The irony of Boni National Reserve is that despite boasting one of the highest density of plant species in the world, it also features prominently on the hot list of many travel advisories for its infamous reputation as a haven for the dreaded Al Shabab terror group.
Boni’s 1,339 KM2 area which cuts through the counties of Lamu, Garissa and Tana River, and also runs along the Kenya-Somalia border is under the care of the Kenya Wildlife Service. It was gazetted in 1976 as a dry season sanctuary for African elephants coming from Garissa and Lamu. Years of poaching have however reduced their populations here to a measly number.
The forest from which the reserve derives its name is an indigenous open canopy forest which is part of the Northern Zanzibar-Inhambane coastal forest mosaic. Boni’s high plant density has led to its recognition as a biodiversity hotspot.
The reserve sits in an area that is home to the Boni people. Also known as the Aweer, this hunter tribe are believed to be remnants of the early Bushman hunter-gatherer inhabitants of eastern Africa.
Boni, despite the dark cloud hovering over it, houses the largest population of Topi in Kenya which makes it an alluring attraction but not for the faint-hearted. Hippo, bush pig, warthog, buffalo, common duiker and waterbuck are also in abundance. You may spot common carnivores such as the now vulnerable African wild dog and the aardwolf.
The reserve harbours a collection of mysterious birdlife such as the bush shrike and the rufous chatterer that very little is known of. This is mainly because no survey has been conducted to identify the birdlife that exists here even though the globally threatened Sokoke pipit is believed to have a home here.
Perhaps, when the terrorist and bandit menace at Boni National Reserve is dealt with, the reserve will, once again, be a game viewers’ paradise. Until then, it remains a place where one gets in and may most likely never get out!