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A safari on a private game ranch on Kenya’s Laikipia plateau

Stretching from the slopes of Mount Kenya, to the rim of the Great Rift Valley, the Laikipa Plateau harbours an abundance of wildlife and a fine collection of eccentric lodgings. 

Days spent on safari on the Laikipia Plateau are a strikingly different experience to the rest of east or southern Africa. First and foremost it is made up of a patchwork of independent working ranches, rather than being a conventional National Park, and therefore the rules or, more likely, the lack of them, are down to your hosts - not some bureaucrat in a far-off town. So while in a National Park it may not be possible walk, or travel in an open vehicle, or use a spotlight at night, or ride a horse, bike or camel - all of this and more is possible here and the sense of liberation is palpable. It often leaves the impression that you have visited friends - the family hounds might join you on game-drives and a swim in the river might replace the more common-or-garden siesta.

The wildlife on Laikipia is superb - in addition to the big five (there are eight separate rhino sanctuaries) the area boasts a large and diverse array of mammals, and is arguably currently the best place on the continent to track Wild Dog.

From a safari point of view, particularly for someone perhaps familiar with Botswana, Zambia or southern Tanzania, the fact that it is not a National Park can take a little getting used to. From a southern African perspective, the very idea that you'd continue to run cattle in an area so infested with indigenous wildlife, and particularly lion, is a completely anomalous concept. In most of Africa ranching and conservation are two completely separate endeavours and never the twain shall meet. Refreshingly, here in northern Kenya, man and wildlife do merge - and while there are undoubtedly challenges if there is a model whereby traditional pastoralists, commercial farmers and wildlife can all co-exist this is it.  What this means practically when on safari is that, along with the outrageous spectrum of mammals and birdlife, you will see people - herdsmen (typically garbed in colourful traditional robes) and cattle, roads and stockades. This is not the pristine wilderness of the Luangwa - but in some ways it is all the richer for it.

The lodgings tend to be centred around, or emanating out of, an old farmhouse and so are more solid, and perhaps a tad more colonial, than traditional safari camps elsewhere. However, you'll often be in the company of people who have enjoyed an unorthodox upbringing as offspring of pioneers to these parts and so the whole experience is genuinely unpolished, uncontrived, warm and relaxed.

Posted by: Rod Tether

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