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Often referred to as the birthplace of safari, Kenya offers sensational experiences for first-time visitors and safari veterans alike. Being one of Africa's top destinations, a wildlife safari in Kenya delivers bucketloads of excitement and some of the best game viewing on the planet.

But what wildlife can you expect to see in Kenya? And where can you see lions in Kenya? We answer these questions and then some in this handy guide on the wildlife in Kenya.

Quick Overview

Elephants at Governors' Camp, Masai Mara, Kenya | Go2Africa
Elephants at Governors’ Camp, Masai Mara.

Thanks to a moderate climate and a huge variety of wildlife, Kenya is a fantastic destination to see animals year-round. There are just two rainy periods (Green Season) that may influence your Kenya wildlife safari:

  • April to May (the ‘long rains’) – heavy downpours that flood rivers and turn dirt roads to sticky mud. Some lodges and camps may close over this period.
  • November to December (the ‘short rains’) – generally short-lived thundershowers in the afternoons. Game viewing is still great, photography conditions are sensational, and you won’t see many tourists around. Read our guide to learn more about a Green Season safari.

The table below is a quick guide to the most likely animals you’ll see in Kenya and the frequency of sightings:

Kenya Animals Sightings
Black rhino Rare
Buffalo Abundant
Cheetah Occasional
Crocodile Abundant
Elephant Abundant
Giraffe Abundant
Hippo Abundant
Hyena Common
Leopard Occasional
Lion Common
White Rhino Rare
Wild dog Very rare
Wildebeest Abundant
Zebra Abundant

What Animals Will You See on a Wildlife Safari in Kenya?

1. Buffalo

Swahili Name: Nyati

Buffalo in Masai Mara, Kenya | Go2Africa
Buffalo in Masai Mara, Kenya.

The Cape buffalo is the Big 5’s most irascible member and is widely regarded as one of the most dangerous animals in Africa. With a notoriously unpredictable temperament and staggering power, the buffalo has very few natural predators, aside from lions and big crocs.

Where Can You See Buffalo in Kenya?

Although the buffalo is one of the most voracious grazers in Africa, it’s not particularly demanding with regard to preferred habitat. They do, however, have a rather large thirst to quench, so depend heavily on Kenya’s perennial water sources in areas like the Masai Mara, Amboseli National Park, and Meru National Park (which has some of the biggest herds of buffalo you’ll encounter on a Kenya wildlife safari).

2. Cheetah

Swahili Name: Duma

Cheetah in Masai Mara, Kenya | Go2Africa
Cheetah on the lookout for Masai Mara wildlife.

When you are the fastest land mammal on the planet (capable of exceeding 100 km/h or 60 mph), you want flat and wide-open spaces in which to chase down your prey. Watching these fast felines hunt is one of the most exhilarating sightings you will experience on a wildlife safari in Kenya.

Where Can You See Cheetahs in Kenya?

The Masai Mara’s relatively flat and treeless landscape is the perfect hunting ground for these Kenya animals, plus there are enough termite mounds to use as lookout points – cheetahs climb to the top where they can keep an eye on the Masai Mara wildlife and spot their next meal.

3. Crocodile

Swahili Name: Mamba

Crocodile in Masai Mara, Kenya | Go2Africa
Crocodile catching some sun in Kenya.

The Nile crocodile is widely distributed throughout Kenya, living mostly in aquatic environments like lakes, rivers, swamps and marshlands. On average, an adult male can reach up to five metres (16 feet) in length and 750 kilograms (1 650 pounds) in weight.

It is Africa’s biggest freshwater predator, capable of taking down almost any animal within its range. They are generalists, eating mostly fish, reptiles, birds and mammals. And every year around August, about a million wildebeest run the gauntlet of Nile crocodiles to reach the Kenyan banks of the Mara River – an annual banquet for these apex predators!

Where Can You See Crocodiles in Kenya?

  • Masai Mara
  • Amboseli National Park
  • Meru National Park

4. Elephant

Swahili Name: Tembo

Elephants in Amboseli National Park, Kenya | Go2Africa
Elephants enjoying the Amboseli wetlands.

Elephants are abundant throughout Kenya’s wildlife parks (except Lake Nakuru) but if you want to see some of the biggest herds (and tusks!) in East Africa, head to Amboseli National Park. Magnificent herds of these gentle giants converge to graze and drink at Amboseli’s perennial swamps and lakes.

On a cloudless day, Amboseli also delivers some of the most outstanding views of Mount Kilimanjaro. From here, wildlife in Kenya can often be viewed against the striking backdrop of Africa’s highest mountain.

Where Can You See Elephants in Kenya?

  • Amboseli National Park
  • Masai Mara
  • Samburu National Reserve
  • Meru National Park
  • Laikipia

5. Giraffe

Swahili Name: Twiga

Giraffe in the Masai Mara, Kenya | Go2Africa
Giraffe in the Masai Mara.

Another one of the Kenya animals you’ll see in abundance throughout the country, giraffes is often a very popular sighting for most safari travellers. Watching the world’s tallest terrestrial creature awkwardly manoeuvre into a wide-legged stance to drink water is an absolute treat!

Where Can You See Giraffes in Kenya?

The predominant subspecies of giraffe that you’ll see on a Kenya wildlife safari are:

  • Rothschild’s giraffe (one of the most endangered) – visit The Giraffe Centre or stay at Giraffe Manor in Nairobi for close-up encounters. Lake Nakuru National Park is also an important stronghold.
  • Reticulated giraffe – head to Samburu National Reserve or Meru National Park for the best sightings.
  • Masai giraffe – abundant in Kenya’s major parks like the Masai Mara and Amboseli.

6. Hippopotamus

Swahili Name: Kiboko

Hippo in the Masai Mara, Kenya | Go2Africa
An endearing moment in the Masai Mara.

With its name derived from the ancient Greek for ‘river horse’, it’s not a surprise that you’re most likely to see huge pods of these animals in Kenya’s rivers, lakes and swamps. Despite the hippo’s physical resemblance to a pig, its closest living relatives are cetaceans (whales, dolphins, porpoises, etc.). Due to its highly aggressive and unpredictable nature, the hippo is one of the most dangerous animals in the world – especially when they emerge from the water to graze at dusk.

If you’re staying at a safari lodge or camp that’s situated near a river or lake, you will be entertained by the daily, chortling soap opera of territorial males.

Where Can You See Hippo in Kenya?

Although you’ll spot this animal in abundance around the country’s permanent water sources, the best places to see hippos on a wildlife safari in Kenya are:

  • Amboseli National Park’s swamps and lakes
  • The Masai Mara’s Talek and Mara Rivers
  • Meru National Park’s streams and rivers
  • Lake Nakuru National Park

7. Hyena

Swahili Name: Fisi

Hyena in the Masai Mara, Kenya | Go2Africa
Hyena in the Masai Mara.

The perpetual opportunists, hyenas are never far from a kill made by predators like lions and cheetahs. When spotting the right moment, these giggling scavengers will steal just about any piece of meat from just about any predator. Hyenas are often given a bad reputation because of their savage behaviour and grotesque appearance, but these Kenya animals (along with vultures and jackals) play a vital role in the ecosystem by consuming carrion – they are Mother Nature’s recyclers!

While on a wildlife safari in Kenya, you’re likely to fall asleep to a distant, whooping serenade of spotted hyenas. They are very common Kenya animals and can be found pretty much anywhere where there’s enough plains game for predators to feed on.

Where Can You See Hyenas in Kenya?

  • Masai Mara
  • Amboseli National Park
  • Meru National Park

8. Leopard

Swahili Name: Chui

Leopard in Samburu National Reserve, Kenya | Go2Africa
Leopard in Samburu.

Shy and solitary, spotting Panthera pardus on a Kenya wildlife safari will transform your game drive into a lifelong memory. The leopard’s mastery of camouflage and stealth makes it extremely elusive, thus being such a sought-after sighting. This predator’s regal beauty is mesmerising; its magnificent coat has beguiled humans for millennia. They radiate a muscular feline grace and move like liquid gold.

Where Can You See Leopards in Kenya?

More often than not, you’ll have to work a bit harder to spot a leopard – or just be very lucky! To see this evasive member of the Big 5 in Kenya, head to the Masai Mara or Samburu National Reserves to give yourself the best possible chance.

Samburu is an area of arid woodland studded with rocky outcrops and thick riverine bush; it lays claim to the title of the best place in Kenya to see leopards. Although much of the Masai Mara is open grassland and more suited to cheetahs, lions and hyenas, there is also prime leopard habitat along the area’s rivers.

9. Lion

Swahili Name: Simba

Lion in the Masai Mara, Kenya | Go2Africa
Tracking lion in the Masai Mara with Little Governors’ Camp.

Panthera leo: the indisputable king of the African bush. It’s incredibly exciting to see lions on a Kenya wildlife safari, and somewhat of a primal fascination. The first thing you’ll realise when seeing this member of the Big 5 in Kenya, is its startling size. Their muscular barrel-chested bodies, jutting chins, and booming roars are spine-tingling reminders that the wilderness still belongs to them.

Lions are Africa’s most powerful predators and hunt big animals like zebra, buffalo, giraffe, hippo, and even young elephants. If you’re ever lucky enough to witness lionesses on the hunt… it’s heart-in-mouth stuff and a never-to-be-forgotten experience.

Where Can You See Lions in Kenya?

Among the Masai Mara wildlife, lions are so prolific that they were the stars of their own BBC nature documentary series, Big Cat Diary. Needless to say, the Masai Mara is a fantastic place to see huge lion prides year-round.

If you are visiting Lake Nakuru National Park, keep your eyes peeled for tree-climbing lions. Although lions are not really adapted to scale trees and perch atop branches, it’s believed that some do climb trees to catch a cooling breeze or escape biting insects on the ground. It’s a very uncommon sighting, so count yourself lucky if you do come across these climbing cats!

10. Rhinoceros

Swahili Name: Kifaru

Black rhino in Laikipia, Kenya | Go2Africa
Black rhino in Laikipia.

While you can see the Big 5 in Kenya’s Masai Mara, rhinos are increasingly difficult to find. Since the beginning of the twentieth century, these majestic animals have been pushed to the brink of extinction.

By the 1980s, poaching reduced the black rhino population in Kenya to less than 300. But thanks to vital conservation efforts in places like Lewa and Ol Pejeta, black rhino numbers have been recovering steadily – although the species remains critically endangered.

Where Can You See Rhinos in Kenya?

To see rhinos on a wildlife safari in Kenya, your best bets are Lake Nakuru National Park and:

  • Lewa Wildlife Conservancy – a safe refuge for black rhinos.
  • Ol Pejeta Conservancy – home to two of the world’s last remaining northern white rhinos.
Lewa Wildlife Conservancy, Kenya
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Lewa Wilderness Lodge

Activities Travellers Enjoyed
Camel rides Game drives Guided walks Horse riding
Kenya, Kenya
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Ol Pejeta Bush Camp

Activities Travellers Enjoyed
4x4 Drives Animal rehabilitation experience Animal tracking experience Bird watching
Lewa Wildlife Conservancy, Kenya
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Kifaru House

Activities Travellers Enjoyed
Bush dining Guided walking safaris Sundowners

11. Wild Dog

Swahili Name: Mbwa Mwitu

Wild dogs in Samburu National Reserve, Kenya | Go2Africa
Wild dog pups in Samburu.

Extremely rare, a pack of wild dogs (a.k.a. painted wolves) is one of the most thrilling sights on any safari. Their populations are threatened by habitat fragmentation, human-wildlife conflict and outbreaks of disease, which is why the African wild dog has been listed as endangered.

These canids embody all the characteristics of the perfect predator: acute intelligence, exceptional cooperation, superb hearing, great physical strength, outstanding vision, and sheer speed. If you’re ever fortunate enough to hear your safari guide announce that wild dogs have been spotted, you’ll experience a palpable sense of excitement!

Where Can You See Wild Dogs in Kenya?

Wild dog numbers are on the increase in Samburu and the Laikipia region – the chances of seeing them here on your Kenya wildlife safari are good. Laikipia is now the second-most important range in Africa (after Botswana) for wild dogs.

12. Wildebeest

Swahili Name: Nyumbu

Wildebeest Migration in the Masai Mara, Kenya | Go2Africa
Wildebeest mega-herd in the Masai Mara.

Although you will find wildebeest in abundance throughout most of Kenya’s wildlife parks, it’s between July and November that you can see about a million of them in one place. This is when the Great Wildebeest Migration arrives in the Masai Mara, one of the last mass terrestrial wildlife movements left on the planet. Arguably the greatest animal show on Earth!

August is considered the best time to witness the action-packed river crossings from the Serengeti into the Mara, and the most popular time for a wildlife safari in Kenya. The Mara can get rather busy, so start planning at least a year in advance. We also recommend staying in one of the private conservancies contiguous with the Masai Mara National Reserve. Here you’ll enjoy a more tranquil safari experience while still being close to the Migration’s hotspots.

Where Can You See Wildebeest in Kenya?

Gnus are abundant in most of Kenya’s wildlife parks like:

  • Masai Mara
  • Amboseli National Park
  • Meru National Park

13. Zebra

Swahili Name: Pundamilia

Zebra in Laikipia, Kenya | Go2Africa
Grevy’s zebra in Laikipia.

These striped equines inhabit most of Kenya and can be found in a variety of habitats like savannahs, grasslands, woodlands, shrublands and mountainous areas. Although you will see them in the majority of Kenya’s wildlife areas, several hundred thousand of them move with the Wildebeest Migration into the Masai Mara from about July each year.

Where Can You See Zebra in Kenya?

The two subspecies found among wildlife in Kenya are the common plains zebra (found in almost all wildlife parks in Kenya) and Grevy’s zebra. The beautiful Grevy’s zebra, also known as the imperial zebra, is the largest living wild equid and the most threatened species of zebra. The Samburu National Reserve and the Laikipia region are the best places to see Grevy’s zebra on a wildlife safari in Kenya.

14. Rarities & Other Highlights

The Samburu Special 5

Gerenuk in Samburu National Reserve, Kenya | Go2Africa
Gerenuk in Samburu.

You’ve heard of the Big 5 and maybe even the Little 5 (elephant shrew, ant lion, rhinoceros beetle, buffalo weaver and leopard tortoise), but what about the Samburu Special 5?

Samburu National Park lies in the north of Kenya, where the flat greenness of the rest of the country gives way to arid scrubland and immense rocky outcrops. This extraordinary landscape supports animals uniquely adapted to the drier, rockier conditions. The stars of the show in this off-the-beaten-path safari destination are undoubtedly the Samburu Special 5:

  • Gerenuk (a.k.a. giraffe gazelle)
  • Somali ostrich
  • Grevy’s zebra
  • Reticulated giraffe
  • Beisa oryx

Learn more about Samburu National Reserve and the Special 5 in our handy guide.


Chimpanzee in Laikipia, Kenya | Go2Africa
Chimpanzee at the Sweetwaters Chimpanzee Sanctuary.

Chimps are not native to Kenya, but when a rescue centre in Burundi was forced to close in 1993, the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Laikipia opened its doors. The Sweetwaters Chimpanzee Sanctuary was established with the aim to provide lifelong refuge to orphaned and abused chimpanzees from West and Central Africa. It is the only place where you can see these fascinating primates on a wildlife safari in Kenya.

Different Ways to See Wildlife in Kenya

Helicopter safari in Samburu National Reserve, Kenya | Go2Africa
Helicopter safari in Samburu.

While daily game drives in 4×4 vehicles are par for the course with a Kenya wildlife safari, there are alternative ways to experience the African wilderness:

Activity Best Place to Do It
Hot-air balloon safari Masai Mara
Walking safari Masai Mara Private Conservancies
Camelback safari Laikipia
Horseback safari Laikipia
Mobile safari Masai Mara
Fly-camping Samburu
Quad bike (ATV) safari Samburu
Helicopter safari Samburu
Hot-air balloon safari in the Masai Mara, Kenya | Go2Africa
Hot-air balloon ride over the Masai Mara wildlife.

Ready to Start Planning Your Kenya Wildlife Safari?

Chat with someone who’s been there. Get in touch with one of our Africa Safari Experts to help tailor-make a wildlife safari in Kenya that’s right for you:

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