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Ranch stands tall despite Laikipia gloom

Harriet James @PeopleDaily

Over the past few months, Laikipia county has been plagued with violent attacks on tourist ranches and conservancies. Murders and arson spiked the county, with smallholder farms and huge ranches alike being invaded by armed herders, leaving dozens dead and uprooting hundreds more.

Five camps have been closed, with one (owned by Italian born environmentalist Kuki Gallman) completely burnt to the ground in a county known as a tourism hub. Wildlife have been killed, livestock stolen and property destroyed.

Mugie Ranch, a 49,000-acre conservancy that rolls across Waikiki plains on the Laikipia plateau and one of the affected conservancies, was forced to close for weeks. It’s now open and my visit recently gave me a different feel about taking a vacation in Laikipia, a county abundant with wildlife and the highest population of endangered species in the country, such as rhinos.

Mugie Ranch is located 300km north of Nairobi by road via Rumuruti Maralal Route and 50 minutes by air from Wilson Airport. At the heart of the ranch is Ekorian Mugie Camp (an olive tree in Turkana language), a small safari camp where I would spend my vacation.

Mutamaiyu House, whose name is derived from an ancient grove of the twisting olive trees growing around the house, is a lodge in the ranch where guests can also enjoy their holidays. With a cliff-top swimming pool and bar that offer stunning views of Laikipia plateau, the house is the home to Nicky and Gaby Hahn, owners of the ranch and can host up to 12 guests.

I settled for the road option, but the heavy rains of November made the Rumuruti-Maralaal road almost impassable. Despite such challenges, I arrived safe and sound to be picked up by George Dipaloi, the head tour guide. He drove me through the wet and muddy plains, all the way to the camp, where I was received warmly by the staff and ushered into a cozy tent.

The camp has six spacious tents raised on wooden decks under thatched roofs to blend with nature. Each tent has plumbed hot and cold running water and flush toilets but no power sockets. To charge your mobile phone, you have to visit the dining hall. I had dinner with Josh and Donna Perrett, the wonderful couple who own, manage and host the luxury camp.

We had chitchat on the Laikipia violence and how raids by herders affected them. “In just 48 hours, the Pokot broke our fences and stole 80km of wire. They also shot 1,000 buffalos and 22 elephants,” regretted Josh. However, the place is now safe after the camp initiated dialogue with the local people, addressing the major issues affecting them.

During the droughts, the ranch welcomes the pastoralists and allows their cattle to graze inside the ranch. The following morning, I woke up, anxious to go for my first game drive in the conservancy. Laikipia, which in the Maasai language means treeless plain, is a vast plain with a diversity of wildlife mostly found in the large-scale ranches.

I spotted the Grevy’s zebras, a species whose quarter of Africa’s population lives in Laikipia. During the drive, I got a chance to feed three-year-old Tala, a giraffe. Mugie has preserved and increased the population of critically endangered species like the Jackson’s Hartebeests and Grevys zebras.

It has also enhanced populations of lion, reticulated giraffes, oryx, elephant, Cape buffalo, eland and over 200 bird species. One of the interesting activities during the game drive was to assist in tracking Lisa the lioness. George first held up an aerial device that beeped as soon the radar was on the lioness.

We followed the beeps transmitted from the microchip in the collar she wears and found her with her cubs, looking at a herd of zebras. George advised me to get seated in the vehicle, as the conservancy does not want the lions to get used to people. “If they get used to people, they will create havoc,” cautioned George.

The lions in this conservancy run away whenever they spot humans,” he said. The beauty of a conservancy is the freedom to have nature walks, day and night game drives with no curfew unlike the national parks, where the Kenya Wildlife Service bars night tours.

Other activities one can enjoy are camel rides and golfing at Mugie Golf Course, kayaking and fishing at Mugie Dam, Kenya’s third largest private dam. It was such a wonderful sight watching elephants around the lake.

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