Kenya is famous as the original safari country. Within Kenya there are over 40 national parks and wildlife reserves which have been set aside for the conservation of wildlife and natural habitat.
Amboseli National Park is situated at the foot of Mount Kilimanjaro and is one of Kenya's most popular national parks. Kilimanjaro is undoubtedly best seen at dusk or dawn when low hanging clouds thin out to reveal the iced summit of this continent's highest mountain. Elephant numbers are now well over 1000 and they live in their natural social structures of matriarchal families and bull elephant groups. Predators in the park include hyenas, jackals, lions, leopards and cheetahs. Birdlife in abundance flourishes particularly in the marshes and swamps.
Aberdare National Park
The Aberdare National Park is part of the Aberdare Mountain Range, a region of stunning and diverse landscape where jagged peaks soar up to 3,930m and deep ravines cut through the forested slopes. The area is ideal for game-viewing as the rainforest supports a broad range of wildlife. Bird-watching is very good with over 250 species of birds in the park.
Ol Pejeta & Sweetwaters
Ol Pejeta is a 90,000 acre conservancy which is home to an amazing variety of wildlife. The Sweetwaters Game Reserve began life as a sanctuary for black rhino and has since also become home to the Sweetwaters Chimpanzee Sanctuary. The chimpanzees inhabit an island accessed by boat. Safari by vehicle is not the only option at Ol Pejeta; game walks, horse rides and even camel rides are available, as are nocturnal game drives. A highlight of any trip to Ol Pejeta is a visit to the endangered species Boma.
Lewa Downs Conservancy
The Lewa Downs Wildlife Conservancy hosts a wide variety of wildlife in some of Kenya's most spectacular scenery. The Lewa Wildlife Conservancy, in addition to the big 5, is also a sanctuary for a diverse array of wildlife. It supports a myriad of plains game species all perfectly adapted for the semi desert environment and Grevy's Zebra and the Reticulated Giraffe are common. Lewa Downs is located south of Isiolo town and North of Mount Kenya. The snow-capped peaks of Kenya's highest mountain dominate the views to the south.
Samburu Reserve, Buffalo Springs & Shaba
Samburu Reserve is located in Kenya's dry region and is home to some unusual species including the rare Grevy's Zebra. The remote location of the three adjoining game reserves of Samburu, Buffalo Springs and Shaba make them some of the least crowded. A daily highlight of the area's dry season is the visits to watering holes called 'Sarara Singing Wells' by Samburu warriors. The warriors descend into the holes which can be up to 10m deep. They then pass water hand to hand up to the waiting cattle while chanting their traditional Samburu songs. Buffalo Springs is linked to Samburu to the south by a bridge crossing the Ewaso Ng'iro River which was built in 1964. The third and largest of the three linked reserves is Shaba National Reserve (246 sq km). The dramatic scenery is breathtaking.
Hell's Gate National Park
Hell's Gate is a truly unique experience, one of the few places where you can walk and cycle throughout the whole park. Come face to face with grazing zebras, towering giraffes, galloping gazelles and massive eland antelopes. The knowledge that cheetahs, lions and leopards aren't unheard of adds to the excitement of it all. And be sure to give the buffalos plenty of room. The scenery is dramatic, with rich ochre soils and savannah grasses squeezed between looming cliffs of rusty columnar basalt.
Shimba Hills National Reserve
Shimba Hills lies directly inland from Diani Beach. It covers a wonderful landscape of steep-sided valleys, rolling hills and lush pockets of tropical rainforest. The hills are home to a healthy population of leopards, elephants and buffalo and you may also spot the reserves most famous resident the rare Sable Antelope. One of the main attractions is a walk with a Ranger to Sheldrick's Falls. The birdlife is abundant and the views overlooking the coast spectacular.
Masai Mara National Reserve
The Masai Mara is Kenya's finest game reserve and home to abundant wildlife. Possibly the most famous of the reserves and arguably the greatest wildlife destination in Africa; the Masai Mara has become synonymous with the safari. Nature doesn't recognise borders and the 650 square miles of the Masai Mara effectively continue the northern sweep of neighbouring Tanzania's Serengeti plains, thus forming one huge ecosystem. The Mara lands are famous for the annual Wildebeest migration which occurs from June to October.
Lake Nakuru can be reached easily by road from Nairobi. It is famous for its flamingos but is also home to other bird species including African fish eagles and pelicans. Surrounding the lake are woodlands and grassland areas which are home to a variety of animals including lions, the black rhino and white rhino. Indeed Nakuru has become the most successful sanctuary in East Africa for rhino and now houses healthy populations of both.
Tsavo National Park
Tsavo National Park is one of the largest wildlife areas in the world and offers a diverse range of habitats from mountains and rivers to plains and wooded grassland. Tsavo East became infamous in the early 20th century, as the home of man-eating lions which treated the railway workers building the Mombasa to Kampala line as a new food source. Large elephant herds roam the vast scrubland plains that make up most of the terrain. An exception to this terrain is the Yatta Plateau, the planet's largest lava flow. Tsavo West; volcanic activity is still visible, and the region is also home to an incredibly important water source - the Mzima Springs. The springs produce approximately 50 million gallons of water a day. Lake Jipe in Tsavo West is a very important wetland. Amazing wildlife and birdlife can be spotted in this diverse region.
Meru National Park
Meru National Park, located on the equator, accommodates a wide variety of species from elephants to crocodiles due to its varied landscape. The equator bisects the park whose 1810 sq km landscape is mainly given over to bush land but with grasslands in the west. The park became perhaps most famous after the worldwide release of the 1966 film 'Born free' which charted the story of a hand-reared orphan lioness Elsa by animal conservationist Joy Adamson in Meru.
Tanzania has the largest amount of land committed only for use as national parks and game reserves than any other country in the world. The diverse landscape of Tanzania provides homes for many different species of animal and birds.
Lake Manyara National Park
Listed as a "World Heritage Site", Lake Manyara National Park never fails to delight visitors. The terrain is so diverse that its mammal and bird lists are most impressive. From the famous tree climbing lions, hippos, elephants, buffalo, wildebeest, giraffe, monkeys, the elusive leopard, monitor lizards, pythons, to the flamingos and other birds all attracted to the area. As many as 380 bird species have been recorded in the park.
Mikumi National Park
This is the fourth largest national park in Tanzania. Mikumi is stunning in the early morning and late afternoons when its panoramic views are enhanced by the light and its wildlife is at its most active. Lions, giraffe, zebra, impala and huge buffalo herds live on the open grass plains, the woodlands and rocky outcrops. Mikumi is also known for the ebony trees (used to make woodwind instruments such as clarinets) which grow in abundance.
Ngorongoro Crater is really a caldera, the sunken or collapsed cone of a volcano, the floor of which covers an area of 260 sq kms (100 sq miles). It is the largest inactive, unbroken and unflooded caldera in the world. Living on the floor of the crater are bull elephants, lions, hyena, zebra, wildebeest among others living on the grasslands and acacia forests. The crater also has a soda lake - Lake Magadi, the word â€œmagadi translates to salt water in Masai. The lake attracts greater and lesser flamingo and other water birds.
Selous Game Reserve
The lifeblood of the park is the Rufiji River which is the largest water catchment in the region, and as such, is home to a plethora of birdlife. The Selous is unique among Tanzania's more well known wildlife areas because it is a reserve, not a national park, and therefore a larger range of activities are permitted. Boating safaris, escorted walks and hiking trails all add a bit of adventure to the safari.
Serengeti National Park
The Serengeti National Park is the largest and best known of all the Tanzania National Parks covering an area of 14,500 sq km (5,600 sq miles). Located to the north and west of Ngorongoro, the vast Serengeti plains sustain the greatest and most spectacular concentration of wildlife found anywhere in the world. Most of the Serengeti is vast open plains with rocky outcrops giving character to the landscape. During February and March the vast herds of wildebeest and zebra gather to the south to give birth, it is estimated 400,000 wildebeest calves are born within a six week period. Large numbers of Kori Bustard, Africa's heaviest flying birds, as well as the snake eating Secretary Bird, Crowned Plover, Yellow throated sand grouse to name just a few of the many birds to be found on the plains.
Ruaha National Park
This is Tanzania's second largest national park and home to elephants, buffalo, gazelle and over 400 bird species. The Great Ruaha River is the main feature of the park, and meanders through its borders. On its banks, the game viewing is spectacular, whether done by land or by water. Most of the national park is located on the top of a 900 metre plateau whose ripples of hills, valleys, and plains make the game viewing topography beautifully unique. For the intrepid wilderness lover and the avid safari explorer, a trip to Ruaha is uniquely rewarding and a perfect piece of Africa.
Tarangire National Park
This national park is well known for its Baobab "forests" and can be reached easily by road. The wide variety of vegetation attracts many animals and birdlife. It's the greatest concentration of wildlife outside the Serengeti ecosystem, the swamps, tinged green year round, are the focus for 550 bird varieties, the most breeding species in one habitat anywhere in the world.
Mahale Mountains Park
Mahale Mountains National Park is located in one of the most remote locations in Tanzania, on the western border with the Congo, against the shores of Lake Tanganyika. Observing the chimpanzees in their natural habitat has to be one of the greatest wildlife experiences and because of the remote location of the park only a few tourists are lucky enough to have this experience. Lake Tanganyika is the world's longest, second-deepest and least polluted fresh water lake - with an estimated 1,000 fish species. Swim, snorkel and fish in the lake.
Gombe Stream National Park
This is the smallest of Tanzania's national parks and is famous for its chimpanzee population made by famous by Jane Goodall who established the area as a chimpanzee research station. It is a park without roads, where you can walk and experience nature with all your senses. Although the chimpanzees are the park's star attraction, one will be amazed at how these wild creatures accept them as they go about their everyday activities.
Uganda has many areas of outstanding natural beauty. The national parks and reserves in the country offer spectacular wildlife viewing and birdlife in unspoilt and rewarding locations.
Queen Elizabeth National Park
Queen Elizabeth is one of Uganda's most visited national parks. It is a birder's paradise with 610 recorded species. A cruise on the Kazinga Channel is a magnificent way to view the birds and wildlife in the park. Queen Elizabeth has the highest number of mammal species ever recorded in any Ugandan park, including predators like the side striped jackal, spotted hyena, lion and leopard. Forest elephant has been reported as present. Primates include chimpanzees, black and white Colobus, vervet monkeys and olive baboons.
Murchison Falls National Park
The spectacular Murchison Falls from which the national park derives its name are a spectacular sight to behold 'the entire Nile River squeezing through a narrow gorge. The game cruise on the Nile River to view the falls is certainly the highlight of a trip to Murchison. There is an abundance of wildlife including elephant, hippo, buffalo, giraffe, kob, warthog, crocodiles and waterbuck. Forest primates like chimpanzees, black and white Colobus are resident in the Rabongo Forest. Over 460 bird species have been confirmed as residents of the park with the rare Shoebill as the most sought after by tourists.
Lake Mburo National Park
Lake Mburo national park is located towards western Uganda. Around a fifth of the park is wetland and the other, acacia woodland, savannah and forest. Lake Mburo itself is the largest of the five lakes that lie within the park. It is the only reserve in the country to support a population of impala, the handsome antelope for which Kampala is named. Though less visited the park is a recommended stop over especially for tourists to the far west national parks especially Bwindi and Queen Elizabeth. Lake Mburo is the only national park in Uganda where game can be viewed on horseback, quad bike and on foot.
Mt Elgon National Park
Mount Elgon is the eighth highest mountain in Africa. This mountain rises from the broadest base of any free standing mountain in the world. Elgon is an important watershed serving fresh water to over two million Ugandans. Mammals in this park include blue monkey, black and white Colobus, elephants, leopard, bush pig, buffalo, sitatunga, common duiker and Debrazza's monkey. The park inhabits a variety of forest birds. The endangered bearded vulture is also often seen soaring on the mountain. Besides hiking, the nearby Sipi Falls are a popular attraction in this part of Uganda. There are some very popular hiking trails to the summit of Mt Elgon taking around 4-5 days.
Bwindi National Park
Located in far western Uganda this park is mostly composed of thick afro-montane rain forest. This park is home to the beautiful mountain gorilla, one of Uganda's top tourist attractions. There only a few surviving mountain gorillas left worldwide with over half of the world's surviving population resident in Bwindi. The park inhabits chimpanzees, red tailed and blue monkeys, black and white Colobus, olive baboon, forest elephant. Over 350 bird species have been recorded in Bwindi.
Mgahinga National Park
Mgahinga, Uganda's smallest national park protects the Ugandan side of the Virunga ranges. The park is made up of 3 main peaks: Gahinga, Sabinyo and Muhavura. Despite its size Mgahinga is Uganda's most scenic park offering panoramic views and stunning sites in East Africa. The park protects species including: golden monkey, black and white Colobus, mountain gorilla, leopard, elephant, giant forest hog, bush pig, buffalo, bushbuck and black fronted duiker. Mgahinga harbours 115 bird species. Activities include: Gorilla Tracking, Mountain Hiking, Nature Walks, Golden Monkey Tracking, Cultural Walk and a visit to the local Batwa pygmy community.
From the vibrant Capital of Kigali to the stunning National Parks and the lakeside town of Gisenyi, we can take you to Rwanda's very best areas.
Parc National des Volcans
The Parc National des Volcans is a beautiful area of National Park in the north of Rwanda. It is a mountainous landscape comprised of a section of the spectacular Virunga Volcanoes which lie between Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. There are nine volcanoes with the highest peak of Karisimbi towering at an altitude of over 4,500m. The area is famous as one of the last natural refuges for Mountain Gorillas and many of the World's remaining individuals are found here within seven habituated family groups.
Akagera National Park
Located on Rwanda's Eastern border; Akagera National Park has a vast 2500 square kms of savannah plains and is home to a wide variety of animals and birdlife. The many swamps and lakes of Akagera National Park make up the largest protected wetland area in central Africa and this is a bird-lovers paradise. The plains are teeming with over a dozen species of antelope (including impala, oribi, bushbuck and the large Cape eland) as well as zebra and giraffe.
Nyungwe Forest National Park
As one of Africa's last high altitude rainforests this beautiful mountainous terrain is home to various primates including chimpanzees and is Rwanda's most important site for bird watching. It is a unique and ancient region pre-dating the last Ice Age. With beautiful views and waterfalls that can be accessed via its well maintained forest trails, Nyungwe has unique and diverse vegetation with over 200 species of tree and shrub and many unusual flowering plants including over 100 varieties of orchid.
East African Wildlife
The Big Five
The term, 'the big five' was coined during the hunting era and referred to the five animals most desired by the 'white hunters'. These days, the only hunting that is done of the legendary 'big five' is by camera. They are: the elephant, rhino, lion, leopard and buffalo.
African Elephant - World's Largest Land Animal
The African elephant lives in small family groups of 10-20 elephants, which often congregate in much larger herds at water or food sources. Elephant society is matriarchal, senior females dominating the herds while the bulls live alone or in bachelor groups. Depending almost entirely on its trunk for scent and communication, for washing, clearing, carrying, learning, drinking and eating, an elephant's lifespan (60 -70 years) depends very much on its teeth, which are highly adapted to its mode of living. As one tooth wears away the next moves down the jaw to replace it, and when the last tooth has come forward and is worn down the elephant will die of starvation. Although their sight is poor, elephants have an excellent sense of smell and well-developed hearing. Like humans, elephants lead complex inter-dependant social lives growing from helpless infancy through self-conscious adolescence to adulthood. Surprisingly graceful on their padded and carefully placed feet, a large herd of elephants can merge into the trees and disappear within minutes; their presence betrayed only by the noisy cracking of branches as they strip trees and uproot saplings.
Lion - King of the Jungle
The lion is the largest of Kenya's three big cats, weighing up to 280 kg. Inherently lazy, the lion is immensely powerful; at one leap it can clear fences 4 meters high and chasms 12 meters long. Its amber eyes, like those of the leopard, differ from those of other cats in so much as they are circular rather than oval. Lions hunt communally, running down their prey at a top speed of around 64 kph and, although they will kill almost any animal, they prefer large herbivores which are the mainstay of their diet. Sightings of lions are normally during daylight hours when the pride is at rest, having spent most of the night in hunting, patrolling and playing.
African Buffalo - The Only Native African Cow
The African or Cape buffalo is closely related to the domestic cow. Generally docile, buffalos can be extremely dangerous when threatened or surprised and must be regarded with extreme caution - especially lone bulls or cows with calves. Intensely gregarious, buffalos form into herds of between 200 and 2000 animals. Voracious eaters (both grazers and browsers), they spend most of their 15-20 year lifespan consuming fodder to maintain their strength and stamina.
Black Rhino & White Rhino
Ruthlessly hunted for its horn, which is widely used in Chinese medicine and much prized as a dagger handle in the Middle East, the black rhino came close to extinction at the close of the last century and still remains Africa's single most endangered large mammal. The smaller of the two rhino species (weighing approximately 900 -1,400 kg), the black rhino has a more concave back than the white rhino, relatively small, three-toed hoofs, and a pointed prehensile upper lip, which is ideally suited to browsing in the bush and forest. Contrary to popular imagination, rhino are neither black nor white; both are a similar shade of grey. The name 'white' originates from the Afrikaans word 'weit', which means 'wide', and refers to the width of the white rhino's mouth, which is specially adapted to grazing. To tell the difference between black and white - look at the mouth of the animal, the white rhino is a grazer and has a wide mouth, the black rhino is a browser and has a pointed prehensile (capable of grasping) lip.
Thanks to its harshly rasping territorial call, the intensely secretive leopard is more often heard than seen. A supreme ambush hunter, the leopard is a solitary animal spending much of its time up a selection of favoured trees, which it uses as game larders for its kills. Mainly nocturnal and extremely unsociable, the leopard is very difficult to spot. Viewing tip: scan the trees for the telltale sign of the dangling tail.
Cheetah - The Fastest Animal on Earth
The cheetah is the least catlike and aggressive of the big cats; the weakest of the group, it often loses its kills to lions, hyenas and even vultures. When hunting (around dawn and late afternoon), cheetahs spend a lot of time moving into position before bursting from cover and running down their prey in brief bursts of speed of up to 112 kph (sustainable for only 200-300 meters at a time). Unlike the other big cats, cheetahs never climb trees but prefer termite mounds, leaning trees or even vehicles as observation posts.
African Civet Cat
A solitary animal, mainly nocturnal and about the size of a medium sized dog, the civet can be recognized by its bushy tail, rough, black and white spotted coat, thick spinal mane and catlike face. Difficult to spot, by day it nestles under thickets or in tall grass becoming active only after sunset when it hunts for amphibians, birds, rodents, eggs, fruits and insects. The civet emits foul-smelling oil from its perineal glands, which is much prized by perfume makers.
Capable of making huge leaps onto their prey, Serval cats are tall, slender and long-legged, not unlike small cheetahs. Featuring a fine tawny coat, dotted with black spots that merge into bars and blotches on its neck and shoulders, the Serval has large upright ears, a long neck and a relatively short tail. Mainly nocturnal its prey includes rodents, birds, small reptiles and young antelope.
Cat-like, creamy-yellow with dark brown spots and a banded tail, the genet is common in the savannah lands as well as in woodland and hilly areas. Mainly nocturnal and aggressively solitary, it hunts for large insects and small vertebrates. Best spotted along roads shortly after nightfall, genet cats can be detected by the gleam of their eyes and the sweep of their long tails.
The unearthly 'ooop' call of a spotted hyena in the night is one of the most memorable sounds of the African bush. Often reviled as a cowardly scavenger, the spotted hyena is actually a very efficient predator whose numbers are governed by a matriarchal social system. Preferring to hunt in packs, the spotted hyena lives on carrion and both large and small mammals. When hunting, a spotted hyena can reach speeds of up to 60 km per hour and a pack will easily bring down a wildebeest or zebra.
Lean and long-legged, the striped hyena appears to be slightly more robust than its spotted cousin thanks to its long, shaggy mane and the handsome 'cape' that runs along its back. Belonging to loose clans, usually foraging alone and being a relatively poor hunter, the striped hyena scavenges mostly from the kills of other animals or resorts to catching sundry insects and small vertebrates.
Now one of the rarest large carnivores in East Africa, the hunting dog resembles a long-legged dog with prominent rounded ears, a black muzzle and face, and white tail tuft. Almost exclusively diurnal, the strictly carnivorous hunting dogs are relentless and formidable pack-hunters. Relatively small, they are also capable of bringing down prey twice their size.
A long animal, vaguely pig-like with a tubular snout, a powerful kangaroo-like tail, large nostrils protected by hair tufts and large rabbit-like ears, the aardvark is also known as an ant bear. With stiff, greyish hair to protect it from the bites of its prey, it forages by night for termite or ant nests, which it rips open with its powerful front legs and large spade-like nails. Living in deep burrowing shelters, the aardvark emerges only at night but can occasionally be caught basking outside its burrow in the morning sunshine.
The Honey Badger
Africa's equivalent to the European badger, the Honey Badger enjoys a formidable reputation for ferocity, reputedly attacking animals the size of buffalos; and even vehicle tyres; consequently it has few natural enemies. Enthusiastically omnivorous, they are active between dusk and dawn. Around 90-100 cm in length, and weighs up to 15 kg and should be treated with caution.
Giraffe - Tallest Mammal on Earth
Kenya hosts three species of giraffe: Rothschild's, Masai and Reticulated. The world's tallest mammal (up to 5.2 meters tall), the giraffe uses its unique 45 cm long tongue and agile lips to browse on the leaves of trees that other creatures cannot reach, its especial favourite being acacia. Widespread and common in savannah, open woodland and plains, giraffe have a lifespan of 25-35 years. Non-territorial, they gather in loose leaderless herds to browse by day, while at night they lie down and ruminate. Masai giraffe have a broken pattern of dark blotches on a buff background. The more solidly built Rothschild's giraffe, is paler in colour and has distinctive white â€œstockinged' forelegs. Both sexes have knob-like horns but can be told apart due to the fact that the males have bald horn tips while the females' are hairy. Giraffe feed for up to 16 hours a day, and can consume up to 60 kg of leaves daily. They defend themselves by kicking and can run at speeds of up to 55 mph.
Gazelle - Thompson's & Grant's
Kenya features two species of gazelle: Thomson's and Grant's gazelle, both of which feed as grazers and browsers. The preferred prey of most predators, gazelles survive by being constantly alert and poised to flee within seconds of alarm (they can accelerate to a top speed of 80 kph when in flight). They have also evolved a sophisticated communication system consisting of a range of signals to warn against the approach of predators. The pretty Thomson's gazelle, with its short stumpy tail perpetually in motion, is the smaller of the two and is famous for its stiff-legged standing-still jump, which is known as â€œpronking'. The larger impala-sized Grant's gazelle can be differentiated by the fact that it lacks the distinctive black side stripe of the â€œTommy'.
Miniature in size and usually seen in pairs, this gentle, greyish fawn darts in and out of thickets emitting a shrill, whistling â€œ alarm call - hence its name. Shy and elusive, dik-diks are foliage browsers that live in pairs, or occasionally in family groups. Only the males have horns.
Wildebeest or Gnu
Star of the world's greatest animal spectacular, the annual migration from the Serengeti to the Masai Mara, the wildebeest is an extremely gregarious animal, moving in herds that can number up to 150 females and young, headed up by 1-3 bulls. Unmistakable with their peculiar head-high, rocking gait, wildebeest live almost entirely on grass, and in the dry season a herd can cover up to 50 km a day in search of water. Males make a continuous cacophony of low moaning grunts and explosive snorts. A newly born wildebeest can run within minutes of birth.
Burchell's Zebra & Grevy's Zebra
Unmistakably marked with broadly alternating black and white stripes, zebra are primarily grazers. They also enjoy a complex social system, which is built up around small groups of related mares over which the stallions fight with much spectacular plunging, rearing, slashing and kicking during the mating season. Two species of zebra inhabit Kenya, the most common being the Burchell's zebra, which is best-known for accompanying the thousands of wildebeest that make up the annual migration from the Serengeti to the Masai Mara - and back again. East Africa's other zebra species, the Grevy's zebra, is larger than its cousin with finer stripes and large rounded â€œ Mickey Mouse' ears.
Abundant in Kenya, the impala is both a browser and a grazer; which means it can eat whatever the other herbivores don't. Famous for their turn of speed, impala can leap 10 meters in one bound or 3 meters straight up into the air. The males, who have long lyre-shaped horns, live in bachelor groups outside the breeding season, but can be seen vigorously defending their harems during the rut.
A medium sized antelope, the hartebeest is easily recognized by its mournfully long, narrow face. Also by its short horns, which are heavily ridged and form a heart shape. A social animal, the hartebeest feeds primarily on grass, which allows it to mingle with the other grazers, such as zebra and wildebeest. Known as a Kongoni in Swahili, the hartebeest is also often to be seen perched atop an abandoned termite mound spying out its territory.
A highly gregarious antelope, the topi lives in herds, often mingles with other grazers, and is frequently to be found perched on a series of preferred vantage points, such as termite mounds, from where it spies out its territory. Similar to the hartebeest in appearance, though slightly smaller and darker, the topi has dark patches on its legs and face and sometimes appears almost plum coloured or purple. Both sexes have horns that curve gently upwards and backwards.
One of Africa's rarest antelopes and the third largest of Kenya's antelopes, the roan (or Korongo as it is known in Swahili) is a large, grey to rufous antelope with a distinctive black and white face, not unlike a tribal mask. It also boasts a conspicuous mane of stiff, black-tipped hair, long, narrow, pointed ears with brown tassels at the tip, and thick heavily ridged scimitar-curved horns in both sexes. Strongly territorial the roan prefers a plains habitat with sparsely wooded grassland. It is also highly dependent on water, which it must consume in large quantities. Sometimes associated with eland and other plains animals, the roan is a grazer that prefers a diet of tall grass, twigs and leaves from the denser habitats. With an approximate lifespan of 15 years, roan live in herds of up to 20 members, led by a bull. During the mating season, enthusiastically rutting males can be seen jousting with their rivals, going down on their knees and making sweeping movements with their horns.
Weighing close to a tonne, the eland is Africa's largest antelope. Resembling an ox but with beautiful spiralling horns that rise elegantly off the brows of both sexes, the eland lives in groups of around 6-12 animals and feeds on grass and foliage during the early morning, late afternoon and also at night.
This tiny forest antelope (only about 30 cm tall and weighing approximately 8 kg) is rarely seen and moves around mostly at sunrise and sundown. It leaves a telltale clue to its passage however, in the form of a strong, musky scent, which is secreted from a large gland below the eye and lingers long after the suni has left.
The small and graceful oribi antelope has a conspicuous bare black glandular patch below the ears, a short black-tipped tail and black knee tufts. Living in strongly bonded pairs or small groups, oribi inhabit grassland and dense undergrowth. Largely diurnal, they have a relatively long neck and straight upstanding horns (in the male), while the colour of their silky coat varies from drab fawn to bright rufous. When alarmed the oribi will give a loud shrill whistle or a sneeze and leap straight up into the air before bounding off into the undergrowth.
Similar to a duiker, but taller and more slender, the steenbok is a light reddish-brown colour with pale under-parts and can be identified by the black mark or â€œblaze' on its nose. Males have small widely separated horns. A solitary animal, whose only contact with its fellows is during the mating season, the steenbok is active morning and evening.
A rare antelope, distinguished by a pair of the most magnificent spiral horns in the antelope kingdom (averaging around 130 cm in length); the greater kudu is large, slender and grey in colour. It is also distinguished by six to eight prominent vertical white stripes on either flank, unlike its cousin the lesser kudu, which has eleven to fifteen stripes on each flank. Despite its impressive weight (280-320 kg), the greater kudu is also a phenomenal jumper, clearing two metres at a single bound and enjoys acute hearing - accentuated by its ability to swivel its large round ears in almost any direction.
A shy, solitary and nocturnal browser the bushbuck prefers thick bush by permanent water. Generally more active on cool and overcast days the bushbuck is chestnut to dark brown with white vertical stripes between neck and rump. Only the males grow horns, which are straight and feature gentle spirals.
Relying on grass for the greater part of its diet, the waterbuck is a large, sturdy creature with a short glossy brown to greyish brown coat; the common waterbuck has a white crescent across its rump, which distinguishes it from the Defassa waterbuck. Only male waterbucks have horns, which at approximately 70 cm in length are majestic and unmistakable
Strictly diurnal and easily spotted trotting around in family groups, tails erect, the warthog is the most common pig species in the region. Females have a single pair of warts under their eyes while males have a second set farther down the snout.
A member of a uniquely African group of herbivores, the hyrax physically resembles a large, plump, brown guinea pig and shares an ancient lineage with both the aardvark and the elephant. Aggressively territorial, hyraxes live in colonies of between 10-60 animals and are gregarious, sleeping together in large shaggy piles to keep warm and safe from predators. Infamous for their spine chilling screams, emitted variously depending on circumstances as a â€œkeep away' warning or â€œcome on' mating call, hyraxes are uniquely adapted to their environment in that the sweat generated by their rubbery paws creates a sticky surface which allows them to scale near-vertical rocks and tree trunks.
Once abundant in the Lake Victoria and Nzoia river basins, sitatunga are now found only in scattered locations throughout western and central Africa; particularly in the papyrus swamps of Lake Victoria. Saiwa Swamp remains the only place in Kenya where these elusive creatures have become relatively habituated to the proximity of humans. The Sitatunga is a long-legged antelope, which has ingeniously adapted itself so as to be able to exploit the abundant food resources of the swamp habitat. The sitatunga's shaggy coat is oily and water repellent, while its elongated and splayed hooves allow it to walk on submerged vegetation. Easily able to outrun its predators while in the swamp, on land the sitatunga has a clumsier gait and is seriously disadvantaged. Moving with slow deliberation so as to avoid detection, the sitatunga gently enters the water and sinks until nearly all of its body is submerged. It may spend most of its day submerged or resting in reedy shade.
Weighing up to four tonnes, hippos are the third-largest land animals in the world. True amphibians, they can stay totally submerged in water for three to four minutes at a time; they also eat, mate and give birth under water. Spending most of their day resting in water, hippo come up frequently to blow air and recharge their lungs. At sundown they leave the water to spend the night grazing their home range which is usually marked by well-defined pathways, consuming up to 60 kg of fodder per night. Hippos have fearsome teeth and on land can be aggressive and extremely dangerous.
Giant Forest Hog
A large, hairy wild pig, the giant forest hog has a very broad muzzle, ash-grey skin and broad fungus-like glandular skin swellings below the eyes and across the cheeks. Mostly active at night, they rest by day in dense thickets pierced by tunnel-like runs leading to nest-like resting places. Rarely seen, they are thought to browse dig up the earth in search of succulent roots and live mainly on shrubs and fallen forest fruit.
Bushbaby or Greater Galago
Categorized as â€œprimitive' tree-dwelling primates, bush babies are more closely related to 60-million year old fossils than they are to today's more familiar monkeys and apes. Equipped with enormous eyes, which allow them to see in almost total darkness, they are exclusively nocturnal and can leap up to 7m through their preferred habitat of dense woodland vegetation. Capable of rotating their heads through 180 degrees from front to back when hunting for fruit, seeds, insects and small reptiles, they are extraordinarily vocal.
With a distinctive brindled olive-brown coat and a ruffled mane around its neck and shoulders, the olive baboon is well equipped for defence, possessing acute hearing, sharp eyesight and fearsome teeth. Living in large troops of 40-80 animals permanently ruled by a dominant male, the baboon enjoys an extraordinarily complex social hierarchy. Baboons are diurnal, foraging mostly in open savannah and woodland for grass, tubers, fruit, insects and small animals. They are also rampant opportunists and can become a nuisance in tourist areas.
Easily recognizable by its grey body hair and white-fringed, black face (also by the fact that the male boasts a distinctive powder-blue scrotum), the vervet monkey is diurnal being most active early morning and late evening. Hunting in troops of up to 30 individuals, it forages for fruit, seeds and small creatures, and is also fond of the easy pickings to be had around lodges and campsites.
Black and White Colobus Monkey
These enchanting creatures have glossy black fur, with a white face, bushy white tail and a silken, white fur cape that streams out behind them when they leap through the trees. Usually found in troops of up to 25 monkeys, the Colobus is arboreal and spends most of its time in forest areas. Colobus can be distinguished from other monkeys because they have no thumbs, their hands having lost the thumb as a genetic modification to make hooking on to passing branches easier (hence their name which means mutilated in Greek). Like all primates, family bonds are strong and social grooming is an important pastime.
De Brazza's Monkey
An inhabitant of swampy forests and riverine areas, the regionally endangered de Brazza's monkey lives in family troops and forages for leaves, shoots, fruits, insects and lizards. Easily distinguished by its white-bearded face, the de Brazza is active mainly in the early morning and late afternoon and is both a strong climber and a good swimmer.
Similar to the vervet monkey but slightly larger and much darker, the Sykes' or blue monkey has a grey to black face, black shoulders, limbs and tail and a reddish-brown to olive-brown back. More arboreal than the vervet monkey, the Sykes' monkey generally prefers a dense forest and woodland habitat, where it feeds on fruit, bark, gum and leaves.
Reptiles and insects
The Nile crocodile is Africa's largest reptile reaching a length of up to 6 meters and weighing up to 1 metric ton. Adult crocodile have no predators, though territorial disputes between males can cause serious injuries and hippos will occasionally nudge them off a sandbank if they threaten a calf. Well adapted as a predator the crocodile has powerful jaws and tail, both of which they use to kill their prey. Olive or dull grey they are cold blooded and bask during the day to maintain constant body temperature. Living in freshwater habitats crocodiles are strictly carnivorous. When breeding the female lays between 30 and 40 eggs which hatch after 90 days. The hatchlings (which hatch April to May) are guarded by the female. Bony plates form a kind of armour in their thick skin, their 30-40 teeth lock solid when clamped shut and they often use their tail to knock prey into the water where it is gripped by their powerful jaws. At this point, the crocodile will rotate rapidly in the water, tearing its victim apart as it does so. On land, crocodiles move quickly - either in a belly crawl or on all four legs.
Often unnoticed but present in their millions, insects are an invaluable link in the ecological food chain. Preyed upon by birds, mammals and other invertebrates, their own eating habits speed up the decomposition process of dead plants and animals; a process which in turn releases vital nutrients from the soil and fuels new growth.
Safari Ants or Siafu'
Streaming in thick, glossy bands through the forest and moorlands, these fearsomely large ants march in foraging armies, guarded on both flanks by aggressive large-pincered soldier ants. Little stands in their way.
There are over 1, 500 species of butterflies in East Africa, 860 of which occur in Kenya.
Often encountered rolling along atop an immense ball of dung, this amusingly determined beetle is usually heading off in search of a hole in which to bury itself and the ball. There it will either lay eggs, or devour the dung. Known as the â€œsacred scarab' it regularly featured as an adornment of the ancient Egyptians, who saw it as a manifestation of the sun god, Ra, rolling his ball of fire across the sky. Kenya hosts a proliferation of beetles including some of the largest and smallest in creation.
An Ornithologist's Paradise
Boasting the highest bird species count in Africa and the fourth highest in the world (after Peru, Venezuela and Colombia), Kenya numbers over 1,089 species of birds (compared to 300 in Britain and 600 in North America). And, though forests cover only 1% of sub-Saharan Africa, 30% of Africa's total of 1,500 bird species lives in her forests. In Kenya, 335 of the bird species inhabit the forests, of which 230 are entirely forest-dependant and 110 are forest-specialist. The best time for bird watching is early morning and late afternoon in the rainy seasons, and during the winters of the northern world, when Kenya hosts a wide range of European migratory species.
The Safari Code
When in either a park or a reserve it is important that everyone should observe the following code:
The Wildlife Code
- Respect the privacy of the wildlife, this is their habitat
- Beware of the animals - they are wild and can be unpredictable
- Don't crowd the animals or make sudden noises or movements
- Don't feed the animals - it upsets their diet and leads to human dependence
- Keep quiet - noise disturbs the wildlife and may annoy your fellow visitors
- Stay in your vehicle at all times, except at designated picnic or walking areas
- Keep below the maximum speed limit (40 kph/25mph)
- Never drive off-road -this severely damages the habitat
- When viewing wildlife keep to a minimum distance of 20m and pull to the side of the road so as to allow others to pass
- Leave no litter and never light fires or discard burning objects
- Respect the cultural heritage of Kenya - never take pictures of the local people or their habitat without asking their permission, respect the cultural traditions of Kenya and always dress with decorum
- Observe the rules: leave the park by dusk; never drive at night in a national park
- The Alternative Safari Code
- In addition to the above, a few other rules set the safari aficionado apart from the rest:
- View responsibly; tourist buses chase after wildlife, and it's not uncommon to see twenty of them surrounding one bemused lion. This is irresponsible and can seriously affect the animal's eating patterns. If more than two vehicles are at a sighting, don't join them. Wait until they have gone
- An informed safari is an enhanced safari; carry guidebooks (about the park, wildlife, birds and flora) and binoculars
- Always travel with plenty of water, wear sensible shoes in case you have to walk, carry a hat, sunscreen and sunglasses
- It makes sense to wear khaki or green clothing and avoid strong-smelling perfumes. It gets chilly in the evenings so take a light fleece
- On a walking safari never walk in front of the gun and pay rapt attention to the instructions of your guide. In the face of danger from wildlife keep still; don't run
- Watch where you are putting your feet, do not walk in the long grass and never walk without shoes
- Watch out for ticks, tuck socks into shoes and trousers into socks and in areas of â€œpepper ticks' (very small ticks) spray clothing with insect repellent before walking in the bush
- When in tented camps, bear in mind that the walls are made of canvas and that sound carries!
- Do not remove anything from a national park or reserve or marine park
- Never get between a hippo and the water; stay well away from lakeshores at night: hippos are VERY dangerous; more people are killed by hippos in Africa than by any other animal
- Be wary of baboons; they can and do attack tourists (usually for food); they can also open tents and climb in through car windows
Wildlife Watching Wisdom
The best time for wildlife viewing is 6.30am- 9.30 am and 3.30pm-6.30pm; this is due to the fact that most of the animals retire to the shade to rest during the middle (hottest) part of the day. For best viewing, the trick is not to look AT the bush but THROUGH it. Focus your eyes at mid-range distance; look under bushes and into the shadows, and watch out for those subtle changes in colour and continuity that may indicate the presence of wildlife.
- The Marine Wildlife Code
- Check local weather/marine conditions before entering the Marine Park or Reserve
- Be aware that some marine life is dangerous - do not touch anything under water
- Do not damage or remove the coral; it is a living organism, which takes many years to form and also plays host to many rare and endangered species
- Do not stand on the coral or destroy it with your diving/snorkelling fins
- Do not remove any shells, starfish or any other sea flora or marine life, especially those deriving from turtles and whales
- Never dispose of litter on the beach or in the sea (plastic refuse, when ingested, causes the deaths of hundreds of the Park's turtles annually)
- Avoid restaurants that serve undersized crabs and lobsters as this contributes to their rapid demise
- Support traditional coastal livelihoods and never give money to children on the beach or in the villages - this can encourage them to stay away from school