Top Predators Return as Soysambu Ranch Roars Back to Life

Top Predators Return as Soysambu Ranch Roars Back to Life

Top Predators Return as Soysambu Ranch Roars Back to Life

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By Jeff Dunnink

Large predators are returning to Soysambu conservancy after historical displacement by livestock ranching. This is thanks to the growing zebra and buffalo populations found there, allowing Soysambu to act as a critical dispersal area for lions from neighbouring Nakuru national park. Thriving populations of impala, Thompson’s and Grant’s Gazelle, reedbuck, steenbok, and klipspringer form the key prey base for the bourgeoning leopard population.

The 48,000-acre Soysambu conservancy was once a cattle ranch but now demonstrates the effectiveness of mixed land use management for conservation. Soysambu sits in the heart of an important landscape with World Heritage status that could create a conservation area from Lake Nakuru to Lake Naivasha (and possibly even to Hell’s Gate National Park). Ensuring the continued conservation of Soysambu is vital to keep this larger landscape dream alive while also protecting a significant portion of Lake Elmenteita’s catchment area. Predominantly surrounded by Soysambu, Lake Elmenteita is the last breeding site for Great White Pelicans in Kenya, one of only four such sites in East Africa. It also hosts, at various times, 28% of the world’s flamingo population, offering a vital refuge since the decline in water quality of Lake Nakuru. Together with Lakes Nakuru and Bogoria, Lake Elmenteita forms a World Heritage Site and is a Ramsar wetland of international importance.


Pre-independence, this ranch was a site for intensive livestock ranching and agricultural experimentation, building the now large body of knowledge on the viability of farming in Kenya. In 2007, recognizing the need to conserve the iconic species found in Nakuru county, the ranch officially registered as a conservancy. Since then, Soysambu has re-introduced the endangered Nubian Giraffe, Giraffa camelopardalis camelopardalis, which now totals 158 individuals, 5% of the known global population and 22% of Kenya’s population. This is a key breeding ground for this endangered sub-species with the potential to act as a source for other conservation areas across Africa. Although wildlife had always been present on the ranch, the shift from exclusive livestock and agricultural practices has allowed these species to thrive. There are currently growing populations of both zebra and buffalo, proving that all wildlife really needs to flourish is the space and freedom to do so. Soysambu is also host to large populations of eland, impala, Thompson’s and Grant’s Gazelle, waterbuck, reedbuck, warthog, steenbok, klipspringer, and colobus monkey.

The success of this conservation story is probably best highlighted with the return of top predators. Lion and leopard were commonly seen on the Soysambu ranch but were always forced off the land to prevent livestock predation. Today Soysambu acts as a key dispersal area for lions form the adjacent Nakuru National Park, hosting a stable population of at least nine individuals. Leopard are also commonly seen in the woodlands and forests along the lakeshore while meso-carnivores such as jackal (including the extremely rare golden jackal) are not uncommon.


The greatest challenge for conservancies on both private and community land in Kenya is generating sufficient income to ensure sustainability. To achieve this, Soysambu adopts a mixed land use management system with 6700 cattle, 2000 sheep, and 2000 goats. The livestock generate a stable income that allows Soysambu to continue protecting wildlife without encroaching on their habitat. Adopting a holistic rotational grazing plan also prevents the land from becoming overgrazed and degraded, ensuring Lake Elmenteita’s catchment is in a healthy condition. Unfortunately, livestock is not enough to secure adequate income for conservancy management. In this regard, AWF and Conservation Capital are assisting Soysambu management to develop a tourism plan that will build on the existing lodges and activities to diversify the product on offer and attract a larger number of visitors every year. Once implemented, this tourism plan will ensure Soysambu has sufficient income to improve their security, continue protecting the wildlife found there, and keep supporting their neighbouring communities through water provision, school development and classroom feeding programs. Situated approximately 130km from Nairobi along the Nakuru highway, Soysambu is in the perfect location to ramp up its tourism activities and demonstrate that wildlife conservation can be financially sustainable in Kenya.

It is vital that conservation on Soysambu succeeds. Not only to secure the wildlife populations found there, but also to show Kenya and the world that conservation is a viable development pathway.