Published 29 September 2018

Above: Seen on Sept 13 2018 at Soysambu. The male in the photo is SM2 (collared) who is Flir’s son and the female is SF3, Valentine’s daughter. We think Flir and Valentine are sisters so they would be cousins. Unknown father’s  but  they are one or two of the males in Nakuru National Park. Copyright: Kat Combes

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Soysambu Conservancy with Flamingos on Lake Elmenteita and Delamere’s Nose. Copyright Rupi Mangat

There’s so much happening at Soysambu, the wildlife conservancy straddling the soda-fringed Lake Elmenteita in the Great Rift Valley. It draws one like magnet to keep up with its intrigues. For starters the wildlife haven is set picturesquely between the fresh water Lake Naivasha and the alkaline Lake Nakuru and being part of the volcanic upheavals from the last 20 million years or so, it’s a tapestry of little mountains with craters, volcanic rubble and an inch-thick layer of soil good only for hardy grass and trees.

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Boran cattle at Soysambu. Copyright Rupi Mangat

A former cattle ranch that had some wildlife on it, Soysambu morphed into a wildlife conservancy that had the neighbours looking. For starters there’s Flir and Valentine, the two beautiful lionesses that decided that things looked pretty tasty across the fence. So they decided to walk in from Lake Nakuru National Park and settle in. In 2015, both females had six cubs – two males and four females. The boys from the first set have claimed territory in the southern side. In February 2017 both again had their second set of cubs in Soysambu – six again with five males and one female. Two males decided to find new ground and went to neighbouring Marula.

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Lion cub – copyright Rupi Mangat

All this drama of the conservancy’s tenants is carefully monitored with records kept by Kat Combes and researchers at Soysambu.

Come morning and we’re out in search of the famed reigning queens of the jungle. The lake sparkles and our route takes us past the edges rimmed with gorgeous Lesser flamingos and a few Greater ones. The white on the islets in the lake reveal the Great White Pelicans and Pink backed pelicans for whom the lake is their main breeding site in East Africa.

Colobus from Kipipiri at Soysambu copyright Kat Combes (800x600)
Yellow barked acacia forest at Soysambu – the new home of the colobus monkeys from Kipipiri. Copyright Kat Combes

On the northern-west side of the lake, towering Yellow-barked acacias have become the new home for troops of colobus monkeys brought in from Kipipiri Valley, 50 kilometers away. The valley, once dubbed the Happy Valley for its famously infamous characters, was forested until 30 years ago. Since then it’s been cleared of forest with the beautiful black and white monkeys losing home. If it wasn’t for a local, Solomon Gitau, the colobus would have perished by now. In his struggle to save them, he found Soysambu Conservancy.

Gitau is in the forest with Peter Fundi from the Institute of Primate Research who’s dealing with the science things.

Kipipiriri colobus monkeys at Soysambu by Kat Combes (800x600)
Colobus monkeys from Kipipiri in their holding pens at Soysambu. Copyright Kat Combes

“You see these monkeys,” says Gitau. “They have never seen such tall trees.”

That comes as a surprise for colobus monkeys are creatures of the forests and are specialised leaf eaters. “They are learning to climb up the trees by following the sykes monkeys.” The monkeys are so unusual in their behavious that instead of jumping from branch to branch like regular colobus monkeys, the new arrivals actually climb down and then up the next tree. But the daily monitoring of the new arrivals shows that they are quickly adjusting to their new home on Soysambu.

In the dense forest we keep our eyes alert for leopards lurking around but they remain secretive. Out on the plains again, the lake stretches to the iconic Delamere’s nose with its ridges and peaks making it perfect for a hike. The lionesses are nowhere to be seen but the handsome and tough Boran cattle are out grazing. Combes points to the mobile bomas for the cattle making sure that there is no space for the lions to jump in because lions can only jump in if there is space to land. “We want the lions to be wildlife killers and not livestock killers,” quips Combes. In addition, the cattle herders have a devise to alert of lions that gets the team on the ground chasing them away.

JackalsGiraffe vultures at soysambu copyright Kat Combes (800x533)
Argos the Rothschild giraffe stripped clean by jackals and vultures on Soysamby – copyright Rupi Mangat

By now we’re in a nursery of little elands having past hundreds of plains zebra that are eating much of the grass that’s intended for the cattle. The Rothschild giraffes are doing well except that Argos, a male got entangled in the power lines cutting across the conservancy. His carcass has been stripped clean by the vultures and Silver-backed jackals including a rare Golden jackal.

In the midst of the enchanting hill, our path leads to injured raptors nursed back to health by the amazing raptor guru, Simon Thomsett. It’s good to see Rosy and Girl,the Crowned eagles who have been with him for 41 years. They are Africa’s most powerful raptors. In this little haven, Thomsett shows his latest motley of raptors injured by fast cars, power lines, wind turbines and people. He’s had to perform intricate surgery on most who would have otherwise met a certain death. Being in the presence of these powerful raptors shows how close we are to losing a magnificent wild heritage if we don’t take science and research seriously.

Read more of Soysambu Conservancy It is 130 kilometers west of Nairobi. There are great campsites and a posh lodge on it. Soysambu on Lake Elmenteita is within the Kenya Lake System in the Great Rift Valley World Heritage Site, a Ramsar site that means a wetland of international importance and a Birdlife Intenational Important Bird and Biodiversity Area.