A Kenyan safari takes visitors on a spectacular journey. The journey often starts with a thirst to see Africa’s big five animals then perhaps to witness the great wildebeest migration. Many often overlook the wildlife that is a fixture in the Kenyan plains – the antelopes. From the tiny dik-dik to the giraffe-necked gerenuk, Kenya has an abundant and healthy population of antelopes. A total of 91 antelope species are present in Africa and at least 12 of those species are found in Kenya, forming an integral part of Kenya’s ecosystem.
We have prepared this list of the top ten antelopes species in Kenya, many of which join the annual great wildebeest migration.
1. Beisa Oryx
There are four distinct subspecies of beisa oryx. The male and female beisa oryx look similar and are difficult to tell apart but upon close inspection, the t females have shorter and slender horns. Beisa oryx have black fringed ears with black tufts of hair that grows past their ears. They are dense and muscular with long bodies, wide necks, and strong long legs. Like all antelopes, beisa oryx feed on a variety of grass. This species can be spotted in the Laikipia Conservancies, Samburu Reserve, and Meru National Park.
2. Coke’s Hartebeest
Coke’s hartebeests, a desert species, is a large antelope with a wide forehead, oddly shaped horns, short neck, and pointy ears. It has long black markings on its legs,a shiny brownish coat, long face,big chest, and sharp sloping back. These features help differentiate it from other antelopes. Compared to male hartebeests, females have slightly smaller horns. A herd of hartebeests has 20 to 300 and their diet is primarily composed of grass. It is one of the fastest antelopes, with a speed of over 70km/h. Kenya is also home to the Kenyan highland hartebeest, a hybrid of Coke’s hartebeest and lelwel. Coke’s hartebeest is found in Mount Kenya, Laikipia Plateau, and west-central Kenya.
3. Common Eland
After the giant eland, the common eland is the second largest antelope in the world and can grow up to 7 meters tall. Both males and females have twisted horns, with slight differences. The male horns are a bit larger, whereas the females have spiral horns. The horns are used to protect themselves and their young ones against predators. The loose skin hanging from their necks is called a dewlap. Predators usually reach for their throats and the dewlap protects them against such attacks. Common elands use their hooves to communicate with each other, the sound can be heard from short range, while their diet consists mainly of leaves and flowers. Visitors can find common eland in Nairobi National Park, Tsavo East and West National Parks, and Masia Mara National Park.
Gerenuk is also known as giraffe-necked antelope because they have long necks similar to giraffes. It has a small head and prominent ears and reaches the top branches of trees by standing on its hind legs while its coat is a mixture of red and brown. Males gerenuks have narrow triangular horns, which are absent in the female of the species. The female gerenuks are very maternal towards the young ones. Gerenuks form small herds with 5 to 6 members. Visitors can find them in Meru National Park, Tsavo East and West National Parks, and Amboseli National Park.
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One of the most common antelopes, impala are a medium-sized antelope species with a long neck, slender body and colourful tan coat with a reddish-brown saddle. Only the males of the species have large lyre-shaped horns, which are the largest antelope horns in east Africa. Impalas use their horns to fight other males and to protect them if necessary. Females are smaller and thinner than male impalas. The males form a bachelor herd of up to 30 members, while the female herd can have 6 to 100 members. Impala is one of the world’s fastest antelope species and can run up to 75-90km/h. Its long legs allow it to jump high and it uses its speed to get away from predators. They can eat both leaves and grass. Visitors can spot impalas in Lake Nakuru National Park and many other parks in Kenya.
6. Kirk’s Dik-dik
Kirk’s dik-dik is one of world’s smallest antelope which is highly cautious. Its coat is yellowish-grey to reddish-brown in the back and greyish-white on its belly and they have big eyes surrounded by white rings. They were named dik-dik because of the sound they make when startled. Male did-diks have horns covered by their turfs, whereas the females are hornless. Despite their short stature, they consume a lot of food because of their high metabolism. They have an elongated nose which is like a small tusk that helps them regulate their body temperature, preventing overheating. They are monogamous species that live together until the partner dies. Visitors can find dik-diks in Nairobi National Park, Tsavo East and West Park, Amboseli National Park, and Masai Mara.
7. Thomson’s and Grant’s Gazelle
Thomson’s gazelle, a subspecies of red-fronted gazelle, was named after explorer Josep Thomson. These gazelles have ringed horns that are curved backwards with the ear tips facing forward. They have a yellowish-brown buff coat with a white belly and black markings on both sides. They consume dry grass, seeds, and shrubs. Visitors can find them in Masai Mara National Park, Amboseli National Park, Nairobi National Park, and Nakuru National Park.
Grant’s gazelle has three subspecies. Their coat is orange on the back and white under the belly. They have ringed lyre-shaped horns with a stout base. Grant’s gazelle can feed on both grass and plants. They don’t need to drink a lot of water because they absorb moisture from the plants they consume, which keeps them hydrated in the dry season. Visitors can find Grant’s gazelle in Amboseli National Park and Nairobi National Park in Kenya.
Topi is an agile antelope species: when in danger, it can run up to 90km/h. Topi look similar to hartebeest, but there are two notable differences – they are a bit darker, and their horns aren’t as sharp. They have lyre-shaped ringed horns and a reddish-brown coat with purple patches on the upper legs. The males are larger and darker than the females while both males and females guard their territories. Compared to other antelopes, the female topi is aggressive. They live in grasslands and consume grass. Visitors planning a trip to Kenya can find topi in Masai Mara in large numbers.
9. Common Waterbuck
The common waterbuck is a large and muscular antelope. Male waterbucks have ringed horns, which can grow up to 100 centimetres. They are widely spaced while curving backwards and up. Waterbucks use their horns to fight for the territory and these fights can be dangerous for both males. Common waterbucks are often found in wet environments and are called waterbucks because of their brown coats, which excrete a stinky oil-like substance that is said to be waterproof, this smell . keeps predators away. Waterbuck are known to live in herds of 6 to 30 members while adult male and female waterbuck have separate herds. Males form a bachelor herd, whereas the female and young males become part of a nursery herd. The diet of a waterbuck is grass and leaves and they need to drink plenty of water. Visitors have the highest probability of spotting waterbucks in the Tsavo National Park and Lake Nakuru National Park in Kenya.
10. Blue Wildebeest
The blue wildebeest is one of Kenya’s fastest antelope species that can run at a speed of 80km/h. They have a horse-like long tail, brown coat, and a large head, shaggy mane, pointed beardy. This ‘wild beast’ appearance is where it gets it derives it Afrikaans name from. Males are larger and heavier. Blue wildebeest’s horns are sharp and curved and females have smaller horns. They prefer to feed on grass, but when needed, they can also eat herbs and shrubs and prefer short grassland. At the time of migration, all herds come together and form a super herd. Masai Mara National Park in Kenya has a large population of blue wildebeests.
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