Island life on Lake Baringo

Apart from towering giraffes, we also spotted hippos, crocs and reptiles such as monitor lizards on the island and in the lake

Harriet James

The first man who came to live on this island was a fisherman, said Peter Leweri, my tour guide for the day. 

“The Njemps used to bring their wives and children to this island for safety as they fought with Samburu or other pastoralist communities over livestock,” he said as he started the speedboat.  This was a folklore that Leweri’s grandmother told him at bedtime.

I was anxious as we took on the morning boat ride to the island of Ol Kokwe with my experienced bird and animal guide. From the moment I arrived at Island Camp Baringo, I knew that it would be one memorable trip.  Already, I felt like Popeye, the cartoon sailor man or his girlfriend Olive on a wild safari. 

During my stay in one of  the 16 spacious tents, which had a view of the lake, I was overwhelmed by how much time flies in marvelous places. There is nothing as lovely as being woken up by a magnificent view of the sunrise in the wild after the cold Nairobi weather.

I had spent time basking, watching the sunrise while I took the morning coffee with the sound of the morning warbler chirping merrily outside the tent.

The sumptuous breakfast was awesome as the breeze blew from the lake and birds chirped. It was my first time to see such brave birds as the yellow weaver and the common bulbuls tasting sugar and watching whether you’ll throw some crumbs at them as you eat. I am used to seeing naughty monkeys snatching away your food but having birds around was something unique.

On the boat, we carried a few tilapia fish to feed African fish eagles. After being shown how to do it, I spotted one resting on a tree.  I managed to take photos of her scooping the fish to feed her young ones.  I am a poor photographer but I learnt that the morning light is best for bird photography.

We were heading to Longicharu Island, renowned for the Rothschild giraffe that live there.  We saw fishermen busy at work aboard their traditional ambath boats. The lake offers an invaluable habitat for seven fresh water fish species, including tilapia. Years ago, the Njemps used to fight with the Pokot and Turkana for livestock. To flee the war, the Njemps, also known as Camus or Iltiamus, live on the island and feed on fish.

As we glided further, we saw the hot springs discharging along the shoreline with children fighting to take me for a tour. This trade is struggling, too, due to decline of tourists in the area.

Lake Baringo has several small islands, with Ol Kokwe, an extinct volcanic centre, being the largest.  The lake is fed from the Mau and Tigen Hills and is a vital habitat and a refuge for more than 500 species of birds and fauna. Some of these birds such as the white-necked cormorant are migratory and are believed to cause the decline of fish in the lake. I also spotted hippos, crocodiles and monitor lizards.

We arrived on ‘Giraffe Island’ to find  the game warden, Mike Parkei waiting for us.  In 2007, eight Rothschild giraffes were brought by ferry to the island, then a peninsula, with the hope that when the lake dried up more, they would locate to the mainland.  With the unexpected rise in water levels, they are now isolated on the island with other wildlife including ostriches, impala, rock hyraxes and large monitor lizards. The good news is that this island has created jobs and brought peace between the warring communities. 

Later on that evening, after a sundowner on Rock of Gibraltar, I had dinner with the camp’s directors, Bonnie Dunbar and Perrey Hennesey, where we discussed matters tourism in Baringo. “Whenever people talk about insecurity in Baringo, they make it seem like it’s the entire place which is not safe. Yet we are very safe here and the place is beautiful,” they said.


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