Flamingos

Kenya offers an amazing, diverse and vibrant mix of beauty, culture and wildlife habitats. Although famous for big game and vast herds of wild animals, Kenya is also a birdwatchers paradise, with over 1 100 species of birds, about 12% of the bird species in the world. The scenery is stunningly beautiful and varied, with no less than 19 distinct flora habitats, ranging from desert and semi-desert to high-altitude cloud forests.

Kenya’s conservation areas cover more than 10% of its total land area. Although much of the wildlife is found protected in some of the 54 National Parks and Reserves, in many other parts of the country you will see wild animals as you travel. In addition, there are seven national marine parks and reserves protecting the country’s sea life.

The difference between National Parks and Reserves is that the former are managed by the National Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), while the latter are managed by Local Councils and tribes. The Kenya national parks and reserves are the venues for safaris. Kenya national parks and reserves are among Africa’s best.

All the parks present something different in terms of landscape, flora, and fauna. Not all the animals are present in all the parks and reserves, and sometimes when visiting a park you need to be at the right place at the right time to see all the various species.

The more abundant the vegetation, the harder it is to spot animals as they hide in the bush. Some parks have beautiful scenery, lush bush and forests. Generally the best opportunities for game viewing are at national parks with large open plains (Masai Mara, Amboseli and Tsavo East) and in the dry seasons, as animals tend to hide or be obscured where there is bush or long grass.

Zebra herdGames drives are best in the early hours just after sunrise or the late afternoon just before sunset, because in the middle of the day many animals are sleeping.

Most of the national parks are only accessible in a vehicle. Best are those that have an open rooftop through which you can stand for viewing the animals and birds and for taking photographs. Some parks are much more crowded than others because they are better known or closer to Nairobi. Masai Mara and Amboseli are particularly crowded during the tourist high season (July-August and December-January).

If you wish to visit more than one park or reserve you need to allow time to travel the distances, and sometimes on rough roads. If you have restricted time and are willing to pay a bit more, flying to some parks and reserves is an option. However, you do miss experiencing the life and landscape of Kenya en route.

RULES AND SAFETY

  • Kenya National Parks and Reserves are protected by law. Human habitation, apart from tourist lodges and campsites, is prohibited in the national parks. The national reserves are less strict. It is prohibited to leave the roads due to heavily damaging fragile ecosystems and disturbing animals. The speed limit within parks is advertised at the entrances and is usually 30kms per hour.
  • Driving at night (usually 7 PM to 6 AM) is prohibited within the parks.
  • It is unsafe to leave your vehicle except for those areas where walking safaris are possible.
  • Picking wild flowers is prohibited, as well as harassment of animals which disturbs their feeding, breeding and reproductive life.
  • Gathering of fire wood for camping is usually prohibited, though a number of campsites allow small open fires if you behave responsibly.

Kenya Wildlife Parks and Reserves:
ABERDARE NATIONAL PARK

Baboon and Baby

  • Aberdare National Park covers the higher areas of the Aberdare Mountain Range of Central Kenya. It is one of Kenya’s oldest protected reserves, established in 1950 to safeguard the country’s most rare forest ecosystem and its major watershed.
  • The Kikuyu, the most numerous of the Kenyan tribes, believe the Aberdare Mountain Range is the home of Ngai, their God.
  • The park has beautiful scenic views and montane vegetation. It is composed of two parts, the higher moorlands with the three peaks, and the lower Salient where the rainforest is thick and has more abundant wildlife. The stunning alpine landscapes have ancient cedar forests, heather moorlands and bamboo groves between peaks (up to 13,120 ft, 3999 m) and deep valleys with rivers, streams and spectacular cascading waterfalls.
  • The typical highland weather is known for its unpredictability. It is generally quite cool and wet with high annual rainfall. Only 4WD drive access is allowed and visiting needs to be planned around the rainy seasons, as much of the park is inaccessible or closed during the rains.
  • There is plenty of wildlife present though the rain forest provides a great hiding place.
  • Animals easily observed in the park include; the Black Rhino, leopard, baboon, black and white Colobus monkey and Sykes monkey. Rarer sightings include those of lions, the Golden Cat, endemic mole rat and mole shrew, the giant forest hog, and the rare bongo (an elusive forest antelope that lives in the bamboo forest). Animals like the eland and spotted and melanistic serval cats can be found higher up in the moorlands.
  • There are more than 250 bird species present, including regal, crowned cranes, Jackson’s francolins, sparrow hawks, African goshawks, eagles, sunbirds, giant kingfishers and plovers.
  • Aberdare Park is a great place for camping, fishing in the rivers, walking safaris and climbing the peaks (pay for an armed guard to protect you from the animals).

AMBOSELI NATIONAL PARK


Elephants

  • Amboseli National Park is easily accessible for a day trip from Nairobi (240 km, 150 mi) and is stunningly beautiful with amazing panoramic views from Observation Hill.
  • Spectacular Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest mountain across the border in Tanzania, dominates every view at Amboseli, with its towering magnificence and snow-capped peak rising above the clouds. Sunrise and sunset are the best times to view the mountain. Loose, ashy, volcanic dust lies on the ground in the dry season caused from the eruption of Kilimanjaro millennia ago.
  • The landscape is dominated by savannah grassland which allows for viewing the plains game, rocky thorn bush and acacia woodland vegetation.
  • Amboseli means “A place of water” in the Maasai language.
  • Swamps, marshes and rivers are fed by underground, clear water springs from the melting snows of Kilimanjaro.
  • Lake Amboseli appears during the heavy rains season, and in the dry season is replaced by a dried lake bed which in the heat produces shimmering mirages.
  • Amboseli supports a rich variety of wild animals and birds and is famous for being the best place in Africa to get close to free-ranging elephants and other wildlife species. However, it doesn’t have the consistency of predator sightings that the Mara provides.
  • The main attraction is the prolific herds of elephants, with the old bulls having some of the largest tusks in all of Africa. Other animals include giraffe, hippo, lion, leopard, cheetah, buffalo, zebra, wildebeest, antelope and gazelle. The eastern parts of the park are best for game viewing.
  • Many attractive birds can be easily seen including the rare and beautiful Taveta golden weaver, a variety of vultures, pelicans, bee-eaters, Egyptian geese, kingfishers, African fish eagles, martial eagles and pygmy falcons.
  • Amboseli is home to the famed Maasai people, an age-old tribe known historically as tall, proud nomadic warriors who bravely fought with wild animals, and who today retain fascinating culture and traditions, and live in complete harmony with their environment and the wildlife which surrounds them.

HELL’S GATE NATIONAL PARK


Hell's Gate

  • Hell’s Gate National Park is only 90 km (56 mi) from Nairobi, making it a great day trip. It is a rocky gorge, comprised of savannah ecosystem, lined by towering red cliffs.
  • Frequently observed animal species in the park include zebra, Thompson’s gazelle, baboon, African buffalo, eland, hartebeest, klipspringer, antelope and Chandler’s mountain reedbuck. Occasionally lions, leopards, and cheetahs can be sighted.
  • There are more than 100 bird species, including vultures, Verreaux’s eagles, Augur buzzards, and swifts.
  • Hell’s Gate is a lovely place to hike or cycle while looking at the wildlife.

KAKAMEGA FOREST NATIONAL RESERVE


Colobus monkey

  • The Kakamega Forest National Reserve is situated north of Kisumu city and 415 km (258 mi) from Nairobi. It is the only tropical rain forest left in Kenya.
  • The forest is home to over 400 species of butterflies, about 300 bird species, 27 species of snakes, more than 350 species of trees and 7 primate species (including the endangered DeBrazza monkey).
  • It is a great place for walking, hiking and camping.

LAKE BARINGO

Eagle

  • Lake Baringo is one of two freshwater lakes in the Great Rift Valley (the other being Lake Naivasha). It is situated in a hot, dusty, semi-desert region, at an altitude of 1100 m (3609 ft) and surrounded by mountains. At the northern end of the lake is the dormant volcano, Karosi.
  • The lake has several small islands, the largest being Ol Kokwe, which has several hot springs and fumaroles, some of which have precipitated sulphur deposits.
  • Lake Baringo is fed from several rivers from the Mau and Tugen Hills. As it has no obvious outlet the waters are assumed to seep through lake sediments into the faulted volcanic bedrock.
  • The lake is home to many fish species, including catfish, tilapia and the endemic Oreochromis Alcalicus Baringoensi.
  • Animals include hippo, crocodile and many other mammals, amphibians, reptiles and the invertebrates.
  • It is an ornithologist’s paradise with more than 470 bird species recorded in the area, many of which are extremely rare or otherwise only seen in this area. Some of the migratory water bird species are significant regionally and globally. A huge Goliath Heronry is located on the rocky islet in the lake known locally as Gibraltar.
  • Several important archaeological and paleontological sites are in the area, some of which have yielded fossil hominoids and hominins.
  • In the 19th century slave caravans passed this way and the remains of Fort Baringo are still visible.
  • There is very little cultivation owing to the long hot dry season, followed by the habitually violent rains in May, so inhabitants survive mainly on the grazing of goats, sheep and cattle supplemented by fishing and harvesting of wild fruits and berries.
  • A cultural tour, crafts and traditional dancing can be seen at Njemps village.

LAKE BOGORIA NATIONAL RESERVE


Leopard

  • Lake Bogoria is a shallow saline, alkaline/soda lake, set at the bottom of a trough at the base of the Ngendelel escarpment.
  • As it has no surface outlet the water becomes saline mainly through the high evaporation in this semi-arid region. The intense evaporation has led to high levels of salt and minerals and is rich in blue-green algae, which attracts massive numbers of Lesser Flamingos. Few other organisms inhabit the lake and there are no fish.
  • The area is still volcanically active and Loburu Hot Springs, on the western shore, has at least 18 true geysers (the highest concentration in Africa), steam vents and bubbling geothermal pools.
  • The National Reserve is on the eastern side of the lake.
  • The southern portion of the reserve is an isolated, wooded area best for spotting wildlife. Game is not plentiful, but it is one of the most likely places in Kenya to see the greater kudu, and you may sight other animals such as leopards, klipspringers and gazelle.
  • Over 200 species of birds have been recorded, primarily frequenting the marshy area of Kesubo Swamp, north of the Reserve.

LAKE NAIVASHA

  • Lake Naivasha is a beautiful fresh water lake 1829 m (6,000 ft) above sea level. It is home to hundreds of hippo. The surrounding plains have one of the greatest diversities of birdlife in the world, with more than 400 species recorded to date. Animals roam the nearby game sanctuaries.
  • Historically the lake area was one of Kenya’s early settler communities during the 1930’s and 40’s and was primarily a place of wheat farming, cattle breeding and hard work. Now it is a region of horticulture, namely vegetables and flowers grown for export as well as for the local market.

ELSAMERE CONSERVATION CENTRE

  • Elsamere Conservation Center and Museum, on the southern shore of Lake Naivasha, was formerly the home of naturalist and painter Joy Adamson, author of ‘Born Free’, and her husband George Adamson, until her murder in 1980. The house is now open to the public with meals and accommodation proceeds supporting the conservation center.
  • Elsamere Conservation Center now focuses on lake ecology and environmental awareness. Local wildlife is monitored and over 200 species of birds have been recorded.
  • On the grounds is a museum with displays portraying the true story of Joy and the lioness Elsa that she raised from birth, and her attempts to return her to the wild. Her paintings and personal artifacts are also on display and there is also a video shown about the story of Elsa the lioness.

LAKE NAKURU NATIONAL PARK


Rhinoceros

  • Lake Nakuru National Park is a very picturesque park which can be visited as a day trip from Nairobi (140 km, 87 mi). It is a bird and rhino sanctuary and home to a wide range of animals.
  • One third of the small 188 sq km park is covered by the shallow, alkaline lake on the bed of the Great Rift Valley. The park was created to protect the world famous, stunningly beautiful flocks of over one million Greater and Lesser Flamingos, which literally turn its shores pink. This is one of the greatest bird spectacles in the world. The flocks feed on the abundant algae which grows and thrives in the shallow warm waters. The alkalinity of the water enhances the vibrant pink of the flamingoes.
  • Over 400 bird species (aquatic and terrestrial) have been sighted, including pelicans, cormorants, black-winged stilts, avocets and, in the European winter, migrant waders.
  • The variety of vegetation surrounding the lake is huge. There are more than 500 plant species within the savannah, wooded and bushy grasslands, various indigenous forests and rocky cliffs, escarpments and ridges, including beautiful yellow acacia and the biggest euphorbia (candelabra cactus) forest in Africa.
  • It is home to about 56 different species of animals including buffalo, leopard, lion, Rothschild’s giraffe, black and white Colobus monkey, waterbuck, Bohor’s reedbuck, Chandler’s reebuck, zebra, eland, steinbok, impala, dik dik, rock hyrax, klipspringer, warthog, gazelle. As a rhino sanctuary, it is one of the best places in Kenya to see both black and white rhino. Large python snakes may be seen on the cliffs.
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MASAI MARA NATIONAL RESERVE


  • Masai Mara is 225 km (140 mi) SW of Nairobi. It is part of a large ecosystem in the Rift Valley that stretches south to the Serengeti in Tanzania. The rolling savannah landscape is dotted with acacia trees, shrubs and patches of bush and forest. The landscape may have brought about the name “Mara” as it means” mottled” in the language of the Masai tribe.
  • The Masai have inhabited the area since the 17th century, living in harmony with the wildlife. Masai Mara does not have national park status but is managed by the local county authority.
  • The Mara is probably the most famous and most often visited reserve in Kenya due to the annual wildebeest migration, the density of wildlife and variety of bird life as well as the beautiful skies, a temperate climate (with rain usually falling late afternoon or evening) and the open savanna plain. It is what most people visualize when thinking of an African wildlife safari.
  • The Mara offers breathtaking views and an extraordinary density of animals. There is a good chance of seeing all the “Big Five” (buffalo, lion, elephant, leopard, rhino) with lions being common in the Mara. Elephant, wildebeest, zebra, Masai and common giraffe, cheetah, hyena, jackal, various antelope and gazelle, Nile crocodiles, hippos, warthogs, and other plains animals also exist in large numbers.
  • The Oloololo Escarpment, on the western border, is swampier and has the largest concentration of animals. The eastern border has a large forested area that makes it more difficult to spot wildlife. Wildlife can roam freely between the Mara in Kenya and the Serengeti in Tanzania, in search of food.
  • An impressive feature of the Mara is that it hosts the world famous annual migration of wildebeest, zebra and gazelle. Every year they assemble, as if an unseen sign has been given, and move together from the plains of the Serengeti, crossing the Tanzanian border and rivers to reach the Mara’s grassland from late June through to August (depending on the rains). The migrating animals are tracked by predators, such as lions, leopards, cheetahs, hyenas and vultures. In October or November they start the long trek back to the `Serengeti, to complete the circuit. Witnessing this spectacle will probably rank as one of the biggest highlights in your life!
  • Over 450 species of birds have been sighted, including migrants and birds of prey. However, other parks in Kenya, such as Lake Nakuru, offer more diverse birdlife.
  • Visits to some traditional Masai villages in the reserve can be arranged. Masai morans (warriors) are also available for hire for guided walking tours to see the wildlife outside the reserve.
  • Early morning balloon safaris over the Masai Mara offer a breathtaking view of the savannah scenery and wildlife followed by champagne breakfast.

MERU NATIONAL PARK


Kenya Wildlife

  • Meru National Park, located 350 km (218 mi) from Nairobi, was one of the two areas in which conservationists Joy and George Adamson raised and re-introduced the lioness, Elsa, into the wilderness, made famous by the book and movie ‘Born Free’. Elsa is buried in this park and part of Joy’s ashes were scattered on her gravesite. The historic home of George and Joy Adamson can be visited.
  • Due to abundant rainfall the area has tall grass and dense swamps which make it difficult to spot game. The park does, however, have a wide range of wildlife including elephant, hippopotamus, lion, leopard, cheetah, black rhino, reticulated giraffe, zebra and some rare antelopes.
  • Approximately 280 recorded bird species have been recorded in the area.

MOUNT KENYA NATIONAL PARK

  • Mount Kenya lies at the centre of the national park, about 175 km(109 mi) northeast of Nairobi. An extinct volcano, it is Kenya’s highest mountain and Africa’s second highest mountain, at 5199 m (17057 ft). Although it straddles the Equator there are permanent glaciers on top.
  • The Kikuyu (Kenya’s largest tribe) think Ngai, their supreme God, lives on top of this mountain.
  • Scenically beautiful, it has one of the most impressive landscapes in East Africa, with its rugged, glacier-clad summits, Afro-alpine moorlands and diverse forests.
  • The park has three principal zones: The lower slopes are covered with dry upland forest, ascending to vast slopes of mountain forest of predominantly cedar and podo. Bamboo jungle merges into forest of moss-covered, smaller treed forests and mooreland which is interrupted by glades. The rocky peak area (an eroded volcanic plug) is covered by glaciers and snow fields. The rivers formed from the melted snows are the source of much of Kenya’s electricity supply.
  • The region provides excellent game viewing. Examples include black and white Colobus and Sykes monkeys, baboon, bushbuck, buffalo, elephant, waterbuck, eland, genet cat, black fronted duikers, lion, tree hyrax, white-tailed mongoose, mole rat, bush pig and hyena, and several species of antelope. Occasionally seen are the rare bongo (a type of forest antelope), mole shrew, skinks (lizard), Sunni bucks, melanistic leopard and serval cat, giant forest hog and black rhino, and very occasionally there have been sightings of albino zebra.
  • Over 130 bird species have also been recorded.
  • There are various routes leading to the summit. To reach the second and third highest peaks requires considerable rock and snow climbing skill, but people with reasonable fitness and a sense of adventure can walk the lower peak. Wild animals including elephant and buffalo are regularly sited en route. Take warm clothes for the freezing temperatures.
  • Lewa Downs, at the foot of Mt Kenya, is a private conservation ranch. Wildlife there includes endangered species such as the white and black rhinos, plus elephants, giraffes, eland, oryx, buffalo, lion and leopards.

NAIROBI NATIONAL PARK


Giraffe

  • Nairobi National Park was Kenya’s first national park, established in 1946. It is unique in being the only wildlife protected area bordering a capital city. Located on the outskirts of Nairobi, its 117 sq km (72.7 sq mi) has a background of skyscrapers. Up to 100 species of mammals can be found, including all the ‘Big Five’ except elephants, as well as plains animals and several hundred bird species.
  • The park is primarily open savannah grassland, with plains in the south. The western side has a highland dry forest and a permanent river with a riverine forest where hippo and crocodile occupy the river pools.
  • It is a seasonal park, with the southeastern boundary being a reservation which provides an important buffer zone and migration passage for animals moving in and out of the park with the rainy/dry seasons. Although it is a seasonal park many of the game, such as the indigenous Black Rhino, live in the park all year round. Herds of plains zebra, wildebeest and eland enter the park during the great migration in July and August to enjoy the rich grazing until the next rains come. Other wild animals include lion, leopard, cheetah, hyena, buffalo, gazelle and giraffe.
  • Nairobi National Park is a major rhino sanctuary for breeding and restocking other parks.
  • Over 400 species of birdlife have been recorded.
  • At the main gate is the Animal Orphanage where young, abandoned animals are nursed back to health. The David Sheldrick Elephant and Rhino Orphanage is near the Banda gate.

SAMBURU NATIONAL RESERVE

Kenya Wildlife

  • Situated in the centre of Kenya, Samburu National Reserve has scenic, panoramic views of vast rugged hills and undulating plains.
  • The mix of many open savannahs, woods, riverine forest and swamp provides homes for a variety of wildlife, including a wide variety of animal species not found south of the equator. In the dry seasons the presence of plenty of water from the Uaso NyiroRiver draws crocodiles and hippos to the park.
  • Animals include the majestic Beisa oryx, the unique Reticulated giraffe, the thin-striped Grevy’s zebra, and the long-necked gerenuk antelope (which stands on its hind legs to feed).
  • Most animals are found in the southern part of the reserve, including the Grevy’s zebras, elephants, Beisa oryx, Somali ostrich, hippos, Nile crocodiles, elands, gerenuk, buffaloes, bush bucks, hyenas and cats (lions, leopards, cheetahs)
  • Bird watching of over 350 bird species is spectacular, including sunbirds, pygmy falcons, kingfishers, hornbills, Egyptian geese, tawny eagles, bee-eaters, Marabou storks, Vulturine guinea fowl, vultures, and Bateleur eagles.
  • The Samburu tribe, cousins of the Maasai, share the same nomadic, cattle-herding existence, and an even stricter adherence to their traditional rites and customs. A highlight for many visitors to Samburu National Reserve is the Sarara Singing Wells, local watering holes, where Samburu warriors bring their cattle daily. The warriors form a human chain and chant traditional songs while passing water up to their cattle by hand.

TSAVO NATIONAL PARKS

Red Elephants

  • Tsavo is one of the largest protected areas in the world, the largest park in Kenya, covering 4% of Kenya’s total land area.
  • Tsavo is divided into Tsavo East and Tsavo West, by the Nairobi-Mombasa road and highway.
  • Tsavo is situated only a few hours (250 km, 155 mi) drive from Mombasa and makes it a great park to visit for combining a stay on the coast with a wildlife safari.

TSAVO EAST NATIONAL PARK


Elephant

  • Tsavo East is one of Kenya’s oldest and largest parks, covering about 40 per cent of the total area of all national parks.
  • Tsavo-East is recommended for photographers with its fabulous light and fantastic views.
  • It remains a unique wilderness and one of the world’s leading biodiversity strongholds. A hot, dry region, with an annual rainfall of less than 51 cm, it is the epitome of the African bush; a vast and untapped area with red-brown earth and harsh, thorny, semi-arid acacia scrubland, interrupted by some bushy grassland, open plains and savannah and the meandering Galana River.
  • The Park is home to some of the largest elephant herds in Kenya (often dusty-red-coloured from rolling on the red soil!), rhino, lion, leopard, buffalo, crocodile, hippo, waterbuck, kudu, gerenuk, dik-dik, zebra, the endangered Hirola antelope (also known as Hunter’s hartebeest).
  • The park has dramatic sights of large mammals including great herds of elephant, antelope, hippo, black rhino, eland, lion and giraffe.
  • The massive 500+ bird species recorded includes weaver and secretary birds, ostrich, some migratory kestrels and buzzards. Tsavo-East lies along one of the main migratory routes for northern hemisphere birds.
  • Other great sights at the park are the Mudanda Rock which towers above a natural dam that attracts elephants, the Yatta Plateau, the world’s largest lava flow, and the Galana River’s Lugard Falls bizarrely shaped, water-carved rocks.
  • The middle section of the park has rock and cave paintings.

TSAVO WEST NATIONAL PARK

  • Tsavo West National Park is situated 240 km (149 mi) from Nairobi, south-west of the Nairobi-Mombasa highway. Historically Tsavo was the land of the Watta, Orma, Kamba and Maasai peoples, but their villages were displaced when Tsavo became a national park. In World War One it was a major battleground as German and British troops battled for supremacy.
  • Tsavo West has some of the most dramatic scenery of all the Kenyan national parks, more so than Tsavo East which consists more of open savannahs.
  • The downside of all this vegetation is that wildlife is often harder to spot in West than East.
  • It has amazing views of diverse habitats comprising savannah grasslands, scrublands with cactus-like euphorbia trees, Acacia woodlands, belts of riverine vegetation, mountains, rocky ridges with fine graphite, marble and sulphite deposits. The crystal clear Mzima Springs (with its underground hippo observatory) is a haven for wildlife as millions of litres of water flow each day from the underground streams of Chyulu Hills, 40 to 50 km away. The Shetani Lava Flow and Chaimu volcanic crater offer opportunities for geological and cave expeditions.
  • The huge variety of wildlife includes elephant, rhino, buffalo, hippo, crocodile, leopard, giraffe, zebra, plains game, gazelles, crocodile, oryx, lesser kudu, kilpspringer, mongoose, hyrax, dik dik, some lions and cheetahs, and the nocturnal porcupine. If fortunate an endangered wild dog might be sighted. Black rhino can be found in the Ngulia Rhino Sanctuary.
  • Bird watching is excellent with over 600 species, including the threatened corncrake and near threatened Basra Reed Warbler.
  • As a migration corridor, many birds from the Northern Hemisphere pass over between September and December. Starlings, weaverbirds, hornbills, rollers, raptors, herons and storks have been sighted.

For more information check out this website: www.kws.org/parks/parks_reserves

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