15km (9 1/4 miles) W of Nanyuki
Once the private playground of tycoon arms dealer Ashnan Kashoggi, the 36,360-hectare (89,809-acre) Ol Pejeta Conservancy is situated more or less on the equator, between the Aberdare foothills and snow-capped Mount Kenya. Today it's a fence-protected preserve known for its successful integration of cattle ranching and wildlife management, and it has the highest animal-to-area ratio of any park or reserve in Kenya. The ranch was rescued just weeks before it was due to be sold off to be burned for charcoal -- today it incorporates the Sweetwaters Game Reserve, making it the largest rhino sanctuary in East Africa. Among the large numbers of game, and helping to make the ranch financially viable, are approximately 6,500 Boran beef cattle, as well as a small herd of Ugandan Ankole cattle -- their spectacular horns make them almost as popular to photograph as the rhinos and elephants here.
More than anything else, Ol Pejeta is known for its successful rhino program. At last count, 81 of Kenya's 500-or-so black rhino were concentrated in this relatively small area. There are always one or two tame orphans being rehabilitated by watchful rangers, and it's possible to set out on foot to track rhino with an armed ranger -- the tracking program is so stringent, in fact, that each and every rhino must be spotted once every 5 days. Ol Pejeta is also home to Kenya's only chimpanzee refuge; opened in 1993 as a project of the Jane Goodall Institute, the Sweetwaters Chimpanzee Sanctuary rehabilitates orphaned and abused chimps, and guests on the conservancy are able to see the good work being done with them. It's also possible to observe researchers tracking radio-collared lions and learn how the rangers keep track of other animals, including elephants.
Because there are so many projects happening here, and the conservancy is so easily accessible from Nairobi (it's the closest conservancy to the capital where the Big Five can be spotted), Ol Pejeta can feel slightly more developed than you might want -- however, despite the presence of minibuses (particularly around Sweetwaters Tented Camp), it's quite possible to escape the masses and experience an untouched wilderness. Be sure to stay at one of the smaller camps if it's an intimate bush experience you're after (and it should be).