Morani an elephant singing well DSC_7498sml


Walking across the open plains of Kirimon the vast expanse stretches off into haze, undercutting the hills to the north and making them levitate in the heat on the horizon.

1.a moran on the savannah of the laikipia plateau

This beautiful savannah lies on the edge of the Laikipia plateau in Samburuland, and a dramatic escarpment that drops and undulates towards the Waso Ngiro river, the lifeblood of the Samburu.

Along this volcanic plateau you find natural depressions, gradual slopes that interrupt the plain and signify the oncoming descent.

In Laikipia the plateau eventually drops off into slopes, valleys and cliffs leading down into the steep and fragile ecosystem surrounding the Waso.

Livestock, cattle and people all need water.

The migratory paterns of wildlife and cattle on their long daily walk to the river, with thousands of hooves eroding the cliff edge and valleys creates heavily trodden paths that creates huge wash off when it rains and devastating erosion.

In 2000 there was huge pressure on the Waso from extreme drought. As a result wildlife and livestock grazed the banks causing more erosion. The hippo starved, entire pods died because there was nothing left to graze near the banks in which they depend to graze at night.


Water is a difficult and daily struggle for the Samburu that they match with fierce pride and honour. This is their way of life, however in recent years extreme droughts have led to extreme hardship and famine for them.

This prompts organisations to drill boreholes for the Samburu, a devastating practice that creates a year-round source of water, totally unnatural to communities that have spent thousands of years eking and coaxing it out of the land around them.

A borehole will put incredible pressure on the land, with large communities of nomads growing quickly without moving on, destroying the land and dropping the water table, deepening and intensifying the drought.

By upsetting traditional migrations with boreholes the law of unintended consequences shows that by providing water in this way you ensure long term devastation.

3. Kipsing luga

With the waso now drying for the first time in living memory there is even more need to provide and look for other ways of water. The answer is to improve habitat and spread livestock and wildlife through water reservoirs.

The idea is to provide a network of reservoirs that catch the floodwater and prevent erosion. This water is caught up on the plains and takes the pressure off the river by providing water in the areas where the livestock and wildlife graze. This prevents endless journeys and thousands of hooves causing erosion.

Kirimon is the setting for the simple and elegant solution now in full practice by the Samburu Trust; the Salango Reservoir.

4. the Trust Salango Reservoir at La Lera

The Salango is an open water reservoir built where water naturally collects, creating a limited reserve store of water for nomadic communities.

The reservoirs are walled and cater to cattle, people, and elephant. Native trees are planted and goat droppings are collected from manyattas and spread all over to sprout native plants from the seed collected in their stomachs as they pasture.


This creates a green oasis in what are increasingly eroded landscapes, bringing in migratory birdlife and helping to restore balance to the ecosystem.

A large dry-wall is built around the reservoir preventing animals from contaminating the water supply. They have their own access to water from specially designed troughs that are built away from the reservoir itself.

6. weaver nests at an Oasis

Catering independently to three demographics means that people can take clean water without fear of disease or conflict with elephant, and cattle and wildlife can drink without contaminating a clean water supply.

Tree planting allows a growing water storage system (each tree holds roughly 70 litres of water underground when fully grown) and over time this turns an eroded valley into a forested oasis full of animals, bird and insect life.

7. planting trees around the wall of a reservoir

The numbers are showing the system works; just one reservoir with a full reserve provides water for 6 months for 2000 people, 5000 cattle, and 500 Elephant. This is an incredible achievement for a water resource that is entirely sustainable.

The positive effects that these Oases are having on the Samburu ecosystem is still being measured. The tactical position of a Salango Reservoir will mean that a mama can collect water within 30 minutes from her homestead, often an immense improvement.

The flow on affects all other Trust programs. Children become involved in water security through our nomad schools, and reliable water is a major asset in our fight against trachoma.

8. Naitoti standing by a finished cattle singing well.

This project started 7 years ago with the Trust buying a simple reservoir building set; a tractor, a ripper, and a scoop. A design was formulated that catered to all elements of the ecosystem from insects to elephant.

9. building a reservoir

Like all Trust projects it took its time, working with Samburu elders to ensure it was compatible to the nomadic way of life, and then allowing communities to become comfortable with them. It soon became apparent that a large network of small reservoirs was the way to create a large-scale, responsible water network (large reservoirs have the same effect as a borehole).


The Trust has built a handful of reservoirs that are dramatically improving the world around them. Water is the key to all Samburu Trust programs, and to the future of the Samburu themselves.

This article is a Samburu Trust collaboration. Please click here for more information.

This Chapter by Sacha Kenyon, Julia Francombe, Moses Lerusion, and Kitemu Lesengei.

All Images and text ©2012 Samburu Trust. All rights reserved.

Image Credits

1, 3, 4, 9: S. Kenyon
2, 5, 6, 7, 8: J. Francombe

  1. Annie Tempest

    21/11/2012 - 09:19

    Love this. So typical of the trusts caring about the longer term rather than rushing in and sticking bore holes everywhere. Would like to have heard a little about the types of trees. One providing wood for housing, one providing medicine, one providing food, and one for firewood. My memory tells me that they were given equal thought. Did I remember rightly?

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