Kenya’s extraordinarily varied topology provides the range of habitats needed to support equally varied wildlife. The country is home to more than 100 species of mammals, more than 1,000 species of birds, and an incredible diversity of reptiles, insects and amphibians.
All the famous Big Five - lion, leopard, elephant, buffalo and rhino - are found here. Having attained notoriety during the hunting era for being the most prestigious trophies, the Big Five have retained their popularity into today’s photographic safaris.
However, the diversity of mammal species in Kenya goes far beyond these. Carnivores found here include cheetah, wild cat, caracal, serval, hyena, civet, genet, jackal and fox. Primates include vervet monkey, blue monkey, sykes monkey, colobus monkey and bushbaby. Plains game includes wildebeest, hartebeest, zebra, giraffe, Grant’s gazelle, Thomson’s gazelle, bushbuck, waterbuck, eland, impala, reedbuck and dikdik.
The country has a high number of endemic species, as well as species found only in one specific location. Some national parks and reserves are the last remaining habitat of a particular species, such as the roan antelope in Ruma National Park, the sitatunga in Saiwa Swamp National Park and the sable antelope in Shimba Hills National Park.
There are high numbers of endangered species. The current list of critically endangered species includes black rhino, hirola, Tana River red colobus, Cosen’s gerbil and Macow’s shrew. A number of sanctuaries have been established around the country to protect these species.
Many of Kenya’s vast variety of birds are indigenous to specific regions of the country. Highland forest and moorlands such as Mt Kenya, Mt Elgon and the Aberdare National Park attract green ibis, Hartlaub’s turaco, mountane oriole, alpine chat, Sharpe’s longclaw and mountain buzzard. Savannah bush such as the Tsavo East and Tsavo West National Parks attracts ostrich, white-bellied go-away bird, green wood hoopoe, Taita fiscal, buff-crested bustard and martial eagle. Savannah grasslands such as the Maasai Mara National Reserve species include gabon nightjar, lilac-breasted roller, Livingstone’s turaco, blue flycatcher and Pel’s fishing owl.
Alkaline lakes attract such large numbers of lesser flamingo that their water appears pink. Freshwater lakes have a wider diversity, with white pelican, long tailed cormorant, goliath heron, squacco heron, African spoonbill, fish eagle and malachite kingfishers being but a few of the species found here.
Lowland forest attracts some very localised birds, including cuckoo hawk, red-tailed ant thrush and amani sunbird. Desert and semi-desert, particularly in the area of Lake Turkana, attracts the hardy fox kestrel, Abyssinian roller and Somali fiscal.
Kenya has a remarkable number of endemic or near endemic species, such as Clarke’s weaver, found only in the Arabuko Sokoke Forest near Watamu and Hinde’s pied babbler, found only in Kianyaga near Embu. Some birds even take their names from the regions of Kenya in which they are found, such as the grey-chested illadopsis, or Kakamega poliothorax, found only in Kakamega.
In addition to all the resident species, an estimated 6,000 migratory birds make the journey to Kenya each year during the winter in Europe.
The marine parks along Kenya’s coast are home to a large array of marine species. Coral gardens, fringing reefs, mudflats, mangroves, sea grass and sea weed are all found here, and each provides habitat specific to certain species including dolphins, fish, crabs, sea urchins, sea cucumbers, starfish and jellyfish. Rare and vulnerable species include the dugong, humpback whale and sperm whale.