Only In Laikipia

Only In Laikipia

Encountering zebras or giraffes or ostriches in the African bush is fairly routine. Encountering Grevy's zebras or reticulated giraffes or blue-necked ostriches is another matter, as these animals are rarely found outside northern Kenya.

These three varieties enrich the great array of wildlife living in the harsh lands of Laikipia-Samburu. Away from the Uaso Nyiro River the landscape turns rocky, austere and largely devoid of vegetation except for sere grasses and stunted acacia trees. Yet huge numbers of animals thrive in this forbidding environment.

Both the Grevy zebra and the reticulated giraffe have adapted to semi-desert conditions. The Grevy feeds mainly on grasses and will migrate to search for water, sometimes digging holes in sandy riverbeds. The Grevy (Equus grevyi) is larger than its cousin, the plains zebra (Equus burchelli) and has longer legs and finer, narrower stripes on its body; the stripes on the rump form a bull's eye. At one time Grevy zebras were heavily poached for their meat and skins, but the population appears to be reviving.

The reticulated giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis reticulata) is the most distinctive looking subspecies of giraffe. While the hide of the common giraffe features jaggedy-edged brown blotches surrounded by light hair, the reticulated giraffe's hide is defined by a web, or reticulum, of fine white lines between square chestnut-colored patches. Little else besides color patterns separates the various subspecies of giraffe, all sociable, nonterritorial animals that spend up to 20 hours a day feeding on the leaves of thorny acacia trees and occasionally shrubs or grasses. The tallest of all animals, the giraffe must either bend its forelegs or awkwardly splay them out to drink water. Giraffes are found only in Africa, and the story goes that when one was sent to China as a gift in the 15th century, the animal was thought to be a cross between a camel and a leopard, giving rise to its scientific name--Giraffa camelopardalis.

Ostriches (Struthio camelus), huge birds that don't fly, are found throughout Africa. But the blue-necked ostrich (Struthio camelus molybdophanes) is a subspecies found only in Kenya and Somalia. It is so named because the neck (and legs) of the breeding male turns blue. Ostriches, which eat vegetation, insects and small lizards, are up to 8 feet tall and weigh up to 300 pounds. Although they can't take flight if threatened, ostriches can move fast (sprinting at speeds up to 45 miles an hour); they defend themselves by tendering a mighty kick with one of their long, powerful legs. And yes, it's true that when an enemy is approaching, ostriches sometimes push their heads to the ground.