Kenya is dream safari territory, where you can watch leopards slink through the tall grass, lions laze in the shade of acacia trees and huge elephant herds trundle across the wide-open dusty plains. The Big Five grab the headlines here, but take a closer look and you’ll find that there’s more to Kenya’s wildlife than its most iconic beasts. We’ve rounded up some of our favourite lesser-known species to spot on a Kenya holiday.
Tour Kenya’s northern Samburu region to meet the Special Five: the gerenuk, Somali ostrich, Grevy’s zebra, beisa oryx and reticulated giraffe. These creatures are cleverly adapted to thrive in the dry, scorched environment. With its long neck, large ears and habit of feeding on its hind legs, the gerenuk is like a giraffe-gazelle hybrid – in fact, its name translates to ‘giraffe-necked’. Try and spot the Special Five on our Samburu and Maasai Mara fly-in safari, which includes a stay in Samburu Reserve.
The lilac-breasted roller is Kenya’s national bird, beloved for its rainbow feathers. You’ll spot this colourful creature while on safari in birding meccas like Amboseli, which has more than 400 bird species and is also one of the best places to see the Taita falcon. Look out for the lilac-breasted roller as it flits between trees to scan for prey, then peer through your binoculars to see its pastel plumage and long narrow tail. Other spectacular Kenyan birds include the marabou stork, statuesque kori bustard (Africa’s largest native flying bird) and the gloriously-named superb starling.
These shy anteaters are scaly from tip to tail and roll themselves up into a ball when threatened; inquisitive lions can often end up playing pangolin football. Sadly, these solitary nocturnal creatures are also the world’s most illegally trafficked animal. Like rhino horns, pangolin scales are mistakenly thought to have healing properties, yet they’re actually made from keratin – the same substance as our hair and nails. Pangolins are heavily protected and it’s rare to spot one, but they can be found in areas of western Kenya, including the Maasai Mara.
From the air, many of Kenya’s Great Rift Valley lakes appear fringed with pink – look closer and you’ll see that thousands of greater and lesser flamingos line their shores. These hot-pink-feathered birds migrate between lakes to feed on algae; watching them take flight en masse is a magical sight. Hope to catch them at Lake Bogoria or Lake Elmenteita, which you can visit during a stay at Loldia House on our Governors’ Safari. From the lodge on Lake Naivasha, you can also enjoy a birdwatching bonanza at Lake Nakuru, which is UNESCO protected for its abundant wildlife and plant species.
The graceful Rothschild’s is the only giraffe species with no markings below the knee – recognisable for their long white socks. Classed as an endangered species, Rothschild’s giraffes are harder to spot on safari but you can visit them on a trip to the Giraffe Centre in Nairobi, where they’re bred on a 60-acre sanctuary and then released into national parks. While you’re in Nairobi, stop at the nearby Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, where rescued baby elephants and rhinos are hand-raised.
Away from the rolling plains, Kenya’s waters are surprisingly marine-rich. There’s excellent snorkelling and diving close to Mombasa, where you’ll find the protected Mombasa Marine Park. You can spot hawksbill turtles chomping around the coral and popping above the surface for air among the psychedelic fish, seahorses, and rainbow reefs. Some hotels, like Pinewood, even have beaches that attract nesting turtles at certain times of the year. If your visit coincides with the hatching season, watch as tiny turtles make their way to the ocean for the first time.
Your journey will start with one of our UK team – someone like Becky, who's travelled extensively in Kenya. They’ll shape your ideas into the trip of a lifetime. But they won't do it alone. They'll draw on the expertise of our contacts on the ground, connecting you to the people who'll make your holiday one you'll always remember - the rangers who'll ensure you'll spot the best wildlife in the Mara, the village chiefs who'll give you a genuine insight into local life and the camp managers who can recommend the very best spot for your sundowner.
Freephone an expert 01306 744 656