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Kenya's lesser-known wildlife

by Samantha Fergusson

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On a game drive in Kenya, you are almost guaranteed to spot all of Africa’s Big Five - elephant, lion, buffalo, leopard and rhino - and it is world renowned as one of the best places to go on a safari holiday. But what other wonderful wildlife will you come across in your time there? We’ve looked at our top ten of the lesser-known wildlife that calls Kenya “home”.

1. Gerenuk

One of Africa’s most bizarre looking antelopes, the gerenuk looks like an odd hybrid of gazelle and giraffe. Their name even translates as “giraffe-necked” and they can be found in the more arid reserves such as Samburu and Meru in the north of Kenya. Here, their long limbs and extraordinary necks mean that they can rear up and reach shoots and leaves that are out of reach of other antelopes.

Male gerenuk grazing in Kenya

2. Honey badger

Do not be fooled by the sweet name given to these creatures - honey badgers are fiesty and ferocious, and perfectly happy to chase a lion away from their food despite their diminutive size. A famous video was captured of a honey badger attacking and eventually eating an extremely venomous cobra without a hint of fear. When scientists looked further into it, it turned out that they had developed an immunity to the cobra’s venom, no doubt thanks to their fearless ancient ancestors…

A honey badger on the hunt in Africa

3. Lilac-breasted roller

Twitchers will know all about this pretty little bird, as colourful as oil on water, but many travellers will never have heard of it, despite the fact that it is Kenya’s national bird. Keep your eyes peeled whilst on your game drives to spot the flash of colour as it flits through the trees hunting for food.

Lilac-breasted roller in Kenya

4. Pangolin

These shy anteaters with their humble posture are sadly very endangered due to their scales being sought-after for alternative medicine. Like rhino horn, they too are simply made up of keratin (the same as human hair and fingernails), and yet are thought to cure hysterical crying in children, women possessed by ogres and devils, malaria and deafness. As a result they are heavily protected and it’s rare to spot one, but do keep your eyes peeled as you explore the Masai Mara - you never know what you might find.

Pangolin in Kenya

5. Caracal

Also known as ‘the desert lynx’, the caracal is the largest of Africa’s small cats. It has no distinctive pattern on its coat - its main identifying feature is large tufted ears - and while it may be named after a lynx it has a much slimmer body and proportionally longer legs than its American cousin. These beautiful cats are incredibly agile and have been seen leaping three metres (about 10 feet) into the air in order to swat birds from the sky. They are also fearless hunters, perfectly happy to take on a wide range of prey from monkeys to mammals as large as impala. Being largely nocturnal, you are most likely to spot them on a night-time game drive.

Caracal in the Masai Mara, Kenya

6. African wild dog

These remarkable dogs are some of the best pack hunters to be found in the world, displaying remarkable intelligence and teamwork when it comes to taking down challenging, prey, from small agile gazelles to bulky wildebeests and zebras. Their name in latin, Lycaon pictus, translates as painted dog, referring to the marbled blotches of tan, black and white that make up their coat. African Wild Dog are relatively rare but their numbers are increasing and spottings are becoming more and more common. The packs are also very mobile, often moving dens seemingly on a whim to hunt a different territory meaning that they can be seen sporadically in quite a number of game reserves.

Wild dog pack in Samburu wildlife reserve, Kenya

7. Rothschild’s giraffe

The Rothschild giraffe is one of Africa’s most endangered giraffe species, but thankfully their population is gradually increasing due to serious conservation efforts. Pay a visit to the AFEW Giraffe Centre in Nairobi where you can feed the giraffes from raised platforms and learn about the breeding programme that has seen over 300 of these gentle giants released into the national parks of Kenya. The Rothschild giraffe is recognisable by the fact that it is the only giraffe species that has no patterning below the knee, which gives the impression that each giraffe is wearing long white stockings.   

Rothschild giraffe in Lake Nakuru National park, Kenya

8. Galago (“bushbaby”)

For a cuteness overload, look into the branches of trees at night and you might just spot the nocturnal galago, which you may know more commonly as the bushbaby. These adorable primates forage around the trees for insects, small animals, fruit and tree gums, and you are most likely to spot them when your guide shines a light into a tree and two lamp-like eyes beam back at you. Bushbabies are remarkably good at jumping, able to leap over two metres high, and when compared to their body-size this makes their jumping ability six to nine times better than that of a frog.

Bushbaby in Kenya

9. Sea turtle

Yes, you did read that correctly. Many people forget that the pristine beaches are as crucial a part of a holiday to Kenya as the safari, offering the perfect environment to recover from the early starts and late nights of game drives. The diving off Kenya’s coast is fantastic, and you may well spot a hawksbill or green turtle as well as any number of colourful fish, seahorses and crustaceans whilst you explore the coral reefs. Head to Watamu Beach to discover how the sea turtles are being protected by the local people.

Hawksbill turtle

10. Flamingo

Our final lesser-spoken about animal in Kenya is the flamboyant flamingo. If you fly over the landscape and think you can see lakes fringed with pink then you aren’t imagining it, as flamingos line many of the lakes across the country, moving around to wherever there is the most algae to sustain their diet. If you are lucky enough to watch them take off in a flurry of pink, then that is a sight you will never forget.

Flamingos on Lake Bogoria

Make it happen

If you are thinking of taking a safari in Kenya to spot the African Big Five and any of their lesser-known but no less wonderful co-inhabitants, then get in touch with our Kenyan local experts. They can plan everything from your ultimate safari to the perfect beach and safari break, tailor-made to your wishes and needs. Simply send an enquiry and they will respond to you within 24 hours. To speak to someone in the TravelLocal office, please call +44 (0) 117 325 7898.

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