Above –Emmy and Marion the southern white rhinos at Il Ngwesi. Copyright Richard Hough

Published – Satmag Nation – 27 August 2022

The late afternoon sun spreads a warm sheen for all to come out to bask and we’re enjoying the company of the enormous pair of the southern white rhinos at Il Ngwesi, the stunning wildlife conservancy sandwiched between Lewa Conservancy and Samburu, and spreading beyond into the arid northern frontiers.

It’s amusing watching the two – Emmy and Marion – in their private abode with their own 24/7 security. The bulky male stands in the middle of the midden, sniffing the sun-dried droppings, gazing at Emmy. By the looks of it, she’s more interested in browsing on the golden hay.

Stephen Sankei our Maasai driver-guide delivers the spiel about white rhinos and black rhinos. The white are not indigenous, larger, less aggressive and browse with their heads down. The opposite is true for our eastern black rhinos.

Sankei continues. “These white rhino are from Lewa. We may receive a black rhino in future.”

The two conservancies have a deep bond going back some three decades as trail blazers in the world of wildlife conservation with local communities as custodians of the wildlife on their land – both resident and migratory. From the success of Il Ngwesi, home to the Il Lakipiak Maasai known as the ‘people of wildlife’, there are dozens more community conservancies in Kenya’s arid lands north of the Equator, giving rise to the Northern Rangelands Trust.

Swimming pool at Il Ngwesi. Eco-lodge. Copyright Richard Hough

Satisfied with our close encounter with one of the world’s largest mega-herbivores that was nearly hunted into extinction a century ago in South Africa, we’re off for sun downers by the dry banks of the Ngare Ndare River while watching the crimson sun slide down the Marori Hills on the edge of the conservancy. It becomes a daily routine with a family of elephants surprising us one evening.

Driving back to the lodge – again a trail blazing award winning luxury eco lodge wholly owned and staffed by the Il Ngwesi Maasai, the sky is ablaze with stars. We dine on gourmet meals relishing the sounds of the wild including the leopard as I walk back to my earthly room built of natural earth and woods, open to the land beyond. My friends have opted to sleep under the stars, the bed rolled out on their private patios.

The lion growls, the leopard grunts – their voices carried for miles in the silent savannah. The morning tea is brought to my room as I watch the day light up. Dainty dikdiks dart below, a Beisa oryx browses on the scrub and I slip out with my guide Joseph Tungai to reach the Marori hills named after the indigenous tree, topped with the ancient Mukogodo forest that is home to the Yaaku tribe, one of the least-known people with a language nearly extinct.

Verandah of bedroom facing Marori hills at Il Ngwesi. Copyright Richard Hough

We follow the paw prints of the lion on the dry riverbed and of creatures that have passed through the night. Up on the hill, the starbeds shrouded in the mosquito nets look dreamy. We reach the base of the hills to see the tiny figures of the group reaching for the summit. The sun makes haste to set the day ablaze as we summit a sun-sculpted kopje.

The arid plains are intriguing with tough sun-resilient trees and animals adapted to the drylands without rain for almost two years – the Reticulated giraffes, Beisa oryx, Somali ostrich, gerenuk and Grevy’s zebra. A herd of eland materialize from the horizon and in a few minutes fleet by, silently below us.

Then it’s time for a leisurely breakfast served under the canopy of the thorn trees on the edge of the river with a game drive en route to the lodge, where time is ours to lounge by the pool until the afternoon visit to the village of the ‘people of wildlife’.

Sinrise at Il Ngwesi. Copyright Richard Hough

Read more about Il Ngwesi’s amazing story – http://ilngwesi.com/content/visit/

Leave Nairobi at 6 a.m. to be there for lunch. If you plan to drive through Lewa ensure you have a strong four-wheel drive or ask Il Ngwesi for a transfer. The alternative is to drive via Isiolo on a smoother road.

All game drives at Il Ngwesi are in the customised safari jeeps.