In the planet more crowded than it has ever been in its millennial history, in a continent where growth and modernity are busy erasing nature and wilderness, in an age when homo sapiens dominates, shapes and destroys, there are a few spots that have escaped this fate. Amazingly, one of them is on our doorstep, in that legendary and slightly mysterious region called Northern Kenya and celebrated by adventures, explorers and writers. This jewel is called Sera Conservancy and is a vast, scenic, almost intimidating slice of Africa inhabited by only a handful of seminomadic Samburu tribesmen and by wildlife that very rarely comes into contact with humans.
Its immensity is mind-blowing: 350,000 hectares, comparable to a small European nation. But it is what is happening inside it that makes it even more extraordinary: six years ago, a secret project to reintroduce the black rhino in Northern Kenya 30 years after its disappearance started with the relocation of 10 of them into a newly built sanctuary, a whopping 54,000 hectares of land fenced and protected by state-of-the-art security. The secret was necessary because protecting, relocating rhino is a dangerous business; with the enormous value of rhino horns on the black market, rhino’ numbers are declining and many predict that they will reach a point of no-return. Amazingly, six years on, the rhino are 18 (8 calves born since translocation) and the community of brave Samburu people are in charge of the only black rhino in Northern Kenya with zero poaching incidents.
A small, but extraordinary lodge called Saruni Rhino offers a ‘thrill-of-a-lifetime’ experience: tracking black rhino on foot, on a walking safari like no other. Now that the secret is revealed, this remote area has become one of the most advanced conservation projects in Kenya. And one of the few rhino stories worldwide where instead of mourning losses, the talk is about new births and increasing numbers.
The experience is unique: expert Samburu guides game drive you a tracking-distance away from the nearest rhino, leaving the vehicle and continuing on foot (very lightly to not give away our presence) to metres from the grazing rhino. The environment is harsh, bushy, and often arid.
The black rhino is a massive, prehistoric animal, who does not hesitate to attack when feeling in danger. The tension is palpable as you come across the rhino in such close proximity for the first time; heart beating, pulse racing, curiosity and excitement mounting – it doesn’t get more thrilling than this.
The adventure doesn’t stop there. The conservancy provides further plentiful wildlife opportunities and experiences; game drives to spot the Samburu specials (oryx, gerenuk, Somali ostrich, Grevy’s Zebra, reticulated giraffe), buffalo, elephants, antelope and a plethora of birdlife. All surrounded by the majestic landscape of a region where beauty and purity cannot fail to inspire.
As a pioneering example of community-based tourism and conservation, Saruni Rhino is an example of what tourism is becoming in Kenya after experimenting with mass-tourism in the Eighties and Nineties. The benefits of sustainable tourism go directly to the community who owns the private land, and the guests go home with an experience that is impossible to forget that hopefully will encourage many other visitors to journey to Kenya and to East Africa. In this way, Kenya is re-inventing the safari industry and once again is leading the pack of other African destinations.
As remote as it is, getting to Saruni Rhino is relatively easy, flying in to Kalama airstrip (then one and half hours of exhilarating drive among ancient Samburu communities and ‘empty’ savannah) or driving from Nairobi, about 7 hours of good road, crossing some of the best landscapes that Kenya has to offer.
So, on our doorstep, adventure awaits, under the eyes of a sky that when night falls becomes a living astrolabe projected into the universe. Humans, rhinos and the many elephants of the area can both feel very small and very big under it. Experience the magic of Saruni Rhino and the Rhino Tracking Experience.