Fabled for being the five most dangerous and difficult animals to hunt, the Big Five are now the most sought-after animals to capture on a point-and-shoot. Whilst sitting firmly at the top of every safari checklist, nature’s most magnificent animals are as elusive as ever before, making tracking them an exhilarating and unforgettable adventure. Home to all five showstoppers, the national parks of South Africa, Kenya, Tanzania, Namibia and Botswana, are excellent destinations for a chance to see them all. On foot, by horseback or in the comfort of a 4x4, traversing the plains of sub Saharan Africa in search of these celebrated animals is the undisputed original safari experience.
Kenya wildlife guide
Heralded as the home of safari, Kenya is one of Africa’s most popular destinations and offers a true 'Out of Africa' experience. Take a look at the wildlife you can expect to see when taking a trip to Kenya.
African elephant (Loxodonta africana)
The largest land animal on Earth, elephants have complex social lives with unique forms of communication, such as trunk touch and subsonic calls. After a gestation period of nearly 2 years, the calves are cared for by their mother and other young females in the group.
Found: wherever there is water and trees
Interesting fact: trunks contain about 100,000 different muscles
Black rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis)
Extremely rare, black rhinos are distinguishable from the more common white rhino by their hooked lip used for eating leaves. The species overall is classified as critically endangered. An adult typically weighs from 800 to 1,400kg, however unusually large male specimens have been reported at up to 2,896kg.
Found: in thick bush and almost solely in protected parks or reserves
Interesting fact: rhino pregnancies last 15–16 months
White rhinoceros (Ceratotherium simum)
White rhinos are rare, but more common than the endangered black rhino. They can run at 50km/h and weigh up to 2,700kg. They are not actually white but a dark grey colour; the name in fact derives from the Dutch word for wide (weit), which describes the white rhino’s mouth.
Found: on savannah
Interesting fact: the collective noun for rhinos is a crash
Lion (Panthera leo)
The lion is possibly the most iconic animal in Africa. Prides can range from 3 to 40 individuals, but most don't contain more than 12 lions. They are the savannah’s top predator. Lions are the laziest of the big cats, spending 16 to 20 hours a day sleeping and resting.
Found: all over Kenya
Interesting fact: it is the female lions that do most of the hunting, and they do so in groups
Cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus)
With their legendary speed (100km/h), cheetahs are far more delicately built than the leopard or lion and are mostly solitary hunters. Cheetah mothers spend a long time teaching their young how to hunt, and will bring back live prey for them to practise chasing.
Found: in open savannah near plains game
Interesting fact: young cheetah cubs have a distinctive silvery mane
Leopard (Panthera pardus)
Smaller than lions, leopards prefer to hunt alone at night. Much of their day is spent on the lower branches of trees, hiding from the heat of the day. Their spots, which are dark rings with a yellowy centre, provide a useful camouflage and make them good hunters.
Found: can be found in most places
Interesting fact: pound for pound, leopards are the strongest of the big cats
Buffalo (Syncerus caffer)
The buffalo is a large and very strong animal which needs lots of open space to roam. A large herd can be spotted peacefully grazing together, but if one is separated this often disrupts the peace, as it can become angry and somewhat dangerous.
Found: in open plains or dense forest
Interesting fact: have been known to kill a lion as payback for killing a member of their herd
Hippopotamus (Hippopotamus amphibius)
Weighing up to 1,800kg, the hippopotamus is a large beast which spends its daytimes lurking in water in order to keep cool and stop its skin from drying out. They only emerge in the evenings to graze on surrounding grassland.
Found: in and around rivers and waterholes
Interesting fact: they need up to 60kg of grass every day to survive
Giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis)
The giraffe is the tallest land species and can reach more than 5m high and weigh up to 2,000kg. They feed almost exclusively on leaves at heights of 2-6m, using their long neck and versatile tongue to reach the desired leaves in the tree canopy. The rarer subspecies of Rothschild’s and reticulated giraffes can also be seen in Kenya.
Found: all over Kenya
Interesting fact: like humans, giraffes have 7 neck vertebrae
Plains zebra (Equus quagga)
The plains zebra is the most numerous and geographically widespread species of zebra. They are often seen in large herds of up to several thousand individuals. Plains zebra migrate the longest distance of any terrestrial animal in Africa, travelling 160 miles one way. Look out for the narrow-striped Grevy's zebra in Samburu too, a rarer subspecies.
Found: found across the savannah
Interesting fact: have been known to kill hyenas with a single kick
Wildebeest (Connochaetes taurinus)
The wildebeest is a rather ungraceful antelope in a blue-grey colour with some darker stripes on its side. It is recognisable by its beard, long mane and buffalo-like horns. They are often seen grazing with zebra and stay in large herds.
Found: on open grasslands never too far from water
Interesting fact: wildebeest recognise and react to baboon alarm calls
Eland (Taurotragus oryx)
Weighing about 600kg, the eland is the largest of the antelope family and roams in herds of up to 30 animals. They are greyish in colour with thin white stripes on their sides. They can reach a peak speed of 40km/h, but that tires them quickly.
Found: in semi-arid areas and light woodland
Interesting fact: both sexes possess distinctive spiral horns
Greater Kudu (Tragelaphus strepsiceros)
The greater kudu is a large, timid and rather ungainly antelope. They live in groups of 6 to 30 individuals. The larger males have hugely impressive spiral horns. Another notable feature is a thick fringe of hair that runs from the chin down the neck.
Found: in woodland areas and rocky hillsides
Interesting fact: they evade predators by leaping over thick bush to hide in dense vegetation
Waterbuck (Kobus ellipsiprymnus)
The waterbuck is a large, common, shaggy-coated and somewhat tame antelope. The meat of older waterbuck gains an unpleasant odour from the waterproofing secretions of its sweat glands, putting all but starving predators off. Rather than running for cover, waterbucks run into water when alarmed.
Found: near water in open woodland and savannah
Interesting fact: when approached by predators, male waterbucks often go in for the attack
Dik-diks stand at just 30-40cm tall and weigh just 5kg. Their legs are very thin, giving them a fragile appearance. They pair for life and can be found with current and previous young. Dik-diks have developed a cooling system in their snouts to prevent them from overheating.
Found: anywhere from dense forest to open plains, as long as there is low bush cover
Interesting fact: named after the alarm calls of the females
Impala (Aepyceros melampus)
The impala is a common small antelope, and can be recognised by a distinctive black mark in front of its back leg. They are most often spotted in large female herds, and are famous for the high, graceful leaps they perform when fleeing predators.
Found: in grassland and woodland, close to water
Interesting fact: male impalas attract females or warn off other males by repeatedly sticking out their tongues
Thomson’s Gazelle (Eudorcas thomsonii)
The Thomson’s gazelle is a graceful and fast moving antelope which is easily recognisable thanks to the bold black stripe on its flank, which poses a striking contrast against its otherwise tan brown body and white belly. It is endemic to East Africa and is a prominent grazer in the Serengeti-Mara ecosystem.
Found: in grassland and other arid areas
Interesting fact: can often escape cheetahs through endurance
Black-backed Jackal (Canis mesomelas)
Black-backed jackals are small dog-like predators that live in monogamous pairs or family groups. They are a reddish colour with an area of black on their backs. Jackal pups are particularly vulnerable, so the mother moves the den site every 2 weeks to protect the pups from predators.
Found: in drier areas
Interesting fact: known for stealing prey from bigger predators
Common Warthog (Phacochoerus africanus)
The warthog is a wild member of the pig family that is commonly spotted on safari. The lower pair of protruding tusks, which are far shorter than the upper pair, become razor sharp by rubbing against the upper pair every time the mouth is opened and closed.
Found: in grassland, savannah and woodland
Interesting fact: they like to roll in thick mud to keep themselves cool and rid their skin of flies
African wild dog (Lycaon pictus)
Despite being one of the most successful (and vicious) hunters in Africa, African wild dogs are seriously endangered and spotting one is rare, but very rewarding. They are nomadic creatures who roam in packs over open savannah in search of prey.
Found: in savannah and lightly wooded areas
Interesting fact: they use their speed, stamina and pack mentality to bring down animals 10 times their own weight
Spotted Hyena (Crocuta crocuta)
Spotted hyenas are powerful predators and scavengers that live in large matriarchal communities called clans consisting of up to 80 individuals. Females are stronger and larger than males, and clans are headed by a dominant alpha female.
Found: in most habitats except for dense forest
Interesting fact: they have the strongest jaw pressure and most powerful bite of any animal in the world
Serval (Felis serval)
One of the more diminutive feline predators in Kenya, the serval loosely resembles a cheetah but is more cat-like and has a stockier build. Usually solitary creatures, they have exceptionally large ears, which they use to detect the movement of prey in long grass.
Found: in reed beds or tall grass near water
Interesting fact: can leap into the air to catch birds mid-flight
Olive baboon (Papio anubis)
The olive baboon is the most wide-ranging of all baboons and is named after its green-grey coat. They live in groups of 15 to 150 individuals, governed by a strong social structure. They use far-reaching barking calls which make them easy to identify from some distance.
Found: in open country where there are trees and/or cliffs
Interesting fact: though generally vegetarian, they will sometimes take newborn antelope to supplement their diet
Black-and-white colobus monkey (Colobus guereza)
A species of monkey native to Africa, they are arboreal creatures and can jump long distances between branches. They feed on young leaves in the treetops and rarely come down to ground level. Their black fur contrasts with their white whiskers, beard and bushy tail.
Found: in thick forest
Interesting fact: they are able to digest toxic foliage that other monkeys cannot
Nile Crocodile (Crocodylus niloticus)
A large and very powerful reptile, the Nile crocodile can measure up to 5m in length and weigh 1,000kg. They usually feed on fish and aquatic birds, but supplement their diet by preying on mammals who come to the water to drink.
Found: wherever there is a large body of fresh water
Interesting fact: the gender of a crocodile depends on the temperature of the eggs during the incubation period.
Leopard tortoise (Stigmochelys pardalis)
The leopard tortoise is the most widely distributed tortoise in East and Southern Africa. They have an attractively marked shell and can typically reach around 50cm in length. Males can be identified by the concave bottom of their shells.
Found: in semi-arid, thorny and grassland habitats
Interesting fact: they have been declared part of Africa’s Little Five
African Rock Python (Python sebae)
The African rock python is non-venomous, and instead kills its prey by constriction. Amongst their prey are monkeys, warthogs, antelopes, fruit bats, monitor lizards and even crocodiles in forest areas. They are very adaptable and can survive almost anywhere.
Found: throughout the country
Interesting fact: can reach lengths of 6m
Blue marlin (Makaira nigricans)
The blue marlin is one of the biggest fish in the ocean, with females reaching lengths of over 4m (males are significantly shorter). They are bright blue in colour and recognisable by their long spear-shaped upper jaw, which they use to slash through schools of fish, turning them into prey.
Found: far out at sea
Interesting fact: they are among the fastest fish in the ocean
Humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae)
The humpback whale is an acrobatic animal, often breaching and slapping the water. They have a distinctive body shape, with unusually long pectoral fins and a knobbly head. Adults can measure up to 16m long and weigh around 36,000kg.
Found: in the waters of Watamu Marine National Park
Interesting fact: males produce a complex song, which lasts for 10 to 20 minutes and is repeated for hours at a time
Common bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus)
Bottlenose dolphins are grey in colour and vary in length from 2 to 4m and weigh between 150 and 650kg. They live in pods of anything from a couple of dolphins to around 100 individuals. Dolphins are incredibly intelligent and are capable of mimicry, use of artificial language, object categorisation and self-recognition.
Found: in the waters of Watamu Marine National Park
Interesting fact: they search for prey primarily using echolocation
Green turtle (Chelonia mydas)
Not noticeably green in colour, green turtles take their name from the colour of the fat found in a layer between their inner organs and shell. They feed mostly on seagrass, and while individuals have been recorded with weights of up to 315kg, the average weight of adult turtles is 110-190kg.
Found: in shallow lagoons
Interesting fact: the gender of turtle hatchlings depends on their temperature during incubation