June 24, 2020
Kenya Safari Animals And Where To Find Them

Kenya is one of the ultimate wildlife safari destinations. It has 25 national parks, 18 national reserves and 6 marine parks and reserves. All of the land habitats have large populations of mammals such as lion, cheetah, hippos, elephants, and buffaloes, the top 5 animals in Kenya, as well as all the herd animals and antelope.  Equally exciting is the coast with fringe coral reefs, seagrass beds, mangroves and mudflats and high diversity fish species, marine mammals, turtles and coastal birds.

The country is an international wildlife hotspot and a treasure trove for travellers all around the world. Tourists can visit various national parks to watch a multitude of the most fierce, beautiful, strange, shy and endangered animals in their natural habitat. Some animals found in Kenya are on the verge of extinction and only the conservation efforts of dedicated individuals and groups have kept them from being lost forever.

The following list of Kenya animals contains some of the most noteworthy. We have also listed the best places to find them.

Kenya Safari Animals

1.1] Safari Animals in Kenya

Nile Crocodile

Nile Crocodile

Nile crocodiles were a species hunted close to extinction but today Kenya has a healthy population of these prehistoric looking reptiles. This most vicious predator can be found around the freshwater marshes, mangrove swamps and rivers in Kenya. While crocodiles can live on a steady diet of fish, they attack and eat anything they cross paths with, from porcupines to small hippos.  They have also been known to eat other crocodiles. Unlike other predators, the Nile crocodiles are ferocious protectors of their eggs.

Best places to see Nile Crocodile

  •  Nairobi National Park, Kenya
  • Masai Mara National Reserve (Mara River)
  • Amboseli National Park
  • Samburu National Reserve
  • Shaba National Reserve
  • Laikipia Plateau

Hyena

Hyena

i.Spotted and Striped Hyena

Kenya is home to both spotted hyena, ‘Crocuta crocuta’, and striped hyena, scientifically named ‘Hyaena hyaena’. Spotted hyenas are very vocal and the term “laughing hyenas” was derived from the sounds they produced. Another distinguishing factor is the spotted hyena’s size. It is larger than other members of the species.

A striped hyena is distinguished by its striped coat and small stature. It is a nocturnal animal and typically only emerges once it is totally dark. During its nightly wandering, it will scavenge food and rarely do they make any kills. The striped hyena is a nearly threatened species found only in a few regions of northern and eastern Africa.

Best places to see Hyena

  •  Masai Mara National Reserve
  • Amboseli National Park

ii. Aardwolf

The Aardwolf is another member of the Hyaenidae family, also has a striped coat but is a thinner version of striped hyena. The yellowish coat is marked with distinctive back vertical stripes. Whenever confronted, it raises its mane, making it appear larger than its small size. The Aardwolf’s diet is majorly composed of termites and unlike other members of the Hyaenidae family, they are not scavengers.

Best places to see Aardwolf

  •  Amboseli National Park
  • Tsavo East National Park

Wildebeest

Wildebeest

Kenya is well-known for the great migration between the Serengeti plains and Masai Mara. During this migration, the Wildebeest are hunted by a range of dangerous predators such as lions, cheetahs, crocodiles, and hyenas. Despite this predator onslaught, their numbers remain pretty constant due to the high birth rate. Around 80% of the female wildebeest give birth during two to three weeks of each other. There is some safety in numbers and on occasion, the adults will guard the young in the herd against attacks from predators.

Best places to see Wildebeest

  • Amboseli National Park
  • Masai Mara National Park

1.2] Vulnerable Species In Kenya

Lion

Lion

Lions have been synonymous with Africa for a long time. The national animal of Kenya is the lion. Out of all the cat species, lions are the most affectionate, living in prides of up to 15 members. At the apex are two or three lions, followed by 5 to 10 lionesses, and the lion cubs. In times of plenty, all pride members have a place at the table,  but when food is scarce, there is a strict pecking  order and adult lions and lionesses will feed themselves before letting the cubs in. A common misconception entails that lion’s diet is mostly composed of the animals they hunt, but they have been known to steal kills from other animals and are primarily scavengers.

Best places to see Lion

  •  Amboseli National Park
  • Masai Mara National Reserve
  • Samburu National Reserve
  • Tsavo National Park

Leopard

Leopard

Leopards have an acute sense of hearing and vision, as well as stealth and patience, which makes them exceptional hunters. After making a kill, they usually drag their kill up the trees to keep it from other predators in the area. Because of their compact size, leopards prefer to hunt medium-sized prey like gazelle, antelope and warthogs. They will also kill baboons, birds and rodents. Male and female leopards live in separate territories and only meet up during the mating season. The female leopards live with their young, up until they are about 2 years old when they go off to find their own territory.

Best places to see Leopard

  •  Masai Mara National Reserve
  • Samburu National Reserve
  • Tsavo National Park

Cheetah

Cheetah

Cheetah’s light-build and agility make them the fastest of all the land animals. During a hunt, they can reach a speed of up to 100 km/h and can change direction instantly with the help of their amazing agility and a specially shaped tail. Their nostrils and hearts are also built in a manner to facilitate their intake of oxygen and recover their stamina. Female cheetahs hold larger territories compared to the males of the species. Both male and female Cheetah’s are  capable of reproducing at the age of two to three years. They live across a variety of habitats but prefer to live in areas with good visibility, greater availability of prey and areas that don’t have larger predators.

Best places to see Cheetah

  •  Masai Mara National Reserve

Hippopotamus

Hippopotamus

Hippos are known for their aggressive and unpredictable nature. They have been known to charge at both humans and animals at the slightest provocation. A male Hippo is known as the Bull and they establish a territory over a stretch of water surrounded by a group of five to thirty females and young hippos. During the day, they choose to wallow in mud or stay underwater. At night, they leave the safety of the water to graze on the grass close to their water habitat.

Best places to see Hippopotamus

  • Amboseli National Park
  • Buffalo Springs National Reserve
  • Tsavo East National Park

African Elephants

African Elephants

One of the famous big 5 animals in Kenya, African elephants are revered by many cultures in Africa. Of the two subspecies of elephants, it is the African bush elephant that is found in Kenya. Kenya has a sizable population of the African elephants. These highly intelligent animals use their trunk and tusks to obtain food. It plucks the leaves with the trunk and uses its tusk to tear at the branches and bark.

Elephants are unusual in that they have a neocortex. It is a mammalian cerebral cortex that facilitates high brain function and is also found in humans, apes and some dolphin species. Due to this particular trait, elephants can exhibit and feel a wide range of emotions and behaviour. Elephants live in family groups made up of the oldest and largest matriarch who leads her daughters and their offspring. The social nature of elephants means that these herds can be made up of up to 50 individuals.

Best places to see African Elephant

  •  Amboseli National Park
  • Buffalo Springs National Reserve
  • Samburu National Reserve
  • Tsavo East National Park

Giraffe

Giraffe

Kenya harbours three distinct species of giraffes; Rothschild’s giraffe, Reticulated giraffe, and Masai giraffe. Rothschild’s giraffe can often be mistaken for the Masai giraffe, but the spots on Rothschild’s giraffe are more defined. The body is paler compared to Masai giraffe, whereas the network of lines is cream-coloured. The spots do not extend to the lower part of their legs. Reticulated giraffes are one of the most commonly seen giraffes. Its body is covered with large red-coloured spots that are separated by a network of white lines. The Masai giraffe is an endangered species that can be identified by the irregular, unique, star-like spots that extend to their hooves.

Best places to see Giraffe

  •  Amboseli National Park
  • Buffalo Springs National Reserve
  • Tsavo East National Park
  • Lake Nakuru National Park

1.3] Near Threatened Species In Kenya

African Buffalo

African Buffalo

African buffalo, also known as cape buffalo is a large dark bovine herd animal. The bulls have thick large horns that grow downwards from their heads before curving back up. African buffalo can only be found in Africa in a variety of savannah type habitats. The African buffalo is hunted and killed by predators such as lions, leopards and hyenas, but they are fierce animals and have also been known to kill predators.

African Buffalos have extensive vocalizations and their calls are a low-pitched version of the calls emitted by domestic cattle. A low-pitched call lasting for 2-4 seconds signals the herd of African Buffalos to move. Similar to other species, aggressive behaviours are vocalized through grunts or growls. The African Buffalo females, known as cows, make croaking calls when they are searching for the calves. The calves emit the same sounds when they are in distress.

Best places to see African Buffalo

  • Amboseli National Park
  • Masai Mara National Park

Plains Zebras

Plains Zebras

The plains zebra or common zebra are found across most of southern and eastern Africa, and south of the Sahara. Plains zebras have a unique stripe pattern that differs from the other species. Broad stripes run horizontally on the rear and vertically towards the front, with a stripe that runs along their back onto the tail. They also have underbelly stripes.

Zebras are herbivores and eat mostly grasses but will also resort to eating leaves & stems. During the dry season, they will even dig up rhizomes and corms. Zebras prefer to live closer to a water source in the woodlands, but will travel great distances for food and water during the dry months. The females and young live in small family groups known as harems, with a single stallion in charge. There can be quite fierce fights for control of these harems and the rights to breed. These family groups will join together to form large herds, which then move around together.

Best places to see Zebras

  • Amboseli National Park
  • Buffalo Springs National Reserve/ both species found alongside
  • Samburu National Reserve

White Rhino

White Rhino

Despite what the name suggests, white rhino’s aren’t white. The name comes from the Afrikaans word ‘weit’, which translates as  ‘wide’. This refers to the shape of the mouth, which is wide and squared lipped and so shaped because they are grazers.  White rhinos are sedentary, semi-social and territorial. Groups or ‘crashes’ of up to 6 rhino are commonly observed, but this is no longer that common.

The adult bulls are solitary and only join up with females to mate. Both male and female use their horns to fight off any attackers, challengers or to protect their young. To mark the boundaries of their territories, the rhino will defecate in a specific place and create middens, which are used by both male and females. These middens along with urine spraying are a vital form of communication and can alert males when a female is in oestrus.

Best places to see White Rhino

  • Lake Nakuru National Park

1.4] Endangered Species In Kenya

Black Rhino (Critically Endangered)

Black Rhino

Back rhinos aren’t black, they are grey like all rhinos are. Colour variations are down to local soil conditions as rhino will roll in the dust or mud. The upper lip of a rhino can also help to distinguish a black rhino from a white rhino. The black rhino has a hooked upper lip that is perfect for browsing on bushes and trees. Both rhinos have two horns, the front one being more prominent than the other. Black Rhinos scent mark their territories by spraying urine. This is an effective form of communication as rhinos have very poor eyesight. They also defecate in the same place and create a midden, which demarcates the boundaries of their territory.

Best places to see Black Rhino

  • Lake Nakuru National Park
  • Masai Mara National Reserve

Grevy’s Zebra

Grevy’s Zebra

The Grevy’s zebra is the largest and most threatened of the three species of zebra found in Africa. It is much taller and has larger eyes and very distinctive and thinner stripes that do not continue around the belly. They live in semi-arid grasslands where they feed mainly on grasses, legumes, leaves and shoots. They can survive for up to a week without water but will drink daily if there is a water source available. During the dry season, they will migrate to areas with better food and water resources.

Unlike other zebra species, they do not form harems and are not governed by a dominant male, although males do have territories. Their main predators are lion and hyena.

Best places to see Grevy’s Zebra

  • Buffalo Springs National Reserve
  • Samburu National Reserve
  • Shaba National Reserve
  • Laikipia Plateau

About author

MD and Co-Founder. Born in Zimbabwe, Robin has a long history in Africa, and safaris in general, from running lodges to marketing. He is always on the look out for new ideas and products from around the safari world.

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