Northwest of Mount Kenya, Laikipia District is a vast plateau of more than 9000 square kilometres encompassing much of the transitional land between the well-watered central highlands to the south and the semi-desert grazing steppe of the Samburu in the north. On the face of it, the region is not an obvious destination and the few roads that cross it are mostly poor and sometimes impassable in the rains. In addition, it straddles the increasingly blurred divisions between Samburu and Kalenjin pastoralists and Kikuyu agriculturalists, which has led periodically to ethnic violence. The area also remains the focus of a century-old land dispute between the Laikipiak Maasai and white ranchers.
At the same time, while competition with wildlife has increased, there is now widespread cooperation between local people and ranchers, resulting in some of Kenya’s most encouraging conservation success stories and making Laikipia one of the best regions in Kenya to see wildlife. There are no national parks or reserves here – all the conservation initiatives are undertaken privately or in the voluntary sector – and yet community land is managed in ways that respect traditional lifestyles while meeting the needs of wildlife and producing revenues from tourism. As tourist numbers grow, indigenously owned group ranches are also beginning to work independently to achieve the same ends.
The market town of Nanyuki is the main supply hub for Laikipia’s remote residents, offering everything from groceries and fuel to pharmacies and a few good restaurants