Rarely do I write about somewhere I haven’t been, but there’s a good reason for it in this instance: the place hasn’t been built yet. I have, however, been to the broad area where it will be built – Laikipia in Kenya – “it” being a brand new safari lodge that will be developed by a company I have written about before, andBeyond. Combining those facts with my love of the African bush, I have no hesitation in writing about this development.
andBeyond has announced an exclusive tourism concession over the Suyian Conservancy, in partnership with global conservation charity, Space for Giants, and will develop andBeyond Suyian Lodge, the company’s third property in Kenya. The multi-decade long-term lease and partnership gives andBeyond exclusive access to around 18,000 hectares of prime wilderness land in north-western Laikipia, and raises conservation-led tourism to new heights.
Laikipia lies 250 kilometres to the north-west of Nairobi, is an area of outstanding natural beauty and a haven for wildlife. To the north-east of the Great Rift Valley, and north-west of snow-capped Mount Kenya, the high plains of Laikipia are increasingly recognised as one of Kenya’s best safari regions, competing with the Masai Mara for overall game viewing and diversity of animals.
Formerly a patchwork of huge ranches, and still an important livestock district, Laikipia is now where some of Kenya’s most encouraging conservation success stories are unfolding. The environment here is managed to protect the wildlife, to promote a personal and small-scale approach to adventurous and often luxurious safari tourism, and to generate an income for local communities.
andBeyond’s lease enables it to use its extensive lodge operating experience to build and develop, over time, what it describes as the finest lodge, tented camp, sky beds and mobile camping experience in the East African nation. andBeyond will be the sole luxury lodge and tented camp operator on the conservancy.
According to andBeyond CEO and executive chairman Joss Kent, Laikipia is a prime wilderness area that is home to a greater population of wildlife than anywhere else in Kenya outside of the Masai Mara. This includes a large number of globally threatened mammals that make it particularly important from a conservation perspective.
Space for Giants was founded by Dr Max Graham more than a decade ago, off the back of research into the conflict between people and elephants in Laikipia, home to the second largest population of elephants in Kenya and one of the largest free-roaming populations on the continent.
andBeyond’s Kichwa Tembo Tented Camp, Kenya. Photo: andBeyond
Originally from Dorset in England, Dr Graham has been involved in studying and conserving elephants in Africa for the last 20 years. He was awarded his PhD from Cambridge University in 2007, after which he carried on undertaking conservation research with Cambridge, leading a multi-disciplinary team to develop a tool kit for managing human-elephant conflict in Africa, resulting in numerous scientific publications. This contributed to major declines in crop-raiding by elephants in parts of Kenya by 2010.
In 2011, in response to poachers killing several elephants he was studying, Dr Graham founded Space for Giants, helping lead efforts to combat the illegal ivory trade in central Kenya and contributing to the near-elimination of elephant poaching by 2018. He went on to create Loisaba, a 23,000-hectare elephant corridor in northern Kenya.
A key lesson from Dr Graham’s research – the importance of removing the cost of wildlife to local people and replacing it with benefits – has driven a strategy of transforming private ranches into wildlife conservancies owned by not-for-profit trusts. This approach attracts investment in enterprises that can ensure the region is valued, not just because it protects critically important biodiversity, but also because it generates employment and builds the local and national economies.
Forming part of a vital wildlife movement corridor and home to a significant number of endangered species, Suyian boasts a diversity of landscapes that includes grassland, savannah, rocky outcrops or kopjes, dense vachellia woodland and more than 16 kilometres of river frontage along the Ewaso Narok River.
A thriving wildlife population includes rare animals such as the melanistic or black leopard and African wild dog, as well as northern Kenyan species like Grevy’s zebra, reticulated giraffe, gerenuk, desert warthog and more.
Elephant and buffalo are present in healthy numbers as are lion, leopard and cheetah, in addition to both striped and spotted hyena. General game includes dik dik, giraffe, Laikipia hartebeest, Beisa oryx and lesser kudu.
Suyian utilises a unique model of limited cattle ranching that uses rotational grazing to improve soil health and biodiversity. In combination with wildlife conservation and tourism, this not only contributes towards the economic development of neighbouring communities but also ensures a more diversified income stream. The conservancy also offers magnificent views of Mount Kenya.
The rich cultural history includes evidence of cave paintings and artefacts from as far back as the Stone Age. Guests will also be able to interact with local pastoral tribes such as the Samburu and Pokot, as well as participate in conservation and research activities.
Suyian can be reached by air or road from Nairobi. There are daily flights to Nanyuki Airport that take about an hour. Beware of sites that say the road trip takes two hours; it takes more than twice that time. Suyian is also a gateway to more remote adventures, such as helicopter safaris and visits to the Northern Frontier region of Kenya, including Samburu, the Matthews and Endoto Ranges, Lake Turkana and the fabled Suguta Valley.
Suyian shares borders with the research centre Mpala, whose partners include Princeton University, New Jersey – the managing partner – and the Smithsonian Institution. This partnership offers the option for andBeyond guests to learn about and become involved in a multitude of conservation topics.
“Suyian offers the perfect potential for andBeyond to make a contribution to community and conservation efforts in Kenya while creating an exceptional experience for our guests,” says Kent. “Its untouched nature and wild spaces, combined with our strict conservation ethics, will make this the ideal exclusive wildlife viewing destination, far from the large tourist numbers that can often be found in other parts of East Africa.”
Established in 1991, andBeyond prides itself on delivering outstanding travel experiences while striving to care for the land, wildlife and local people. Upmarket tour operator for sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, South America and Antarctica, andBeyond also owns and manages 29 lodges and camps across three continents.
andBeyond Suyian Lodge is expected to open in 2025.
Title picture: Bateleur Camp in the Masai Mara National Reserve. Photo: andBeyond
Laikipia map courtesy of Africa Geographic