In this Heartland, on the vast expanses of the Laikipia plateau in north central Kenya, a great diversity of wildlife thrive in the semidesert conditions. The pastoral Samburu people herd their goats, sheep, cattle and camels in the shadow of Mt. Kenya, a crucial source of water for humans and animals alike.
Composed primarily of savanna, lakes, swamps and flood plains, the Tarangire-Manyara Heartland includes Tarangire and Lake Manyara National Parks, the Marang Forest, a large area of the Masai Steppe and small urban areas. Much of the land outside the parks is used for ranching or agriculture. It is in this Heartland that Tanzania National Parks and AWF pioneered community conservation, encouraging park authorities and local people to address wildlife issues together.
The African Wildlife Foundation ended the 20th century by ushering in sweeping changes that will transform the way wildlife and the wilderness are protected in Africa in the next century. The most far-reaching change is AWF's expansion of its focus to larger, biologically rich landscapes, where wildlife and people coexist. We call these regions African Heartlands.
The northern part of the Laikipia-Samburu Heartland, just north of the equator, where Mt. Kenya's foothills give way to desert, is inhabited by some 107,000 members of the Samburu tribe, a nomadic, pastoral people also known as the Liokop.
The Samburu, who herd cattle, goats, sheep and camels, share the Maa language and many social customs with their Masai relatives to the south. But the Samburu tend to live in smaller clans, in settlements of perhaps four to six livestock owners.
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.