At Oserengoni Wildlife Sanctuary by Naivasha’s lakeshore wilderness

Above: Sailing on Lake Oloidien. Courtesy Oloidien Wildlife Sanctuary

Published: Satmag Nation 2 July 2021

By Rupi Mangat

Darkness descends.  “There it is…,” exclaims Bernard Chege Mburu, a veteran safari guide of 15 years at the18,000-acre Oserengoni Wildlife Sanctuary twixt Lake Naivasha and Hell’s Gate National Park. In a milli-second, the leopard melts away in the dense leleshwa woodland, just stopping for a split second stare at us. 

Leopards at night in Oserengoni Wildlife Sanctuary. Image Courtesy

Of the 30-plus leopards at Oserengoni, there are six within minutes of the upscale Chui Lodge in the sanctuary. Chege points to the territory of an old male with a younger one now challenging him. “But he’s not as strong as the older one and always is chased away.”

A few minutes away, is the favourite acacia tree of the female leopard with her three cubs. But leopards being so secretive, we wonder if she’s watching us while keeping her cubs sheltered.

Driving out of the leleshwa woodland that is one of the few remaining in the area, it opens to the grass plains with a Silver-backed jackal getting ready for the night hunt. A large herd of buffalos brood on the plains while above, a trio of large vultures ride the thermals to reach their roost for the night. Until a few years ago, the cliffs of Hell’s Gate boasted the largest roosting site of the now ‘Critically endangered’ Ruppell’s Vultures. Looking towards the national park, white plumes of steam point to the geothermal plant in it, the Rift Valley still so active in its belly.

Spotted hyenas delight us with their lopping run thanks to the anatomy of the skeleton which features shorter hind legs. “The head looks really big because of the fur but its skull is actually very small and dense,” informs Chege. No wonder, these animals were confused for bears in Nandi Hills (imagine bears in Africa!).  The hyena clan is ruled by the matriarch and females only look after their own puppies unlike the lions. There’s much more about these carnivores that makes fascinating reading.

Starry night at Oserengoni Wildlife Sanctuary Lake Naivasha. Image Oserengoni

In the eventide, we chance upon a herd of zebras, the common Burchell’s with the only herd of Grevy’s zebra brought in from the northern hemisphere. These finely-stripped zebras number only 2,500 in the wild – hence they are very rare.

Chege invites us to a sun downer on the plains as the setting sun bathes the Mau in soft hues of pinks and purples. A flock of White-backed Pelicans settle on a lone acacia and then we’re enveloped in night, warmed by the leleshwa bonfire.

En route to the lodge, a Spotted Eagle-Owl lands on a leleshwa, cocking its head, listening for prey with its tufted ears. Nearby an African hare with its extra-large ears runs away to escape this predator. By the time we reach the lodge, we’re high on excitement, settling down to dinner by the termite mound that doubles as a fireplace.

Chui Lodge in Oserengoni Wildlife Sanctuary Lake Naivasha. Image Oserengoni

The morning brings the buffaloes, eland, giraffes, impalas, gazelles and the warthogs to the waterhole at the lodge. Driving out, Chege introduces us to the Eland with her cow friends. Found on the plains by a Maasai herder, Miss Eland spent a few days with the herd before the herder brought her to Oserengoni for safe-keeping. However, by this time, Miss Eland saw herself as a cow and jumped straight over the fence to join her cow family. Elands, despite being the largest antelopes have the ability to shoot up into the air and jump over ten-foot high fences.

African fish eagle on Lake Oloidien in Oserengoni Wildlife Sanctuary Lake Naivasha. Image Oserengoni

A hearty bush breakfast is followed by a leisurely boat ride on Oloidien, Naivasha’s little sister. While Oloidien is salty, Naivasha is fresh. Separated by a narrow strip of land with a canal cut through like the Suez during colonial times, Oloidien’s moods are dictated by her bigger sister. Because of the recent heavy rains, where all the East African lakes rose phenomenally, Oloidien’s acting fresh. The boat captain flings a tilapia and there’s a flurry of copper wings as four large African fish eagles swoop down for the treat. The fastest of them grabs the fish with its talons and lands on a rocky insel to tear the fish apart and gobble it.

24 hours at Oserengoni is a microcosm of Naivasha’s once-upon-a-time. “That’s why it’s important to link all the wildlife conservancies so that there’s a wider dispersal area for the wildlife,” states John Karanja of Oserengoni’ operations.

Bush breakfast Chui Lodge in Oserengoni Wildlife Sanctuary Lake Naivasha. Image Oserengoni

The champagne at breakfast has never tasted better with that sentiment in the air.

All about Oserengoni

Chui the bedroom Oserengoni Wildlife Sanctuary Lake Naivasha. Image Oserengoni

It’s 120 km west of Nairobi on tarmac road. Chui Lodge in the sanctuary is upmarket and small. Or with a group of friends or family, book Chui house or Kiboko house by the sanctuary, overlooking Ol Mula hill.

En route to Oserengoni, book a tour of Kenya’s riveting raptors at Kilimandege, one of the raptor rescue centres under the Kenya Bird of Prey Trust – .

You’ll meet the vultures, eagle and owls – all rescued from injuries from power lines, poisoning and people persecution. You’ll even get to hold some as you learn about raptor world in today’s Kenya.