Located in Isiolo in the striking Laikipia plateau and set against the breathtaking backdrop of Mt. Kenya, Lewa Conservancy, also known as Lewa Downs, is about a five-hour drive from Nairobi. Five if, like us, you decide to make numerous stops to capture some of the most stunning landscape that Kenya has to offer.
Monkeys cheekily playing about the front lawn, elephants cooling off in a swamp which in the scorching afternoon heat looked every bit like a mirage, a circular outdoor swimming pool overlooking the vast landscape, good food coupled with beautiful simply outfitted rooms and tents, we spent three wonderful days at Ngiri House. Even the fact that I accidentally stepped in buffalo dung out in the parking lot was somewhat exciting, for if you live in the city, it is not everyday that one steps in buffalo dung!
With 62,000 acres of unspoilt sheer natural beauty begging to be explored, we set off across the savannah's gentle rolling hills for an evening game drive. First up was a herd of Sitatunga antelopes who gazed at us curiously for all of two seconds before getting back to whatever it is antelopes discuss in the plains. Probably, like us, wondering if it would rain later that night. We then encountered a herd of Grevy's Zebra, the largest and most threatened of the three Zebra species. Lewa is home to about 330, making up an impressive 12 per cent of the world's total population! Did you know that much like the human fingerprint, the stripe of every Zebra is unique? These stripes also serve to confuse predators via two visual illusions: the wagon wheel effect (where the perceived motion is inverted) and the barber pole illusion (where the perceived motion is in a wrong direction). Such fascinating creatures! One in particular stood out at the conservancy, turning its head to one side as if trying to find its light like a seasoned supermodel as we clicked away. Talk about being in the running for Lewa Wildlife's Next Top Model!
Off road driving is allowed and the driver got us so close to this rhino and her baby that I felt as though if Ieaned out of the truck far enough I might be able to touch its rough mud-swathed skin which, caught in the orange embers of a fading sunset, was bathed in the most attractive shade of gold. So near, yet so far. According to accounts by Wanjiku Kinuthia, a communications officer at Lewa, the conservancy, which was initially a cattle ranch, actually started off as a sanctuary to protect the last of Kenya's black rhinos in 1983 and has since evolved into an impressive catalyst and model for conservation.
As we continued driving up towards our designated spot for sundowners, the perfect vantage spot from which to take in the beauty of Lewa, the driver came to a stop. There, camouflaged in the tall grass, were two cheetahs, brothers Wallace and Gromit, named after a certain British animated comedy series. Compared to others in the big cat kingdom, cheetahs have poor night vision and therefore typically hunt at sunrise and sunset when there is low light. Witnessing their sharp focus and alertness firsthand was impressive- the brothers kept stalking the prey they had seemingly spotted miles away, despite the dead giveaway of our headlights which signalled the presence of intruders. Cheetahs may be the fastest land animals but they are not capable of prolonged chases and so we drove off to give them a better chance of getting as close as possible to their dinner that night under the glow of the full moon.
NORTHERN RANGELANDS TRUST (NRT)
Lewa Down's model been so successful that they have been approached to manage surrounding conservancies and community land. With their resources stretched, another entity was formed, NRT, which now manages conservancies all over Northern Kenya. As the biggest beneficiaries of Safaricom Marathon, they also support water projects, schools, clinics, microcredit programmes, community projects and much more, all while looking out for wildlife and protecting them from poachers.
One of the "must do" marathons in the world, the 18th annual Safaricom Marathon in Lewa Conservancy will take place on 24th June 2017. With rough terrain, heat and altitude to contend with, participants will get to share the course with elephants, rhinos, giraffes, antelopes and more. This is one of the only marathons in the world to take place in a conservancy and UNESCO World Heritage Site.