Dominated by livestock ranches in the colonial era, the vast Laikipia Plateau has since been transformed into one of East Africa’s finest and most exclusive wildlife destinations. This patchwork of privately-owned ranches, wildlife conservancies and small-scale farms has become one of the most important areas for biodiversity in the country, boasting wildlife densities second only to those found in the Masai Mara. Indeed, this mosaic of several dozen private and community-owned sanctuaries, overseen by the non-profit Laikipia Wildlife Foundation, now operates as Kenya’s second-largest conservancy after Tsavo.
Set against the backdrop of Mt Kenya, the Laikipia plateau extends over 9500 sq km of semi-arid plains, dramatic gouges and acacia-thicket-covered hills. It ranges in elevation from 1,700-2,550 meters, (averaging about 2,010 meters), and acts as a sort of bridge between the base of Mount Kenya and the edge of the Great Rift Valley. The climate up there is relatively mild, especially considering it only an hour’s drive from the equator. The land is composed primarily of very ancient metamorphic rock called gneiss, some of which are formed by pre-Cambrian deposits. Atop these gneiss layers are younger deposits of basalt, which were formed by ancient lava flows.
Two main rivers run through Laikipia, the Narok and the Ewaso Ng’iro . Both of them flow down from the nearby Aberdare Mountains, and they are the primary source of water for Laikipia’s ranches and wildlife.
Laikipia is the last refuge of Kenya’s African wild dogs and it’s here that some of the most effective conservation work in the country is being done. Indeed, these vast plains are home to some of Kenya’s highest populations of endangered species, including half of the country’s black rhinos and half of the world’s Grevy’s zebras. Laikipia also harbors populations of the reticulated giraffe, which is the most threatened form of this majestic species.