Fantastic Samburu

Fantastic Samburu

Dry Samburu gives us great game viewing!

It’s a real fallacy that the dry season is better for game viewing than the wet season. I think this myth was propagated by safari companies who didn’t have the right equipment capable of driving over slippery roads or getting out of mud.

Wet areas draw the animals, especially the herbivores. The veld is beautiful and fresh. Healthy herbivores mean the predators, like lions, have a better chance of raising larger families of cubs. All told, I always prefer wet season game viewing.

But when done correctly, the dry season can also be fantastic, and so it was for us on Saturday and Sunday, March 15 and 16, in Samburu.

The short rains of November had failed. The river the defines the parks of Buffalo Springs, Samburu and Shaba, had lasted only a week, when it should have rained for 6 or 7 weeks. The river has been dry since January, when normally it is dry for only the month of October. The Lorian Swamp is in serious risk of becoming a terrible ecological disaster.

But we know that the source of Samburu’s river, the Ewaso Nyiro, is the Aberdare Mountains, and it is getting rain, now. It remains to be seen if this will develop into a true rainy season as it should, but our fingers are crossed. And meanwhile, the game viewing in Samburu was great!

The Isiolo river, which joins the Ewaso Nyiro near the new Sobek Lodge, is flowing normally. The river comes out of Buffalo Springs. At this junction, all the crocodiles had to come, since the rest of the river is dry. We saw a pile of crocs! One of them was nearly 16 feet long, and it reminded me of what I had only seen before at Lake Turkana, and once on the Grumeti in the Serengeti.

Several of my clients were astounded that most of the large groups of elephants that we saw here weren’t drinking from the shallow water that was flowing east of the junction of the E.N. and Isiolo. Instead, the elephants were walking several kilometers west onto the seemingly completely dry E.N., then digging holes until they hit water flowing under the sand.

But the fact is that the water filtered through the sand is cleaner and sweeter than the shallow surface water which draws many birds and smaller animals. So while we saw great storks and plovers and hammerkops, and a few impala sipping the surface water flowing near the new Sobek Lodge, the elephants and most of the other animals were further west drinking from meter-deep holes the big tuskers had dug.

This means that despite the failure of the short rains, things still are pretty good for the Samburu animals. The elephants were healthy, and we saw families of buffalo that were nearly 100 individuals large! Baby ostrich, lots of Grevy’s zebra, dozens if not hundreds of reticulated giraffe, plenty of impala and two prides of lion.

That’s pretty good for a 2-day stay in Samburu, and I know this will tank if the long rains don’t come. There were some ominous signs that further north, things aren’t so good.

For the first time ever, I saw lots of magpie starlings in the park. And we found two Jackson’s hornbills. These are real desert birds that normally aren’t seen in Samburu. It must mean that wherever they normally reside further north, things are truly desperate.

It’s been almost 18 years since the last real drought. We had a spell like this about 8 years ago, and the short rain failure then was broken by a good long rains. That’s what we hope happens, now, but it remains to be seen.

But for the time being, what a wonderful time we had here! And it ended with our sundowners at the s-curve view point down from Larsen’s camp where we were staying. As we watched the sun set over the seemingly dry river, the sky turning a beautiful pink and lavender as the blurry yellow orb disappeared in the dust of the horizon, a leopard ran across the river’s sand!