CheetahsIt is an amazing experience seeing the incredible, awe-inspiring wild animals in their natural habitats. Special memories will remain with you when you hear the roar of a lion during the night while sleeping  in a tent  in the wilderness,  see elephants using their trunks to feed and water themselves,  watch zebras with their young ones,  to drive the vast savannah in an open-roofed vehicle watching out for game,  view thousands of wildebeest cross in front of you,  see a leopard climb a tree with its prey,  hear a hyena penetrate the still of the night, spot a rare bird species,  watch a baby giraffe feeding from its mother. These are some stories. You will come away with many more.

Kenya’s wildlife protection areas contain the greatest densities of the country’s huge diversity of wildlife.  However, the country’s wildlife population is not restricted to the protected areas. Wild animals are spread throughout Kenya. The rhinoceros is the only species that is entirely restricted to conservation parks.

The habitats of the wildlife range from savannah to tropical rainforests, plains to mountains, dried lake beds and desert to rivers and wetlands. Visiting a variety of habitats will give you a wider picture of the wildlife and ecosystems of Kenya.
The Swahili word for animal is mnyama (wanyama, pl.) Kenya is home to what is commonly called “The Big 5”; elephant, lion, rhinoceros, buffalo and leopard.  As well there are various other predators, scavengers, antelope, etc, including the Blue Wildebeest and zebras that famously migrate with thousands of others every year in The Great Migration between Kenya and Tanzania…. a not-to-be-missed natural spectacle!

While many species are thriving, a number are threatened. The Black Rhino is one of the most endangered animals in Kenya. In the entire world, the numbers are estimated at no more than 4,000. Luckily, in Kenya , the Black Rhino population seems to be on the increase again. Lions in Kenya are extremely vulnerable too.  In Kenya there are now approximately 2,000.

THE ‘BIG FIVE’

An African Safari was traditionally a hunting safari and the Big Five were known as the most dangerous animals for the hunters. They are also the five animals that anyone going on safari wants to sight.

Below is information to help you to get to know these animals better:

LION = SIMBABig Lion

Lions are predators and the largest of the great cats in Africa, with a height of 30-50 inches and weight of 270-400 pounds (female) or 325-575 pounds (male).  They typically live in open spaces; grasslands and savannahs or plains, but sometimes they are also found in bush and woodland, particularly in the southwestern part of Kenya.

Some of the best wildlife parks to find lions are the Masai Mara National Reserve, East and West Tsavo National Parks and the Samburu National Reserve. Though there once were more than 10,000 lions living in Kenya, there are now approximately 2,000. Lions are threatened due to several causes including poaching and poisoning by local farmers who want to stop lions from attacking their cattle.

Lions are social animals, which is unusual among the usually solitary cat species. They live in prides of one to three males and up to 15 females together with their young. Males without prides may be solitary or join other males.

Much of a lion’s day is spent resting in the shade, though they also enjoy sunbathing on rocky mounds  from where they can view predators and potential prey. Dawn or dusk is the typical time for them to search for prey.

In addition to raising the cubs, the females defend the hunting territory from other prides and do the hunting and killing, working together to bring down, wildebeest, zebra , gazelle, antelope or other smaller prey.  Sometimes the males assist by driving the prey towards the females and help the females defend the prides kill from other competitors such as hyenas and jackals. Lions will also claim carcasses killed by other carnivores. The males take the majority of the kill, followed by dominant females, then remaining females, while the cubs grab what they can.

Most males rule a territory for only a few years until defeated by another male who kills as many of the predecessor’s cubs as possible then mates with the lionesses for cubs of his own. Thus the pride remains.

LEOPARD = CHUI Leopard

Leopards are found throughout Africa and southern Asia. The smallest of the big cats with an approximate height of 18-31 inches and weight of 60-130 pounds (female) or 75-200 pounds (male), they are beautiful, graceful, powerful and agile. They are excellent climbers and able to swim, which enables them to live in a wider range of habitats than most other wild animals. Leopards can be seen at many parks, particularly the Masai Mara or Samburu National Reserves.

Though primarily nocturnal and elusive, they are sometimes active and sighted during the day, in the rocky hills, thick woodlands, grasslands or stretched out high up on the branches of trees.

Leopard’s coats can vary in colour, from a light buff or tawny colour in warmer, dryer areas to darker shades in forested areas. Their ‘spots’ are circular in the East African leopards but are more square-shaped  in Southern African leopards.

They are primarily solitary animals except during the mating season. Females first breed when two years of age and will produce a litter every two years.  Litters usually number two to four cubs with only one or two surviving to adulthood. Offspring remain with the mother for up to two years. Males will seek territory of their own while females will sometimes share territory with their mothers.

Smart, opportunistic and stealthy, both males and females mark and defend hunting territories with urine and claw marks, with males having larger territories than females and sometimes encroaching on the territories of several females. They eat numerous small and mid-sized prey such as gazelles, monkeys, rodents, reptiles, young wildebeest and zebras, but can also take down animals larger than themselves, like antelope or wild boar, carrying them to a secluded spot to keep their prey away from lions and hyenas. They are the only big cats that will drag their kill to the top of a tree so that they can eat in peace.

ELEPHANT = NDOVU/TEMBOElephant
Elephants are the largest land mammals and they can live up to 60 to 70 years. The African elephant is bigger than the Asian elephant and has large flapping ears. The male elephant has an average weight of approximately 12,000 pounds and is about 10 feet tall at the shoulder. The trunk alone has more than 40,000 muscles.

African elephants are adaptable to just about every habitat; vast savannah grasslands, open plains and forested areas. They are very plentiful in some parks such as the Shimba Hills National Reserve and Amboseli National Park.

Elephants travel constantly, in close-knit herds with the matriarch in charge, as they roam in search of shelter and food, eating vast amounts of vegetation each day to survive. Younger and older bulls live alone.  They can be quite destructive to the vegetation and landscape when their population outstrips food supply.

To keep from overheating they flap their ears. However ear flapping combined with snorting is usually a sign of agitation.
Elephants communicate with each other with any number of sounds and over long distances. They are intelligent and not usually aggressive although females can be dangerous when in a breeding herd or when protecting their young.

Elephants, like the rhinos, are hunted for their tusks, so they are a protected species. Eastern Africa is one of the few areas where the elephant is thriving, and numbers are growing.

CAPE BUFFALO = MBOGOCape Buffalo

There is one genus and one species of buffalo in Africa, but this single species has two different types: the large savanna buffalo and the much smaller dwarf forest buffalo.

Found in large herds, and sometimes small groups of bachelor males, buffalo congregate near water, on savannah, open grasslands, forests and flood plains.

Marsabit National Park and Mount Kenya National Park are good locations for sighting the African buffalo.

Along with the hippopotamus, they are considered one of the more dangerous animals in Kenya. The huge ox-like buffalo has an intimidating stare and an unpredictable nature and will not hesitate from using their heavy, dangerous horns if disturbed.
Buffaloes are not considered endangered.

RHINOCEROS = KIFARURhino
Large and primitive looking, rhinoceros have a lifespan of 35 to 40 years and are second in size to the elephant, with a weight of up to 2 tons. There are two species of rhinos, the Black and the White. The name “white” originates from the Dutch word “weit”, not the colour, as both types look basically alike. Black Rhinos tend to live alone or in pairs, while White Rhinos are more often found in herds.

Both the black and white rhino have two horns, the longer of which sits at the front of the nose. Although both species are extremely rare, the black are the rarest, due to poaching for their horn.  The White Rhinos are more commonly seen on safari.
There is a Black Rhino sanctuary at Lake Nakuru National Park.

Rhino herds are frequently seen at the Meru National Park, and occasionally at the Masai Mara Reserve.
The closest rhino relationship is between a female and her calf, lasting from 2 to 4 years.

Besides the ‘BIG FIVE’ there are many other animals and every single one is fascinating to watch: Giraffes, Zebras, Hippos, Baboons, Wildebeests, Warthog, Antelopes, Gazelles, to name a few.

THE GREAT WILDEBEEST MIGRATION
Dubbed as  ‘the seventh wonder of the world” in 2006, the annual movement of wildebeest and other grazing herbivores across the Serengeti-Mara ecosystem  is one of the most spectacular, enlightening and exciting, sights in the natural world.

Each year around a similar time of year approx 1.2-1.8 million wildebeest begin an epic clock-wise circuit of East Tanzania’s and Kenya’s great grassland plains. There are a few sedentary populations of wildebeest, but most are migratory. The wildebeest migration has followed its present circuit of the Serengeti Plain for hundreds of thousands of years.

The roughly triangular route the migrants follow is about 300 miles from start to finish, as the crow flies, or an 1,800 mile journey. The trip can be considerably longer depending on which way the wildebeest wander. The migration originates from the dwindling short grass plains of the Ngorongoro area of the southeastern Serengeti of Tanzania, moving northwest towards the Serengeti’s western corridor, chasing rain and abundance of grazing, to arrive at the northern end of the circuit in the Masai Mara Triangle, Kenya, in June, July, August.

Kenya Wildebeest MigrationBetween June and October the wildebeest reside in the Masai Mara, grazing the lush green grasses that the earlier rains encouraged.

The wildebeest are flanked by a variety of other herbivores. As many as 200,000 – 500,000 zebras infiltrate the migrants seeking protection amid the masses, while approx 100,000 plains game (eland, Thompson’s and Grants gazelles and antelopes), join the mass on the fringes. They are relentlessly stalked by ruthless predators, such as leopards, lions and hyenas. The mass of more than two million animals covers the savannah and grasslands as far as the eye can see.

About three percent of the wildebeest who begin the approximately four month long journey each year do not survive to finish it. Many of the young find the trek and the strong river current crossing too difficult and die from sickness, exhaustion and thirst before they reach the Mara River.  Others are attacked by predators.

After four long months trekking, the animals are in desperate need of water to drink and grass to graze. When the short rains begin to fall in the south and east Serengeti in October to November, the herds start to leave the Masai Mara, returning to the Serengeti’s eastern plains, bringing all the same perils as before, arriving in February and the cycle of the migration is complete.

DID YOU KNOW?
In a year the food consumed each year by the following animals is approximately:

  • Crocodile: 1600 lbs (726 kg)
  • Leopard: 3200 lbs (1452 kg)
  • Wildebeest: 3200 lbs (1452 kg)
  • Cheetah: 4015 lbs (1821 kg)
  • Zebra: 4800 lbs (2177 kg)
  • Lion: 7200 lbs (3266 kg)
  • Elephant: 69,000 lbs (31,298 kg)

THREATS TO AFRICAN ANIMALS
The numbers of some wild African animals are rapidly declining. The once big herds are becoming rare. Some of the major threats to the wild animals in Kenya include:

  • Encroachment by human habitats, leading to animal corridors being closed.
  • Poaching and attacking the animals (using snares and poisoning) if they attack their livestock or crops.  Communities do not realize tangible benefits from wildlife tourism and therefore they do not have an understanding of the benefits of the wildlife to them and to their country.
  • Drought and declining water catchment areas leads to animals dying from dehydration and straying onto nearby farms, ultimately leading to conflicts with farmers. When the rains do not fall as they normally do the wildebeest migration does not move as it normally does either. Heavy rains in the south allow the wildebeest to linger before beginning their trek, shortening their stay in the Mara Triangle or eliminating it altogether.

 

BIRDSSecretary Bird

Kenya’s bird life is spectacular, making it one of the world’s best birding destinations. Kenya is home to more than 1100 species of birds, about 12% of the world’s total, of which seven are endemic, six have been introduced (directly or indirectly) as a consequence of human actions, and three are rare or accidental. Twenty-three species are globally threatened.

The wonderfully varied birdlife includes the ostrich, vulture, flamingo, exotic cranes and storks, huge hornbills, rare forest dwelling species, sunbirds. turacos, bee-eaters and dozens of species of weaver bird.

Many of the birds are relatively easy to see since so much of the country is open grassland or bush. They are distributed over a wide range, occur in huge numbers or their colours and behaviours make them stand out.

The variation in habitat across Kenya means that different areas of the country have very different bird lists. There are six clear zones of bird life in the country, each supporting a markedly different range of birds. These are: the tropical highlands, the East African coast, Lake Victoria, the Guinea-Congo Forest, the Sudan and Guinea savanna, and the Somali-Masai (in which Kenya contains 90 of the 130 species).

Although bird watching throughout Kenya is impressive, birding safaris are best at parks like Lake Baringo, Kakamega, Meru and Lake Naivasha.

For sheer numbers the best time to go birding in Kenya is from October to April. The roads can be muddy at times, but, as more than 120 migrant species have arrived from the Northern hemisphere, you will be well rewarded.

  • March-April and October-December there is also the chance of finding one of the passage migrants such as the Sooty Falcon.
  • Between October and December there are large flocks of water birds congregating on the Coast, at Mida Creek and Sabaki Estuary, and at the Rift Valley lakes and Amboseli.
  • April to October the Northern Migrants are replaced by birds from the southern hemisphere and Madagascar. It is also the time when many of the birds are in breeding plumage following the long rains