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Giraffes And Zebras Hanging Out At Buffalo Springs National Reserve, Kenya

Kenya: Samburu / Buffalo Springs National Reserves

We had spent the night at the Ark, a resort in the Aberdare Mountains. It had been cold and damp, and very green. From here we travelled north, crossing the equator and arriving at Buffalo Springs National Reserve, near the town of Isiolo.  

The landscape of this area is very different. It is a dry and hilly, semi-arid savannah flanking the scenic Ewaso Nyero River. The ecology is defined by contrasting habitats of riverine forest along the watercourse, and dry acacia scrub dotted with termite mounds extending away from it. The springs, after which the reserve has been named, are a scenic landmark and attract a steady stream of thirsty animals.

Buffalo Springs / Samburu National Reserve
The landscape of Buffalo Springs is peppared with acacia trees

Once entering the reserve, we headed towards the Samburu Simba Lodge, we came across a small group of elephants who had taken shelter from the hot midday sun under a tree. Unusually, the elephants were lying on the ground – which is very rare – mostly elephants sleep standing up.

Elephants getting some relief from the hot sun
A baby elephant enjoying the shade

Along the way, we also got to see our first oryx. These antelope are well-adapted to life in arid areas and can survive for several weeks without access to surface drinking water. There are four types in the genus of oryx, the ones found in Samburu, and generally in East Africa are the Beisa oryx. All the oryx have black and white markings on their faces, but their coat colours vary. The most distinctive feature though is their horns, which can be over a metre long. Both males and females have horns, which can be used for fighting during mating or as a defence against a predator.

An imperious oryx

After settling into our room and taking lunch, we headed out on an afternoon game drive. We had not gone far when we spotted a number of game drive vehicles stopped up ahead. When we got there we were greeted by a lioness and two cubs who were busily pestering her mother who was patiently grooming them.

We sat and watched for about 20-minutes. The lioness suddenly got up and started to walk away, leaving her cubs behind. For the next half an hour we followed her to a waterhole, where she took a drink, and then out into the bush. She was obviously out looking for her next meal. Sadly, we eventually lost her as she trekked deeper into the bush.

A lioness grooming one of her cubs
Pestering mum
The battle scared lioness on the lookout for the next meal
The lioness out looking for food for her cubs

The main attraction of Amboseli is the large number of elephants that live here and it was not long on our travels through the park before we came across a herd of elephants including cows, bulls, and calves. We could have spent all day watching these elephants, but they had other ideas and moved on. This left us with a small group of zebras to amuse us. We learned the collective noun for zebras is a ‘dazzle’.

A male impala
Grevy’s zebra
The Grevy’s zebra are the largest of the zebra genus and are endanged

We returned to the place where we’d seen the lioness and cubs earlier and they had returned to continue eating the kill from the previous day, which turned out to be an oryx. The lioness obviously had had her fill and was now letting the cubs work on the remains.

Lion cubs working on an oryx - Buffalo Spring National Reserve, Kenya

The light was going fast, but before returning to the lodge we watched the sunset over Buffalo Springs.

Sunset over Buffalo Springs National Reserve
The classic African sunset with an acacia tree in the foreground

The next day we woke around dawn, had a very quick breakfast and set out on an early morning game drive.

Our first point of all was the spot where we’d seen the lioness and cubs feeding on the oryx. They had left the scene and the carcass was now at the mercy of the silver-backed jackals and vultures.

Vultures working on a carcass
Silver-backed jackals joining in the feast

The lions were nowhere to be seen so we headed off deeper into the reserve. The day before we had not seen any giraffes but today we came across a ‘tower’ (the collective noun) of giraffes. These were reticulated giraffes,  or Somali giraffes, which is a subspecies of giraffes native to Somalia, however, it is also widely found in Northern Kenya. The Reticulated Giraffes coat consists of large, polygonal liver-coloured spots outlined by a network of bright white lines. The blocks may sometimes appear deep red and may also cover the legs.

One thing I find interesting about giraffes is that whilst they have incredibly long necks, they only have seven bones in their necks – which is the same as humans. Obviously, these neckbones are incredibly long!

Giraffes and zebras hanging out at Buffalo Springs National Reserve
Two giraffe hanging out

Whilst we were watching the giraffes, two of the male giraffes started ‘necking’. This is not to say they were two gay giraffes making out – but they were using their necks and heads as weapons to attack each other. This form of fighting is very serious and can cause serious injury – or even death! 

Two male giraffes necking

As we were driving away from the giraffes we got to see one of our favourite animals – a gerenuk or giraffe antelope.

A gerenuk - the giraffe antelope

Buffalo Springs National Reserve has a healthy population of elephants, so they are not too difficult to find in the vast expanse of the reserve. 

A hungry bull elephant

Buffalo Springs and Samburu National Reserves are not all about mammals! You will see reptiles, including crocodiles on the river, and there are plenty of interesting birds on display including eagles, vultures as well as smaller birds.

A secretary bird
Vulturine guineafowl
White-headed buffalo weaver
A lilac breasted roller

After four hours of driving around Buffalo Springs, we headed back to the lodge. I developed a dicky stomach over lunch so I missed the afternoon game drive. Karen went on her own and got to see a lioness (probably the same one we had seen the day before) chase down a zebra. The lioness was unsuccessful and took a good kicking from the zebra.

Luckily, my sickness was short-lived and I was back out on a game drive early the next morning. The highlight of this drive was coming across a pride of lions. There were two cubs, very close to the road, enjoying their latest meal – a crocodile. When we turned up one cub actually had a crocodile tale hanging from its mouth! I had never thought about lions hunting crocodiles – but I guess they don’t move too fast.

As well as the cubs there were a couple of lionesses and a very handsome male lion who was strutting his stuff.

A lion cub feasting on a crocodile at Buffalo Springs
A lioness basking in the early morning light
A majestic male lion striding through the bush

In summary …

Pros:

  • Excellent wildlife viewing
  • Four of the Big Five are easily found (rhino excluded)
  • Interesting mammal species restricted to the barren north
    Beautiful and arid scenery
  • Excellent birding with many dry-country specials
  • Less busy than its sister park (Samburu) north of the river

Cons:

  • Limited accommodation options compared to Samburu
  • Very hot and dry

About Buffalo Springs National Reserve

Buffalo Springs, Samburu and Shaba are a trio of similar, adjoining reserves. Buffalo Springs offers good wildlife viewing of most big safari animals and is particularly renowned for its excellent leopard sightings.

Wildlife:

There are decent wildlife densities in Buffalo Springs, and most safari animals can be spotted in a couple of days. Several habituated leopards make their home in the reserve and can be relied on for great sightings. Rhinos are absent, but elephants are plentiful, and there is a good variety of antelopes, including both the greater and lesser kudu.

Several dry-country adapted mammals that don’t occur in most Kenyan parks can be found here. The reticulated giraffe with its striking pattern is common. Beisa oryx is particularly well adapted to arid conditions. The gerenuk, with its elongated neck, is able to stand on its hind legs and nibble hard-to-reach leaves. Both the common Burchell’s zebra and the bigger Grevy’s zebra can be found alongside each other.

Planning your visit to Samburu / Buffalo Spring National Reserve

By Road:

It is approximately 6 hours of driving from Nairobi

By Air:

This park abuts Samuru National Park, so it is also possible to fly to Samburu and view both parks.

Direct flights from Nairobi Wilson Airport are also offered daily and are roughly 50 minutes in duration. Safarilink and Air Kenya are two domestic airlines that provide direct flights.

Best time to visit Samburu / Buffalo Springs

During the day, Samburu’s climate is hot and dry, although it cools down at night. The daytime temperature is usually in the region of 32°C/90°F, while the average at nighttime is 15°C/59°F. It is a good idea to bring warm clothing for game drives in the early morning. The rains peak in April and November, but annual rainfall is low.

Dry season–June to September
This time of year is marked by hot and sunny days with almost no rainfall being recorded.

  • June & July – Hot and sunny conditions. Afternoon temperatures are in the region of 31°C/87°F.
  • August & September – Daytime temperatures are on the rise before the rains cool things down. September’s average temperature is around 32°C/90°F, although it peaks much higher.

Wet season–October to May
The Wet season is defined by the ‘short rains’ followed by the wetter ‘long rains’. The months of January and February are dry period that separates the shorter and longer rains.

  • October, November & December – November is the wettest month. It rarely rains all day, but storms do occur in the afternoon. The daytime temperature is around 32°C/90°F, although it climbs higher before the rain and falls when the showers have cleared.
  • January & February – A dry spell that falls between the short and long rains, though it is difficult to predict the exact timing. February is the hottest month. The average temperature in the afternoon is 33°C/91°F, but it can get much hotter.
  • March, April & May – Short afternoon showers are usual during the long rains, which typically break in late March. April is the wettest month, and driving on deteriorating roads can be challenging. Temperatures in the latter part of the day are around 32°C/90°F.

Samburu Simba Lodge

One of the downsides of visiting Buffalo Springs National Reserve is that there are not many lodges places to stay inside the reserve. We were booked into the Samburu Simba Lodge.

The accommodation is made up of blocks of condominiums, which were nicely presented, but you could definitely hear your neighbours if they were a little noisy. 

The grounds are lovely with some large lawn areas. Here you can relax, just be aware you may get visits from black-faced velvet monkeys and baboons. You need to make sure you keep the patio windows closed, otherwise you make come back to your room and find a monkey rummaging through your luggage. Which is what happened to us.

There is a large pool area and some large public spaces, including a bar and a restaurant – where they serve food buffet style. The restaurant is open air and there is a waterhole close by where animals will often visit – including elephants.

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