Wildlife is not confined to parks and reserves although there is a higher concentration in such areas. Thus, although safaris tend to be routed through the reserves, a visitor will often see plenty of wildlife outside.
On an arranged safari a visitor should have little difficulty in recording between 30 and 40 species of mammals and at least 150 bird species. One is certain to see crocodiles and a few lizards (large and small). However, he will have to search hard to find a snake although there are 169 recorded venomous species in East Africa!
Much of the land in game reserves is savannah; rich pasture shaded with trees and it is here that herds of antelope are mainly found. A remarkable harmony where several species can graze on the same land, each eating different grasses and herbs and no one species so numerous as to interfere with the domain of others. There are large and small antelopes: the largest – the eland – weighs around 600 kg, a hundred times the weight of the dainty dikdik. Wildebeest, among the most numerous of antelopes, share their grazing with zebra and are naturally gregarious. Smaller antelopes such as the suni, oribi and duiker are rarely found in any numbers. Indeed they are almost always solitary or in pairs. These are the antelopes which inhabit patches of thick cover found in the savannah and some of them, like the duiker, have evolved with shorter forelimbs thereby making the dive for cover easier. ‘Duiker’ means ‘diver’ in Afrikaans.
Where there are antelopes there are also carnivores – lion, leopard, cheetah, wild dog, and hyena. The latter is as much a hunter in his own right as the more familiar tag of a scavenger. Lion and leopard are rarely found making a kill in daylight. Not so the cheetah, who needs to be able to see to use his principal weapon, speed. Visitors will see a range of the smaller carnivores – serval cat, genet and jackal. Jackals are also predators particularly the beautiful golden-backed (or oriental) species which again contrary to popular concept, rarely scavenge. Even the most common jackal, the black-backed species, finds only one third of its food from scavenging. But of all the predators, visitors first seek out the lion. These are quite common in most of the parks and reserves but more numerous in the Maasai Mara. Lions spend a good deal of the day sleeping or dozing becoming alert in the early evening especially when the urge to feed increases. Lions are remarkably catholic in their tastes. A lion eats at least 20-25 kg at a meal.
Elephants range across a wide spectrum of habitats from the hot coastline to the cold moorlands of the Aberdares and Mount Kenya at 3600 m. Few other animals have this range. Elephants are found in most of the parks. Herds of 100 or more can be found in Meru, Amboseli, and sometimes in Samburu. Despite their great size, elephants are remarkably pacific when left to their own devices. The need to maintain its vast bulk (some 150-200 kg of forage a day) keeps an elephant on the move and constantly active. Even at night the incessant search for food continues. It is this restlessness which makes elephant watching so rewarding.
The wanton poaching of the rhino throughout Africa has severely reduced its population, making it necessary to relocate the remaining few to safe sanctuaries. Nairobi, Lake Nakuru, Tsavo West and Tsavo East national parks today hold a number of rhinos. In the Mara and in the forests of the Aberdares and Mount Kenya it is still possible to find rhinos which have not been translocated. The best time to see them is in the early morning. During the day they return to thick bush as their heat absorption capacity is poor. Giraffes roam the savannah with little competition for the tender leaves of the acacia trees which are their principal food. The reticulated species, found north of the equator, must be one Kenya’s most striking animals.
Lakes, swamps, rivers and riverine forests support their own specialised wildlife. Hippos, irritable and cantankerous animals, share their habitat with the little-loved crocodile. The largest concentration of crocodiles is to be found in Lake Turkana, and at Sibiloi Park. Between 50 to 60 crocodiles occupy a kilometre of beach. Crocodiles feed mostly on fish. Kenya’s rivers and lakes hold a wide variety of fish. The Nile Perch abounds in lakes Victoria and Turkana. It is a notable species reaching enormous proportions – 50 kg specimens are quite common.
The cape (or African) buffalos, adjudged by most hunters to be the most dangerous of big game, inhabit grassland where there is preferably thick cover and swamp in which to lie. But like the elephants they also adapt to life in dense and cold forests. Yet ferocity is clearly not the mark of buffalos in groups. Their herds, which number many hundreds, are quite timid. The major sanctuaries (Tsavo West, Tsavo East, Amboseli, Masai Mara, Samburu and Meru) all feature not less than 50 species. However, there are other areas, such as Maralal and the Tana River Primate Reserve, where there are as many species but in smaller concentrations.
Special Interest Tours
Whilst the majority of visitors come to Kenya to see its wealth of wildlife or to luxuriate on its spacious , sun-caressed beaches a growing number come to savour its lesser known delights. Some travel with societies and clubs to thrill to the richness of Kenya’s bio-diversity or to specialize and enrich their particular interest. Others are ecotourists who are aware that Kenya is unspoiled by the attitudes and the commercial exploitation which has sullied the reputations of more well-known destinations.
Kenya’s wealth of bird-life has been outlined earlier but tour operators who specialize in bird safaris divide these into three categories:
Species identification only: The idea is to see and identify as many species as possible, adding these to a list of birds seen in other parts of the world. In birding jargon this is known as “twitching” or “ticking” and draws an enthusiastic band of followers.
Species identification, combined with a more detailed study of some selected species as and when need arises. This is “bird watching”.
Species identification, detailed study, with the accent and concentration on bird photography.
Each of these requires different planning, a different approach and a different type of itinerary. For the first two groups, bird oriented-societies such as the Audubon in the USA and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds in the United Kingdom organize tours for their members and set these up with reputable tour operators in Kenya who have the skills, and are willing to care for this particular enthusiasm. The third specialization requires the services of an operator who is himself a keen and competent bird photographer or who can provide one. These skills are available in Kenya. We strongly recommend that they be hired.
The Central African Rainforest is the easternmost extension of the vast rain forest which covers much of the Democratic Republic of Congo (former Zaire) and Uganda. Today Kakamega is a “forest island”, and an excellent venue for bird-watching and primate safaris in Kenya. This beautiful forest is home to various mammals including bush pigs, giant forest hedgehogs, colobus monkeys, Debrazzar monkeys and pottos.
It has many species not found elsewhere in Kenya. Grey parrot, great blue turaco, blue-headed bee-eater, black and white casqued hornbill, yellow-spotted barbet, hairy-breasted barbet, brown-eared and yellow-crested woodpeckers, African broadbill, many species of illadopsis and greenbuls, southern hyliota, Jameson’s chestnut and yellow-bellied wattle-eyes, pink-footed puffback, red-headed bluebill and oriole finch.