The clouds of dust thrown up by the thundering hooves of millions of zebra and wildebeest as they migrate in a perpetual loop between the Mara and the Serengeti tend to obscure the fact that many other parts of Kenya can provide equally compelling wildlife viewing. Perhaps not on quite on the same scale, but the quality of safari experiences on offer throughout the country where safari began is more than equal to the impressive quantity of game involved in the migration.
The Laikipia area, in Kenya’s high country, is a case in point. The Ewaso ecosystem long supported wildlife and tribal communities in relative harmony, until poor management practices led to the land becoming overgrazed to the point where it was struggling to support its communities and wildlife. With livestock farming becoming less viable, people were turning to wildlife poaching to make ends meet. A tragically familiar script was being written.
In 2005, Jochen Zeitz acquired Segera – 20 000 hectares (50 000 acres) in the heart of Laikipia, and a key piece in the ecosystem jigsaw. Segera’s central location allows it to make a crucial contribution to effective wildlife and habitat management for the entire Ewaso ecosystem.
Far-sighted management decisions have seen the removal of hundreds of kilometres of old ranch fencing, re-opening ancient migratory corridors which had been effectively blocked off. At the same time, community programmes have enabled local people to develop new sources of income from their traditional skills such as bee-keeping, beadwork, and cattle.
With the removal of the fences and the virtual cessation of poaching, conditions began to stabilise on Segera. Better ranch management decisions allowed the vegetation to recover, and elephants and other species which had previously used Segera as a migratory corridor began to return.
In just over a decade, Segera has established itself as a wildlife refuge, and eliminated the need for competition for scarce resources with people and livestock. The results, as observed on every Segera bush walk and game drive, have been remarkable.
Many of the species regularly encountered on Segera will be familiar to people who have been on safari elsewhere in Africa, but a unique attraction here is the presence of ‘Kenya specials’ such as the Patas monkey and Grevy’s zebra.
The fastest primate, Patas monkeys are renowned for running away from danger along the ground, rather than trying to climb to safety in trees. Guests can join regular Patas monkey patrols to help monitor – and try and keep up with – the troops of these special monkeys in the Segera area.
Grevy’s zebra is the world’s largest living horse species and can be told at a glance from a ‘normal’ or plains zebra by its greater size and stockier appearance, narrow stripes and oversized ears. With only around 3 000 left on Earth, this striking species is not one that you are likely to see just anywhere.
The return of the herds has of course meant a real increase in the numbers of predators being seen at Segera, some of which are the subjects of ongoing studies in the management of human / wildlife conflict in an area where people’s cattle are often their most prized possession.
The frequent lion, leopard and cheetah sightings are recorded by GM Jens Kozany in his regular ‘cats in the garden’ posts on social media. The commanding views of the surrounding savannah from Segera mean that guests have several times watched hunts and remarkable interactions from their villas – including kills by the local hyaena clan.
Wild dog too are making their presence known, and although they are nomadic when not denning, they seem to have recognised that Segera has everything they are looking for, as they are spending more and more time there.
Segera is a fantastic example of how positive interventions can not only turn around the conservation situation in an area, but also deliver a phenomenal guest wildlife viewing experience.
Segera is not only an incredible wildlife destination in its own right, but also a perfect match with the Mara in any Kenyan safari itinerary. And this is just the start – all the research that has been carried out at Segera suggests that the area still has the potential to become an even better wildlife destination.
Written by Nick Galpine, Wilderness Safaris Blog Contributor
Photographed by David Crookes
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