Thursday, May 6

In the High Forests of the Matthews Range

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The crystal-clear Ngeng River runs down the valley past the camp, gurgling its way into natural pools, in which we’ve had many fun mornings swimming with the family.

All the grime we gathered with much glee, during our forest walk is now washed away. The first step is the most exhilarating, when you jump off the jeep in the clearing and your foot hits the forest earth. Then a scramble onto great rocks and yet more exultation, as you taste the air above the vast views stretching out below you.

From the forest paths, we sit quietly watching the giants gliding almost silently through the forest. Guided from a safe distance we are entranced by elephants feeding, the young ones, greeting and shoving one another just for fun. This is the forest elephant, recently declared a separate species from the African savanna elephant that roams below this range on the near expanses of Samburu, then south to the plains of Amboseli and Tsavo.

Our guides are from the local Samburu community, traditional warrior guardians of the forest. Their colourful Samburu garb and adornment – unchanged for centuries – is brighter in this high altitude light. We are on foot now, engulfed in the scents and sounds of the forest.

In the valley that cuts through the Matthews Range, lion, leopard, hyena, aardwolf, warthog, bush pig, forest elephant, buffalo, Grevy’s zebra, waterbuck, bushbuck and over 200 species of birds including the beautiful Hartlaub’s Turaco, call it home. Over 150 species of butterflies soar over the wild flora and 1,036 different species of plants ramble amongst giant podocarpus, cedar, fig and croton trees.

Endemic and unique to the forest, are species rarely found or not found at all, anywhere else. The endangered Percival’s black and white colobus (Colobus guereza percivalii), the rare de Brazza’s monkey, the endangered African painted hunting dog, a unique sub species of African yellow white eye, Zosterops senegalensis jacksoni, and a large number of unique frogs, bats and small mammals and, towering above them all, the unique and primeval Mathews cycad are found in this ecosystem.

The peaks of the Mathews Range at over 8,000 feet, loom, like a green tropical island, above the arid plains, which surround it for almost 100km in any direction, this has left the Mathews Range isolated for over ten millennia, as a kind of “sky island”.

Kitich Forest Camp has been guarding the forest and protecting the elephants for over 40 years; with a dedicated following of safari goers “in the know”. A low key classic, it is just six tents with comfortable beds covered in fresh linen and gracious dining under a dense tree canopy, that overlooks the river glade.

It is evening, around the campfire after the walking and swimming, we’re happy just to sit with gin and tonics and wine in hand, listening to the acoustics of the valley – lions and elephants amongst the night crickets.

Land with Air Kenya on to Kalama or West Gate airstrips in Samburu. From there it’s a two hour drive through fascinating landscapes and habitats through Samburu country.
New African Territories
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