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An African safari should be more than just seeing the BIG 5. The extent of the animal diversity in this part of the planet was amazing. This photo essay shares the great 55 African safari animals that I saw in the many parks I visited on my first Kenya and Tanzania safari adventure.
The emphasis on a safari in Africa often seems to focus on seeing the BIG 5 – elephants, cape buffalo, rhinos, lions and leopards. Yes-they are impressive in their size, but for me, every animal sighting was special. I never got tired of seeing the incongruous stripes of a zebra or even the ever present Thomson’s gazelles. And the sighting of tens of thousands of wildebeests as they migrated across the Serengeti left me speechless.
We visited many parks in Kenya and Tanzania on our East African tour, and while I saw many of the same animals, the park setting was always different, which always gave the sighting its own unique character. I saw so many creatures, both great and small, that I prefer to say that I did not just see the big five, but rather, I saw the great fifty five – and then some.
African safari animals in Kenya
The most well known safari park in Kenya is the Maasai Mara National Reserve. Surrounding the reserve to the north are also a number of private conservancies that also have great game viewing opportunities. (I had a great game drive day in the Lemek and Ol Choro conservancies).
Not far from Nairobi and the Maasai Mara Reserve are also a number of other parks which gave me the opportunity to see some other wildlife and birds that we did not see in the Maasai Mara.
Maasai Mara Reserve – Kenya
A giraffe’s long legs and neck are great for reaching the food at the tops of trees, but they can make it awkward to get a drink.
One zebra stands out in the dry grasses of the savanna, but a bunch together form an optical illusion that can make it difficult for a predator to identify a single target.
Yellow billed oxpecker form a symbiotic relationship with their hosts, eating the insects and pests that are bothersome to the larger animal.
A male ostrich trying his best mating display to attract a nearby female, but she was less than interested.
A male agama lizard shows off his mating colors to try and attract a female. This little guy must have been in a fight or two looking at this short tail.
A crocodile waits patiently along the banks of the Mara river for dinner to arrive via the great migration crossing. He blended in so well with his surroundings, that initially we did not see him.
Lake Nakuru National Park – Kenya
One of Africa’s most colorful birds, a lilac breasted roller, greeted our entry into Lake Nakuru National Park.
Lake Nakuru national Park is a fenced in and protected rhino habitat. We were fortunate to have a very special white rhino sighting.
Lake Nakuru National Park also protects the endangered Rothschild’s giraffes and their comical expressions.
Cape buffalo have a reputation for being mean and unpredictable. This big guy however looks quite gentle laying in a field of wildflowers.
An African crested crane struts his stuff for the camera. He knows he is the best looking bird in the area.
A large male waterbuck strikes a classic pose along the edge of the woods where they like to graze.
Male impala, with their beautiful lyre shaped horns, often hang out in bachelor groups for protection.
Lake Naiwasha – Kenya
One of only two freshwater lakes in Kenya’s Great Rift Valley, Lake Naiwasha plays host to a variety of birds, including these gray headed gulls.
An African fish eagle with his almost 7 foot wingspan soared majestically above us.
A white breasted cormorant stands on submerged tree stump, basking in the early morning sun.
A pelican takes off in flight.
The conspicuous yellow plumage of the village weaver bird makes him easy to spot as he is building his unique hanging nest.
Hippos hang out mostly submerged under water, but occasionally do poke their heads out.
Amboseli National Park – Kenya
We saw elephants at practically every park, but only in Amboselli did we see hundreds at one time, as well as many mama elephants with their little ones.
Banded mongooses are one of 20 different mongoose species in Africa.
A secretarybird hunts for a snake or lizard dinner in the savannah.
A spoonbill and a yellow-billed stork fish for their dinner.
The saddle-billed stork is the largest stork in the world with an average height of about 5 ft.
Normally, the groups of bachelor Grant’s Gazelle that we saw appeared to get along, except for this one time when two males decided to see who was tougher.
A herd of zebra look on to make sure that a pride of female lions have given up the hunt.
Lake Manyara National Park – Tanzania
Vervets are the most widespread of the monkey species and can be found in the savannah and the woodlands.
A troop of baboons of varying ages goes about its daily tasks of preening, eating and playing.
A shy blue monkey hides among the branches
African safari animals in Tanzania
In northern Tanzania, the Serengeti national park connects to the Maasai Reserve in Kenya. Both of these parks protect the habitat for the great migration of wildebeests, zebras and antelopes. We visited in mid July and were fortunate to catch part of the wildebeest migration as it was passing through the Serengeti.
Serengeti National Park – Tanzania
A female ostrich ruffles her sizable plumage.
From the big and drab to the small and fluorescent superb starling.
A marabou stork – possibly not one of the most attractive of the stork family.
The thorns don’t bother a grey backed fiscal.
A white headed buffalo weaver was hanging around the picnic site looking for a hand out. Her nest was in an acacia tree nearby.
A yellow-billed stork and red-billed teal, a variety of duck, make one of the large watering holes home.
A white stork hangs out in the watering hole as well.
A flock of greater flamingos glow in the setting sun.
A martial eagle enjoys his dinner
At 4 ft high, the kori bustard is the largest flying bird in the world.
A resting group of vultures is called a committee. In this case, they are waiting for dinner.
A black backed jackal and a vulture fight over a kill.
The eland’s are the largest of the antelopes in the savannah.
Topi are among the fastest antelope on the savannah.
A female waterbuck stares us down.
Only about 15 inches high, dikdik’s are among the smallest of the antelopes. A male and female will mate for life.
1.5 million wildebeest take part in the annual migration through Kenya and Tanzania. Even a small fraction of this number was an amazing sight to see.
We were fortunate to come across a spotted hyena den with a mom and her cubs.
We were extremely fortunate because we got to see three leopards in one day on our safari in the Serengeti. They were all hanging out in trees, so not the easiest to photograph.
This cheetah did not appear to be too disturbed by our presence. She climbed onto the back of our Land Rover to check us out.
Ngorongoro Conservation Area
Lion brothers often stay together to lead a pride. These are two of a band of four brothers in the Ngorongoro crater.
Even though the Thomson’s gazelle, or Tommie’s, were ubiquitous in every park we visited, I never tired of seeing them, though it was rare that they stood still and posed.
Black rhino mom and youth in the distance – our only sighting of this elusive and highly endangered species.
Warthogs often kneel when they are feeding to make it easier to root in the dirt.
A gray heron does not seem to be bothered by the nearby hippos.
The black winged stilt is named for its long skinny legs.
The African sacred ibis gets its name from its role in the ancient Egyptian religion.
A yellow necked spur fowl blends in well with its surroundings.
After seeing all these exotic animals, an African hare in the middle of the road seemed pretty ordinary.
With many of the species, like the elephants, giraffes, lions, zebras, gazelle, and wildebeests to name a few, we had numerous sightings in all the parks. With some, like the rhinos, leopards and cheetahs, we only had one or two sightings and counted ourselves lucky. In all cases, I felt privileged to be able to observe so much wildlife in its natural habitat. It was a truly unforgettable experience.
And the sunsets were pretty amazing also.
I booked my trip with Africa Adventure Company and was very happy with the tour companies and guides that they set me up with in both Kenya and Tanzania. Both of the guides that I had were excellent and extremely knowledgeable. They were walking encyclopedias of all the animals and birds that we saw and their commentary added immensely to my first experience of East Africa.
Besides visiting Kenya on a traditional safari tour, I also took part in a volunteer citizen science trip with Biospheres Expeditions. You can find all those stories here.
Most Kenya safari trips star in Nairobi. If you have some free time in the Kenyan capital, be sure to take time to visit the Giraffe Center and the David Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage.
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