Kenya is the epitome of the African safari where vast plains, big herds and countless predators have earned the country the distinction of the first thing that comes to mind when the term African safari is mentioned.
At the heart of the Great Rift Valley the landscapes of Kenya are as dramatic as they are varied and these provide a rich diversity of life. From the plains of the Masai Mara where millions of animals move in search of food and water to the mineral lakes where millions of birds, predominantly flamingos, feed in the shallows Kenya is blessed with diversity and numbers.
The annual movement of animals across the plains of east Africa in the Great Migration is truly one of earth's greatest wonders, and is considered by many to be one of the natural wonders of the world. Dictated by the availability of food and water the migration is made up of almost two million animals, wildebeest, zebras and gazelles, moving across the Serengeti of Tanzania and the Masai Mara where they spend up to three months of the year.
The Masai Mara, however, is not only about the migration. It is also considered to provide the best game viewing in Africa, even when the great herds of the migration have moved on. Renowned for its predator populations, it is where the well known Big Cat Diaries is filmed, the Mara always provides excellent wildlife safari experiences.
The lakes of the Great Rift Valley provide fertile feeding grounds for water birds and it is not uncommon to see hundreds of thousands of flamingos concentrated in the shallows of these lakes. Feeding on micro organisms the flamingos filter the water through their beaks to extract their food.
Some of the lakes are reserves and national parks where the incredible birdlife is supplemented by excellent game viewing. Lake Nakuru is a refuge for rare rhinos and Rothschild giraffe. Lions and leopards can also be found in the park.
The wild northern lands of Kenya are home to some of the most intriguing animals, quite different in many cases to their southern relatives. It is in the northern parks such as Samburu where the strange looking gerenuk is found in great numbers. With an elongated neck the gerenuk is able to reach succulent shoots at the tops of trees, adding extra height by standing on its hind legs to feed.
Also known as the giraffe antelope the gerenuk does not drink water, instead getting all its moisture from the succulent leaves. For this reason the gerenuk is found in the drier northern reaches of Kenya.
The northern parks are also the home of the Grevy's zebra which differs from other zebra by having much thinner stripes than any other zebra species. Africa's most common zebra, the plain's or Burchell's zebra, is found in great numbers on the great plains of the Masai Mara where many join in the annual Great Migration.
The ornately marked reticulated giraffe, a sub-species, is found in numbers in the northern regions. Quite easily the most dramatically marked of all giraffe sub-species the reticulated is one of three in Kenya. Other sub-species include the rare Rothschild and most common Masai giraffes. The Rothschild and reticulated giraffes have very distinctive patterning with the Masai giraffe been very similar to the most common southern giraffe.
The wildlife of Kenya has had a fair share of suffering at the hands of poachers and other natural mishaps. The rhino and elephant populations were drastically reduced during the seventies and eighties through ivory and rhino horn poaching. Drastic measures were put in place to save the wildlife. Trophy hunting was banned and all stored ivory was destroyed in a public display.
Better management and control has also led to numbers of wildlife increasing again in Kenya and so upholding Kenya's reputation as a prime wildlife destination.
by Leigh Kemp