Shaba, Samburu, and Buffalo are a trio of ecologically similar, unfenced reserves that share common borders. Despite being the largest of the three reserves, there is less wildlife in Shaba, and most tours based in the reserve conduct game drives in Buffalo Springs. Tourist traffic is very low, but the scenery is magnificent.
Shaba is not a great wildlife destination. Although connected to Samburu, which offers excellent wildlife viewing, animal densities are low in Shaba. Four of the Big Five can be encountered, but rhinos are absent. The park is home to some of Kenya’s dry country specials including beisa oryx, lesser kudu, reticulated giraffe, Gravy’s zebra, and gerenuk. The Ewaso Nyiro River is a good place to look for big Nile crocodiles.
Shaba lacks the wildlife densities of its neighboring reserves, Samburu and Buffalo Springs, but all the same, species are present. Of the Big Five, the only rhino is absent. Most likely to be seen on a game drive are antelopes, which might include Thomson’s and Grant’s gazelle and Beisa oryx. There are some enormous Nile crocodiles in the river.
You’ll appreciate the sunshine during the Dry season (June to September). But the heat does tend to build to uncomfortable levels at the close of the period when the rains are due. The Wet season (October to May) is really three seasons in one: starting with the ‘short rains’, then a brief dry spell, then the ‘long rains’ (mostly showers) that start in March.
The Dry season (June to September) and the short dry patch that interrupts the Wet season (October to May) is a good time to check out the local animals. Another plus is that the absence of water means a greatly reduced risk of malaria. You can still visit the park in the wetter months, but heavy rain can potentially derail your safari plans.
Shaba is home to several dry-country adapted mammals that don’t occur in most Kenyan parks. The reticulated giraffe can be seen loping around the reserve. Beisa oryx is particularly well adapted to arid conditions. The gerenuk, with its elongated neck, stands on its hind legs to reach the higher branches of acacia bushes. Both the common Burchell’s zebra and the bigger Grevy’s zebra can be found alongside each other.
Shaba and its neighboring reserves tend to be dry, which means they can be visited any time of the year. However, the Dry season (June to October) is recommended for the best wildlife viewing. The vegetation thins out at this time of year and animals will tend to hang around the few remaining water sources. It mostly rains during April, and wildlife viewing can sometimes be more challenging then.
Samburu, Buffalo Springs, and Shaba national reserves have recorded over 390 bird species. The dry, open country offers very rewarding birding opportunities. The area holds a number of northeast African, dry-country species that are also found in Ethiopia and Somalia. If bird watching is your main interest, Shaba is a great choice. The reserve has very little tourist traffic compared to Buffalo Springs and Samburu, which have higher mammal densities.
Shaba is a bird-watchers paradise throughout the year. Unusual dry-country specials are often resident and can be spotted at any time. Migratory birds swoop in from November to April. November and April are the peak periods for rainfall – good to keep in mind if you’re planning a bird-watching trip.
Shaba, which is often used as a base for wildlife viewing in neighboring Samburu and Buffalo Springs, can be visited year-round. The dry months from June to October and December to March, however, are recognized as the best time to see wildlife. During the wettest months of the year (November, April, and May) animals tend to disperse across the reserve and might be harder to spot.
Shaba has a hot and dry weather pattern. The average temperatures are 32°C/90°F in the daytime and 16°C/61°F at night. Shaba has a low annual rainfall which usually occurs as short, heavy showers. The ‘long rains’ generally occur between mid-March and mid-May, while the ‘short rains’ fall between mid-October and mid-December. The peak months for rainfall are April and November.
Dry season –June to September
It is very dry with almost no rain and hot, sunny days.
June & July – The days are full of sunshine. Afternoon temperatures average around 31°C/87°F.
August & September – Daytime temperatures rise in the build-up to the breaking rains. During the day in September, the mercury will average 32°C/90°F, although peaks are much higher.
Wet season –October to May
There are two Wet seasons – the ‘short rains’ and the ‘long rains’. Separating the two Wet seasons is a brief, dry period during January and February.
October, November & December – The rains frequently break sometime in October. November is one of the wettest months. Storms in the afternoon are typical. The average temperature is 32°C/90°F, but it sneaks higher prior to the rain and cools down afterward.
January & February – This dry patch separates the short and long rains. Its beginning and duration are unpredictable. February is the hottest month – the average afternoon temperature is 34°C/93°F and it peaks higher.
March, April & May – The long rains typically begin to fall mid- to late-March. While it rarely rains all day, brief afternoon showers are common. April is the wettest month. Roads become slippery as driving conditions worsen. Afternoon temperatures are around 33°C/91°F.
Shaba is situated 355km/220mi north of Nairobi. If you’re in Nairobi or another park, you can drive yourself here if it works in with your itinerary. If you prefer to fly, there are daily scheduled flights to neighboring Samburu NR from Nairobi.
Nairobi is the largest transport hub in the region – most visitors from Europe and North America enter the country here. Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (NBO) is 15km/9mi southeast of Nairobi. Kenya’s second international airport is Moi International Airport (MBA), 9km/6mi west of Mombasa.
Shaba made headlines in 1980 as the site of the murder of Joy Adamson. Today, Shaba is, in our opinion, a very safe destination. Parks and reserves in Kenya do not usually suffer from crime. However, exercise caution in cities and towns between parks if you are on a self-drive trip – consult the ‘Cities and Other Urban Areas.
Consult your doctor regarding appropriate vaccinations before coming to Kenya. The main concern is malaria (which doesn’t have a vaccination). It is advisable to take antimalarials and other precautions include covering up at dusk, and using mosquito repellent (those containing DEET are most effective). Malaria risk is greatest in the peaks of the rainy seasons – April to May and October to November.
All wild animals should be respected, as their behavior is unpredictable and in some instances, dangerous. Keep in mind that actual incidents are very rare, so don’t be paranoid. Instead, behave sensibly and always listen to the instructions given by your guide.