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Game viewing at Shompole, southern Kenya.

Type: Eco-lodge

Region: Great Rift Valley

Activities: Bird Watching, Game Walks

Safaris: Upon Request

The Shompole Group Ranch is located on the floor of the Great Rift Valley between the alkaline lakes Magadi and Natron. It is situated on the Kenya–Tanzania border and is inhabited by the Loodokilani section of the Maasai.

Because it is situated at a very low altitude, rainfall is erratic in the extreme and the area is very dry. As a result, the inhabitants – the Loodokiloni – are traditional pastoralists still practising seasonal nomadism so as to ensure that their herds of livestock (cattle, sheep and goats) obtain the best year-round resources of grazing and water. They are a tough people. They have to be to exist in a harsh environment.

The semi-arid conditions which characterise the Shompole area are mitigated by the presence of two permanent and therefore reliable sources of water; the Ewaso Nyiro River, which runs North-South through the Group Ranch and abundant ground – water associated with the nearby western wall of the Great Rift, capped as it is, to the west of Shompole by the water-catching forests of the Loita Hills.

Accommodation at Shompole.

The Ewaso Nyiro acts as a vein of life, bringing water from the vast Mau Forest to the North, down into the lowlands through Shompole and finally, at the end of its journey, into the alkaline flats of Lake Natron.

Plentiful ground water ensures a permanent supply of water for the long-rooted species of semi-arid trees and shrubs, such as the ubiquitous Acacia Tortilis, which grows to a great height in areas of plentiful groundwater in the Shompole area. Salvadora Persice is another example of an evergreen shrub which depends on groundwater rather than rainfall for its survival. Both these species are key to the ecology of the area and to the large mammals which inhabit it – whether domestic animals or wild ungulates.

Flamingos on Lake Natron, near Shompole.

Two of the rift valley lakes which are all that remain of the great lake which once flooded the entire valley in wetter prehistoric eras – Magadi and Natron – mark the northern and southern boundaries of the Group Ranch. Home to thousands of specially adapted flamingos and other African water birds that thrive in the nutrient rich alkaline soup which fills these lakes, the observer finds it difficult that such a cornucopia of life can exist in such seemingly adverse conditions. Hot, sulphurous springs, geysers and volcano – associated chemicals stain the soda lakes the pink colour that finds its way into flamingo plumage.

But Shompole also harbours fresh water ecosystem which sustain completely different organisms in the Ewaso Nyiro swamp, or the delta like region where the river enters the flatlands adjacent to Lake Natron. Along the river itself, a gallery riparian forest of huge Ficus Symcamorus tress and other water-dependent giants provides a rich and diverse habitats for birds, animals and insects.

Spacious dining areas at Shompole, Kenya.

To either side, the river has built up a rich alluvial plain, which is perhaps most characteristic of the area – The Ewaso Nyiro plain, daily visited by dust-devils caused by wind thermals generated by the intense heat and the nearby almost vertical western wall of the Rift. In times of rain, the Ewaso Nyiro plain becomes a paradise for migratory ungulets, especially wildebeest and zebra.

Giraffe are common, browsing the omnipresent Acacia Tortilis trees – these quintessential African trees, so vital to the survival of man and beast alike. In the riverine thickets buffalo can be found, while elephant migrate down the Nguruman escarpment from the highland forests of the Loita Hills to search for salt in the lowlands.

Predators abound, especially leopard, but lion make their presence felt at night where their roaring pinpoints the presence and location of the different prides. All the mammals that may be found in this rich mosaic of habitats – desert, river, swamp and mountains (for the whole areas is dominated by the massif called Shompole Mountain) – can still be found, from rare and elusive nocturnal animals which feed on termites such as aardvarks and aardwoles, to desert antelopes such as oryx and gerenuk.

What is remarkable about Shompole area is that it is inhabited by people who, despite their fairly intensive use of the land, still allow, through their practices and attitudes, a very rich eco-system to exist side by side with their way of living.

The Loodokilani, like their kinsmen throughout Maasailand, tolerate wild game and even the large carnivora which are inimical to their livestock, so that their homeland still resembles the pristine Africa of old. All that remains of their nomadic homesteads, when the rains come, is a circle of green green grass to show that once, man lived here.

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