Wildlife of Kenya

Large mammals in Kenya


The hippopotamus is the most easily recognized animal. Hippos are bad tempered and fast on land and in the water. They can outrun the average man. Their upper and lower jaws are filled with massive sharp canine teeth. Their skin is tough and almost completely hairless and venerable to the sun which is why they wallow in water throughout the day in order to protect them from being sun burnt. They come out onto land in the early evening to graze on graze. There are plenty of hippos to be seen on Lake Naivasha


Warthogs mostly eat grass but are known as omnivores eating both vegetation and meat. When grazing they kneel down on their front legs. They tend to prefer open plains then thick dense cover. When they run around their tails stick straight up in the air. Both males and females are very defensive of their young and will attack using their sharp lower tusks. They dig big burrows in the dirt and sleep here with their family at night time.


This is the worlds largest land animal. Elephants are entirely vegetarian eating a wide variety of food including grass, flowers, leaves, shoots, bark and a variety of fruits. Elephants are a little partial to fermenting fruits which can cause them to get drunk. These animals are one of the few that show recognition to their family members even after death. Females will stand and watch over their dead young and even be seen to cover their bodies with branches and twigs. Elephants are best seen at Amboseli, Tsavo, Samburu and the Abadere.


Kenya has two species of rhino known as the black and white rhino. The white Rhino has a large hump on its neck behind its head. The two can be distinguished by its mouth. The black rhino has a prehensile upper lip and the white rhino has a very wide upper lip. The two species have different feeding habits with the white feeding on grass and the black feeding on leaves, buds and shoots. Black rhinos are more solitary then white rhinos which may form small family groups.


Kenya has two species of zebra, Grevy’s zebra and the common zebra. Grevy’s zebra can be seen in the drier regions of Kenya such as Samburu and Buffalo springs. It has very large rounded ears and it is easy to distinguish between the two as they have a very different pattern of stripes. In the common zebra the stripes are broad and continue down onto the belly. In the Grevy’s they are narrow and they stop on the lower flanks leaving the belly clean and unmarked. Most of the world’s population of Grevy zebra is in Kenya and it is endangered specie.


This is the worlds tallest land animal. There are three different sub-species in Kenya. The reticulated giraffe has narrow creamy-colored lines crossing a brown background. The Maasai giraffe has less well defined markings and lacks the clean lines of the reticulated Giraffe. The Rothschild’s Giraffe carries a similar pattern to the Maasai Giraffe but has long white socks. The Reticulated Giraffe is commonly seen in Samburu. The Maasai Giraffe is seen in Amboseli, Tsavo and the Maasai Mara. The Rothschild’s giraffe can be seen at Lake Nakuru and on Crescent Island in Lake Naivasha.


The Cape buffalo is a dangerous, massive and moody animal. They mainly graze on grass but at certain times leaves and buds make up a greater part of their intake in their diet. They appear pastoral but they are fearsome animals, killing more people than lions or crocodiles ever do. Buffalo are known to take on groups of lions and have been seen to kill cubs if they come across them. They are also ferocious in defense of their own young


Epauletted Fruit Bat

Fruit Bat’s are crepuscular and so are quite easy to see at sunrise and sunset. They tend to roost in shady trees and dark corners.

Yellow-winged Bat

These bats are found in forests and open country and are common in Kenya found roosting in Acacia trees. They are quite active in day and if disturbed they fly long distances in broad daylight. These bats feed entirely on insects.


The white-toothed shrew is the most common in Africa and there are 103 different species. They have long whiskery noses and live amongst the vegetation. They eat insects and other invertebrates as well as eating small vertebrates.

Rock Hyrax

The Rock Hyrax is also known as Bruce’s Dassie and is a small hoofed mammal which lives in colonies among rocks and boulders. In Lake Baringo they live in the Basalt cliffs providing the Verreaux’s Eagle with its main prey. They eat mainly leaves and grass and have a remarkably high tolerance to plant toxins.



The Swahilli name for lion is “Simba”. These are one of the most well-known and easily seen and recognized of the big cats. Most cats are essentially solitary but Lions are social with 1- 3 males living in a “pride” with a variable number of females. The females do most of the hunting and allow the male lions to eat first before they tuck in. They have a complex social behavior which includes elaborate greeting rituals.


Leopards are solitary animals. They are shy and wary and tend to run away into the bush if disturbed. They are great climbers and often seen resting up big trees. They also take larger kills up into the branches as a protection from passing scavengers such as hyena. Many Kenyan lodges put out bait for the local leopard in order to show their guests. Generally this consists of a goat haunch tied to a tree.


Cheetahs are one of the world’s fastest land animals. It has a distinctive sleek shape with long legs and a flexible spine. This makes it ideally suited to taking its favorite prey, Thompson’s Gazelle. Cheetahs do not have retractable claws, unlike the rest of the cats. They have a magnificent low purr when resting and content.


This is a small cat which stalks its prey and then pounces on it from above. It is also accomplished at taking birds out of the air. It achieves this by leaping high into the air and seizing the bird as it passes. It is a solitary cat which is quite difficult to see.


Bat-eared Fox

The Bat-eared Fox looks very fox like but isn’t related to the other African foxes. It is mainly nocturnal spending the day resting in its burrow. They mate for life and form family parties with their offspring.

Black- backed jackal

The Black-backed jackal is another of the dog family that pairs for life. They hunt together in family parties. Jackals are opportunistic feeders that are equally at home hunting small antelope or scavenging. Although primarily carnivores they will also eat fruit and berries.


Spotted Hyena

The spotted hyena is one of two species found in Kenya. Hyenas are not related to any other canine species they are closely related to the Aardwolf. Hyenas have a sharp set of molars which can grind and crush almost anything. They will eat every part of the animal including bone, skin and hair. They will also eat the dead of their own species. Packs of hyenas will work closely together to drive other big cats off a kill.

Striped Hyena

The striped Hyena is a nocturnal, shy animal. It is active after sundown till about mid-night. It is smaller than the Spotted Hyena and less social. It is able to erect its long mane when threatened and this makes it look much bigger! It is normally solitary when out searching for food but associates in family groups around the den. It is mostly a carrion eater and is attracted to the carcasses of large mammals and birds.


Eastern Dwarf Mongoose

This animal is social traveling in family groups with sometimes over a dozen members. They are most active in the daytime when they go out and hunt together. They feed mostly on insects and snails, snakes, eggs, birds and lizards. They also eat fruit and berries.


Thompson’s Gazelle

Thompson’s Gazelle is the smallest gazelle in Kenya and is the favorite prey of Cheetah. It forms herds with a single male holding a harem of between 5-60 females and young. Younger males group together in bachelor herds. When they sense danger they wave their tails in the air and stamp.

Grant’s gazelle

This is a large rather pale gazelle. It has a white rump and the base is also white. This feature is emphasized by the dark stripe down each thigh. Gazelle’s are often found in mixed groups along other herbivores such as Zebras, Wildebeest and Thompson’s Gazelle

They mostly appear in large numbers and eat foliage and shrubs.


The Gerenuk is a very distinctive gazelle. It stands on its hind legs and sticks out its long neck to browse the bushes and trees. It is a dry country animal and gets most of the water from its food. It eats buds, leaves, fruit and flowers stopping to drink from pools occasionally.


Kirk’s Dik-dik is a small antelope which is seldom seen on its own. They are dry country animals which pair for life. They get all the water they need from their food which consists of leaves, buds, flowers, fruit as well as grass. They are very common in Samburu and Tsavo.


This antelope is shy and difficult to spot. They inhabit rocky outcrops and are preyed by Leopard Caracal and Crowned Eagles They have a varied diet consisting of leaves, flowers, fruit and grass. The best place to see them is Tsavo West around the lava flow.


The Eland is Kenya’s largest antelope. The males can weigh up to 942kg and females up to 600kg. Males grow bigger and get heavier throughout life and the large flap of skin which hangs below the neck also increases in size as males grow. They have scent glands located on their hind legs. They are mostly found in the woodland and are shy animals despite their massive size. They eat myrrh and bush willow. Eland’s are gregarious but they don’t stick to a single herd and move between groups.

Cook’s Hartebeest

This antelope is also known as Kongoni, it has a distinctive look with its long narrow head and sloping back. IT is found on open plains in small groups and eats grass Young males group together and females often form harem groups although solitary males are often seen.


The Topi is a distinctively marked animal which resembles the hartebeest. It has a sloping back and purplish patches on its flanks legs and shoulders and gather in small harems of a few females with their young and a single male. They are grass eaters which favor open plains.


This antelope is possibly the most famous for appearing in Hugh numbers seasonally in the Serengeti and Maasai Mara. The regular migrations of enormous herds, which may contain hundreds of thousands of animals, allow Wildebeest to follow the good grazing which comes after the rains in East Africa. Unlike the majority of Kenyan mammals Wildebeest young tend to be born within a 3 week period which coincides with the peak rain season.


These are elegant smooth-coated animals that travel in small herds. Only the males have horns which are impressively large. Impala’s have a dark spot on the body at the junction with the top of the back leg. Impala’s are grass eaters. Females form into harems with their young, each harem has a single male who will fight other males to defend his group and territory.



The Baboon is a large terrestrial monkey with a dog-like head. There are two sub-species found in Kenya. The yellow Baboon is found in Eastern Kenya and the olive Baboon is found throughout the rest of the country. The yellow baboon is slimmer and longer limbed. Baboons live and travel in troops, gathering together at night to sleep in trees where they are safer from predators. They are omnivores eating fruits, roots, tubers, grass as well as meat. They are fearless monkeys and have been known to people if they feel threatened.

Black and White Colobus

These beautiful monkeys’s have jet black coats with a flowing white mantle. They are shy monkeys which live in family groups. They eat potatoes, fruit nuts and berries. They are seen in Camp Carnelley’s and around Lake Naivasha.


These are fearless, cheeky monkeys. They are intelligent and considered a pest by hotel owners. They climb well are agile and very quick. Many lodges have taken to employing local marksmen armed with a sling-shot whose job is to scare off the vervets that come close to the diners.

Sykes Monkey

These monkeys are also known as the White-throated Guenon. These are forest monkey’s which live in family groups with up to a dozen or more members. They feed in the morning and late afternoon in the forest canopy but they descend to lower slopes during the heat of the day. They feed on leaves, bark, shoots, flowers and fungi but they also eat insects, eggs and young birds.



These are generally very difficult to spot as they are masters of camouflage. Even when they move or walk they are designed to mimic a branch or twig and they are very slow.

Monitor Lizard

These are commonly found near rivers and open water and can often be found basking on sandbanks. They can grow extremely large sometimes more then 3 feet. They feed on birds, eggs and small mammals and are known to rob nests. They are quite popular in areas which rely on fishing as a source of income because they dig up and eat crocodile eggs.

Leopard Tortoise

These tortoises are shy and tend to stick to the undergrowth. The diet is almost exclusively vegetarian but they have been seen to chew bones and hyena faeces for the calcium content. When they first hatch they are very venerable to a large number of predators but once they reach 20cm in size they are safe from all predators except for man.


One of Kenya’s most common terrapin’s is known as the Serrated Hinged Terrapin. They get their name from their shell which has a hinge on it allowing them to close it after they pull their head in. They are mostly found in permanent water. They are carnivores feeding on snails and mollusks but they also eat small fish, frogs and even insects.


Crocodiles inhabit rivers and fresh water lakes in Kenya and are able to survive through the dry spells by burying themselves in mud and hibernating. You see them in the heat of the day lying on sand or riverbanks with their mouths stretched open. This enables them to cool down. They are very effective at waste disposal since their digestive systems can handle rotting meat from old carcasses unlike most carnivores which require fresh meat.