Samburu, Shaba and Buffalo Springs National Reserves are often simply treated as one large wildlife reserve. In fact, they are three separate and distinct reserves, each having its own gates and boundaries. All three reserves mainly depend on the life-giving waters of the Ewaso Nyiro River to provide sustenance for the wildlife, most of which would surely perish in this harsh and arid landscape if it were not for the presence of this semi-permanent water source.
Buffalo Springs National Reserve is situated south of the river and covers an area of 131 km². It was established in 1948 as part of the Samburu – Isiolo Game Reserve, but became a separate reserve in 1985, when the present boundaries were set up. Buffalo Springs is named after an oasis of clear fresh-water springs and pools found in the western corner of the reserve, which attract a multitude of wildlife, particularly during the dry season when the river briefly stops flowing.
The landscape of Buffalo Springs is dominated by the Champagne Ride in the south east – an ancient lava terrace overlooking the lowland plains of lava flows and volcanic soil, covered in scrubby grasslands. Along the banks of the river there is a dense band of riverine forest which provides plenty of food and much-needed shade – the summer temperatures are regularly over 40⁰C!
The bridge linking the two reserves was washed away by tumultuous flood waters in 2010 and, although it was quickly rebuilt by the British Army, it again washed away in 2011. Since then it was necessary to make a 45km detour to another bridge on the main road if you wished to explore both Buffalo Springs and Samburu National Reserves. For this reason, many northern circuit safaris only visited one or the other of the two reserves, which is a great shame as both of them offer a different experience. The great news is that the repaired bridge was once again reopened in February 2015, making it easy to cross from one reserve to the other. The Elephants, of course, need no bridges and can often be seen crossing the wide expanse of the river from one reserve to the next!
Many people are unaware that Buffalo Springs National Reserve is home to such a wide variety of wildlife, and offers visitors the chance to do some really amazing wildlife viewing without contending with the crowds that are often encountered in some of the popular southern national parks. Here in Buffalo Springs there are no jostling vehicles, no disruptive radio crackles, just pure African wilderness with hardly another tourist in sight! (Due to the remoteness of the reserve, the majority of visitors limit their safaris to the southern circuit parks.)
Some activities to look forward to include:
Cultural Visits to Samburu villages
Visits to the Singing Wells
Game Drives are definitely the best way to see a large variety of wildlife. In most game reserves the best time to go on a game drive is either early morning or late afternoon, but in Buffalo Springs a drive through the riverine forest area should yield good sightings at any time of the day, as large numbers of animals tend to converge on the shady river banks to escape the heat. To see predators on the move in the open scrubby areas, choose early morning and late afternoon game drives. The local Samburu guides have immense knowledge of the flora and fauna of the reserve and are always happy to share their love of nature with you.
Game walks, escorted by an armed Samburu guide, are probably the best way to see all the smaller creatures that you would probably miss on a game drive. Your guide will point out the various plants that can be used for traditional medicine (there is even a tooth-brush tree!), teach you how to interpret tracks and droppings and point out all the hiding spots of the shyer animals. Expect great photo opportunities while on a game walk.
There is a large variety of bird species to be spotted in Buffalo Springs National Reserve. Once again, being on foot is a great advantage for keen birders! The vast majority of birds will be seen in the riverine forested areas near the river banks, or in the vicinity of the fresh water springs and pools that lend their name to the reserve. Large flocks of Helmeted Guinea Fowl descend on the sandy river banks at sunset to quench their thirst.
The Samburu tribesmen are very happy to share their culture and traditions with visitors. Visit one of the nearby villages to completely immerse yourself in their ancient culture and find out what life is like as a pastoralist in northern Kenya!
Be sure to ask your Tour Operator to include a visit to the famous Singing Wells in Samburu to witness a daily event that is unique to this area of the country. Every morning the local pastoralists bring their family herds of goats and cattle to the “singing wells”. Because this is an arid land and water is extremely scarce, the young herdsmen have to draw water from deep wells for their domestic animals to drink. As the young herdsmen (warriors in training!) descend into the wells, some of which can be up to 10m deep, they sing traditional songs in unison, as they pass the collected water to the surface for their livestock. No photos are allowed! Just come and enjoy this unique experience of the African continent.
Buffalo Springs National Reserve is one of the best places in Kenya to see Cheetah. The wide open plains are perfect hunting grounds for Cheetah and you have a reasonable chance of seeing them hunt. It is also common to spot large herds of Elephant, especially along the river banks at dusk when they congregate to socialise and bathe; you may also see them swimming across the river from Buffalo Springs to Samburu.
What makes Buffalo Springs really special is that the Samburu region is the home of 5 rather special animals that are not found in the southern parks and reserves. Look out for:
Somali Ostrich (with bright blue legs!)
Gerenuk – a long-necked antelope that enjoys standing on its hind legs to feed from the top of trees, like a giraffe
In addition to these “Special Five”, most of the Big Five, with the exception of Rhino, are present in the reserve. Get ready to spot the following:
Leopard (especially in the trees along the river banks)
Monkeys and Baboons
Greater and Lesser Kudu
Hippos – large pods reside in the river
Crocodiles – likewise!
More than 320 species of birds have been recorded in Buffalo Springs National Reserve and across the river in Samburu, including many raptors. Some of the most striking birds to seek are:
Secretary Bird – plentiful!
Red-billed and Von der Decken’s Hornbills
There are several options for accommodation inside Buffalo Springs Reserve; here is a little more info on two of the popular choices:
Enjoy good service and a refined atmosphere at the Samburu Simba Lodge, which is perfectly positioned right on the banks of the Ewaso Nyiro River, inside Buffalo Springs Reserve. All the comfortably furnished and traditionally decorated rooms have a brilliant view over the plains and the river, where many animals can be seen grazing and moving around. To escape the noon day heat you can cool down in the two swimming pools and enjoy a drink at the poolside bar, before enjoying an alfresco dinner under the wide African sky.
If you would prefer an authentic East African “under canvas” experience, then Ashnil Samburu Camp could be what you are looking for. Ashnil is a smaller, more intimate camp with just 30 luxury tents, all of which face the river and have a private sitting area and en-suite facilities. Of course there is a swimming pool (on a large viewing deck overlooking the river) and a restaurant.
Click here to find more accommodation options in the Samburu region: Samburu Hotels & Lodges
Buffalo Springs is situated about 300 km northwest of Nairobi, and the driving time is approximately 4.5 hours. If time is of the essence, you can fly into Buffalo Springs from Nairobi – there are two scheduled flights per day, or you can use a chartered flight. Flying time is around 1hour and 20min.
Excellent wildlife viewing, abundant bird species, incredible sunsets and the pure unadulterated serenity of a true African wilderness await you in Buffalo Springs National Reserve. Choose Kenya’s lesser-travelled and remote northern circuit national reserves for an unforgettable safari experience with Africa Point.
Browse our website for itineraries including the northern circuit here, or get us to make up a personalized itinerary just for you!
Read our blog on Kenya’s northern reserves here: http://www.africapoint.com/blog/article/northern-kenya-wilds.html