Africa Geographic Travel

Kenya’s Shaba National Reserve: Wild Africa at its best

Maurice Schutgens in Shaba National Reserve in Kenya

© Maurice Schutgens

Shaba National Reserve, deep in northern Kenya’s expanse, is a stunning wilderness area of dramatic gorges, open plains and extinct volcanoes. Made famous by the special bond between man and beast, namely Joy Adamson and the lioness Elsa (subjects of the 1966 film Born Free), Shaba is an incredible destination drenched in history and just waiting to be explored.

I arrived at the entrance to the reserve full of excitement.

“You don’t want an armed guard?” the reserve ranger asked rather surprised after I had signed in.

“No thanks. I do this all the time. I like exploring places by myself. Plus, nothing ever goes wrong!” I replied confidently.

So much for those words…

Land Cruiser in Shaba National Reserve in Kenya

© Maurice Schutgens

The reserve opened up before me. The landscape was staggeringly beautiful. But it was almost completely devoid of life.

I saw a herd of nervous Grevy’s zebras, a couple of gerenuks sticking out their awkwardly long necks from behind some bushes, and a lone male waterbuck eyeing me suspiciously.

Waterbuck in Shaba National Reserve in Kenya

© Maurice Schutgens

It was strange. Across the road in Samburu National Reserve I would have tripped over a hundred elephant trunks already, but here in Shaba there was nothing. Maybe it was seasonal. Still, the park’s beauty was undeniable – wild Africa at its best.

Landscape in Shaba National Reserve in Kenya

© Maurice Schutgens

I parked my Land Cruiser and climbed a nearby hill to take in the views from above. I spotted a small herd of buffalo in the distance as the wind tore at my clothes. It didn’t get better than this.

Naturally, that’s when things went sideways.

Dried up lake in Shaba National Reserve in Kenya

© Maurice Schutgens

The car didn’t start. Excellent. Just excellent. I looked down the valley in the distance searching for a sign of life. Nothing. I hadn’t seen a single other vehicle the entire day. I was on my own. I got to work.

An hour later, caked in oil and dirt, I threw in the metaphorical towel. I had fiddled with the battery terminals, bled the fuel from the filter and generally aimed a bunch of obscenities at my car. He’s called Ali. He wasn’t having any of it. Try as I might he wouldn’t start. A plane passed low overhead, I waved, but the pilot didn’t as much as tip the wings to acknowledge me. He disappeared into the halo of the sun.

Shaba National Reserve in Kenya

© Maurice Schutgens

I was out of options. I climbed a nearby hill and waited, scanning the horizon. Nothing. Suddenly, a glint in the distance. Then it vanished, almost as if I had imagined it. I rubbed my eyes. Then it reappeared. A car. It did not come my way, but I had a feeling that I could intercept it if I was quick.

I headed for a track in the distance.

Landscape in Shaba National Reserve in Kenya

© Maurice Schutgens

“Do you guys mind giving me a jumpstart” I asked politely, breathing heavily.

The Dutch tourists in the car were as surprised as anyone to find another Dutchman in the middle of the African wilderness. They couldn’t really say no to my request.

River in Shaba National Reserve in Kenya

© Maurice Schutgens

Bodich Mountain towered over my campsite on the banks of the mighty Ewaso Ng’iro River that night. A large Nile crocodile slipped into the water, disturbed by my presence.

I awoke at midnight and photographed the stars. It was a peacefully magical night. A leopard roared nearby. Shaba was alive and I loved it.

Nile crocodile in Shaba National Reserve in Kenya

© Maurice Schutgens

As I headed back out of the reserve in the morning I spotted a leopard’s tracks in the soft sand clear for all to see.

Somewhere in this barren landscape a predator still roams.

Tent and Land Cruiser in Shaba National Reserve in Kenya

© Maurice Schutgens



Maurice Schutgens

Born in the Netherlands but raised at the end of a tarmac road in a remote Ugandan village, Maurice was always going to end up living in Africa. After a brief stint in Europe he returned to this great continent to pursue a Master's in Conservation Biology at the University of Cape Town, which was followed by several years of traipsing across the globe in search of adventure and stunning wild places. For the last few years Maurice has been based in Kenya and is working towards securing a future for African elephants and the landscapes on which they depend. He is a passionate conservationist, amateur explorer and his camera is always with him! You can follow more of his adventures on Facebook and on his website.

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