The Big Five
The term, ‘the big five' was coined during the hunting era and referred to the five animals most desired by the ‘white hunters'. These days, the only hunting that is done of the legendary ‘big five' is by camera. They are: the elephant, rhino, lion, leopard and buffalo.
The African elephant, the world's largest land animal
The African elephant lives in small family groups of 10-20 elephants, which often congregate in much larger herds at water or food sources. Elephant society is matriarchal, senior females dominating the herds while the bulls live alone or in bachelor groups. Depending almost entirely on its trunk for scent and communication, for washing, clearing, carrying, learning, drinking and eating, an elephant's lifespan (60 -70 years) depends very much on its teeth, which are highly adapted to its mode of living. As one tooth wears away the next moves down the jaw to replace it, and when the last tooth has come forward and is worn down the elephant will die of starvation. Although their sight is poor, elephants have an excellent sense of smell and well-developed hearing. Like humans, elephants lead complex inter-dependant social lives growing from helpless infancy through self-conscious adolescence to adulthood. Surprisingly graceful on their padded and carefully placed feet, a large herd of elephants can merge into the trees and disappear within minutes; their presence betrayed only by the noisy cracking of branches as they strip trees and uproot saplings.
Lion, king of the cats
The lion is the largest of Kenya's three big cats, weighing up to 280 kg. Inherently lazy, the lion is immensely powerful; at one leap it can clear fences 4 meters high and chasms 12 meters long. Its amber eyes, like those of the leopard, differ from those of other cats in so much as they are circular rather than oval. Lions hunt communally, running down their prey at a top speed of around 64 kph and, although they will kill almost any animal, they prefer large herbivores which are the mainstay of their diet. Sightings of lions are normally during daylight hours when the pride is at rest, having spent most of the night in hunting, patrolling and playing. Although they rarely attack humans without provocation, lions are extremely dangerous and should be treated with particular caution (you should never get out of your car in lion territory).
The African buffalo, the only native African cow
The African or Cape buffalo is closely related to the domestic cow. Generally docile, buffalos can be extremely dangerous when threatened or surprised and must be regarded with extreme caution - especially lone bulls or cows with calves. Intensely gregarious, buffalos form into herds of between 200 and 2000 animals. Voracious eaters (both grazers and browsers), they spend most of their 15-20 year lifespan consuming fodder to maintain their strength and stamina.
The black or hook-lipped rhinoceros
Ruthlessly hunted for its horn, which is widely used in Chinese medicine and much prized as a dagger handle in the Middle East, the black rhino came close to extinction at the close of the last century and still remains Africa's single most endangered large mammal. The smaller of the two rhino species (weighing approximately 900 -1,400 kg), the black rhino has a more concave back than the white rhino, relatively small, three-toed hoofs, and a pointed prehensile upper lip, which is ideally suited to browsing in the bush and forest.
The difference between the black rhino and the white rhino
Contrary to popular imagination, rhino are neither black nor white; both are a similar shade of grey. The name ‘white' originates from the Afrikaans word ‘weit', which means ‘wide', and refers to the width of the white rhino's mouth, which is specially adapted to grazing. To tell the difference between black and white - look at the mouth of the animal, the white rhino is a grazer and has a wide mouth, the black rhino is a browser and has a pointed prehensile (capable of grasping) lip.
Leopard, beautiful, secretive and shy
Thanks to its harshly rasping territorial call, the intensely secretive leopard is more often heard than seen. A supreme ambush hunter, the leopard is a solitary animal spending much of its time up a selection of favoured trees, which it uses as game larders for its kills. Mainly nocturnal and extremely unsociable, the leopard is very difficult to spot. Viewing tip: scan the trees for the telltale sign of the dangling tail.
Lion, king of the cats
The lion is the largest of Kenya's three big cats, weighing up to 280 kg. Inherently lazy, the lion is immensely powerful; at one leap it can clear fences 4 meters high and chasms 12 meters long and its amber eyes, like those of the leopard, differ from those of other cats in so much as they are circular rather than oval. Lions hunt communally, running down their prey at a top speed of around 64 kph and, although they will kill almost any animal, they prefer large herbivores which are the mainstay of their diet. Sightings of lions are normally during daylight hours when the pride is at rest, having spent most of the night in hunting, patrolling and playing. Although they rarely attack humans without provocation, lions are extremely dangerous and should be treated with particular caution (you should never get out of your car in lion territory).
Cheetah, the fastest animal in the world
The cheetah is the least catlike and aggressive of the big cats; the weakest of the group, it often loses its kills to lions, hyenas and even vultures. When hunting (around dawn and late afternoon), cheetahs spend a lot of time moving into position before bursting from cover and running down their prey in brief bursts of speed of up to 112 kph (sustainable for only 200-300 meters at a time). Unlike the other big cats, cheetahs never climb trees but prefer termite mounds, leaning trees or even vehicles as observation posts.
African civet cat, secretive and scented
A solitary animal, mainly nocturnal and about the size of a medium sized dog, the civet can be recognized by its bushy tail, rough, black and white spotted coat, thick spinal mane and catlike face. Difficult to spot, by day it nestles under thickets or in tall grass becoming active only after sunset when it hunts for amphibians, birds, rodents, eggs, fruits and insects.
Did you know? The civet emits foul-smelling oil from its perineal glands, which is much prized by perfume makers.
Serval cat, a prodigious pouncer
Capable of making huge leaps onto their prey, serval cats are tall, slender and long-legged, not unlike small cheetahs. Featuring a fine tawny coat, dotted with black spots that merge into bars and blotches on its neck and shoulders, the serval has large upright ears, a long neck and a relatively short tail. Mainly nocturnal its prey includes rodents, birds, small reptiles and, if it is lucky, young antelope.
Genet cat, lone hunter
Cat-like, creamy-yellow with dark brown spots and a banded tail, the genet is common in the savannah lands as well as in woodland and hilly areas. Mainly nocturnal and aggressively solitary, it hunts for large insects and small vertebrates. Best spotted along roads shortly after nightfall, genet cats can be detected by the gleam of their eyes and the sweep of their long tails.
Spotted hyena, the ultimate predator
The unearthly ‘oooo-ooop' call of a spotted hyena in the night is one of the most memorable sounds of the African bush. Often reviled as a cowardly scavenger, the spotted hyena is actually a very efficient predator whose numbers are governed by a matriarchal social system. Preferring to hunt in packs, the spotted hyena lives on carrion and both large and small mammals.
Did you know? When hunting, a spotted hyena can reach speeds of up to 60 km per hour and a pack will easily bring down a wildebeest or zebra.
Striped hyena, lone and reclusive
Lean and long-legged, the striped hyena appears to be slightly more robust than its spotted cousin thanks to its long, shaggy mane and the handsome ‘cape' that runs along its back. Belonging to loose clans, usually foraging alone and being a relatively poor hunter, the striped hyena scavenges mostly from the kills of other animals or resorts to catching sundry insects and small vertebrates.
Hunting dog, relentless pack hunter
Now one of the rarest large carnivores in East Africa, the hunting dog resembles a long-legged dog with prominent rounded ears, a black muzzle and face, and white tail tuft. Almost exclusively diurnal, the strictly carnivorous hunting dogs are relentless and formidable pack-hunters. Relatively small, they are also capable of bringing down prey twice their size.
The aardvark, also known as the ant bear
A long animal, vaguely pig-like with a tubular snout, a powerful kangaroo-like tail, large nostrils protected by hair tufts and large rabbit-like ears, the aardvark is also known as an ant bear. With stiff, greyish hair to protect it from the bites of its prey, it forages by night for termite or ant nests, which it rips open with its powerful front legs and large spade-like nails. Living in deep burrowing shelters, the aardvark emerges only at night but can occasionally be caught basking outside its burrow in the morning sunshine.
The honey badger, also known as the ratel
Africa's equivalent to the European badger, the ratel enjoys a formidable reputation for ferocity, reputedly attacking animals the size of buffalos; and even vehicle tyres; consequently it has few natural enemies. Enthusiastically omnivorous, ratels are active between dusk and dawn. Around 90-100 cm in length, a ratel weighs up to 15 kg and should be treated with caution.
The Cape-clawless otter, silken swamp fisherman
Active around sunrise and just before sunset, this charming aquatic creature lives on a diet composed mainly of mollusks and frogs. Highly social, living in groups of 6-10 animals, the Cape clawless otter is larger and heavier than its cousin the spotted-neck otter; and, as its name would suggest, it has no claws or webs on its fingers. Its hind toes, however, sometimes feature short pointed claws.
The spotted-necked otter, swamp fisherman
Also active around sunrise and before sunset the spotted-necked otter is an aquatic creature with claws and webbed feet well adapted to the habitat of swamps and inland waters. Light chestnut in colour, it has white to orange under parts decorated with irregular brown spots. A social animal, the spotted-necked otter usually lives in groups of 6-10 animals and dines on molluscs and frogs.
Giraffe, skyscraper of the bush
Kenya hosts three species of giraffe: Rothschild's, Masai and Reticulated. The world's tallest mammal (up to 5.2 meters tall), the giraffe uses its unique 45 cm long tongue and agile lips to browse on the leaves of trees that other creatures cannot reach, its especial favourite being acacia. Widespread and common in savannah, open woodland and plains, giraffe have a lifespan of 25-35 years. Non-territorial, they gather in loose leaderless herds to browse by day, while at night they lie down and ruminate. Masai giraffe have a broken pattern of dark blotches on a buff background. The more solidly built Rothschild's giraffe, is paler in colour and has distinctive white ‘stockinged' forelegs. Both sexes have knob-like horns but can be told apart due to the fact that the males have bald horn tips while the females' are hairy.
Did you know?
Giraffe feed for up to 16 hours a day, and can consume up to 60 kg of leaves daily. They defend themselves by kicking and can run at speeds of up to 55 mph.
Gazelle, masters of grace and speed
Kenya features two species of gazelle: Thomson's and Grant's gazelle, both of which feed as grazers and browsers. The preferred prey of most predators, gazelles survive by being constantly alert and poised to flee within seconds of alarm (they can accelerate to a top speed of 80 kph when in flight). They have also evolved a sophisticated communication system consisting of a range of signals to warn against the approach of predators.
The pretty Thomson's gazelle, with its short stumpy tail perpetually in motion, is the smaller of the two and is famous for its stiff-legged standing-still jump, which is known as ‘pronking'. The larger impala-sized Grant's gazelle can be differentiated by the fact that it lacks the distinctive black side stripe of the ‘Tommy'.
Kirk's dik-dik, shy and elusive duo
Miniature in size and usually seen in pairs, this gentle, greyish fawn darts in and out of thickets emitting a shrill, whistling ‘zik zik ‘ alarm call - hence its name. Shy and elusive, dik-diks are foliage browsers that live in pairs, or occasionally in family groups. Only the males have horns.
Wildebeest, migration star, also known as the gnu
Star of the world's greatest animal spectacular, the annual migration from the Serengeti to the Masai Mara, the wildebeest is an extremely gregarious animal, moving in herds that can number up to 150 females and young, headed up by 1-3 bulls. Unmistakable with their peculiar head-high, rocking gait, wildebeest live almost entirely on grass, and in the dry season a herd can cover up to 50 km a day in search of water. Males make a continuous cacophony of low moaning grunts and explosive snorts. Did you know? That a newly born wildebeest can run within minutes of birth?
Burchell's zebra, the savannah horse
Unmistakably marked with broadly alternating black and white stripes, zebra are primarily grazers. They also enjoy a complex social system, which is built up around small groups of related mares over which the stallions fight with much spectacular plunging, rearing, slashing and kicking during the mating season. Two species of zebra inhabit Kenya, the most common being the Burchell's zebra, which is best-known for accompanying the thousands of wildebeest that make up the annual migration from the Serengeti to the Masai Mara - and back again. East Africa's other zebra species, the Grevy's zebra, is larger than its cousin with finer stripes and large rounded ‘ Mickey Mouse' ears.
Impala, swift, agile and elegant
Abundant in Kenya, the impala is both a browser and a grazer; which means it can eat whatever the other herbivores don't. Famous for their turn of speed, impala can leap 10 meters in one bound or 3 meters straight up into the air. The males, who have long lyre-shaped horns, live in bachelor groups outside the breeding season, but can be seen vigorously defending their harems during the rut.
A medium sized antelope, the hartebeest is easily recognized by its mournfully long, narrow face. Also by its short horns, which are heavily ridged and form a heart shape (hartebeest means heart beast in Afrikaans). A social animal, the hartebeest feeds primarily on grass, which allows it to mingle with the other grazers, such as zebra and wildebeest. Known as a Kongoni in Swahili, the hartebeest is also often to be seen perched atop an abandoned termite mound spying out its territory.
Red to tan-coloured the Jackson's hartebeest is confined to the Lake Victoria area and is slightly smaller and lighter than its cousin, the Coke's hartebeest, which is found in the rest of Kenya.
Topi, plum-coloured king of the castle
A highly gregarious antelope, the topi lives in herds, often mingles with other grazers, and is frequently to be found perched on a series of preferred vantage points, such as termite mounds, from where it spies out its territory. Similar to the hartebeest in appearance, though slightly smaller and darker, the topi has dark patches on its legs and face and sometimes appears almost plum coloured or purple. Both sexes have horns that curve gently upwards and backwards.
The roan antelope, massive, rare and magnificent
One of Africa's rarest antelopes and the third largest of Kenya's antelopes, the roan (or Korongo as it is known in Swahili) is a large, grey to rufous antelope with a distinctive black and white face, not unlike a tribal mask. It also boasts a conspicuous mane of stiff, black-tipped hair, long, narrow, pointed ears with brown tassels at the tip, and thick heavily ridged scimitar-curved horns in both sexes. Strongly territorial the roan prefers a plains habitat with sparsely wooded grassland. It is also highly dependant on water, which it must consume in large quantities. Sometimes associated with eland and other plains animals, the roan is a grazer that prefers a diet of tall grass supplemented by twigs and leaves from the denser habitats. With an approximate lifespan of 15 years, roan live in herds of up to 20 members, led by a bull. During the mating season, enthusiastically rutting males can be seen jousting with their rivals, going down on their knees and making sweeping movements with their horns.
Eland, Africa's largest antelope
Weighing close to a tonne, the eland is Africa's largest antelope. Resembling an ox but with beautiful spiralling horns that rise elegantly off the brows of both sexes, the eland lives in groups of around 6-12 animals and feeds on grass and foliage during the early morning, late afternoon and also at night.
Suni, scented star
This tiny forest antelope (only about 30 cm tall and weighing approximately 8 kg) is rarely seen and moves around mostly at sunrise and sundown. It leaves a telltale clue to its passage however, in the form of a strong, musky scent, which is secreted from a large gland below the eye and lingers long after the suni has left.
The oribi, an antelope in miniature
The small and graceful oribi antelope has a conspicuous bare black glandular patch below the ears, a short black-tipped tail and black knee tufts. Living in strongly bonded pairs or small groups, oribi inhabit grassland and dense undergrowth.
Largely diurnal, they have a relatively long neck and straight upstanding horns (in the male), while the colour of their silky coat varies from drab fawn to bright rufous. When alarmed the oribi will give a loud shrill whistle or a sneeze and leap straight up into the air before bounding off into the undergrowth.
Steinbok, the savannah antelope
Similar to a duiker, but taller and more slender, the steinbok is a light reddish-brown colour with pale under-parts and can be identified by the black mark or ‘blaze' on its nose. Males have small widely separated horns. A solitary animal, whose only contact with its fellows is during the mating season, the steinbok is active morning and evening.
The greater kudu, King of the antelopes
A rare antelope, distinguished by a pair of the most magnificent spiral horns in the antelope kingdom (averaging around 130 cm in length); the greater kudu is large, slender and grey in colour. It is also distinguished by six to eight prominent vertical white stripes on either flank (unlike its cousin the slimmer lesser kudu, which has eleven to fifteen stripes on each flank. Despite its impressive weight (280-320 kg), the greater kudu is also a phenomenal jumper, clearing two metres at a single bound and enjoys acute hearing - accentuated by its ability to swivel its large round ears in almost any direction.
Bushbuck, shy bush browser
A shy, solitary and nocturnal browser the bushbuck prefers thick bush by permanent water. Generally more active on cool and overcast days the bushbuck is chestnut to dark brown with white vertical stripes between neck and rump. Only the males grow horns, which are straight and feature gentle spirals.
Waterbuck, wetlands resident
Relying on grass for the greater part of its diet, the waterbuck is a large, sturdy creature with a short glossy brown to greyish brown coat; the common waterbuck has a white crescent across its rump, which distinguishes it from the Defassa waterbuck. Only male waterbucks have horns, which at approximately 70 cm in length are majestic and unmistakable
Chanler's mountain reedbuck, shy and easily startled
Due to the fact that they are hunted by all the large predators, reedbuck are essentially shy and easily startled. The Chanler's mountain reedbuck, prefers a habitat of open grassy slopes and is found only in central and western Kenya.
Warthog, ‘the Kenya express'
Strictly diurnal and easily spotted trotting around in family groups, tails erect, the warthog is the most common pig species in the region. Females have a single pair of warts under their eyes while males have a second set farther down the snout.
The rock hyrax, the elephant's closest relation
A member of a uniquely African group of herbivores, the hyrax physically resembles a large, plump, brown guinea pig and shares an ancient lineage with both the aardvark and the elephant. Aggressively territorial, hyraxes live in colonies of between 10-60 animals and are gregarious, sleeping together in large shaggy piles to keep warm and safe from predators. Infamous for their spine chilling screams, emitted variously depending on circumstances as a ‘keep away' warning or ‘come on' mating call, hyraxes are uniquely adapted to their environment in that the sweat generated by their rubbery paws creates a sticky surface which allows them to scale near-vertical rocks and tree trunks.
Once abundant in the Lake Victoria and Nzoia river basins, sitatunga are now found only in scattered locations throughout western and central Africa; particularly in the papyrus swamps of Lake Victoria and in the King' wal Swamp near Kapsabet (there is also an introduced population of sitatunga in Lewa Downs). Saiwa Swamp remains, however, the only place in Kenya where these elusive creatures have become relatively habituated to the proximity of humans.
Known in Swahili as the ‘Nzohe', the remarkable and rare sitatunga (pronounced ‘statunga') is a long-legged antelope, which has ingeniously adapted itself so as to be able to exploit the abundant food resources of the swamp habitat. Once able to move freely through the region's swamps, the encroachment of humans and their agriculture has forced the sitatunga to retreat into a few isolated islands of safety. The sitatunga's shaggy coat is oily and water repellent, while its elongated and splayed hooves allow it to walk on submerged vegetation. Easily able to outrun its predators while in the swamp, on land the sitatunga has a much clumsier gait, and is seriously disadvantaged. Reddish-brown, the sitatunga has very large ears and the males have horns. Moving with slow deliberation so as to avoid detection, the sitatunga gently enters the water and sinks until nearly all of its body is submerged. It may then spend most of its day submerged or resting in reedy shade. Young sitatunga are born in the dry season and concealed by their mothers amongst the reed platforms of the swamp. Ungainly on their long hooves, they move with difficulty and often fall over obstacles.
A good swimmer, when alarmed the sitatunga dives deep and remains almost entirely submerged - but for the tip of its nose. Extremely shy it prefers to feed morning and evening and occasionally leaves the swamp after dark to browse.
Spotting a sitatunga, the tricks of the trade
Sitatunga are difficult to observe, but the best time to spot one is between the hours of 6.00am and 11.00am, and 4.00pm and 6.00pm, when they are most active. Silence, watching and waiting are the tricks of the trade, as well as keeping a close watch over the paths and tunnels that the sitatunga makes through the reeds and rushes.
Did you know? The sitatunga (Tragelaphus spekei) is named after John Hanning Speke, who discovered the source of the Nile at Lake Victoria in 1858.
The hippopotamus, Africa's water horse
Weighing up to four tonnes, hippos are the third-largest land animals in the world. True amphibians, they can stay totally submerged in water for three to four minutes at a time; they also eat, mate and give birth under water. Spending most of their day resting in water, hippo come up frequently to blow air and recharge their lungs. At sundown they leave the water in schools (or ‘sounders') to spend the night grazing their home range which is usually marked by well-defined pathways, each animal consuming up to 60 kg of fodder per night. Hippos have fearsome teeth and on land can be aggressive and extremely dangerous.
Animals of the forest
Giant forest hog, reticent rootler
A large, hairy wild pig, the giant forest hog has a very broad muzzle, ash-grey skin and broad fungus-like glandular skin swellings below the eyes and across the cheeks. Mostly active at night, they rest by day in dense thickets pierced by tunnel-like runs leading to nest-like resting places. Rarely seen, they are thought to browse or ‘rootle' (dig up the earth in search of succulents roots and rhizomes) and live mainly on shrubs and fallen forest fruit.
Bushbaby or Greater Galago
Categorized as ‘primitive' tree-dwelling primates, bush babies are more closely related to 60-million year old fossils than they are to today's more familiar monkeys and apes. Equipped with enormous eyes, which allow them to see in almost total darkness, they are exclusively nocturnal and can leap up to 7m through their preferred habitat of dense woodland vegetation. Capable of rotating their heads through 180 degrees from front to back when hunting for fruit, seeds, insects and small reptiles, they are extraordinarily vocal, emitting a baby-like cry that may be repeated up to 100 times in an hour.
The Eastern mountain bongo, flagship forest species
Weighing up to 450 kg, the massive bongo is the largest and rarest of Kenya's forest antelopes; it is also wholly endemic and restricted to the Kenyan highlands. The last sighting of a bongo on Mount Kenya was in 1994, while there are believed to be only one hundred or so remaining in the Aberdare National Park. Shy and easily disturbed, bongos range from the high forest glades to the bamboo zone, and even up to around 4000 m in pockets of sheltered woodland. Easily recognizable by the 12-14 vertical white stripes that emblazon the flanks of their bright chestnut coats, bongos tend to live in groups, while the old bulls usually leave their group to live out the last of their 12-14 year lifespan alone. A bongo breeding and re-introduction programme is currently being carried out by a number of institutions including the Mount Kenya Game Ranch, the Bill Woodley Mount Kenya Trust and KWS.
Olive baboon, intelligent and opportunistic
With a distinctive brindled olive-brown coat and a ruffled mane around its neck and shoulders, the olive baboon is well equipped for defense, possessing acute hearing, sharp eyesight and fearsome teeth. Living in large troops of 40-80 animals permanently ruled by a dominant male, the baboon enjoys an extraordinarily complex social hierarchy. Baboons are diurnal, foraging mostly in open savannah and woodland for grass, tubers, fruit, insects and small animals. They are also rampant opportunists and can become a nuisance in tourist areas.
Black-faced vervet monkey, inquisitive forager
Easily recognizable by its long, grizzled-grey body hair and white-fringed, black face (also by the fact that the male boasts a distinctive powder-blue scrotum), the vervet monkey is diurnal being most active early morning and late evening. Hunting in troops of up to 30 individuals, it forages for fruit, seeds and small creatures, and is also fond of the easy pickings to be had around lodges and campsites.
Black and white colobus monkey, agile social climber
These enchanting creatures have glossy black fur, with a white face, bushy white tail and a silken, white fur cape that streams out behind them when they leap through the trees. Usually found in troops of up to 25 monkeys, the colobus is arboreal and spends most of its time in forest areas. Colobus can be distinguished from other monkeys because they have no thumbs, their hands having lost the thumb as a genetic modification to make hooking on to passing branches easier (hence their name which means mutilated in Greek). Like all primates, family bonds are strong and social grooming is an important pastime.
De Brazza's monkey, the swamp monkey
An inhabitant of swampy forests and riverine areas, the regionally endangered de Brazza's monkey lives in family troops and forages for leaves, shoots, fruits, insects and lizards. Easily distinguished by its white-bearded face, the de Brazza is active mainly in the early morning and late afternoon and is both a strong climber and a good swimmer.
Sykes' or blue monkey, forest dweller
Similar to the vervet monkey but slightly larger and much darker, the Sykes' or blue monkey has a grey to black face, black shoulders, limbs and tail and a reddish-brown to olive-brown back. More arboreal than the vervet monkey, the Sykes' monkey generally prefers a dense forest and woodland habitat, where it feeds on fruit, bark, gum and leaves.
Reptiles and insects
Nile Crocodile Crocodylus niloticus
Crocodile (reptile) is the common name for members of the crocodilian order (including alligators, caimans and gavials). The Nile crocodile is one of the best known of the 12 species of crocodile and is Africa's largest reptile reaching a length of up to 6 meters and weighing up to 1 metric ton. Adult crocodile have no predators, though territorial disputes between males can cause serious injuries and hippos will occasionally nudge them off a sandbank if they threaten a calf. Well adapted as a predator the crocodile has powerful jaws and tail, both of which they use to kill their prey. Olive or dull grey they are cold blooded and bask during the day to maintain constant body temperature. Living in a freshwater habitat crocodiles are strictly carnivorous. When breeding the female lays between 30 and 40 eggs which hatch after 90 days. The hatchlings (which hatch April to May) are guarded by the female. Bony plates called osteoderms form a kind of armour in their thick skin, their 30-40 teeth lock solid when clamped shut and they often use their tail to knock prey into the water where it is gripped by their powerful jaws. At this point, the crocodile will rotate rapidly in the water, tearing its victim apart as it does so. On land, crocodiles move quickly - either in a belly crawl or on all four legs. The Nile crocodile was revered by certain ancient Egyptian sects and mummies of crocodiles have been discovered in Egyptian tombs.
Only two creatures from the Jurassic period persist in the African ecosystems: the crocodile and the tortoise. And, because the tortoise's ancestry stretches back over 245 million years into the mists of the Permian Age (between the Carboniferous and Triassic periods about 290 to 245 million yeas ago), it is probable that the tortoise we see today looks much the same as the tortoise walking about under the feet of the dinosaurs. As to why more slow-moving tortoises are not trodden underfoot by moving herds, according to Maasai legend it is because they exude a scent similar to that of a hunting lion.
Insects, fuelling the cycle of life
Often unnoticed but present in their millions, insects are an invaluable link in the ecological food chain. Preyed upon by birds, mammals and other invertebrates, their own eating habits speed up the decomposition process of dead plants and animals; a process which in turn releases vital nutrients from the soil and fuels new growth.
Safari ants or ‘Siafu'
Streaming in thick, glossy bands through the forest and moorlands, these fearsomely large ants march in foraging armies, guarded on both flanks by aggressive large-pincered soldier ants. Little stands in their way.
Bright clouds of butterflies
There are over 1, 500 species of butterflies in East Africa, 860 of which occur in Kenya. The butterfly Capys meruensis is restricted to the Mt Kenya area.
Battalions of beetles
Kenya hosts a proliferation of beetles including some of the largest and smallest in creation.
Dung beetles, sacred scarab of ancient Egypt
Often encountered rolling along atop an immense ball of dung, this amusingly determined beetle is usually heading off in search of a hole in which to bury itself and the ball. There it will either lay eggs, or devour the dung. Known as the ‘sacred scarab' it regularly featured as an adornment of the ancient Egyptians, who saw it as a manifestation of the sun god, Ra, rolling his ball of fire across the sky.
Ornithology in Kenya
An ornithologist's paradise
Boasting the highest bird species count in Africa and the fourth highest in the world (after Peru, Venezuela and Colombia), Kenya numbers over 1,089 species of birds (compared to 300 in Britain and 600 in North America). And, though forests cover only 1% of sub-Saharan Africa, 30% of Africa's total of 1,500 bird species live in her forests. In Kenya, 335 of the bird species inhabit the forests, of which 230 are entirely forest-dependant and 110 are forest-specialist.
Did you know? The prevailing bird spotting record in Kenya stands at 797 species in 25 days.
The best time for bird watching is early morning and late afternoon in the rainy seasons, and during the winters of the northern world, when Kenya hosts a wide range of European migratory species.