Laikipia

Laikipia straddles the equator, lying between the ice-capped peaks of Mt. Kenya, the arid lowlands of Samburu and dazzling Lake Baringo. The region’s appeal is its startling contrasts; in wildlife, landscape, people, and climate. It is transversed by the Ewaso Nyiro and Ewaso Narok rivers.

The uniqueness of this region is not only due to its wildlife and spectacular scenery but also because of its unique partnerships. Considered the gateway to Kenya’s wild Northern frontier country, Laikipia’s wild and sparsely populated land is mostly made up of privately owned ranches and community conservancies.

Over 6,000 elephants roam Laikipia, an area that stretches from the Great Rift Valley to the magnificent escarpment overlooking the Samburu and Isiolo districts. Laikipia has healthy wildlife population densities, the highest number of endangered species in Kenya including black rhino, Grevy’s zebra, and wild dog and the greatest variety of animal species.

Laikipia is home to various antelopes and grazing mammals that also occur in other parts of southern Kenya, such as waterbuck, impala, eland, African buffalo, plains zebra, bushbuck, and both Grant’s and Thomson’s Gazelles. There are no wildebeest, however, or Topi. 

One small antelope species of the open grasslands is the red-brown Steinbuck, widespread in southern Africa but in Kenya seldom seen outside Laikipia. The region also supports species that are typical of the dry country to the north, including Beisa oryx, Grevy’s zebra, the Reticulated giraffe and Günther’s Dik-dik.

Large and medium-sized predators in Laikipia include the lion, the leopard, the cheetah, the serval, the caracal, the African wild cat, the striped hyenas and the spotted hyena. While related to the hyenas, the aardwolf differs in that it feeds on termites. Present too but seldom seen are the honey badger, a voracious predator of beehives, and the omnivorous African civet, which at night sometimes finds its way into chicken coops.

As home to some 450 of Kenya’s estimated 1,100 bird species, Laikipia is a birder’s paradise. Before the sun emerges, Crested Francolins launch into rounds of strident, repetitive cackles. The force and timing of their daily chorus have earned them the soubriquet ‘East Africa’s alarm clock’. The guttural barks of Hartlaub’s Turaco will make a telling contribution to the morning chorus.

A ride through Laikipia’s grasslands will yield sightings of one of Africa’s iconic birds: the Common Ostrich. Other large terrestrial birds include five species of Bustard: Black-bellied, White-bellied, Hartlaub’s, Buff-crested and Kori.

Martial and Verreaux’s Eagles are among the largest raptors that rely on live kills. Martial Eagles, easily distinguished by their black-speckled white underparts and pantaloons, are seen in open areas where they forage for hares, dikdik, and guineafowl. Verreaux’s Eagles, black with a crisply contrasting white V on their backs, tend to forage around rock outcrops where they can pick off their preferred prey – hyraxes. The Bateleur is easily recognized in the air by its white wings, extremely short tail, protruding red feet and matching red bill. But it is the Bateleur’s graceful flight that sets it apart. The name, meaning ‘acrobat’ in French, was inspired by the species’ characteristic ‘tipping’ while flying as if balancing on a tightrope.

Various raptors visit Laikipia seasonally, as they migrate to and from summer breeding grounds in Eastern Europe and western Asia. Commonly seen visitors include Pallid Harriers, Sooty and Red-footed Falcons and Lesser Kestrels. While these raptors find safe, healthy wintering grounds in Laikipia, many of their northern breeding habitats have been disturbed and fragmented. The International Convention for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) considers the Lesser Kestrel ‘Vulnerable’ to extinction, while the other species are listed as ‘Near-threatened’.

The oddest raptor of the grasslands is the Secretary Bird. This long-legged hunter spends its day striding across the landscape, scanning the ground for snakes, lizards and large grasshoppers. The Secretary Bird’s grey and black plumage are offset by startling orange-red skin around the eyes, trailing tail feathers and a crown of spiky feathers said to resemble the quill pens of a perfectly attired olden-day secretary.

Visitors to Laikipia have the chance to see at least five species of Vulture – White-faced, White-backed, Lappet-faced, Rüppell’s and Egyptian. The IUCN classifies the Egyptian Vulture as ‘Endangered’, and the other four species as ‘Vulnerable’.The Ewaso Ng’iro, Ewaso Narok, Naro Moru, or Nanyuki Rivers watercourses are prime habitat for the African Fish Eagle, often seen swooping to the water’s surface to snag fish. Grey and Black-headed Herons stand patiently at the water’s edge, waiting to spear unwary frogs or other prey animals. Kingfishers – Giant, Pied and the small, jewel-like Malachite – streak back and forth between riverbanks, or perch motionless on reeds, scanning the shallows for prey.