The history of Soysambu spanning the last century is inseparable from the name Delamere. Today’s successful farming methods were originally pioneered by the first Lord Delamere to settle in Kenya, the third Baron: born Hugh Cholmondeley. An important character in Kenya’s past, Lord Delamere dedicated his foresight and British fortune to develop Kenya’s farm potential into one of the most efficient and prosperous in Africa. A great adventurer, Delamere arrived in Kenya on foot after a 1000 mile walk from Somalia – and fell for the country. He returned to settle permanently in 1903 with his first wife Lady Florence, daughter of the Earl of Enniskillin and their son Thomas, who was born in 1900. Their initial home was at Njoro, but in 1906- after suffering heavy losses of livestock and money – they moved much of the livestock to recently acquired land at Soysambu.
Soysambu means “the place of striated rock” in Maasai. Sambu is also the Maasai name for a cattle colour. The ranch was thus named because it seldom saw rain and cattle died by the hundreds in the frequent droughts. Delamere continued to sink vast sums of money into crop ventures at Njoro and livestock experiments at Soysambu, while also forging friendly relations with local Maasai and thus acquiring valuable knowledge and insights. Known to friends as “D”, Delamere was a controversial voice in settler politics, and reputedly an entertaining guest at parties. His bronze statue, once on the formerly named Delamere Avenue in Nairobi, is now on back on Soysambu beside the Delamere home where it looks pensively across the lake to the hill known as Delamere’s nose or The Sleeping Warrior.
Gwladys, former wife of Sir Charles Markham, first arrived in Kenya in 1928 to become the second wife to the third Baron Delamere. Thirty years younger than him she looked after him until his death in 1931. She later became Nairobi’s first lady Mayor and was highly respected for her work during the war.
Thomas, fourth Baron Delamere, was married first to Phyllis Montague Douglas Scott, with whom he had two daughters and a son, and then to Mary Cunningham-Reid (sister of Edwina Mountbatten), before he married the colourful Diana in 1955: he was her fourth husband! The fourth Baron died in 1979, while Diana continued to live on Soysambu, pursuing her passion for horse-racing in Nairobi, and deep sea fishing in Kilifi – until she died in 1987. She is buried near Naivasha’s Crater Lake –between two of her husbands and two of Kenya’s former great landowners: Gilbert Colville and the fourth Baron Delamere. The other members of the Delamere family are buried on Soysambu in a peaceful Acacia glade, frequented by wild creatures
Soysambu remains a working cattle ranch with some of the best Boran cattle in Kenya. The fifth Baron, today’s Lord Delamere, still lives on Soysambu.
Soysambu Conservancy was incorporated as an NFP(Not for Profit Company) on the 13th April 2007 and leased from Delamere Estates Ltd.in May 2008. It is part of the Rift Valley Plains System and surrounds the northern and western borders of Lake Elmenteita.
The Lake itself is the 5th RAMSAR site in Kenya (effective September 2005) as a Wetland of International Importance due to its role as a refuge for threatened, vulnerable and endangered species of birds. Although Lake Elmenteita has outstanding cultural and natural values, the nomination of the Great Rift Valley Lakes Ecosystem as a World Heritage Site has been deferred several times by the World Heritage Committee of UNESCO because it is not legally protected as a preservation area by the government. The Lake is in the process of being gazzetted as a protected area.
There have been attempts at all kinds of ventures including ostrich, sheep, goat and cattle farming, wheat, tritical, sorghum, hay, irrigated oranges, vegetables and potatoes, charcoal production and forestry and the obvious tourism ventures around the lake. Some attempts have fared better than others but all have come up against the biggest problem of the area: The lack of water. Not only is water short but soil quality is poor, and grass nutrient levels low. It was found that the most productive use of the land was the making of hay and the farming of hybrid Boran cattle, a rustic species indigenous to North Kenya.
Wildlife is abundant, with more than 15,000 individuals recorded in 2007. Wildlife has always thrived on the ranch and the 6,000 acre Soysambu Wildlife Sanctuary was established around the lake in 1991. The Sanctuary and the subsequent introduction of the semi-endangered Rothschild Giraffe and Colobus Monkeys laid the groundwork for the future of Soysambu as a Conservancy.