You can smell the rain in Africa long before you can feel it on your face. A warm pungent odour of wet earth, carried on the breeze, fills the air leaving you looking skyward for a hint of when nature might follow up on this promise of life. It doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to get wet, but it does mean it’s raining somewhere, not very far away, and that the weather is changing.
For us the timing was just about perfect. Having had five days of beautiful sunny weather, on our final morning crossing Laikipia the skies changed, with dark clouds coming in from the east. We still had time to ride across the rest of Mpala ranch, over the River Ewasu Narok, and up to our final destination at Suyain eco-lodge (see video) and have lunch outdoors, before the heavens opened. In fact, seeing the first of the long rains slam against the hard African soil, and the almost instant greening of the landscape that came with it, was a pleasure.
It has been a fabulous trip. The horses all stood up to the journey well, as did the riders with no injuries of significance to report - despite Peter's best efforts to do himself harm 'diving' into a refreshing lagoon (see video). The group themselves were a charming and interesting bunch that all got on well and – as far as I know – loved the experience as much as I did. Michael and Nicky Dyer, in whose capable hands we’d been, said it was one of the best trips they’d done. And although there definitely wasn’t as much game as the last time I rode across Laikipia, considering the ever-diminishing numbers of wild animals present on this most dramatic of continents, we didn’t do badly with the highlights being great sightings of rhino, hippos, a cheetah, herds of elephants and cantering with eland, zebra and giraffe.
And the statistics are shocking. Since independence in 1963, when Kenya’s human population has gone from 6 million to 48 million, the elephant numbers have reduced at a similar rate, from 160,000 to just over 20,000 today. The story of the lion is much the same. Fifty years ago 200,000 were said to roam the plains, now there are just 18,000. And as for black rhino, the numbers are staggering having dropped in Kenya alone from 20,000 to just 300 due to illegal poaching. With extreme hard work and dedicated conservation that number now stands at around 620. Riding as we do across this vast wilderness I sometimes think it’s a miracle we see anything.
It’s one of the reasons I do this particular ride. Ever penny of profit made at Borana and the rides we do goes directly into conservation projects designed at protecting the environment and the animals that live upon it. As Michael said, ‘We’ve done more to harm to these creatures in the last 50 years than our ancestors did in the preceding 2 million years; it would be unforgivable if we let these mighty animals disappear on our watch.’
Yesterday, on our final morning we rode up onto the plateau above Suyain. Under a vast and clear sky, with the red earth still wet from the rains and a warm breeze caressing our faces, we cantered alongside herds of zebra and Oryx. As I have said before this trip is as much about the journey as it is about the game and coming to a halt on a ridge and looking back across Laikipia towards Mount Kenya and the route we’d taken, I think we were all aware we’d done something very special.
For how long will others be able to do the same, I wonder?