Much of Africa is desert and wasteland, an onerous but natural progression of the Sahara southwards and the Kalahari and Namib northwards. Only 14% of Kenya’s land is arable. But at the edge of the arable land and the encroaching desert, there is striking beauty in the aggressive challenges for survival.
At Samburu, a river flows off the Aberdare Mountains and in its short run through the desert it brings to life all the latent plants and flowers that once reigned supreme. Huge doum palms tower into the blue sky. Dense palmetto forests line the embankments, and a huge variety of acacia, gum and fig trees demarcate the river on its short journey to oblivion.
All this condensed life attracts enormous amounts of big game including massive families of elephant. Some of the wildlife has speciated into rare game. Africa’s most beautiful giraffe, the reticulated giraffe, is found only here. The rare and solitary Grevy’s zebra is confined to this area. Gerenuk, a strange long-necked antelope that never drinks after its stops suckling, lives in Samburu. Much of the birdlife is spectacular, including the golden-breasted starling and crimson throated shrike. In fact, there are as many species of birds found in this relatively small area as in all the massive Serengeti.
Samburu is usually the northern most park visitors reach by road, and the drive from the Mt. Kenya town of Nanyuki is a truly spectacular one. It begins in the lush forests, extensive wheat and sheep farms of Mt. Kenya and in less than an hour ends on a wind-swept desert. The area gets its name from the local Samburu peoples, a colorful tribe closely related to the Maasai.