For seasoned and armchair travelers alike, the very name of Kenya has long been evocative of one of Africa’s prime safari destinations. Over recent decades, this has fueled the development of an advanced group-tourism infrastructure to accommodate the influx of visitors – and with it the potential for inflicting considerable stress on the local environment and native culture.
Fortunately, a few eco-conscious safari organizers, in partnership with the native community, have addressed the challenge of providing visitors a personalized, low-impact tourism experience while giving local landowners a chance to improve their quality of life and to preserve the land and wildlife for the next generations. A notable example of this successful cooperation is Gamewatchers Safaris, who owns and manages its four intimate Porini (Swahili for in the wild) camps: Amboseli Porini Amboseli Porini, Porini Rhino, Mara Porini and Porini Lion, within conservancies adjoining the famed Amboseli and Maasai Mara National Park, as well as the largest rhinoceros sanctuary in East Africa.
Porini Rhino Camp
Located within the 36,500 hectare (90,000 acre) Ol Pejeta Conservancy, Porini Rhino Camp sat on a verdant plateau between the foothills of the Aberdare Range and the stately snow-capped peak of Mount Kenya. Although the area straddled the equator, the altitude (around 2,000 meters or 6, 500 feet) made for a temperate climate with cool nights, and a landscape of wooded grassland reminiscent of alpine pastures. But there was nothing alpine about the fauna.
Ol Pejeta was home to the critically endangered black rhino (a.k.a. hook-lipped rhino) as well the near threatened white rhino (a.k.a. square-lipped rhino). Following a successful black rhino translocation in 2007 from the Solio Rhino Sanctuary (in the northeast of the Aberdare Range), with 78 animals at the time of my visit, Ol Pejeta was one of the largest black rhino sanctuaries in East Africa (n.b. at the time of this writing a decade later, the number of black rhinos in Ol Pejeta has reached 132). Within minutes of entering the conservancy, I had sighted a white rhino – my first rhino sighting ever after two previous trips to the African bush (both in places where, sadly the massive beasts had been poached to near extinction).
A Close Encounter
But the most adrenalin-charged moment my entire visit to Kenya occurred the next morning. I was the solo passenger in one of the camp’s custom game-viewing land-cruisers, along with my Samburu (local ethnic cousins of the Maasai) guide-driver and game spotter, driving crosscountry in search of the elusive black rhino. The young spotter pointed silently into the dense brush and we came to a halt. In my excitement, I made an inexcusable rookie mistake. Camera in hand, I jumped up to stand on my seat and brace myself on the roll-bar of the open-roof truck. Startled by the sudden movement, the male rhino charged abruptly – at an amazing speed! He got within a few meters from us before changing his mind and making a 90-degree turn to head at a gallop into the brush. Only then did we let out our collective breath.
A Haven for Endangered Species
I experienced several additional rhino sightings during my stay, often at close range, but mercifully none as exciting. Beside rhinos, game-viewing was overall superb at the camp, both in its diversity and for the abundance of rare species thriving in the protected conservancy. We regularly came across large journeys of reticulated giraffe, an endangered sub-species indigenous to the area, and small groups of Grevy’s zebra. Also known as imperial zebra, it is the largest living equid, the most untrainable and most threatened of the three zebra sub-species.
Ol Pejeta was also home to the Sweetwaters Chimpanzee Sanctuary, arguably the only place in Kenya where this highly endangered primate species could be found. While chimpanzees are not native to Kenya, the sanctuary was established in 1993 with an agreement between the Ol Pejeta Conservancy, the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) and the Jane Goodall Institute. Sweetwaters provided a long-time refuge to 43 chimpanzees evacuated from their Central and West African countries of origin due to civil wars outbreaks.
This exceptional combination of rare, endangered wildlife and stunning views of the snowy peak of Mount Kenya, far from the popular safari circuits, made my stay at the secluded Porini Rhino Camp a unique experience that I treasure to this day.
Good to Know
- Getting there — By road: Located in the central plateau, northwest of Mount Kenya, Porini Rhino Camp was one hour’s drive from Nanuyki, the capital of the Laikipia East District, 190 kilometers (120 miles) north of Nairobi. By air: Scheduled round-trip flights from Nairobi to the Nanuyki airstrip were available via Safarilink. They could be arranged through Gamewatchers Safaris, as was the transportation from the airstrip to the camp.
- One of the longest established safari outfitters based in East Africa, Gamewatchers Safaris also own and manage the intimate, eco-friendly Porini Camps in Kenya. For well over a decade they have been and remain frequent recipients of “Best Green Tour Operator” and “Best Social Impact” awards at the annual Eco Warrior Award event held by Ecotourism Kenya. They are also internationally recognized, with many awards such as National Geographic “Top Ten Safari Outfitters”, and “Africa’s Responsible Tourism Award 2019 and 2018” in the World Travel Awards.
- WTTC Safety Stamp and WHO Covid-19 Safety Standards — The Porini Safari Camps were among the first in Kenya to be checked and certified to re-open with new Covid-19 safety standards in line with the World Health Organization (WHO) and Kenya Ministry of Health requirements. They also have the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) Safety Stamp and their teams have completed “Covid-19 Sensitization” training with the Kenya Red Cross Training Institute.