Loisaba’s newest canvas roofs are tucked into the curved ridge of an escarpment, overlooking Lodo Springs
The male camels are working. We rode two of them this morning. With its rocky outcrops, escarpments, valleys, rivers and plains all within our view, looks like a film set, in which a lion cub could get lost. We undulate past a breeding bunch of camel cows with camel calves. A couple of men go from one udder to the other collecting their milk. Later, in the land cruiser, we meet a young lioness sprawled in the middle of the dirt road nearby. She was spotted with a male earlier who has now disappeared. They were probably napping in a honeymoon induced stupor whilst we were passing on our camel ride, the lead guide wading in his recycled tyre sandals through the low flowing river and the other whistling and clucking to the camels alongside us. One day the Borana got up and said to his tribe, we will migrate to live under the seven sisters constellation, known as Loisaba in the Maa of the Samburu, who also traversed these lands. Later, 57,000 acres here in northern Laikipia became a ranch for horned and great humped Zebu beef cattle. They are known as the Borana cattle because the Borana have bred these herds, native to the Oromo region in southern Ethiopia, for centuries. In around 1000 BCE, the camel herding cushites from Somalia reached the Gabra and Rendille of northern Kenya, who then brought their camels to the lands of the Samburu. As the climate begins to make these lands yet more arid, camels are thriving in favour of cattle. Our Borana guide Bashir, is well versed with the adaptations of the animals to these high plateaux. We are watching a group of Oryx, studying their slick heat reflective coats and their dark legs which absorb heat in the plummeting night-time temperatures. Their urine is very concentrated and their faeces is dry. They can sense rainfall and will eat root tubers when no vegetation is available. The oryx can effectively survive without water, and is therefore the national emblem of the desert country of Qatar. Gerenuks Bashir says, have evolved similar adaptations including nasal breathing, and eating whilst standing on their hind legs to reach leaves other antelope can’t.
From the stables, we ride out on horse back. Dik-diks flit away from our track and watch from around bushes as the horses shake their manes. These cute, shy tiny antelopes, a mere snack for a big leopard, are very territorial, marking their territory with scent from the preorbital glands in the front of their eyes. They pair for life and breed prolifically, with a five month gestation. Bashir tells us that “Male dik-diks can kill each other.” On our drives we come across the delicious prickly pear, a cactus from South America that is growing in proliferation under trees and in great clumps in the savannah. Opuntia engelmannii has plenty of competition in its native environment but here, it has become invasive, snuffing out indigenous, slower growing plants. In Loisaba, they introduced the cochineal beetle, that feeds on the cactus and spreads a virus that would weaken the succulent; but it wasn’t fast enough. Now it is being removed with hands and earth moving tractors. When its sticky thorns and fleshy leaves fall to the ground, new growths spring up. So, killing and burying the plant in very deep pits needs to be carefully monitored.
Loisaba’s newest canvas roofs are tucked into the curved ridge of an escarpment, overlooking Lodo Springs. When we arrive, an elephant is taking a slow walk away from the watering hole up the other side of the valley. In the plains below, the red oat which is the sole reason for the mighty migration that takes place in the south every year, is unusually high after unseasonal rainfall. This part of Kenya is prone to droughts, which follow failure of seasonal rains. 2010/2011 had seen the worst drought for 60 years. In 2013, on the north eastern boundary of the conservancy, the pastoralists were relaxed, awaiting the short rains. The sun was high in the sky and honey collectors were smoking out bees from their hives, heating up the midday, yet more. Something happened that sparked some brush nearby. The surrounding dry bushes were ablaze, a gust of wind threw flames outwards to catch on thick grasses and very high winds carried the fire faster still, leaping up to 30 feet.
This bushfire burned nearly 25,000 acres of grassland, as well as Loisaba’s tented Lodge and Private House, before it got under control. As this has always been a working ranch, the tame and the feral have existed alongside each other. Whilst Loisaba may not have the game density of the Masai Mara, here within the conservancy, they encourage walking, riding and exploring it. My daughter takes a mountain bike out with two guides and they ride past Oryx, and through a group of Grant’s gazelles. Both the Thomson’s and Grant’s gazelles live in herds of females and young ones with just one male.
Every time we come across a lone gazelle, Bashir asks us to guess if it’s a confused male just ousted from his harem by a contender & still searching for a bachelor herd to join, or one that is fattening himself up for a fight with the current alpha. Now, all three of Elewana’s camps – Loisaba Tented Camp, Kiboko Star Beds where you can sleep outdoors, directly under the seven sisters and Loisaba Lodo Springs are all up and running. We were looked after by a butler and a guide, had a champagne breakfast in a spot by a marsh which we reached by camel and stopped for sundowners and canapés by a campfire at the end of our game drive. Loisaba feels very intimate with its close proximity to its flora, fauna, the luxury tents under the heavens and remarkably attentive service.
There is no evidence of the fire anymore in the verdant landscape with it’s flowing river, full watering hole and frolicking animals. When Bashir tells me he comes from nearby Goto, meaning waterfall, his words ring true, in this otherwise parched north. There are plans to reintroduce rhinos, to save the reticulated giraffe and the very endangered hirola antelope. We meet the canine unit with a couple of very friendly blood hounds who can remember a smell for six months. Yesterday, they were deployed in a nearby village where cattle hustlers dared to work. Today they are resting, because crime in general and poaching has been almost been annihilated.