Top 10 Animals in Kenya | A Guide to Wildlife in East Africa

August 10, 2021

Kenya is a country of diverse culture, rich history, and scenic landscapes. Encompassing 580,367 square kilometers, it borders the Indian Ocean in East Africa. With the country’s lush grasslands and savannahs, it is home to a myriad of wildlife.

From viewing the mesmerizing wildebeest migration to spotting a lioness hunting its prey, Kenya offers unforgettable experiences. With the abundance of animals, it’s easy to see why tourists flock to this top safari destination.

However, it may be bewildering to know which animals you should keep an eye out for and whether a trip to Kenya is worthwhile. To help you discover the breathtaking beauty of animals in Kenya, we’ll uncover 10 must-see animals below.

Wildebeest migration in Kenya

Wildlife in Kenya

Kenya is renowned for its substantial populations of large mammal species. You’ll find magnificent mammals that include elephants, lions, hippos, wildebeests, giraffes, cheetahs, and zebras.

The Kenya Lake System in the Great Rift Valley is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that supports awe-inspiring birdlife. Covering a total area of 32,034 hectares, it is home to more than 100 bird species that include Yellow-Billed Stork, Grey-Headed Gull, African Spoonbill, and Black-Necked Grebe.

There are many endangered species in Kenya such as the Grevy’s zebra, black rhino, Thomson’s gazelle, and hirola. The hirola, also called Hunter’s antelope, is a critically endangered animal that inhabits the border between Somalia and Kenya. The approximate global hirola population is less than 500 individuals, and this number continues to decline.

In Kenya, animal adventures are phenomenal with around 25,000 different animal species. For the best wildlife viewing opportunities, check out this guide on Kenya tours and safaris.

Zebra and hyena at watering hole in Lewa Wildlife Conservancy

Best Kenyan Animals

Kenya is one of 11 African countries that offer spectacular sightings of all the Big Five animals. This renowned group of animals include some of the most dangerous animals found in Kenya – the lion, leopard, elephant, buffalo, and rhinoceros. The term ‘Big Five’ originated from game hunters over 100 years ago. It relates to the difficulty in hunting these animals on foot.

Big Five animal sightings are a top tourist attraction. However, did you know that there is an Ugly Five as well? It includes the warthog, hyena, marabou stork, wildebeest, and vulture. Although they are not the most eye-catching animals, they have fascinating and unique habits.

We’ll discuss these majestic African faunas in the must-see Kenya animals list below.

African elephant in Kenya

1. African Lion

With their royal roars, immense power, and strength, the East African male lion is crowned the national animal of Kenya. There are around 2,000 lions in the country. These popular animals are Africa’s largest cat species and they are the most social animals in the world.

Lions, Panthera leo, live together in small families known as a pride, with just a few males, several females, and their cubs. A lion and lioness are easily distinguishable due to the male’s majestic mane. Within the pride, the male is the protector while the females are the primary providers.

This courageous animal of Kenya inhabits grassland, woodlands, savannah, and dense scrub regions. The Masai Mara Reserve in Kenya supports one of the largest lion populations in Africa.

2. Leopard

The leopard, Panthera pardus, is a graceful, agile big cat with dark rosettes on its golden fur. These elusive predators are opportunistic hunters. With their immense power, leopards stalk their prey and often drag and store their food in trees.

The African leopard is the most widespread of the seven leopard subspecies. You’ll find these captivating cats inhabiting open grasslands and heavily forested locations.

The best destinations for leopard sightings in Kenya include Maasai Mara National Reserve, Naboisho Conservancy, and Buffalo Springs National Reserve.

Leopard on tree in Maasai Mara

3. African Elephant

The African elephant, Loxodonta, is an iconic mammal known for its mammoth size, leathery skin, long trunks, and elegant ivory tusks. In Kenya, there are around 34,800 elephants.

Although spotting an elephant is a captivating sight, these majestic mammals are not just beautiful – they have big brains too. Elephants are one of the world’s most intelligent animals and work  together excellently.

You’ll commonly find them in herds nibbling on leaves and grass and they spend about 22 hours a day eating. Elephant’s sleeping habits are astonishing as they sleep for an average of  2 hours per night.

4. Cape Buffalo

The Cape buffalo, Syncerus caffer, is exceptionally dangerous with a staggering weight of around 1,000 lbs. These Kenyan beasts are infamous for their bad-temper and curved horns.

Buffalos have few natural predators. However, they are known to be ancestral enemies and sought-after prey to lions. On the other hand, buffalos and oxpeckers have a symbiotic relationship. The beautiful birds are often found pecking parasites off buffalos’ skin.

These bulk grazers are often found in woodland and grass pastures feeding on shrubs, leaves, and grass. Like elephants, buffalos enjoy coating themselves in mud to protect their sensitive skin from the sun and parasites.

Cape buffalo with an oxpecker on its back in Ol Pejeta Conservancy

5. Rhinoceros

Kenya is home to both the black rhino, Diceros bicornis, and white rhino, Ceratotherium simum. The white rhino is a square-lipped grazer whereas the black rhino is a hooked-lip browser. For more information on their differences, read this guide on white versus black rhinos.

Rhinos are critically endangered species that face threats of habitat loss and poaching due to the illegal trade of their notable horns.  In Kenya, you’ll mainly find them in protected sanctuaries.  Like the Ol Pejeta Conservancy that supports more than 140 black rhinos and the world’s last two remaining northern white rhinos.

6. Hyena

The hyena, Hyaenidae, are scavenging meat-eating mammals with cat-like behavioral and physical features. The four species of hyena are the aardwolf, brown hyena, striped hyena, and the popular spotted hyena.

The spotted hyena, Crocuta crocuta, is commonly known as the laughing hyena. The carnivorous mammal is a staple character in many animated films with its evil chuckles and mischievous ways.

In Kenya, the most widespread is the spotted hyena. You’ll generally find them in the forest, grassland, woodland, savannahs and mountainous regions.

Hyena in Kenya

7. Marabou Stork

The marabou stork, Leptoptilos crumenifer, is certainly not your average bird, with beautiful melodies and a striking appearance. They are characterized by their hunched stature, pink neck pouch, and unfeathered heads.

Although the marabou stork does not have a voice box, their throat pouch allows them to produce a loud croaking sound. You’ll find them making a ruckus while nestling in treetops, cliffs, and buildings in Kenya.

They are omnivores that feed on smaller birds, mammals, reptiles, and insects. With their 12-foot long, black wings, they often fly over to scavenge on carcasses and scraps. Marabou storks are not poisonous to humans, but they are a health hazard due to their feeding habits.

8. Warthog

The warthog, Phacochoerus africanus, is a bulky animal in Kenya with four sharp tusks and padded bumps on their sizable heads. Although warthogs are members of the Ugly Five, they can also be quite cute similar to The Lion King’s iconic Pumba character.

Contrary to their aggressive appearance, warthogs prefer to flee from danger. They generally run from predators towards their dens – at a speed of up to 34 mph. They do not make their own homes but move into abandoned aardvark dens. You can find warthogs grunting and squealing in Kenyan savannahs and grasslands.

Warthog in Nairobi, Kenya

9. Wildebeest

The wildebeest, Connochaetes taurinus, is a large antelope distinguished by its large, pointed horns. Despite their intimidating appearance, these animals are herbivores and common prey to predators such as lions, leopards, cheetahs, and hyenas. Wildebeests live in large herds in open woodlands and grassy plains.

Kenya is a renowned destination for The Great Wildebeest Migration. It is the world’s largest animal migration with over 2 million animals (wildebeest, gazelles, and zebras) moving from Tanzania to Kenya. Head to Masai Mara in Kenya between April and June to witness the spectacular annual journey from the best viewing place.

10. Vulture

There are eight species of vultures, Cathartes aura, in Kenya. Four of these are critically endangered species – the White-backed Vulture, White-headed Vulture, Ruppell’s Vulture, and Hooded Vulture.

They are known to be nature’s clean-up crew for their important ecological role. Vulture’s scavenging habits of feeding on carcasses help to prevent the spread of infectious diseases.

Vultures are solitary animals that live in savannahs, deserts, and grassland regions. You’ll often spot them flying solo with their staggering 8.9ft wingspan.

Vultures on a tree in Kenya

Final Thoughts on Kenya Animals

In Kenya, wildlife sightings are abundant and awe-inspiring. From discovering the hidden charm of the Ugly Five to encountering several endangered species, it offers spectacular experiences.

Now that you know what animals are in Kenya, are you ready to explore the African wilderness on your next safari vacation? Book your tickets and pack your bags – the diverse array of wildlife awaits.

If a safari in Kenya seems costly, check out this guide on all-inclusive African safaris to get the best bang for your buck.

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