Big Cats, Elephants and Unusual Species

Lions? Leopards? And Chimps

Hot, dry, not overly touristed, and yet filled with every kind of wildlife, Samburu National Reserve is a special prize for those who safari off the beaten path. The big cats – lion, leopard, and cheetah – prowl this rugged land of acacia trees, riverine forest, and broad savannahs. Cutting through the dry plains, the Ewaso Ng’iro river provides an oasis for the many species including over 900 elephants, who drink at its life-preserving waters.

Though it’s the most popular park in northern Kenya, the park is still relatively empty and serene. Come here to spot dozens of large and small species like baboon, warthog, gazelle, dik-dik, and impala. But you’ll also be surprised at the over 450 species of birds filling the skies, trees, and riverbanks. Look for storks, eagles, starlings, hornbills, bee-eaters, and vultures.

The Samburu Special Five

The park also hosts a variety of rare animals you won’t easily find elsewhere. Known as the Samburu “Special Five”, these unusual species are Grevy’s Zebra, Somali ostrich, the reticulated giraffe, gerenuk, and beisa oryx.

Also, unusual in other parks but quite common here are African wild dogs, hunting in their social packs. Other vulnerable species to look for: the great egret, martial eagle, and the pancake tortoise.

Born Free

You’ve heard the story of Elsa, the lioness, raised by Joy Adamson and immortalized in the book and movie, “Born Free”. Samburu is one of two places Adamson raised the young lion cub to adulthood before releasing her into the wild.

Such are the legends of Samburu, an almost mystical spot where the unexpected is know to occur. Like the story of Kamunyak (“Blessed One”), a lioness in the reserve that adopted at least six oryx calves. Kamunyak famously fought off all kinds of predators including lions to save her adopted offspring. Her story garnered international fame in the documentary “Heart of a Lioness”.

The Maasai

Sharing this land flocked with distinctive acacia trees are the Maasai people, nomadic herders from whom the park takes its name. They construct traditional villages surrounding the reserve and live as they have for eons, herding their cattle and pushing back at an ever-encroaching modern world.

Known for their brightly colored shukas and deft beadwork, the Maasai are a living link to a past that stretches back beyond colonial Africa, to an era when the entire continent was wild and untouched.


Open bush

Dense bush

Riverine Forest


Don’t Miss…

The Samburu People – Related to the Maasai pastoral people, the Samburu live nearby in local villages. Visit an authentic homestead to meet these herding people, observe their lifestyle and learn about their ancient culture.

Enjoy the serene park – You won’t find hordes of tourists at Samburu so you can appreciate the wildlife at an easy pace. You’re certain to see plenty of animals quenching their thirst at the banks of the Ewaso Ng’iro River.

Easy rafting – On the park’s main body of water, enjoy a peaceful raft adventure on the Ewaso Ng’iro.

Shaba Reserve – Looking for a bit more greenery? Just to the east of Samburu, you can visit the Shaba National Reserve where you’ll find forests, woodlands, and even ancient volcanic formations. Check out the Shaba Hill Volcano.

Buffalo Springs – Heading south of the reserve will place you at the oasis of Buffalo Springs. Check out the great lava terrace called the Champagne Ride and the wildlife that inhabit these lush springs.

Community Projects

These reserve-based projects help the livelihoods of the nearby rural communities.

  • Education for local students, including computer skills training
  • Healthcare – providing medical supplies to the local health centers and mobile clinic
  • Energy – providing hundreds of local families with energy-efficient stoves – reducing the need for firewood.

Ol Pejeta Eco-Facts

  • Sanctuaries to protect endangered chimpanzees, oryx, hartebeest, Grevy’s zebra, and bat-eared fox
  • Home to the world’s last remaining northern white rhinos
  • The largest black rhino sanctuary in East Africa – the rhino population has increased by over 100 in the last 25 years.

Survey: Samburu National Reserve

The forests, savannahs, and plains of this signature park form an area of 165 sq mi (63 sq mi) in size.

Location: The park is 345 km (214 mi) north of Nairobi. Estimate a 5-hour drive from the city. Located in the Rift Valley Province, the Ewaso Ng’iro River makes up the park’s southern border.

Climate: The tough, arid climate matches the rugged landscape. Daytime temperatures run 300C (850F). The long rains arrive in March through May.

When to go: The park is open and accessible year-round.

Best time to visit: The dry months are best for viewing the wildlife as they are predictably drawn to the Ewaso Ng’iro River. The dry seasons are December through March and July through October.

Getting there: You can Book a tour with Africa Kenya Safaris. And you’ll go in style – a specially outfitted 4 x 4 safari Jeep.

This is Samburu

At first glance, Samburu may appear to be an empty, rugged desert. But tread gently and the park will reveal its wildlife treasures – elephants, big cats, giraffes, and baboons. This easy, untrammeled park may turn out to be your favorite.

Join us at Samburu National Reserve

Africa Kenya Safaris offers safaris to Samburu and other nearby parks.  Just contact us to get your safari started.

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