Expert Reviews – Buffalo Springs NR
Brian is an award winning travel writer, author of safari books and regular contributor to magazines such as BBC Wildlife and Travel Africa.
Leafy Oasis in a Thirsty Land
Buffalo Springs is a mirror image of the Samburu reserve that lies on the other side of the Ewaso Ng’iro River, whose waters are crucial to the survival of the local wildlife in the burning semi-deserts of what old-time Kenyans called the NFD – the stark and spectacular Northern Frontier District. Game drives here and across the river on the Samburu side will bring you up close and personal with elephant and buffalo as well as Northern Kenya’s “Special Five”: Grevy’s zebra, reticulated giraffe, beisa oryx, gerenuk and Somali ostrich. As for cats, I have never failed to find lion, leopard and cheetah. Birding is also good – especially along the river. The only downside is the presence of too many tourist vehicles – inevitable with such a popular small reserve.
Stephen is a travel writer and avid conservationist whose work appears in prestigious magazines such as Africa Geographic and Travel Africa.
amburu’s lesser-known neighbor
Located in the foothills of Mount Kenya, Buffalo Springs National Reserve takes its name from an oasis found in its western region. The springs attract thirsty elephants and are full of big crocodiles, but it is the Ewaso Nyiro River, with its distinctive tall doum palms, that offers the main source of water and some great dry-season wildlife watching. The picturesque river also separates Buffalo Springs from its more illustrious northern neighbor of Samburu.
The reserve is managed by the Isiolo County Council, which means that its roads and other park infrastructure tend to be in a poor state of repair. It also feels like the county council has permitted too many large hotels to be developed along the river, destroying the sense of wilderness and negatively impacting the migratory and resident wildlife in this tiny 131km2/51mi2 protected area.
The main geological feature of this semi-arid reserve is an ancient lava-terrace in the southeast known as the Champagne Ride. The elephants here are both plentiful and incredibly relaxed, providing some of the best elephant-viewing opportunities in all of East Africa. The Buffalo Springs supporting cast are equally impressive with endangered Grevy’s zebras, reticulated giraffes, Beisa oryx, gerenuks, buffalos, hippos, lions, leopards, cheetahs, hyenas and some enormous crocodiles. A bird list in excess of 365 species rounds off the Buffalo Springs safari spectacle.
Philip is an acclaimed travel writer and author of many guidebooks, including the Bradt guides to Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya and South Africa.
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Samburu’s southern twin
Buffalo Springs forms a contiguous unit with Samburu National Reserve, with the Ewaso Nyiro River – crossed by two bridges – being the common border. The bush on this southern side of the river is a little more open than in the north, and wildlife seems slightly less plentiful, perhaps because so much of it concentrates in the vicinity of the eponymous hot springs for which the park is named. Buffalo Springs also tends to carry less tourist traffic, because most of the lodges lie on the north side of the river, so it can be nice to cross over when Samburu is busy. Otherwise, the two reserves are very similar in overall feel.
Stuart is a travel writer and author of numerous Lonely Planet guidebooks, including Kenya, Rwanda and Tanzania.
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The Mirror of Samburu
Buffalo Springs, which covers the northern scrublands on the southern bank of the Ewaso Ngiro River, sits directly opposite the more famous, and more frequently visited, Samburu National Reserve and in many ways is almost identical to Samburu. All the classic animals of the north are present here and the birding is superb. On the negative side though, and this might be factually incorrect, I have always felt that there are less animals on this side of the river than in Samburu itself or at least that the wildlife spotting isn’t quite as guaranteed as Samburu. But that’s a minor quibble because this is still a great park for northern specialities; elephants are very common and all except once (during my last trip in mid-2014) I have seen lion. The other huge plus for this park is that it’s considerably quieter than Samburu (itself not that busy a park). There are three probable reason for this. Firstly, the generally perceived impression that wildlife here is not as numerous as Samburu, secondly, most of the accommodation is over in Samburu and, thirdly, at the time of writing the bridge between Samburu and Buffalo Springs was down (and had been for a few years) which meant that driving from one to the other entailed a lengthy drive back to the main road and back through the entrance gate of each park. The good news though is that the local council recently announced that work would begin on a new bridge which would make crossing between the two parks a breeze and no-doubt see visitor numbers rise again. Buffalo Springs certainly deserves more attention because this is a fantastic prk.