjoy a stay at Naibor Camp. Superbly positioned on the Talek River within easy access of the best river crossing points, you will have plenty of opportunities to capture the magic of the migration on camera. 

WHEN TO GO: The abundance of resident game and the temperate climate means that the Maasai Mara makes for a great year-round safari destination. However, if you have wildebeest on the brain, your best bet is to head to the Mara between July and the end of November. 

A dhow in the Lamu Archipelago ©Ellen Elmendorp 


When my husband and I need a break from life in the bush, we head to the village of Shela on Lamu Island. 

The local community in Shela is mostly Muslim, so the call to prayer punctuates the day from 5am until after dusk. A dune-fringed beach stretches into the distance for eight kilometres of wind-swept emptiness, with nothing but ghost crabs scuttling into the surf. 

Wild swimming is our mutual passion, so each high tide we race the currents of a tidal creek then slip through secret channels into the mangroves where carmine bee-eaters roost in the canopy. It leaves your body tingling from top- to-toe. 

WHERE TO STAY: There are lots of beautiful houses to rent but, in my opinion, the nicest are the Moon Houses, which have been faithfully restored to their former glory by a talented French architect. Located about a minute's walk from the beach, they make for great rentals between groups of friends. 

At the far end of the 12-kilometre beach from Shela, a rustic eight-banda camp called Kizingo specialises in non-invasive swims with wild dolphins. Afterwards, you can sail home on a Swahili dhow to the beat of Bajuni drums under a rising moon. The spiced fish that they cook on board is by far the best in East Africa. 

WHEN TO GO: If you can take the heat, then the hottest months from January to March may be the best time for you, but generally speaking the Lamu Archipelago is best visited during the cooler months from July to October. 

If you're looking for a cultural injection into your beach retreat, catch the Maulidi festival in November, which celebrates the birth of the Prophet Mohammed. 

Lesser flamingoes on Lake Bogoria ©Isak Pretorius 


Somewhat off the beaten track, but worth its weight in gold, is Lake Bogoria - a shimmering soda lake with an effusion of geothermal vents and crimson flamingoes. At least 10 geysers can be found at different locations around this saline lake, and you can walk across the lakeshore down to the bubbling geysers to boil an egg for breakfast. 

Lake Baringo, on the other hand, is one of only two freshwater lakes in the Rift Valley and is home to over 470 bird species as well as a variety of animals including hippos and crocodiles. In spite of the crocodiles, there's a tradition of swimming and water-skiing in Lake Baringo and, to my knowledge, there's only been one occasion when someone was bitten. We wouldn't necessarily advise taking the chance though! 

WHERE TO STAY: Lake Bogoria is accessed by plane or car. While driving to Lake Bogoria is a bit of a mission on a very pot-holed road, you can tie it in with a night or two at Samatian Camp, which is situated on a beautiful island in the middle of Lake Baringo. 

If you choose to camp at Lake Bogoria, small clusters of Acacia trees will provide some shade, but just be aware of the baboons on the south-east side that have developed an aggressive thieving habit. 

From Baringo you could also drive for a few more hours up the Murram escarpment to the Laikipia plateau and stay at the Mukutan Retreat, a beautiful private lodge that overlooks the spectacular Mukutan Gorge that is also home to the famous Italian author, Kuki Gallmann. 

And if you can't resist Italian charm, Sosian Lodge is a beautifully restored African house that was built in the 1940s by Italian artisans and can accommodate up to 14 people in four cottages. Located on a 24,000 acre private wildlife and cattle ranch in the heart of Laikipia, a stay here will complement your stay at Lake Baringo nicely. 

WHEN TO GO: The best time to head to either of these two lakes would be during the long, cool dry season from July to October when you will be rewarded with clear, sunny skies and fewer bugs. 

Should you choose to visit during this time, it is a good idea to bring a warm fleece or jacket as cooler temperatures are common in the higher elevations around the Lake Bogoria National Reserve. 

Elephants galore ©Richard Moller, Tsavo Trust 


There are perhaps 100 great tuskers left in Africa and, thanks to Kenya's conservation efforts, a handful of them are still alive in Tsavo. Through Save the Elephant's Elephant Crisis Fund, we support the Tsavo Trust that keeps tabs on these rare individuals by patrolling daily in a small fixed-wing aircraft. The elephants are covered in the blood-red colour of the soil, and you can see them around waterholes before they disappear like ghosts into thickets. 

Tsavo is made up of two separate parks - Tsavo East National Park and Tsavo West National Park - and it is one of those places that makes seasoned safari enthusiasts go misty-eyed. Framed by the impressive Yatta Plateau, the national park is the largest in Kenya and is nearly 22,000km2 of wilderness with wide rivers and impenetrable acacia-commiphora woodland that is interspersed with baobabs. To the west are the Chyulu Hills that are capped with wild olive trees, and the Mzima Springs where hippos and crocs laze about in crystal clear water. 

Tsavo is also where the baby elephant orphans, raised by the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, are rehabilitated back into the wild. As soon as they're weaned at the age of two, they're brought to meet their older counterparts who adopt them immediately into the herd. Many have bred successfully with wild elephants and sometimes bring their babies home to meet their human foster parents. Read the touching tale of Emily the elephant and her baby, Emma, here. 

WHEN TO GO: The best time to visit Tsavo is from May to October to avoid the humidity and rain. 

WHERE TO STAY: Do your bit for elephant conservation and stay at one of David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust's eco-lodges. They not only promote responsible and sustainable tourism, but you can rest assured that by staying at either of their two camps - Ithumba Camp and Ithumba Hill Camp - in Tsavo East National Park, your funds will go directly towards the conservation and management of these areas. And if you're mad about ellies, arrange a site visit to The Elephants and Bees Project, which uses beehive fences to solve human- elephant conflict and to offer an economic boost to rural communities through the harvesting of "Elephant-Friendly Honey".

Zebras at Olerai House ©Georgina Goodwin 


Situated within easy reach of Nairobi is Soysambu Conservancy on Lake Elementaita. Home to 28% of the world's population of lesser flamingoes and 10% of the world's population of Rothschild's giraffe, the conservancy's 48,000 acres of diverse ecological significance will leave you mesmerised. 
During the day, you can expect to see giraffe, gazelle, zebra and waterbuck saunter along the shores, while at night hippos graze, leopards pad around, and aardvarks snuffle about for ants. 

WHEN TO GO: The landscape blossoms during the long rainy season from April to June, and although wildlife is not as concentrated during this time, the 
season coincides with the birth of a new generation of animals, especially antelopes, that make for some incredible sightings and a fresh look at nature. 

WHERE TO STAY: One of Kenya's best-kept secrets is Olerai House, which is situated in the Sirocco sanctuary on the shores of nearby Lake Naivasha, and is one of the best places to stay in the region. At Olerai House, you could be excused at times for thinking you were in the Garden of Eden - zebra nibble at the tablecloth, entranced by the scent of freshly baked scones, and giraffe have been known to feed from the terrace while guests enjoy a drink beneath them. 

A short walk across the sanctuary is Sirocco House, which is an exquisite Art Deco palazzo that was built by my grandparents in the late 1920s. You can swim in the pool at Sirocco House beneath enormous fig trees while colobus monkeys feed overhead. 

Organic gardens full of crisp green vegetables, and pasture-raised hens, ducks and sheep supply the kitchens with a bounty of fresh produce that's made into delicious meals that can be enjoyed outside in the garden or in the fire-lit dining room. The house itself is crowned with a champagne-burst of flowers, and their delicate scent perfumes the air, while expansive green lawns look out towards an extinct volcano, Mt. Longmont. 

Alternatively, Nigel Archer Safaris individually crafts each of their trips to fulfill personal preferences, and they can happily tailor an itinerary to Kenya's Rift Valley eco-system.