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Wildlife in Kenya

Africa's best authentic tailor-made safaris

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Wildlife in Kenya

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By Matthys van Aswegen

Safari Travel Planner

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Kenya’s geographic diversity means that it supports an extraordinary range of wildlife. The country’s premier national parks and reserves, including the Masai Mara, Amboseli, Tsavo East and West, Samburu-Buffalo Springs, Meru, and Laikipia, are all home to most or all of the Big Five, i.e., lion, leopard, elephant, buffalo and Black rhino.

We would rank the Masai Mara as one of the top five reserves in Africa for lion and cheetah sightings. It is also unusually reliable for leopards, along with other less glamorous carnivores such as spotted hyenas, jackals, and bat-eared foxes. Amboseli is one of the top places anywhere in Africa for watching elephant interactions at close quarters.

Classic safari scene of a large bull elephant against a Kilimanjaro backdrop at sunrise. Cattle egret visible perched on the elephants back. Amboseli national park, Kenya.

After a South African safari, a Kenya safari is the second-best choice to see both Black and White rhinos, with healthy and conspicuous populations of one or both to be found in Tsavo West, Meru, Lake Nakuru, and several of the reserves on the Laikipia Plateau.

Other wildlife tends to be more regional. The relatively moist southern savannah protected in Masai Mara and Amboseli is home to eland, Coke’s hartebeest, Topi, Grant’s and Thomson’s gazelle and impala, as well as Maasai giraffe, plains zebra, and warthog.

The iconic Rhino spotted in Kenya
The iconic Rhino spotted in Kenya

Wildebeest are resident in both reserves, but the Masai Mara is renowned for the migration of hundreds of thousands of these doleful-looking antelope from neighboring Tanzania between August and October.

The more arid northern reserves, most notably Samburu-Buffalo Springs, support a quite different set of grazers, for instance, Beisa oryx, Lesser kudu, Guenther’s dik-dik, and the unique Long-necked gerenuk.

Wildlilfe_Kenya_Generuk
Wildlilfe Kenya Generuk

Here you will also see the critically endangered Grevy’s zebra, the world’s largest wild equid and far more narrowly striped than the more widespread plains zebra, which occurs alongside it in Samburu-Buffalo Springs. Another creature unique to the north is the reticulated giraffe, which has a more geometric and striking coat pattern than the Masai Giraffe.

Other major reserves such as Laikipia, Meru, and Tsavo East and West tend to support an intermediate selection of grazers. Very different again are the montane forests of the Aberdares and Central Highlands, coastal forests around Diani and Watamu, and tropical lowland forests in western sites such as Kakamega.

Masai Culture in Laikipia
Masai Culture in Laikipia

These tend to support a wide range of monkeys, most notably the striking black-and-white Colobus, small forest antelope known as duikers, and oddities like the Golden-rumped elephant shrew (coast only), mountain bongo (Aberdares only), and Giant forest hog.

Kenya is one of the world’s finest bird-watching destinations. A national checklist of more than 1,000 species places it among the world’s top 15 countries in terms of avian diversity. But even this figure doesn’t convey the variety of colorful and striking birds on display countrywide.

Lilac Roller in Tsavo
Lilac Roller in Tsavo

There are several places, most notably perhaps Lake Naivasha or Baringo, where a moderately skilled birder could tick off 100 species in a day. And for dedicated birdwatchers, a well-planned two-week itinerary taking in key ornithological sites such as Kakamega Forest, Samburu-Buffalo Springs, Mount Kenya, the Rift Valley Lakes, and the coastal forests around Watamu should result in a trip list of at least 350 species, quite possibly more.

Kenya also hosts diverse marine wildlife. A year-round attraction is the colorful reef fish that proliferate diving and snorkeling sites in the reefs offshore of Watamu, Malindi, Mombasa, and Diani. Other, more seasonal, marine wildlife includes dolphins, whale sharks, marine turtles, and manta rays.

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