Kenyan Wildlife - ‘The Big 5’

Kenyan Wildlife - ‘The Big 5’


© Siggi Hosenfeld - Lion Couple
In the animal kingdom, the predators seem to draw the largest amount of attention. The most famous in this category is the lion. The largest of the great cats in Africa, they spend a great deal of time resting in the shade. When the pride goes off to look for food at dusk or dawn, it is mostly the female who does all the hunting, but sometimes the males drive the prey towards the concealed females who then do the actual killing. Living on the savannahs in prides of one to three males and up to 15 females, lions can look like docile cats stretched out in the sun. Especially the young cubs, who find a lot of enjoyment in bugging their moms, who are taking their well deserved naps after a night of hunting.


The graceful leopard lives a solitary life except during the mating season. The beauty of the dark spots against the rich gold background belie the power these cats can muster if necessary, and it is indeed very hard to find them. Generally considered night-time animals, the best place to find them is in rocky hills, high in tree branches or in the thick woodland brushes. As agile as a common cat, they drag their kill to the top of a tree where they can be assured that no scavenger will find it and disturb their dinner. They are the only big cats who do that.


© Siggi Hosenfeld - Elephants at Lake
The elephant can live up to between 60 to 70 years and will eatvast amounts of green material to survive each day. Elephants are found roaming in close knit herds with the matriarch in charge. Younger and older bulls live alone, away from the herd. These large beasts flap their ears to keep from overheating. When ear flapping is combined with snorting however, it’s usually a sign of agitation and a good time to put some distance between you and them. Elephants communicate with each other with any number of sounds and over long distances. They can quickly adapt from open plains to thick forests and are constantly on the move for food and shelter


© Siggi Hosenfeld - Buffalo
The African buffalo has a reputation of having a bad temper if disturbed. These huge ox-like creatures have some very heavy, dangerous looking horns and have no shame in using them to get rid of any kind of pest, humans included. They can usually be found near water, but also in Savannah areas, like the Masai Mara. Large herds gather on open grasslands and smaller groups tend to congregate in thick forest. They are also known to chase Lions around here and there. And this is an incredible event to witness!


White Rhino
There are two species of rhinos, the black and the white. Both species are extremely rare, with the black one being the rarest, and tend to prefer living alone or in pairs. Their habitat varies from dense forest to open scrub where they feed on the leaves of bushes and trees. What they lack in good eyesight they more than compensate for with excellent sense of smell and hearing. Their lifespan is 35 to 40 years and they weigh up to 2 tons. Both the black and white rhino have two horns, the longer of which sits at the front of the nose. The closest rhino relationship is between a female and her calf, lasting from 2 to 4 years.

Kenya Animals Rhinos

Kenya Animals  Rhinos
The name "rhinoceros" translates directly from Greek as "nose-horn".
All rhinos possess at least one horn (sometimes two), that is growing from the top side of the nose. The "horns" lack a bony core and are comprised of compressed hair.
They have purported medicinal properties and are also used to make traditional ornaments - as a result, all of them have been hunted to the brink of extinction.
They are also wallowers and will often find a suitable water hole and roll in its mud, coating their skin with a natural bug repellent and sun block.
They have sharp hearing and a keen sense of smell. The eye sight might not be that great, but they will find one another by following the trail of scent each enormous animal leaves behind.
  • Black rhinos have various habitats, but mainly areas with dense, woody vegetation.
  • White rhinos live in savannas with water holes, mud wallows and shade trees.
  • The black rhino is a browser, with a triangular-shaped upper lip, best referred as ‘hook-shaped‘. It eats a large variety of vegetation, including leaves, buds and shoots of plants, bushes and trees.
  • The white rhino, on the other hand, is a grazer feeding on grasses. The white rhino's name derives from the Dutch word "weit", meaning wide. As a reference to its wide, square mouth which is excellent for grazing.
It is not a very common thing to find them these days in the wild. So, seeing one or two is a fantastic sight!

White Rhino
This picture of a white rhino was taking at the Lake Nakuru National Park © Siggi Hosenfeld The Swahili name for rhinos is Faru. The Scientific names are Diceros bicorn for the black and Ceratotherium simum for the white rhino.
The size can be about 60 inch at the shoulder. Predators are: Humans.
They live between 35 to 40 years. The diet is vegetarian and the weight can be 1 to 2 tons for the black, and over 2 tons for the white.

This white rhino was taking a nap at the Masai Mara Rhino Sanctuary. As was the next one. We had a chance to get VERY close and it was a bit scary, but very exciting! © Siggi Hosenfeld The breeding programs in Kenya have been very successful after having a bad history of poaching. The white rhinoceros was introduced as part of a species conservation program from South Africa.
Both species can be found in Lake Nakuru National Park and Laikipia Wildlife Conservancy. Also those two you see here in the Masai Mara Rhino Sanctuary.


You are more than welcome to use these photos for personal use. I trust, you won’t reproduce or sell them without asking for permission.

Kenya Animals Buffalo

Kenya Animals  Buffalo
The buffalo is the bulkiest and possibly Africa's most formidable bovid. An adult stands 4.5 to 5.5ft to the shoulder and weighs up to 1 tone.

They are non-territorial, found in large mixed herds with a male dominance hierarchy. The buffalo’s head is broad, with a bare, wide muzzle. The ears are large and rounded, but drooping and fringed with long hairs.

Adult coloration is black or dark brown. Young calves are black or dark brown and smooth-coated but often change to reddish or chocolate brown. Immature have more hair on their bodies than do adults. Horns are present in both sexes, although males develop a massive boss of 2 halves, which meet at maturity around 7 years. During rutting, if two 800 kg bulls charge at 20km/h and collide head-on, the impact is equivalent to a car hitting a wall at 50km/h. Disputes are usually settled after the first full scale charge. (Hughes 1998)
Buffaloes have poor eyesight and hearing but a highly developed sense of smell.

picture of buffalo

This picture of a Buffalo was taking in the Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania © Jack van der Veen

Herds may live in open woodland, but well-watered savannas such as swamps, floodplains, mountain grasslands and forests of mountain regions are favored. Good habitat consists of dense cover like reeds or thickets but one of the major features required is water. They can survive without water for less than two days, but usually drink daily, mainly during daylight hours between noon and dusk. (Mloszewski 1983 and Pienaar 1969) Buffalo are mainly nocturnal except in protected areas.

Grazers, but occasionally browsers, they eat mainly the taller grasses that are too coarse for other grazers. Their wide mouth and tongue are best designed for quantity rather than quality and play a major role in savanna grazing succession. This means they reduce the tall grasslands to the height preferred by the more selective herds such as zebra, wildebeest and warthog. (Sinclair 1977)

Being gregarious animals their herds may consist of 1,000 members. (Kingdon 1982) (The great buffalo herds of East Africa were decimated during the Rinderpest epidemic of the 1890's)
Old males tend to be solitary or form small groups of up to 6. Young bulls form bachelor groups.
Herds are usually dominated by a master bull, but are led by an old female. As herds size and resource distribution are closely related, their home range size will vary with the season. Bachelors and solitary males are mostly sedentary, but breeding herds can move up to 17km per day during the dry season for grazing. (Mloszewski 1983)
Herds tend to use known routes between water and grazing and use salt licks to obtain minerals and trace elements.


This one was taking a rest in those incredible surroundings. Also taken in the Ngorongoro Crater © Jack van der Veen

Adult males take mud baths for protection from biting flies and other parasites and to keep cool however, females and youngsters wallow less, which may suggest wallowing has social significance. Linear dominance hierarchy arranges the herd into groups or clans, which are attached to adult and sub-adult bulls that are also ranked by age, and dominance status. (Mloszewski 1983) Status in males is being determined by fighting ability, which in turn depends on size and age. This dominance also determines which males will win mating opportunities with females. Females move up in rank when they have a calf at foot. High rank brings the privilege of traveling and feeding to the front and center of the herd. This is the best place for grazing and protection from predation. Low ranking members are at the back and edges of the herd and so suffer much more from predator attack. Wounded buffalo are considered to be the most dangerous of big game animals because they are known to circle back on their trail and ambush their hunters. (Hughes 1998)

Being seasonal breeders, a female will mate at around 5 years and the gestation period is 11 to 11.5 months. The newborn calf weighs between 40 - 45kg. Females remain with the herd when they give birth, but they may be left behind, temporarily if the herd moves on before the calf is strong enough to walk and keep up. Calves have been known to be on their feet in 10 minutes, but it can take several hours before they are strong enough to follow with the herd and do remain uncoordinated for several weeks. (Sinclair 1977)

In this situation the cow will hide her calf in thick cover, while she feeds nearby. The calf will suckle at irregular intervals, sometimes right up to the next calf being born, however, the cow normally stops lactating during the seventh month of pregnancy, when the current calf is around 10 months old, when weaning begins. Despite occasional horn-jabs, the yearling offspring will still tag along with mother and new calf for one more year, or sometimes longer. (Mloszewski 1983 and Sinclair 1977)

Social ties are strong between the female calves and their mothers, but males disperse into the body of the herd as they age. (Estes 1992)

Buffaloes appear to have several calls, most of which resemble those of domestic cattle, but are of a lower pitch. A calf’s distress call will often trigger a mobbing response from other clan members.

The buffalo is a large and heavy animal but it is capable of an estimated top speed of 48 -56km/h (Mloszewski 1983), and a healthy buffalo is able to outrun lions; their main predator, other than man. Other anti-predator behavior can be wheeling or flight, stampeding and individual or group attack. Lion cubs are often killed by buffaloes; trampled or gored to death.

References: Estes 1992, Hughes 1998, Kingdon 1982, Mloszewski 1983, Pienaar 1969, Sinclair 1977

Kenya Animals Elephants

Kenya Animals  Elephants
It has been said, that African Elephants are destructive to the environment in which they live....
Overpopulation and farmers getting deeper and deeper into forests and other animal habitats are usually the result of old migration routes being cut off, forcing elephants and other animals into unnatural reserves - like the Masai Mara.
Their massive appetites can appear to be destructive in those places (Adults may consume up to 170 kg of plant material and dedicate up to 18 hours to this activity daily).
But there is something to be said about their role in the regeneration of the forest by spreading the seeds of many species. For example, Acacia seeds sprout much better after being eaten and dunged by elephants than if they simply fall to the ground. The ever grateful Dung beetles tackle the football-sized elephant droppings, break them down into little pellets and pull them into their burrows where the seeds germinate.

African Elephant with baby

Elephants also dig up dried-out water holes with their tusks, which provides moisture for other animals. It seems, in fact, that the number of plant species is falling in the regions where elephants no longer live.
In 1987, two-thirds of Kenya elephants had been brutally killed and butchered for their ivory. Poachers went unrestricted despite a ban on hunting. Especially Tsavo National Park, once a glorious kingdom where elephants roamed free, became a place of agonizing solitary death of hundreds of defenseless elephants killed by human greed.
As the herd numbers plummeted into the hundreds it became a time for desperate action. A shoot-to-kill policy for military rangers with appropriate training and equipment was enacted and enforced. When Richard Leaky was nominated by the President of Kenya as the new Director of the Wildlife Department in 1989, he decided to let actions speak louder than words and work begun for a BIG Ivory fire.
On July 18, 1989 twelve tons of ivory, worth over three million dollars and representing almost 2,000 dead elephants, where set ablaze in the Nairobi National Park and set an unprecedented example of coherence.
Considering the damage we as humans impose to this planet, and comparing that to the destruction elephants do to the environment, the damage doesn’t seem all that great. Maybe we can find a way to live on this globe side by side, with a minimum of damage to the environment and help keep these incredible animals alive.

Elephants are the most engaging of all animals to watch and have always fascinated people. It might be because their interactions, behavior patterns and personalities have so many human-like parallels. They are very social, frequently touching and caressing one another and entwining their trunks. Also their extraordinary memory, their anatomical uniqueness, their great intelligence and the way they communicate have fascinated us all for a long time. The most common way for elephants to communicate is through blare sounds, which are produced through their trunk, and people who have heard that sound while visiting Africa will never forget it. They also emit infrasound at frequencies between 5 and 28 hertz, that are to high for humans to hear. These sounds can travel anywhere from 2.5 miles up to 6 miles. The elephants were the first terrestrial mammals known to make use of this phenomenon.
The age-old myth, that elephants carry the tusks and bones of dead elephants to the secret "elephant burial grounds," and also when they are getting old, to go there to die, has no factual base.
Elephants do demonstrate a large concern for members of their families, take care of weak or injured members and appear to grieve over a dead companion.

elephant baby

  • That elephant babys are born after a 22 months pregnancy, with the whole family in attendance and a mere weight of about 220 pounds?
  • That they use their tusks as either ‘left-’ or ‘right-handed’, the same as humans prefer one or the other hand?
  • That the trunk of an elephant weighs as much as two adult men, which makes it understandable why some elephants curl them over one of their trunks from time to time?!
  • That the footprint of an elephant looks very much like a fingerprint, with distinct crisscross patterns of bumps and streaks?
  • That an elephant can smell water up to 12 miles away with its trunk?
  • That the absence of tusks in African elephants is becoming more frequent, which seems quite clearly a genetic response to the preferences of hunters for those with the largest tusks?
  • That a tusk can suffer painful tooth decay?
  • That elephants do not sweat as they have no sweat glands?
  • That the ears of an African elephant are almost 3 times bigger than those of the Asian elephants?
  • That the matriarch remembers the location of all the year-round water sources in the herd’s territory?

African Elephants

Here are some NEW photos from my trip to the Masai Mara in September 2005. Both photos were taken early in the morning.

Elephant close up
All photos Copyright © Siggi Hosenfeld
We found this old male elephant by himself, very content with grassing; the perfect picture opportunity.

elephant tusks
Elephant tusks
And those guys were right by our camp site one morning. Very exciting!!

There are some wonderful books from Cynthia Moss, who has spend more than 30 years in Africa studying elephants and working for their conservation. She started the now famous Amboseli Elephant Research Project at the Amboseli National Park in Kenya.

Kenya Animals Leopard

Kenya Animals Leopard
LEOPARD. Panthera pardus.

This beautiful, most nocturnal of all the big cats is probably tourism's major star, but is also the most elusive.
Males being larger than females by up to 30%, can weigh up to 65 kg and females up to 58 kg (Estes 1992).

© Sophie Patat

They spend most of the daylight hours resting in trees; they can be completely camouflaged by their markings. Their coloration is varying shades of tan with black spots grouped in rosettes on the body and upper limbs. Sturdy and solid in build with short but strong limbs and neck enables them to carry up to twice their own body weight.

The habitat of the leopard is mostly areas with a reasonable amount of cover, supply of prey animals, from forested areas to savannah and barren deserts. They share this habitat with other predators such as lion, cheetah, hyena and jackals.

© Sophie Patat

Being mostly nocturnal in habit they have supreme night vision, acute hearing, whiskers that act as sensors when hunting after dark and are the masters of silent movement through the undergrowth.

The leopards diet is most varied, consisting of livestock, domestic pets, poultry, wild birds, reptiles, fish, crabs, frogs, snails, beetles, bat-eared foxes, medium sized antelope, wild sheep and goats. (Bertram 1974 and Schaller 1972)
They are scavengers as well as hunters, will, when given the opportunity, steel the kills of other predators and will eat almost anything. This adaptability in diet is the main reason for their success. Prey can vary in size and weight, from a beetle of 0.5g to a wildebeest of 275 kg, although average prey being between 11 - 45 kg. (Estes 1992)
Leopards will drink when water is available, but can get sufficient moisture from the blood of their prey. Longevity in the wild can be up to 14 years.
Being solitary in behavior, males and females only spend time together for mating.

© Sophie Patat

The gestation period is 90 - 105 days, producing a litter of usually between 1 and 3 cubs, but cub mortality is high as they are frequently killed by other predators. At birth cubs weigh in at around 400 - 600g and are born concealed in dense thickets, caves or hollow trees. The family of mother and cubs will stay together until the cubs are 18 - 20 months old, when the mother will encourage them to leave, spending less and less time with them. At this point the female will come into estrus and seek a male with which to mate.

Solitary, secretive and aloof the leopard is an excellent predator. Mostly hunting at night, the master of concealment, stalks to within 2 meters of the prey, before making a short, fast rush; capable of short burst speeds of up to 37mph. Approaching from downwind, so as not to alert the prey to their presence. The kill is a single bite with their 4 long canine teeth and powerful jaws to the back of the neck or as with larger prey, a suffocating throat bite.

© Sophie Patat

Contrary to popular belief, a leopard does not always conceal prey up trees, but will drag a victim several meters into thick vegetation to hide and eat when other predators are not around. Kill remains can be seen up in trees, taken there by the leopard if a kill occurs when other predators are near, as kills may be lost to lions or hyenas. To stash the kill up a tree is then the safest place. Sometimes even baboons may attempt to steal kills from a leopard. In the Masai Mara a female with cubs was seen to ferociously defend her kill in a tree from a attack by a troop of baboons. (Lister 2004)

© Sophie Patat

Leopards usually eat in the same way, by licking fur from the belly till it is bare. Their tongue is covered in tiny hair-like structures. The belly is then torn open with the sharp, strong claws. The guts are removed and covered with grass and dirt, but muscle tissue, liver, kidneys, heart, tongue and eyes are consumed, along with a certain amount of skin and hair. When an adult female has eaten she will let her cubs feed. Return visits are made over several days if the kill cannot be consumed in one sitting.

The leopard has a distinctive call, a rough, rasping that sounds like sawing wood. Other vocalizations are grunting, growling, coughing, hissing and purring. These are used to advertise territories, calling during estrus and calling to cubs. Cubs also have a high-pitched meow of distress. (Adamson 1969 and Schaller 1972)

Kenya Animals Lions

Kenya Animals Lions

lion family At one time Lions were found from Greece through the Middle East to northern India, but today only a very small population remains in India. In the past lions lived in most parts of Africa, but are now confined to the sub-Saharan region. They can be found in savannas, grasslands, dense bush and woodlands.
Lions produce a unique vocalization which may be produced by all adult members of the pride. Roaring is the loudest sound uttered by any cat, recorded as loud as 114 decibels, and can be heard from a distance of up to five miles.
Lions devote an inordinate amount of time sleeping, especially at midday on the plains, once having found the shadow of an acacia tree. After consuming a full meal, the pride may spend the next 24 hours just resting and digesting their meal.
When resting, lions seem to enjoy good fellowship with lots of touching, head rubbing, licking and purring. But when it comes to food, each lion looks out for itself.
Females do 85 to 90 percent of the pride's hunting, while the males patrol the territory and protect the pride, for which they take the ‘lion's share’ of the females prey.

Lionesses not only assume the responsibility of hunting for the group but also care for the offspring. Within the pride, the territorial males are the fathers of all the cubs. When a lioness is in heat, a male will join her, staying with her constantly. The pair usually mates for less than a minute, but it does so about every 15 to 30 minutes over a period of four to five days.

lion cubs

Female lions generally come into estrous by the age of 2 1/2 to 3 years and continue to have litters every two years, if an adequate food supply exists. At the end of the 105 day gestation period, the lioness leaves the pride to seek out a sheltered isolated area to give birth to her litter of two to four cubs, as a matter of safety to the cubs. The cubs are born blind, weighing from three to four pounds, with a soft wooly grayish-yellow or pale brown coat variously market with spots or stripes. Some mothers carefully nurture the young; others may neglect or abandon them, especially when food is scarce. Usually two or more females in a pride give birth about the same time, and the cubs are raised together. A lioness will permit cubs other than her own to suckle, sometimes enabling a neglected infant to survive. Capable hunters by 2 years of age, lions become fully grown between 5 and 6 years and normally live about 13 years.

Male lion cubs begin to show visual signs of sexual maturity by the age of twelve months (mane), but only begin to exhibit true adult male behaviors about the age of 30 months. Mature male lions are unique among the cat species for the thick mane of brown or black hair that encircles the head and neck. Of all the great cats, the lion has always held a supreme place in man's esteem and imagination. The legacy of the lion, King of Beasts, as the model throughout history is demonstrated by its appearance among the earliest drawings made by humans over 15,000 years ago.

Note: The Swahili Name for Lion is Simba. The Scientific Name is Panthera leo. The weight ranges from 275 to 500 pounds, with females being only slightly smaller than the males. The diet is, you will guess right, carnivorous. Predators: Humans!!
*You are more than welcome to use these photos for personal use. I trust, you won't reproduce or sell them without asking for permission.