The Rich, Red, Broiling, Rolling Ewaso Ng’iro River – Gabriella Russell


Gabriella Russell, International Intern

Date Published

The one piece of advice my dad gave me before I left for Kenya was “don’t go swimming”. As if I was planning on doing that… But life in camp is unpredictable…

When the river flooded in 2011 the water ripped away the recently repaired far side of the concrete bridge STE used to cross into Buffalo Springs Reserve. So when we decided to join Daud on a mammal census survey in Buffalo Springs, we were left with two options to cross – wading through the water or shimmying down the steep, narrow concrete ledge of the bridge and then maneuvering ourselves onto a wobbly steel ladder. No room for elegance there!

We opted for the river wading. Daud led us across, declaring that splashing stops the crocodiles attacking. Fully aware that he may have been humouring us with this advice, I continued to excessively splash as we navigated the shallowest route across. I probably sounded more like an injured animal than anything remotely threatening to a crocodile, but either way, the crossing was thankfully uneventful.

On the far side we walked to the car kept at the old Serena lodge, which was also destroyed by the flood, and set off on our mammal census transect, noting down how many of each species we saw along the way. The mammal census data is what I’ve been cleaning in my spare time here, so it was nice to see how the actual survey works. We saw all five of the Samburu “special five” – Beisa oryx, Grevy’s zebra, reticulated giraffe, Ostrich (Somali race) and gerenuk, as well as our first hippos wallowing in the river, hundreds of elephants and even more antelope.

To get back to camp we went for the bridge-climbing route. The wind made balancing along the steep, narrow ledge a rather terrifying experience and we unanimously agreed the river wading was the better option.

However, that was before we’d visited Samburu Lodge, where they feed the crocodiles every evening. As 7:30pm approached, eight armored crocodiles snaked their way up on to the bank to fight over leftover bones as a guitarist incongruously strummed “The Sound of Silence” in the background. We joined the rest of the tourists to watch from above. One of them was absolutely monstrous, with huge warty jowls spreading out either side of its face. One of the crocodiles that is, not one of the tourists. Barely able to lift itself up on to its legs to waddle closer to the food it shoved the smaller ones out of the way with great sweeps of its tail, twisting its head to the side to snap up the bones, crunching them to pieces and bolting them down its pink, fleshy throat. As it relaxed, satiated, its legs splayed out to the side and, toad-like, it lay supported on its stretched, leathery stomach. Up until then the crocodiles had seemed a distant, improbable threat. But having seen these enormous, sluggish, reptiles up close and not far from camp, I don’t think I’ll be keen on another river crossing any time soon.

Even so, I’m still pretty excited to tell people I waded across crocodile infested rivers, fighting them off with my bare hands, all the while preparing to abseil down the miles high concrete bridge that fell off into a deep abyss.