Above: Bright’s gazellle
Copyright: De Jong & Butynski 

Lolldaiga Hills Landscape Copyright Rupi Mangat
Lolldaiga Hills Landscape Copyright Rupi Mangat

Part 1 of 2

Pubished Saturday magazine, Nation newspaper 23 December 2017

An enticing kladeiscope of rugged hills, valleys, plateaus and plains

Mount Kenya from Lolldaiga Hills Copyright Rupi Mangat
Mount Kenya from Lolldaiga Hills Copyright Rupi Mangat

Standing on one of the many hills of Lolldaiga in east Laikipia, the view is unbelievable. In the 360-degree of my eye as l swivel around slowly on the windswept pinnacle, there’s the peaks of Mount Kenya to the south, followed by Mukogodo Forest and the iconic loaf-shaped Ololokwe in arid Samburu pointing north, and looking west over the ancient pre-Cambrian bare-faced hills of Lolldaiga, I catch glimpses of the Aberdares.

The light that falls on this landscape is surreal – soft grey clouds lit by the setting sun, rain in the far reaches of the north with a rainbow arched in the sky. By now the wind is icy and in the dark night, we return to Lolldaiga Farm House – our home for the next three days.

It’s been an eventful day escaping Nairobi’s city life to Laikipia with a stop near Thika by a ploughed field where a hundred Grey Crowned Cranes are flocked and at Mount Kenya Eco-Resource Centre a leopard has left its pug-marks on the wet earth as it crouched to drink by a pool.

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Shopping at Chuka market en route for Lolldaiga Farm House Copyright Rupi Mangat

Arriving late at the Farm House, built of cedar-logs and charmingly rustic, the fireplace is lit and from our shopping at Chuka en route, the chef lays out an amazing three-course meal.

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Elephant in first light of day passing in front of farm house Copyright Rupi Mangat

In the first light of the day, stepping bare-foot in the garden, mighty Mount Kenya is pasted against the bluest of skies. It’s nirvana…with an elephant browsing in the silence of the rising sun.

It’s even more exciting being in the company of naturalists – ordinary citizens with extraordinary passions in natural history ranging from insects, plants, mammals, and birds to so much more.

Dr Yvonne De Jong and Dr Tom Butynski of the Lolldaiga Hills Research Programme that’s part of Lolldaiga Hills Ranch volunteer to drive us around the little-known Ranch and the group jumps to the invitation.

The first game drive – and from the hill top we’re awed by the land below…rock kopjes and acacia woodlands, solitary hills, ancient gulleys, and grass plains.

It’s a mini Namaqualand with wild flowers in bloom and Fleur Ng’weno, our walking-talking encyclopaedia, reels out names.

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Martha Mutiso and Eric Gitonga lying flat on the ground shoot away at the insects. Copyright Rupi Mangat

Earth-domed termite mounds stand amidst the thorn trees and smaller mounds of the harvester ants. Martha Mutiso and Eric Gitonga lying flat on the ground shoot away at the insects. Both exhibited their insect photographs dubbed ‘Bugging: Macrophotography’. In the words of Einstein (Albert Einstein of course), if bees (i.e., insects) die, humans would survive on the planet for only three to four months.

It’s at this point that Butynski points to the bare cliffs of ‘Black Rock’ where Bearded Vulture, also known as the Lammergeyer, last nested in the 1950s and now almost extinct in Kenya with one breeding pair remaining in the Cherangani Hills in western Kenya.

“The last egg from Laikipia was collected from those cliffs and is housed at the National Museums of Kenya in Nairobi.”

I make a mental note to re-visit the bird gallery to check this out.

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Klipspringer high on the rocks Copyright Rupi Mangat

We still haven’t moved much because of our insect-loving friends who ride on the back of the birders… so stops are often. Reticulated giraffes browse on the acacias and suddenly one of the birders’ binoculars catch what looks like a speck on the cliffs – a Klipspringer. This little antelope is so specialised in its rocky home that its hooves are pointed like a ballerina to spring around easily and in the event it falls, the hairs of its fur are hollow to act as a cushion.

But it’s the next animal that gets us all going and many more after that.

First on the list. The warthog.

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Desert warthog Copyright De Jong & Butynski

As the birders search the skies and the sands for the birds, a family of warthogs dash past with tails held up-right. Even though these are the common warthogs, De Jong and Butynski update us on warthog taxonomy.

“In 2005 we bumped into a desert warthog on our way to the Tana River Primate National Reserve,” begins De Jong. “It was southwest of Garissa, in acacia bushland.

This was the first record of this species south and west of the Tana River.”

The first desert warthog specimen was collected by Lord Delamere in Somalia between 1891 and 1895. This species is known to be in Somalia, Ethiopia and eastern Kenya.

In the rest of Kenya, only the Common Warthog occurs. With funding from the National Geographic Society in 2012 and 2013, the duo did a major warthog and primate survey in northern Kenya and one in 2016 in Laikipia where the Desert Warthog was recorded for the first time.

We now know that the Desert Warthog is found in Meru National Park, Samburu National Reserve, Boni-Dodori Forest north of Lamu, and in both Tsavo National Parks. So look out for hooked warts and flipped-back ear tips–and you’ve got your Desert Warthog.

We still have the rest of Lolldaiga to explore…in the next article.

To Lolldaiga Hills Ranch

Read more on the fascinating flora and fauna of Lolldaiga Hills Ranch at:  http://www.lolldaiga.com/

The Farm House sleeps eight comfortably in four rooms with a beautiful garden that kids love. Carry your food. The staff is amazing – just give the ingredients and menu – and your table will be set. Lolldaiga Hills Ranch is 200 km north of Nairobi via Nanyuki. Lolldaiga Hills Ranch is also open for camping, day safaris, and sun-downers. For details, visit: http://www.lolldaiga.com/

The guides will accompany you and reel out everything that Lolldaiga has to show.