Samburu, Buffalo Springs and Shaba

Just north of Isiolo and around 325 km north of Nairobi, are the Samburu, Buffalo Springs and Shaba national reserves, some of the more remote and least visited of Kenya's game parks. They are located in Kenya's hot and arid northern region, and when you see a camel train walking single file along a dry riverbed, you know you're in a pretty parched area. The three reserves cover around 300 sq km in total and are separated by the Ewaso Nyiro
River, which provides water for the animals including the local goats and sheep, and some relief from the equatorial sun. They are some of the most pleasant national parks in Kenya, are not too crowded, and are usually visited on a combined safari of all three. There are a number of lodges and campsites in the reserves, but think carefully when to go - daytime temperatures regularly reach 40°C between January and October, even when it rains.

Ins and outs

A couple of hours drive north of Nanyuki, they are accessible by road via Isiolo and Archer's Post. There are airstrips in both Samburu and Buffalo Springs reserves. Samburu and Buffalo Springs are contiguous reserves, while the separate Shaba, which is often also included in safari itineraries in this region, is a short drive to the east. At Archer's Post the entrance to Shaba is at the right side, while the main gate to Samburu, Archer's Post Gate, is found 5 km on the left. Feasibly it is walkable, but very hot, there are safety concerns and you are unlikely to encounter any traffic that will give you a lift. Samburu also has another gate at its western end, but it is seldom used. Access to Buffalo Springs is either through Samburu or 20 km north of Isiolo, where there is a detour left leading to Isiolo Gate, formerly known as Ngare Mara Gate. Some 10 km ahead, 3.5 km before Archer's Post, a second detour leads to the Buffalo Springs Gate. Most people visit on an organized safari.


This national park was opened in 1965 in the hot, arid lowland area just to the north of Mount Kenya. Vegetation is made up of narrow stretch of palms and woodland along the Ewaso Ng'iro River, away from this is acacia woodland and hot, dusty scrubland. This desolate landscape is the face of the less hospitable Africa, but is the preferred habitat for some mammals well adapted to this harsh environment, some of them rarely seen in milder climates. Among these are Grevy's zebra, reticulated giraffe and Beisa Oryx, whose natural habitat is north of the equator. There are also elephant, cheetah, vervet monkey, and hippo and crocodile habituate the river. The long-necked gerenuk, also known as the 'giraffe- necked antelope', is an unusual animal that spends much of its time on its hind legs reaching up to the withered bushes. Leopards are regularly spotted. The birdlife is unusually numerous in this park, and large flocks of guinea-fowl can be seen in the afternoons coming to drink at the riverbanks. Doves, sandgrouse and the pygmy falcon are frequently seen. The area north of the Ewaso Nyiro River is very attractive with plains and low hills that are rocky in places. The dry watercourses are fringed with acacias, and the blue-grey mountains fringe the view in silhouette. After a downpour the arid countryside turns green overnight, and soon flowers and sweet smelling grasses are abundant.

One of the highlights of the area are the 'Sarara Singing Wells'. Samburu warriors bring their cattle to these watering holes on a daily basis during the dry season. Some of the wells are up to 10 m deep. The warriors strip off, descend to form a human chain and chant traditional Samburu songs as they pass water up by hand for the cattle.

Buffalo Springs

Buffalo Springs is south of the river from Samburu, and a bridge over the Ewaso Ng'iro River linking the two reserves was built in 1964. Elephant, zebra, giraffe, oryx, cheetah and crocodile can be found in the riverine forest of acacia and doum palm. In the park is a crater, made when an Italian bomber mistook buffalo for targets in the Second World War. It is now a spring and is reportedly safe to swim in. Unlike Samburu, Buffalo Springs has populations of the common zebra as well as the Grevy's zebra - it's an unexplained phenomenon why the common zebra is not found on the north side of the river.

Shaba National Reserve

To the east of Archer's Post is Shaba National Reserve, which is to the south of the Ewaso Ng'iro River. It is home to a number of gerenuk, gazelle, oryx, zebra, giraffe, cheetah, leopard and lion, which roam around acacia woodlands, bushlands and grasslands. Shaba got its name from the volcanic rock cone in the reserve. The riverine areas are dominated by acacia and doum palms. The martial eagle can often be spotted here, alert for its prey the guinea-fowl, or the occasional dik-dik. Joy and George Adamson who hand-reared lions and leopards and returned them to the wild, had a campsite in Shaba Reserve. Joy's last project was the release of Penny the leopard, who subsequently mated and reared a cub in the eastern part of the reserve. It was here that Joy was murdered in 1980, and there is a simple memorial plaque commemorating Joy's life and work erected by Isiolo County Council at her campsite under the shade of umbrella acacias, adjacent to a swamp in eastern Shaba. The reserve was the location of some parts of
Out of Africa
Born Free
, and also the US TV show
Survivor Africa
in 2001.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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