“The only man I envy is the man who has not yet been to Africa, for he has so much to look forward to” – Rich Mullins.
It was this very quote and Prashanth’s passion for wildlife photography that inspired us to visit Kenya. I don’t think we’ve ever experienced such a successful wildlife safari. Spotting the Big 5 was a huge cross off our bucket list. Not to forget, witnessing all the different animals in their various habitats, kept us on edge of our seats. By the end of January 2018, we returned home with a repository full of captures that took us months of shortlisting and editing. So here it is – discover the wild surprises of Kenya, one image at a time with our giant photo story.
You might already be overwhelmed with their enormous presence. But the extent of their size and intelligence may surprise you. African elephants are the only largest living land animanls with trunks. On average they are over 10 feet tall and can weigh upto 18,000 pounds. To sustain their enormous size they consume close to 50 gallons of water and 220 pounds of food a day. Throughout their lives migrating from place to place, they remember the location of water sources along their migration routes. African elephants aren’t endangered like their Asian cousins. But did you know that elephants can’t jump? Or that baby elephants lose their first set of teeth and tusks, just like humans?
These sub-Saharan gregarious antelopes are grazers that are highly dependent on water. They cannot tolerate dehydration; hence they inhabit grasslands or scrub areas that are close to rivers or other sources of water. The rump has a characteristic white ring, while their large rounded ears are a prominent feature. The male waterbuck has a unique ability to secrete an oily liquid that makes its coat waterproof while it enters a waterbody. It also puts off predators with its noxious odour, while making itself attractive to the female of the species. Now that’s a perfume a man should invest in!
Conspicuous Grey Crowned Cranes
The Endangered Grey Crowned Crane is a monogamous species that mates for life. These pedantically walking birds put up quite a show, making them a photographer’s delight. Did you know – that these cranes are the the national bird of Uganda and over the past four decades, it’s population has plummeted by 80%! So now is your best chance to see them in the wild.
Hyenas are crafty killers, especially when they are hungry. They have a reputation as scavengers; but as we know it they can hunt and bring down prey far bigger than themselves, by using the strategy of the pack. And when they’re not hunting they indulge in another favourite past time – taking a dust bath.
There are five different species of rhinoceros, of which two are distinctly seen in Kenya. We were lucky to spot the black and white rhinos. Both are actually gray, so they are different not in color but in lip shape. Black rhinoceroses have a sort of attack-first-and-ask-questions-later attitude. When a rhino catches the scent of a human or anything else unfamiliar, it is likely to charge. White rhinoceroses graze on grasses, walking with their enormous heads and squared lips lowered to the ground.
Tempestuous Cape Buffaloes
Like a tank it’s heavy and massive, measuring 7 feet from nose to tail. As herbivores, they can usually be found grazing in the open grasslands of the African savannas. A Cape buffalo is a deadly opponent – one sweep from it’s defense mechanism (black horns mounted squarely at the top of it’s head) could kill a lion. Like the elephant, the cape buffalo isn’t a predator. But when raged it becomes a terrifying force.
No other creature on the planet is quite like the giraffe. Their high and long necks, powerful hearts and staccato sleeping style easily make them unique. A reticulated giraffe and a Rothschild’s giraffe are the two giraffe sub species widely seen in Kenya. Noted as the tallest land animals in the world, they can grow upto 18 feet tall. This exceptional height allows giraffes to eat leaves and buds from trees tops, unreachable by other animals. This also helps them to look out for predators and other oncoming dangers. Their strong muscular heart allows the body to defy gravity by pushing blood up it’s long neck and into it’s brain. Did you know that giraffes have the same number of neck bones as humans? And that number is only 7?
Zebras are born to run. It is a necessary ability for survival of the fittest. A healthy adult zebra can gallop at 40 miles per hour; just fast enough to out pace a lion or a leopard. For better protection they’ll often congregate in large herds, sometimes mixing with other grazing animals like wildebeest and other antelopes. Predators can get easily get confused by their sheer numbers running in tandem. It’s suggested that their stripes camouflage them to distract predators and also provide a way to identify individual herd members. No two sets of stripes are alike.
Lions are some of the most formidable creatures on the planet. Their impressive size and appetite, strong social cohesion and regal appearance make it clear, why they are considered king of the jungle. They have significant roars and can be heard upto 5 miles away. This allows them to claim their territories by communicating their presence to potential intruders. Known as they only cats that lives in prides; family units that can go upto 40 lions with usually one dominant male and sometimes 1-2 leading males. The rest of the pride’s adult members are females and are often related to each other. They give birth around the same time, which allows their cubs to nurse from multiple females. This may come to you as a surprise but lions are not the most successful hunters, but they do consume a lot of meat. Lionesses who are the primary hunters of a pride, only succeed in making a kill less than 30% of the time.
You may already know that cheetahs are the world’s fastest land animal. They can go from 0 – 60 mph in 3 secs. But did you know their tails play a crucial role in hunting? The tail acts like a rudder, allowing cheetahs to quickly change direction while running. It provides counter balance as they zig zag across grasslands during a chase. Relying on their exceptionally keen eyesight they primarily hunt by day. But they are also one of the few big cats that can’t roar. Instead they purr and chirp much like a house cat.
They’re fierce, fast and fur-ocious. Leopards are very solitary and spend most of their time alone. They each have their own territory, and leave scratches on trees, urine scent marks and poop to warn other leopards to stay away. These big cats have a varied diet and enjoy different kinds of grub. They eat bugs, fish, antelope, monkeys, rodents, deer…in fact, pretty much any prey that is available. These nocturnal beasts are skilled climbers too.
Gazelles are nimble and beautiful animals, with a variety of stripes and markings that accentuate their tan buff coats and white rumps. They also boast a impressive, ringed horns. These attributes make many gazelles attractive as game animals. Open plains make them visible to predators like cheetahs or wild dogs, but gazelles are fleet of foot.
Slow & Steady Leopard Tortoise
Our maiden journey to Kenya allowed us discover and learn about the ‘the small five’. The Leopard Tortoise is certainly a fashionable creature that’s part of this group. They are named for their unique gold-and-black markings, which roughly resemble the rosette spots of a leopard. Often found grazing in solitary, they are exceptionally resilient, with incredibly hard shells and can climb, swim, and live as long as 100 years.
Herons are large, striking birds often spotted standing motionless at the water’s edge. Having found a suitable location, herons stand and wait patiently for the right moment to stab passing prey with their dagger-like beaks. They also wade through shallow water searching for small fish and amphibians.
Radiant Lilac Breasted Rollers
One of the most gorgeous birds also makes Kenya’s national bird. These non-migratory birds are found widely in sub-Saharan Africa and southern Arabian Peninsula. It perches visibly at the top of trees, poles or other high vantage points from where it can easily catch sight of insects, lizards, rodents, scorpions etc. It is said that even their nests are as colourful and vibrant as them.
With two tusks and large shovel-shaped heads, warthogs look fierce, but they often avoid fighting predators such as lions, cheetahs, leopards, wild dogs, or hyenas by running away or dodging into a burrow. Upon asking our guide and naturalist (Mr. Jackson) why Warthogs are called Pumba, his outright answer was pumba in Swahili means ‘stupid’ and they have been named that because of their silly, careless and foolish nature. Not sure if they are proud of it though. What do you think?
There are five different species of baboons. All of them live in Africa or Asia. Like other old world monkeys, baboons do not have gripping tails. They spend much of their time on the ground, but they can climb trees to sleep, eat, or look out for trouble. Baboons are opportunistic eaters, fond of crops, and become destructive pests to many African farmers. They eat fruits, grasses, seeds, bark, and roots, but also have a taste for meat.
The black-backed jackal, a mammal about the size of a fox, eats a variety of prey including meerkats. It can cover tens of miles a day and has a sense of smell that’s 10,000 times more powerful than a human’s. Often known as ‘meal stealers’ jackals are sometimes far more cunning that hyenas.
The topi is a medium-sized antelope with a striking reddish-brown to purplish-red coat that is glossy, even iridescent in bright sunlight. To complete its singular appearance, the topi’s yellowish-tan legs look like they are encased in stockings. Their favorite habitat are flood plains, but they are sometimes found in dry areas of open savanna and park woodland, taking to the shade during the heat of the day. Topis are exceptionally gregarious and live in herds of 15 to 20. What’s unique about them is that both male and female topis like to rub their heads on the ground (to spread scent from facial glands), roll in earth and stir up mud with their horns. They smear mud on their bodies with their hooves. These herbivorous beings spend much of their life with other antelopes such as wildebeest, and with zebra and ostrich.
The ungainly Gnu earned the Afrikaans name wildebeest for the menacing appearance presented by its large head, shaggy mane, pointed beard, and sharp, curved horns. The migration of wildebeests across the plains of Tanzania’s Serengeti and Kenya’s Maasai Mara is one of the oldest and last great land migrations on the planet. It is considered one of the greatest wildlife spectacles on earth, involving up to 1.5 million wildebeests as well as hundreds of thousands of other animals, including zebra and gazelle.
So what about you? Has any country ever captured your imagination as much as Kenya ours? Drop us a comment and let us know if you’re planning to go – we can surely help.