Roaming freely in an untamed wilderness, Kenya has a diverse and unparalleled range of must-see animal and plant species.
From the millions of flamingoes on the shores of some of Kenya’s great lakes to the huge herds of elephants, zebras, giraffes, lions, leopards and cheetahs – you name it. In the open savannah, the animals roam freely, making them easy to observe. Enjoy the exciting experience of watching these amazing creatures up close, all from the back of your jeep. With the wind in your hair, and the warm sun on your skin, listening to the cry of an eagle, this is about as close to nature as your can hope to be.
1. African Lion
Known as the “King Of The Jungle”, male African lions can be really huge, weighing up to 250kg. Natives to sub-Saharan Africa, the main places to see lion in Kenya are the great plains of the Masai Mara, Amboseli, Tsavo, Samburu and Nakuru. They live up to 30 years of age and have between 2-4 cubs. Unlike all other species of cat, lions are sociable and live in prides. These regal beasts have a roar that can be heard up to five miles away. The best time to see lions is early morning or dusk as lions are inactive for up to 21 hours a day. Females hunt as a team and then will share their catch among the rest of the pride. With only one out of four hunting attempts being successful, the dominant males will always eat first, lionesses eat next, and then the cubs scramble for the leftovers. Female lions tend to give birth around the same time so they tend to share the nursing and maternal duties together with other females from the pride.
2. African Elephant
These enormous creatures are the largest of all land mammalsl. With large ears, a long trunk, and large tusks, they can be up to 4 metres tall (13ft) tall. They are herbivores so need to consume vast quantities of grasses, leaves, fruits, and bark to survive. They live to be up to 70 years of age and can be found in forest habitats as well as the plains of Kenya. The best places to see them in Kenya are Samburu, Tsavo and Amboseli Game Parks, where they are found in large numbers. They live in matriarchal herds, meaning that all the females will be related to the oldest and most dominant female. Male elephants beyond the age of maturity are only with the herd during the mating season. Elephants are very vocal and can make a wide variety of sounds, such as grunts, purrs, bellows, whistles, and of course trumpeting! Elephants can draw up to 11.5 liters of water into their trunk. They can then use this to spray into their mouth to drink or spray onto their back to help them bath and cool off!
Although smaller than lion, these large and very beautiful cats are solitary and noctural creatures. They live in a wide variety of habitats from deserts, brush and grasslands to lowland forests. The best place to see them in Kenya is Nakuru, Maasai Mara or Samburu. They are also found in Amboseli and Tsavo but they are very difficult to see and are probably the most elusive of all the Kenyan Big Five. They are excellent climbers and are often seen right at the top of very tall acacia trees where they drag their prey to keep it safe. Although not as fond of water as tigers, they are competent swimmers. Leopards avoid lions, hyenas and wild dogs as they are sometimes pursued by them.
There are two types of African Rhino – Black Rhino and White Rhino found in Kenya, with some even rarer and more critically endangered breeds found in Asia. Rhino have two facial horns and Black Rhinos have a prehensile lip that is used very like a finger to select and pick the leaves and twigs they prefer. They are herbivores; eating bushes, leaves, and seedlings. Black rhinos are solitary except when they are breeding or raising offspring. Juveniles stay with their mother until they are completely weaned and just before a new baby is born. Rhinos have excellent hearing and a good sense of smell, but they have poor eyesight. Their numbers had dwindled to a desperately low amount due to poaching, but thankfully in recent years thanks to conservation efforts their numbers are on the increase and African Rhinos are now considered “vulnerable” as opposed to critically endangered. Rhinos are seen n small numbers in most of the Kenyan Game parks but the best place to see them are The Lewa Conservancy or Nakuru National Park where they are relatively easy to see.
Cape Buffalo as they are commonly known, are commonly found in Kenya, and often in large herds of apparently up to 2000 or more. More likely though you’ll see them in herds of up to 100 or so. Beware the lone buffalo however, as Cape buffalo have the reputation of being dangerous when they are cornered or injured. Many big game hunters from earlier this century, have told tales of injured buffalo turning back and goring or killing the shooter. The African Cape buffalo, shares many of the same characteristics as the Asian water buffalo, but is a separate species.
Being the fastest land animal in the world, the cheetah can reach up to 120km/70miles per hour. Unlike “true” big cats, the cheetah can purr as it inhales, but it can’t roar. The cheetah is an extremely vulnerable species as it is the least able to adapt to new environments out of all the big cats. Cheetah are solitary animals or male cheetahs may group together in groups of twos or three called coalitions. A cheetah’s territory is much larger than most other big cats being from 37 to 160 km2 this leaves them vulnerable to land encroachment. The best place to see cheetah in Kenya is the Masai Mara, although they can also be seen in many of the other parks too. Cheetah are found in very small numbers in Asia, however, they are predominantly found in Africa.7. Wildebeest
The White Bearded wildebeest (Gnu), live on the plains of Tanzania and Kenya in huge numbers. They have made Kenya famous due to the annual wildebeest migration, which occurs between the Serengeti plains in Tanzania and the Masai Mara National Reserve. In this amazing wildlife spectacle, over a million wildebeest crash and swim across the crocodile infested Mara River. Eighty percent of wildebeest calves (up to half a million) are born within a 2-3 week period at the start of the rainy season (usually late June/July). Because predators can only take a certain number of prey at a time, each calf has a higher chance of survival for.
Another of the record breakers found in Kenya – giraffes are the tallest land animals in the world. They wander in small groups to large herds in most of the game parks in Kenya so you’ll be certain to see some if you’re on safari. The best place to see them though is up close and personal at the Giraffe Centre in Nairobi where you can feed them by hand. Kenya has three different types; Masai, Rothschild’s (most commonly found) and the less common Reticulated giraffe which is found in the north of Kenya in Samburu with it’s beautiful distinctive markings. Giraffes feed on acacia leaves and other plants have incredibly tough mouths to avoid the very sharp needle-like thorns found on the acacia tree. They have 18inch long tongues and have extremely good long distance vision. Unlike many animals, they can see in colour.
There are two types of zebra found in Kenya; the common, plains zebra are found in all the Game parks and you may even see them wandering at the side of the road as you drive along to many destinations! Grevy’s zebra’s are rare, but are found in the north in Samburu- they have lovely markings with thinner stripes. As with many wild animals, they have been hunted for their beautiful skins to make rugs, coats, and bags. Their greatest threat, however, is loss of habitat. Zebras live in large herds and are related to horses and donkeys. Early settlers in Kenya used to ride them, as they were more resistant to disease than imported horses. They’re much harder to tame though!
10 . Nile Crocodile
Our last record breaker on the animal top ten is the Nile crocodile. Found here in Kenya, crocodiles are the largest reptiles in the world reaching up to an amazing 30ft long! The best place to see these creepy carnivores is in July/August in the Masai Mara when they sit in wait for the million or so wildebeest who cross the Mara River as part of their annual migration. Other areas in Kenya where you can see crocs are Samburu, Tsavo, Mzima Springs in Tsavo and Amboseli. At night, if you shine your torch across the river, if you see red eyes shining, they probably belong next to a big toothy grin of our dear friend the crocodile.
Other animals commonly found
- Banded Mongoose
- Black and white colobus monkey
- Black mamba
- Blue monkey
- Bush baby
- Golden jackal
- Hunting dog
- Many types of antelope
- Many types of monkey
- Many types of wild cat
- Many types of snakes
- Monitor lizard
- Rock hyrax
- Spitting cobra
- Thompson’s gazelle
- Thousands of birds including ostrich, flamingo, eagles and saddle bill stork
- Vervet monkey
- Warthog, etc.