SECTIONS

Tracking the Big Five

Rhinos in Lewa Wildlife Conservancy located in northern Kenya. [David Gichuru, Standard]

What comes to mind when you think of Lewa? For many, this would be the Lewa Safari Marathon that was held last weekend or the Lewa as a conservancy. 

The conservancy that sits on the leeward side of Mt Kenya has a big name, probably one of the best known. It is also easily accessible, lying on the Meru-Isiolo Road. 

It is also one of the attractions of the northern tourism circuit, lying just north of Laikipia and one of the biggest conservancies in this region. The region, along with the Tsavo-Amboseli and Mara ecosystems, easily accounts for most of Kenya’s safari and adventure offerings. The northern tourism area goes all the way to Marsabit, and within it has such big names as Samburu National Reserve and the neighbouring Shaba and Buffalo Springs reserves. 

On this day we find ourselves taking a late afternoon game drive in Lewa. Preparations for the Lewa Safari Marathon were going on and the area, sheltered by the towering Mount Kenya in the near distance, was dusty. 

This is in contrast to the outlook just a few kilometres away in the Nanyuki area of Laikipia which, was in the throes of heavy rains and lush greenery. Against the backdrop of threatening heavy clouds pregnant with rain in the distance, we hoped to catch a glimpse of the Big Five.

Characteristically, the conservancy is home to all the Big Five and within less than an hour, we had already sighted three; elephants, rhinos and buffalos. The dream was to catch sight of a lion, but conversations with other tour vans also looking for the king of the jungle were not very encouraging. The final member of the big five, the leopard is not one you can always count on, and any lucky sighting is usually short-lived. The animal, seemingly shy pulls away from any curious tourists as soon as it is sighted.

Satisfying though were the elephants and rhinos, who seemed content to continue grazing just a few metres away from the curious sightseers in vans, each keeping a wary eye on the other.  Also in abundance are zebras and gazelles, which should have told us that the lions were not anywhere near here. And if they were, they were probably hidden in the long grasses or shrubs away from human eyes. 

We, however, had to give up the search soon though. This was only the first stop of a tour of the north going all the way to the far reaches of Samburu. The itinerary included a dash to Sera Conservancy to see their rhino conservation programme. 

Unlike Lewa, which has become one of the rhino conservation success stories in the region, Sera is still building up to this, and the future looks promising. 

Their rhino programme started in 2015 with 10 black rhinos, and the conservancy, backed by an anti-poaching unit has its hands full and has made good strides, now looking to keep increasing the numbers and even bring the white rhino into the fold.