In the remote reaches of Northern Kenya, where the Matthews Mountain Range meets the savannah plains of the desert, you’ll find Sarara Camp. Located on the Namunyak Wildlife Conservancy, it’s the only camp for hundreds of miles. Its six luxury tents sit perched overlooking the dramatic Mathews Mountain Range. The camp shares space on community-owned land in an area where wildlife and cattle farmers co-exist, and the Samburu are just as integral to the land as the wildlife. From its hillside location, you’ll catch a glimpse of the Samburu tending to their cattle in the distance and wildlife congregating around the waterhole just below camp.
It’s an idyllic setting, where buffalo, lion, leopard, cheetah, African wild dog, reticulated giraffe, plains game, and elephant roam the 850,000-acre reserve. It wasn’t always this way, however. By 1985, as a result of severe poaching, you couldn’t find a single elephant in the Mathews Mountain Ranges. When the elephants disappeared, so did the reticulated giraffe and Grevy zebras. But in 1995, as an effort to protect the elephant and local wildlife, the Namunyak Wildlife Conservation Trust was established as a community conservation partnership with the Samburu. This innovative partnership was one of the first of its kind in Kenya and has become one of the most successful community initiatives in Africa. Because of the joint partnership, today you’ll find thousands of elephant in the Mathews Mountain Range.
It’s important that the elephant has returned. Elephants are known as a “keystone species.” They provide vital services to the ecosystem by pulling down trees and breaking up thorny bushes. Their demolition habit creates grasslands for other animals and openings in the brush; the trails they create act as fire breakers and helps with water runoff. Their nutrient-rich dung fertilizes the soil which helps with crops; baboons and birds pick through their dung for seeds and nuts, and their dung also helps disperse seeds for new tree growth. Elephants lead the way for other animals to return, signaling safety and viability of a habitat. Once the elephant returned to the Namunyak area, the leopard, buffalo, and wild dog returned home as well.
The return of the key wildlife to the area is integral to Sarara, providing an unforgettable wildlife experience for its guests. The wildlife is always on view – from the open-air bathrooms and private terraces to the natural rock swimming pool that overlooks the active waterhole where elephant take their daily mud baths and kudu, warthog, and impala come to drink.
Because of the successful partnership, the Samburu have benefited not only from the return of the elephant, but also through conservancy and land lease fees which support women’s groups, scholarships for local students, and anti-poaching operations. In addition, the Samburu are deeply involved with the camp, working as bush guides, drivers, cooks, and housekeepers.
Just back from her trip to Sarara Camp, Ker & Downey Travel Designer MJ Eraci shares her top experiences with us:
Highlight of your stay at Sarara Camp? The views from Sarara are amazing. You can be as active or relaxed as you want at Sarara. Since their waterhole is a hub of activity among the wildlife, you won’t feel as if you’ve missed out by skipping a game drive.
Favorite activity? Visiting the Reteti Elephant Sanctuary and learning all about the area’s conservation efforts. The Namunyak Wildlife Conservancy is home to the first community-owned elephant orphanage in Africa, with all employees coming from the local community. Reteti is also reframing the way people think about the wildlife around them, with communities realizing the direct benefits the ecosystem receives from healthy elephant populations. Because of that, the local communities are taking it upon themselves to raise and re-wild the elephants in the Namunyak Wildlife Conservancy.
Don’t miss… experiencing the ‘singing wells.’ For centuries, the Samburu have gathered their herds and sung chants to their livestock as they bring up water from the wells. Unchanged for centuries, this ancient ritual is akin to the Great Migration in its rare and captivating nature, and it’s a fascinating example of humans and wildlife sharing the same water source.
Anything else? There are so many activities in the area and things you can’t do in other places. If you get the chance, take a heli trip.
To find out more about Sarara Camp, or to book your luxury Kenya safari, contact your Ker & Downey travel expert.