Northern Kenya:

To locate the northern region of the country, simply draw a line across the map of Kenya starting at Kitale in the west, through Lake Baringo and Isiolo, all the way to the Tana river delta in the east. The area above of this line, over two-thirds of the country's area, is referred to as Northern Kenya.

Although the region is remote and isolated, it is home to numerous tribal groups who have hardly been touched by the 20th century. The tribes that live here include the Samburu, Turkana, Rendille, Boran, Gabra, Merille and El Molo. Most of them have little contact with the modern world, preferring instead their traditional lifestyles and customs. Many have strong warrior traditions and have clashed over land as recently as 1980. Since most of these tribes are nomadic pastoralists, they share a long history of land competition and disputes. The conflicts are traditionally settled through compensation so outright violence is rare.

Although pride in their heritage is strong, change is slowly coming to the people of Northern Kenya. The combination of many factors are guiding these changes including the aggressive Christian missionary activity, the development of schools and aid agencies, increasing employment as rangers and anti-poaching patrollers in game reserves and national parks, the construction of dams and roads, and the tourist trade. The younger generation of these tribal groups seems to move effortlessly between the sophistication of the modern world and the simplicity of the their traditional villages.

This is a barren region in sharp contrast to the green, fertile land of the Central Highlands. Much of Northern Kenya is desert scrub where only the hardiest of vegetation is able to survive. Numerous dry river beds spring to life only during the infrequent flash floods caused by brief torrential rains that cannot penetrate the rock-hard ground. Recent droughts have exacerbated the already formidable conditions and the nomadic people and their herds continue to suffer. Samburu National Park is the only stop on the traditional tourist circuit in this region, although Lake Turkana and Marsabit National Park are gaining in popularity. The vast northeastern province of Kenya boasts no tourist attractions. In fact, the combination of dangerous desert travel coupled with frequent Somali bandit raids make this region a risky very proposition for all travelers.

The climate in Northern Kenya is as varied as the landscape. The plains routinely reach dangerously hot temperatures by midday (50 C and above) without even a hint of wind. Evenings often bring brief violent thunderstorms that shatter the calm, followed by clear, cool nights. Like the climate and the geography, the wildlife is also a study of contrasts. Grevy's zebra and the reticulated giraffe are examples of two species found no where else in Kenya. In addition, travelers are struck by the numerous herds of domestic camels roaming the landscape with their owners. Lake Turkana supports the largest population of Nile crocodile in the country. The forested hills around Marsabit are a sanctuary for the giant eland.

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