The current owners of Suyian Ranch are the direct descendants of William Ernest Powys, the tenth of eleven prodigiously talented children of the Rev. Charles Francis Powys and his wife, Mary (the best known of these children are the authors: John Cowper Powys, Theodore Powys and Llewellyn Powys). Will chose livestock over the quill, and began his farming life in Somerset, England.
In 1914, still a young man, Will’s adventurous spirit prompted him to move to Kenya where he was employed by Galbraith Cole as a farm manager on Kekopey Ranch, bordering Lake Elementaita in the rift valley, approximately 80 km southwest of Laikipia. Suyian was leased by the Coles from the then Kenya colonial government to provide alternative grazing for their sheep which suffered terribly from tick borne diseases at Kekopey. In 1923 Will herded Galbraith’s sheep from Kekopey to Suyian and remained there for a couple of years.
After the First War, Will was able to buy his own land on the northwest slopes of Mt. Kenya where he lived happily with his wife, Elizabeth and their three children: Charles, Rose and Gilfrid. Some years later, in 1963, Will purchased Suyian Ranch (then known as Il Pinguone) and shortly thereafter his son, Gilfrid, moved to the property to manage livestock. Will lived until the ripe age of 90, farming, sketching and painting until his very last days. He died in 1978 and is buried on Ngare Ndare, next to his beloved wife, eldest son, Charles and favourite dog, Joey.
Gilfrid Powys was devoted to his beloved Suyian. When the wool industry collapsed, he steered the transition of Suyian from a sheep-focused ranch to what it is today - a ranch breeding Boran cattle, with a very respectable stud herd, a producer of delicious acacia honey, and a haven for wildlife. Plant collector, pilot, rancher, leader and so much more, Gilfrid was a giant figure in Kenya, and he truly lived life to the fullest. He died in 2018. A simple cairn on Suyian’s rugged escarpment marks his final resting place. Gilfrid married Patricia, and their two daughters, Anne and Marian, both live on Suyian, and through them and their children, the family’s relationship with the land continues.
Suyian is the Maa name for the African Wild Dog, our rarest predator. Suyian Ranch covers 43,495 acres in northwest Laikipia. The Ewaso Narok River forms the property’s eastern boundary. The large-scale properties surrounding Suyian Ranch are all involved in wildlife conservation and together with Suyian, these properties collectively harbour the largest concentrations of wildlife in the Laikipia ecosystem.
There are five distinct habitat types on Suyian supporting a diverse range of flora and fauna, Grass plains, Acacia woodland, Phonolite escarpment, Riverine and a Granitic Inselberg complex.
We are not far away from some of the most beautiful dry Cedar/Olive forests which occur just north of Suyian in Samburu. These granitic hills rise like oases out of the hot, arid surrounds, and are populated by very old forests - relic vegetation from at least 3,000 years ago. Walking in these hills is a very different experience to being out in semi-arid Laikipia. In these ancient forest one is covered in shade most of the time, with the odd view out across Laikipia or the north. The birdlife is unique on these “Desert Islands” the bird species are mostly upland. There are some magnificent avenues of old Podocarpus trees. Various species of wildlife, elephant, lion, buffalo, baboon, and smaller creatures like civet cats, genet, porcupine and bush pig.
Learning about the uses of indigenous plants is a natural pastime to most people who grow up in the bush. All pastoral people need to have some knowledge of edible plants. From seasonal berries, to medicinal plants, this knowledge has helped them to survive for thousands of years. Here at Suyian Soul we do plant walks in various different habitats, along the river, up into the rocky escarpment and onto the grassy plains. After the rain there are various annuals that come up every year which are edible and can safely be made into a bush salad. During the dry season there are roots you can eat, various succulent plants are edible too. On Suyian two of the Aloe species are medicinal: one is very good for skin allergies and the other Aloe is magic for sunburn!
Suyian Ranch covers a very big area, therefore it is a good idea to do at least one or two game drives so that you are able to see more wildlife, birds and ranch activity, as well as to experience all the different habitats on Suyian.
Suyian is fortunate to have good diversity of wildlife some species of which are endemic to Laikipia like the Lelwel hartebeest. We have a healthy population of lion, leopard, spotted hyena, striped hyena, wild dog and many of the smaller mammals.There are good numbers of elephant, giraffe, oryx, gerenuk, buffalo and hippo.
We are fortunate enough to have several different habitats on Suyian for birdwatching. The riverine vegetation is interesting for water birds like the goliath heron, black crake, African finfoot, sandpipers and three banded plover.
The rocky lava escarpments are home to the stone partridge, paradise flycatcher, Verreaux eagle, cliff chat, Boran cisticola, pearl spotted owlet. The grassy plains are a great place to enjoy the bustards; kori bustard, buff crested bustard, white bellied bustard, black bellied bustard. The long tailed widow bird gives us so much pleasure after the first rains as they spend hours displaying to females with a magnificent long tail and bright red shoulders. The Acacia bushland makes up a large part of Suyian. Here we would expect to see the uncommon white headed mousebird, northern white crowned shrike, banded parisoma, African silverbill and Abyssinian scimiterbill.
The Ranch runs Boran cattle for beef, we are members of the Boran Cattle Breeders Association and pride ourselves as one of Laikipia North's top beef producers. The cattle co-exist very well with the large mammals on Suyian, and are integral to the improvement of the rangeland.
Suyian is also known for its honey production, which is harvested twice a year from traditional log hives.
Laikipia is mostly semi-arid. Our water sources consist of two rivers that run through the district: Uaso Nyiru and Uaso Narok – both fed from Mt. Kenya and the Aberdares. There are a few springs which seep water from underground all year long, several of which are heavily mineralized, the main compound of which is bicarbonate; good for wildlife and livestock but not for home use.
Our rivers are under constant pressure from overuse for irrigation, with little or no control. We suffer severe droughts some years and with climate change we are unable to predict the seasons any longer. At Suyian we have chosen to use as little water as possible to enable our neighbours downstream in Samburu to benefit from this shared water resource. We would like to take the lead in water conservation along our river, including water harvesting when it rains.
Suyian Soul was built using local material collected from the Ranch. The plaster consists of clay-like soil from termite mounds mixed with river sand. The thatch is a sedge grass which occurs in our nearest swamp along the Uaso Narok River. The wonderfully irregular beams are dead hard wood trees, giving strength and character to the structures.