Expert Reviews – Ol Pejeta
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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Laikipia’s main tourist focus
This is the busiest conservancy in Laikipia, but also one of the largest, with most tourist activity concentrated in the eastern third, site of the main lodge, but there are also a couple of more low-key wilderness camps in the western side. Based on a recent four-night stay, we found game viewing to be excellent, and had great sightings of lion, cheetah, elephant, buffalo and black and white rhino, along with reticulated giraffe, Beisa oryx, Thomson’s and Grant’s gazelle, Jackson’s hartebeest and Beisa oryx. Both Kenyan species of zebra are present we saw several individuals that appeared to be hybrid. It is also the only place where I’ve had good sightings of the localised and secretive striped hyena, a far more beautiful creature than the commoner spotted hyena. An enjoyable diversion (admittedly of limited conservation value) is the Sweetwaters Chimpanzee Sanctuary, founded in 1993 to protect a group of orphaned and sterilized chimps formerly housed at the Jane Goodall Institute in Burundi – the chimps can be viewed from across a river, allowing for great (albeit rather artificial) photographic opportunities.
Ariadne is a renowned African wildlife photographer whose work is featured in many well-known guidebooks and magazines.
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Ol Pejeta: a photographer’s dream
Ol Pejeta is one of the bigger and more popular game ranches on Laikipia Plateau. Not without reason, because the game viewing is superb. Like some of the other ranches in Laikipia, it feels a little too farm-like to my taste with fences, power lines and farm sheds around every corner. Even the yellow fever tree forest is protected from elephants by electric fences. Lion and cheetah are easily seen and both black and white rhino are very common. Aside from all the usual game, you might come across some amazing Ankole cattle with enormous horns as well.
If you are a photographer like me, you’ll like the possibility of Mount Kenya popping its head out and making a fantastic backdrop for your photography. The main game drive circuit is rather small, but for real exclusivity I’d recommend staying at the Porini tented camp with has it’s own private concession within Ol Pejeta.
I also visited the chimanzee sanctuary, which is the only place to see chimps in Kenya, but this did rather feel like a glorified zoo. The only Northern black rhinos can also be visited in a separate enclosure. For security reasons their horns have been cut of and since they look exactly the same as the southern black rhinos, I didn’t bother. It is good to know they are there though.
Anthony is a photographer and writer for travel magazines and Lonely Planet, including the guides to Kenya and Botswana & Namibia.
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Ol Pejeta: Laikipia’s Most Accessible Big Five
Ol Pejeta has many calling cards, but one stands out – it’s the closest place to Nairobi where you can see the Big Five. Rhinos in particular are a highlight – with over 100 in residence, Ol Pejeta has East Africa’s largest single population of black rhinos. Seeing lions also takes on a whole new dimension with their nightly lion-tracking excursions. But Ol Pejeta’s accessibility – this is Laikipia’s only public-access conservancy – is also its weakness as it’s much busier and noisier than anywhere else in the region, especially on weekends when a Nairobi crowd regularly breaks the solitude. The sight of cattle roaming the savannah may disconcert some, but it’s also key to the successful multi-use Laikipia model. A sanctuary for rescued chimps, a guided riverside walk in search of hippos and the chance to see the last three remaining northern white rhino (in the Endangered Species Enclosure, along with Grevy’s zebra and Jackson’s hartebeest) all add considerable depth to the experience of visiting.
Lizzie is a reputed guidebook writer and author of the Footprint guides to South Africa, Namibia, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Zimbabwe.
See the Big Five including black rhino and the last three northern white rhino, and rescued and orphaned chimps at Sweetwaters.
In the foothills of Mount Kenya, Ol Pejeta was established by a consortium of philanthropic investors in 2004, and today this not-for-profit conservancy is famous for its pioneering and sophisticated conservation efforts. It was certainly super-impressive to see their methods of high-level security, from armies of rangers in the bush to a central control tower operating drones and helicopters – no wonder Ol Pejeta is home to the largest black rhino population in East Africa. Its home to the other Big Five too, and cheetah, African wild dog and plenty of plains species, and the expertly-guided game drives were very rewarding. It was also fun to walk around Sweetwaters and watch the characterful chimpanzees relaxing in their hammocks in their spacious private forest and learn their stories from the guides. I also noted large herds of cows, and like elsewhere in the Laikipia region, Ol Pejeta makes an income from cattle farming. Some safari-goers think this distracts from its ‘wildness’, but by using the land productively and profitably, it secures the protection of wildlife populations too. Ol Pejeta is the only Laikipia conservancy open for day visitors and also has great places to stay – from campsites and simple self-catering cottages to 5-star tented camps and lodges – and plenty of activities and variety of animals complete a fully-rounded safari experience.
Sue is an award-winning writer who specializes in African travel and conservation. She writes for national newspapers, magazines, Rough Guides and Lonely Planet.
Kenya’s rhino haven
Ol Pejeta, in Kenya’s Laikipia county, is a brilliant example of coexistence – communities, conservation and surprisingly cattle-ranching all come together here and provide for a fascinating destination. The Big Five are all present and I saw more rhino in my first day in the conservancy than I have in 16 years of travelling to Africa, not surprisingly perhaps considering it is the largest black rhino sanctuary in East Africa. It’s also home to Southern White rhinos and the world’s last three remaining Northern Whites. I had the privilege of meeting Sudan, the last male Northern White, and believe me, it’s an emotional experience, particularly when you think he may be the very last one of his kind.
But Ol Pejeta isn’t just about rhinos. We visited the Sweetwaters chimp sanctuary that’s home to around 40 rescued primates, and we also tracked lions with researchers. A family with young children was staying with us and fell in love with the place. It struck me that this is an ideal place for a first safari for youngsters because of these additional activities on top of the usual game drives, and they’ll see plenty of wildlife.