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Top 12 Animals in Kenya and Where to See Them

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Leopard in Samburu National Park, Kenya

Leopard in Samburu National Park, Kenya

This article on the top animals in Kenya and where to see them highlights exceptional and abundant wildlife in stirring landscapes.

Home to a wide variety of fascinating and incredible animals, you can imagine the beauty of a safari, which most likely conjures images of Kenya. As the savanna stretches endlessly to the horizon, snowcapped mountains straddle the equator and the harsh desert terrain seems a world away from the lush Great Rift Valley.

The variety of animals and wildlife is yours to explore, and our list of the top animals is just the beginning.

  1. 1. Elephant
  2. 2. Giraffe
  3. 3. Hippopotamus
  4. 4. Wildebeest
  5. 5. Zebra
  6. 6. Lion
  7. 7. Buffalo
  8. 8. Leopard
  9. 9. Cheetah
  10. 10. Flamingo
  11. 11. Nile Crocodile
  12. 12. Kikuyu Colobus Monkey
  13. See Wildlife Your Way

1. Elephant

Elephants in Amboseli National Park, Kenya

Elephants in Amboseli National Park, Kenya

Whether thinking of elephants marching in unison or searching for babies scampering to keep pace with glorious tuskers, they are an iconic image of a Kenya safari and one of the nation’s greatest symbols. African elephants are bigger than their Indian counterparts, with their larger ears resembling the shape of the African continent.

One elephant is always an impressive sight, the ears flapping and the eyes marked with melancholy as the pachyderm walks lonely, while a herd can result in a classic sunset scene as they wander one behind the other beneath an iconic African sunset.

Best places to see elephants: Tsavo East and West Amboseli National Park • Samburu National Park • Maasai Mara National Reserve

2. Giraffe

Giraffes in Maasai Mara National Reserve, Kenya

Giraffes in Maasai Mara National Reserve, Kenya

The giraffe ascends above the landscape with grace. As another iconic African image, they are easy to find as their heads poke above the woodlands, their long necks visible for miles across the plains.

While giraffe exude effortless tranquillity, they are not easy prey. Their strong hind legs make only the babies realistic targets for predatory cats. They can stand over 16 feet tall, their astonishing necks providing access to the landscape's more towering trees.

Best places to see giraffes: Amboseli National Park • Samburu National Park • Maasai Mara National Reserve Aberdare National Park

3. Hippopotamus

Group of hippopotamus in Lake Naivasha, Kenya

Lake Naivasha, Kenya

The hippo is another icon of a Kenyan safari. Rumbustious yet cute, hippos are one of safari's easiest finds, but also one of the most dangerous animals. They consistently gather in large pods, grunting and grumbling their way through the day with a succession of eyes and snouts peeking above the water.

From a distance, the scene resembles a series of grey stepping stones. Get closer and there will be emotion in those eyes, something thoughtful behind their languid demeanor. A hippo's behavior is somewhat predictable and guides will be well aware of the water they inhabit.

Best places to see hippos: Maasai Mara National Park• Lake Nakuru • Amboseli • Tsavo East • Lake Naivasha

4. Wildebeest

Wildebeest crossing Mara River during the Great Migration in Kenya

Wildebeest crossing Mara River during the Great Migration in Kenya

The wildebeest is one of Africa's most memorable and abundant mammals, famed for thundering across the great plains during the Great Migration.

The dazzling herd of some 1.5 million members unfurls in great clouds of dust as they rumble toward fresh grazing land. They can quickly and easily become a mainstay of your safari in Kenya as they travel close to other wildlife like zebra and antelope.

As individuals, they are rarely impressive, but herds are phenomenal sites, with strong males galloping and rutting, babies chaperoned between shaggy manes, and confusion reigning when the herd momentarily lacks leadership.

Best places to see wildebeest: Maasai Mara National Park • Ol Pejeta Conservancy • Amboseli National Park

5. Zebra

Close up of a young zebra in Masai Mara, Kenya

Close up of a young zebra in Masai Mara, Kenya

The blurred stripes of a zebra have a mesmerizing effect. Found across Kenya, they live mostly in small groups of around six to eight. Zebras remain a gracious sight on safari that seems elegant and serene, with herds grazing or wandering across the plains.

Like fingerprints, each zebra’s stripes are unique, distinguishing them as individuals. In a large herd, the young must use these markings to find their mothers.

Best places to see zebra: Maasai Mara • Lake Nakuru • Amboseli • Samburu

6. Lion

Portrait of a lion in Maasai Mara Reserve, Kenya

Portrait of a lion in Maasai Mara Reserve, Kenya

Spotting a lion on safari is almost a must, and this is possible in various parks in Kenya. With a few days on safari, you will watch the layers of survival peel away, with lionesses out on a hunt or witnessing the glamour of a lion’s mane at sunset.

The lion is one of the easiest predators to spot as members of the pride lounge with authority that comes from their regal prowess. They have been immortalized in documentaries and remain a captivating presence, whether actively prowling or sleeping in the spreading sunlight.

Best places to see lions: Maasai Mara • Samburu • Amboseli • Tsavo East

7. Buffalo

Buffalo with an egret in Kenya's Masai Mara

Buffalo with an egret in Kenya's Masai Mara

A popular site on a Kenyan safari is the buffalo, one of the Big Five and a delight to see frolicking and wallowing in mud pools.

They travel in groups or solo, and love to be near water, spreading far and wide across Africa’s savannas and forests. They rely on a great sense of smell and remain one of the most dangerous animals in the wild due to their unpredictable behavior.

Their ridged, curved horns are impressive and spotting them on a game drive truly completes any safari.

Best places to see buffalo: Maasai Mara • Lewa Conservancy • Amboseli

8. Leopard

Leopard with her cub at Olare Orok River in Maasai Mara National Park, Kenya

Leopard with her cub at Olare Orok River in Maasai Mara National Park, Kenya

On a single game drive in Kenya, you might see 20 or more mammals, but spotting the elusive and secretive leopard is always an exciting moment. Think beyond the iconic species and diversity that manifests in national parks and you will find the leopard radiating a certain mystique.

They silently explore the grass and stalk with astute expertise, suddenly disappearing from the panorama or perhaps resting on a tree branch, watching the world through thoughtful eyes. Their broad diets allow them to adapt to most environments, creating a large but controlled area that’s precisely patrolled.

Best places to see leopards: Samburu • Maasai Mara • Laikipia Plateau

9. Cheetah

Cheetah in Maasai Mara National Park, Kenya

Cheetah in Maasai Mara National Park, Kenya

Cheetah can be elusive and solitary, but remain a mystical sight that is redolently memorable. They have gained infamy and notoriety as Africa's fastest mammal, but also provide an enchanting highlight on any safari.

They hide in the grasslands and savanna, effortlessly camouflaged when rain brings profuse rising grasses, while elegantly standing above the plains when the grass is short. They're secretive and veer away from most noises, making them relatively difficult to find.

They impress with their great speed should you be lucky enough to see one sprint away.

Best places to see cheetahs: Samburu • Maasai Mara • Amboseli • Tsavo East and West

10. Flamingo

Flamingos at Lake Nakuru in Kenya

Flamingos at Lake Nakuru in Kenya

The pink landscape of Kenya is thanks to the thousands of flamingos that scatter across some of the country’s most famous and popular lakes. Two species are found in Kenya and the range of darkness in hue creates splashes of color on the country’s landscapes.

No one fully understands why flamingos stand on one leg, but whether to conserve energy or body heat, gathering en masse makes for a spectacular sight. They are also considered very noisy birds, which on safari make them an essential part of the African symphony.

Best places to see flamingos: Lake Nakuru • Lake Naivasha • Lake Elementaita

11. Nile Crocodile

Crocodile in Maasai Mara, Kenya

Crocodile in Maasai Mara, Kenya

The Nile crocodile is a fixture along many of the waterways in Kenya. They can grow over six meters in length, munching on fish and the unassuming undulate. Their bite is incredibly powerful, stronger than a great white shark’s, an absolute force to be reckoned with.

They are also surprisingly vocal, with five different calls representing important communications between mates, hunters, or babies. They are fascinating as they glide through the waters across Kenya.

Best places to see crocodiles: Tsavo East • Maasai Mara • Nairobi National Park • Lake Turkana

12. Kikuyu Colobus Monkey

Colobus monkey in Mount Kenya National Park

Colobus monkeys are bashful, preferring higher branches and staying clear of confrontation. They speckle the landscape of Kenya’s forests as one of the dozens of distinct species swinging and foraging a path through the trees.

Their striped tails and flowing beards make them an unforgettable sight, with pretty hair flowing as they glide through the branches for a photogenic moment. Colobus monkeys provide a serenity that vervet monkeys always seem to shatter.

Best places to see Kikuyu Colobus monkeys: Mount Kenya • Arusha • Aberdare

See Wildlife Your Way

Wildebeest and zebras during the Great Migration

Wildebeest and zebras during the Great Migration

Kenya is an exceptional combination of safari tradition and immersive accessibility that reflects the celebrated wilderness. Knowing what you want to experience can help you understand the best time for a Kenya safari, from visiting vast savannas peppered with herds during the Great Migration to finding renowned red elephants.

Zicasso’s Kenya travel guide has helpful information and tips for your ultimate safari.

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