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Hartebeest and zebras in savanna grass.
  Game viewing
Bring a pair of binoculars for your safari! You will se more and better.
More about binoculars
What do you see on safaris?
You may see 30–40 species of mammals when going on a normal packaged tour safari. African classics such as elephants, lions, zebras and hippos are seen on most safaris.
What will you not see?
Some mammals seen in nature documentaries on television are popular with safari-goers, but cannot be seen on a safari in East Africa. Tigers, for example, cannot be seen in Africa at all, as they are only found in Asia. Suricats, or meerkats, can only be seen in southern Africa, for example in South Africa, Namibia or Botswana. Lemurs can only be seen in Madagascar, a very large island off the coast of south-eastern Africa.
Books on mammals
Some safari-goers like to bring a book on African mammals. There is a wide choice of such books, in many languages.
More about wildlife and nature books
Science classifies all living things according to how they are related, in a kind of family tree. Some living things are quite closely related, for example wolves and foxes. Others are more distantly related, for example wolves and mango trees.
All mammals belong to one group (class) of living things, and this group is divided into different sub-groups (orders). Carnivores, rodents and primates are examples of mammal orders.
Each order is then sub-divided into different groups, which are in turn sub-divided, and so on. The result is a hierarchical family tree.
For example, the lion is classified as follows:
Kingdom: Animals
Class: Mammals
Order: Carnivores
Family: Cats
Genus: Panthera
Species: Lion
But don't worry; you don't have to know a thing about orders or families to enjoy a safari.
Poetic names for groups
of animals

It may be difficult for us who are not native English speakers to name a group of animals correctly. It's easy to say 'a pack of lions', when 'a pride of lions' would be more correct. Here follow some poetic suggestions, cited from An Exaltation of Larks by James Lipton (Penguin Group, ISBN 0-14-017096-0):
· A pride of lions.
· A crash of rhinoceros.
· A barrel of monkeys.
· A rumpus of baboons.
· A cackle of hyaenas.
· A bloat of hippopotamus.
· A float of crocodiles.
· An implausibility of gnus.
· A stand of flamingos.
· A wobble of ostrich.
  More web sites
By Wildwatch.
African mammals
By African Mammals databank.
Wildlife gallery
By African Wildlife Foundation.
Order Carnivora – carnivores
By Animal diversity Web.
World Wild Cats – Africa
By Big Cats Online.
Lion Research Center
· Caracal
· Serval
· African golden cat
By The Cat Survival Trust.
The Elephants of Africa
Jane Goodall Institute
Primate Factsheets
By Primate Info Net.
Safari glossary
Opens in a new window.
Wildlife & nature:
Mammal wildlife
Sections below on this page:
Mammals in East Africa General on mammals
Carnivores Lions, leopards, cheetahs, hyaenas etc
Hoofed mammals General on hoofed mammals
  Proboscids Elephants
  Hyraxes Hyraxes
  Odd-toed ungulates Rhinoceros, zebras
  Even-toed ungulates Giraffes, hippopotamus, antelopes, gazelles, pigs etc
Primates Monkeys
Small mammals Ground squirrels, bats

Mammals in East Africa
The mammal wildlife in East Africa is very rich. There are many species, and many individuals of most species. The largest concentrations of mammals are found in parks, i.e. areas where nature and wildlife are protected. The animals are wild and free to go wherever they want, including out of the parks, which some species do seasonally to find grazing or water. A few parks in Kenya are fenced, which limits the movability of the local mammals.

In some regions, especially away from populated areas, mammals appear in numbers also outside parks.

The parks visited by most safari tours are rich in mammals all year round. You can expect to see a lot of mammals going on such a safari.

Parks in Kenya
Parks in Tanzania

African elephants.

30 to 40 species of mammals
There are about 300 mammal species and subspecies in Kenya and Tanzania. Half of these are smaller mammals, such as bats, rodents and shrews. The other half includes the mammals that we normally associate with Africa and it's savanna, such as elephants, buffalos, rhinoceros, hippopotamus, zebras and giraffes. There are roughly 70 different kinds of antelopes and relatives, 50 kinds of carnivores and 40 kinds of primates.

All mammal species don't live in the same type of environment, but are found in different biotopes throughout East Africa. For example, Thomson's gazelles live in grass plains, but not in forests, while bongo antelopes live in forests, but not in grass plains.

By visiting parks that have different environments, you may see more mammal species than if you would go to just one park.

Species list: Mammals

Wildlife photography
When visiting the parks, you get many opportunities to take pictures of animals. Some species are shy, secretive and difficult to catch on film, for example the bushbuck. Others, such as lions and elephants, are confident and may get very close, helping you to good pictures.

More about cameras

The mammals on this page
The mammals shown on this page all appear in many East African parks. You have good chances seeing most of them on a safari.

A lion couple eating from a dead zebra.

Carnivores belong to a mammal order originating from animal-eaters. The vast majority of today's carnivores still eat animals, including other mammals, but some species have since developed other feeding habits, for example the giant panda of eastern Asia, which mainly eats bamboo.

The African carnivores belong to six different families, out of the eight families found world-wide: cats (lion, leopard etc), dogs and allies (jackals, wild dog etc), hyaenids (hyaenas, aardwolf), mustelids (weasels, otters etc), genets and civets, and mongoose.

Many safari-goers are keen to see the carnivores, especially the big cats: the lion, the cheetah and the leopard. The lion is the biggest terrestrial carnivore in Africa, and can be seen in many East African parks. Serengeti, the Ngorongoro Crater and Masai Mara are very good parks for lions, and also for cheetahs. There are also leopards, but these are mainly active at night and not seen as often. Serengeti in Tanzania is probably the best place to go for seeing leopards.

There are not only big cats, but also small ones, which together with the lynx, the domestic cat and others belong to the genus Felis. The most common small cat in East Africa is the serval. You may see it in the big cat parks, in the same kind of landscape where you can see lions, but servals are difficult to spot, not only because they are small, but also shy. African wild cat, caracal and African golden cat are other small cats found in East Africa, but they are not seen very often.

Dogs and allies
The canines, i.e. dogs and allies, are represented in East Africa by jackals, bat eared foxes and African wild dogs. The wild dogs are very rare, though, and can mainly be seen in parks such as Selous, Mikumi and Ruaha in southern Tanzania, but are now and then also reported from Kenya. The bat eared fox is small and shy, and is not seen as often as the jackals.

The hyaenas may look somewhat like some strange kind of dog, but they belong to a different family, called hyaenids. The most common species in East Africa, which can be seen in many parks, is the spotted hyaena. It is the second largest carnivore on land in Africa (the lion is the largest), and even though it's mainly known for eating carrion, it's also a skilled hunter.

Other carnivores
There is also a number of smaller carnivore species, for example genets, civets and ratels (or honey badgers). These are mainly active at night, and therefore not seen very often. Most mongoose are active during the day, and three or four different mongoose species can be seen on many safaris. The probably most known mongoose species, the suricate (or meerkat), is not present in East Africa, but the banded mongoose has a similar behaviour and is often seen.

Serengeti in Tanzania and Masai Mara in Kenya are prime lion parks (we have never been there, or heard of anyone going there, without seeing lions). The Ngorongoro crater in Tanzania is also a very good park for seeing lions.

The lions are the largest carnivores on land in Africa. They live in groups called prides, which vary a lot in size. A common size is two males, a handful of females and a number of cubs. Also smaller prides are found, as well as substantially larger; prides of some 30 or more lions have been seen.

In general, lions mostly hunt at night, when they can use their good night vision to gain an advantage over their prey.

Male lion.

Female lion portrait.

They use a variety of hunting techniques, ranging from seemingly well-organized hunts where each member of the pride has its specific task, to chaothic and un-synchronized pursuits.

Seeing lions hunt is rare, partly because of their nightly hunting habits. They may choose to hunt in daylight, though, if there is a lot of prey around, or if a good opportunity appears by chance. A place where lions often hunt during the days is the Ngorongoro crater.

Otherwise, daytime is often spent doing little. Lions behave quite similar to domestic cats, relaxing, socializing and eating, if there is still food left from their last hunt.

The lion is one of the Big Five species.

Good parks for lions: Serengeti (Tz), Ngorongoro (Tz) and Masai Mara (Ke). They can also be seen in many other parks.

More about lions

Leopards are not rare, but they have secretive habits, and are thus not seen very often. It's not un-realistic hoping to see a leopard during a safari, provided you go to parks where these cats are known to be regularly observed. You shouldn't expect seeing a lot of them, though, but be content seeing one.

Females may be seen with cubs, but otherwise, leopards are solitaries, living alone. They are active at night, hunting for medium-sized antelopes by quietly stalking them, followed by a quick rush and attack. The prey is usually carried up into a tree, out of reach from lions and hyaenas. The leopard eats in the tree and then leaves the leftovers there for later. Most leopards observed during daylight are found resting on a branch in a tree or on a high rock.


Leopard portrait.

The leopard is the second largest cat of Africa, second to the lion. (It's also somewhat smaller than the hyaena.) Leopards are normally spotted, but some individuals are black, due to a condition called melanism, which seems to be more common in forested areas than in open country. Such a black leopard (or a black jaguar, found in South America) is sometimes called a black panther.

The leopard is one of the Big Five species.

Good parks for leopards: Serengeti (Tz) and Lake Nakuru (Ke). They can also be seen in many other parks.

More about leopards

The cheetah is the fastest running land mammal on Earth, capable of speeds up to 110 km/70 mi per hour. The speed is used for hunting its main prey, gazelles and small antelopes, in open grasslands, which is the kind of surrounding where it is usually found. It cannot exploit its speed in wooded or shrubby areas, but may be found there resting.

Contrary to lions and leopards, it normally hunts in daylight. This is one reason why cheetahs are regularly seen, even though they are not really numerous; cheetahs are on the move during the days, when most game driving is done. But in daylight, soaring vultures easily spot a cheetah eating a prey, and they in turn may attract lions or hyaenas, which can easily steal the food.


Cheetah portrait.

Therefore, the cheetah quickly bolts its food, eating up to 15 kg/33 lb in one sitting. Unlike leopards and lions, it doesn't return to the carcass later for leftovers, but abandons it after finishing its meal.

Many cheetahs are solitaries, but it's not uncommon to see groups of two or three males or females. They move openly in grassland, and may also be found resting on rocks or in the shadow of trees. They are poor climbers, and are thus rarely found in trees.

Good parks for cheetahs: Serengeti (Tz) and Masai Mara (Ke). They are often seen also in the Ngorongoro crater (Tz), and may be seen in many other parks.

More about cheetahs

The serval is the most regularly seen of the East African small cats. With a maximum weight less than 20 kg/45 lb, it is a lot smaller than the lion, leopard and cheetah.

The serval is also shy, and is difficult to spot when it moves about in its typical habitat, grassland. It mainly hunts for rodents, but also other small mammals, birds and insects are eaten.

The serval has big ears and good hearing, listening for the sound of moving prey in the grass. Having located a prey, the serval leaps upon it to strike it with it's paws. Servals have also been seen jumping for and catching flying birds as big as storks.


Serval portrait.

Good parks for servals: Serengeti (Tz) and Masai Mara (Ke). They can also be seen in many other parks.

Hyaena.Two species of hyaena are found in East Africa; the spotted hyaena and the striped hyaena. The latter is active at night and not very common, so the only hyaena normally seen on safaris is the larger spotted hyaena. It is active both day and night, is seen regularly, and its characteristic contact call, whooop, is often heard in the night. Another sound, somewhat like a strained giggle, is heard from excited or upset hyaenas, for example when fighting for food around a carcass. This giggle is the source of the nickname 'laughing hyaena'. It is the second largest carnivore on land in Africa; it's smaller than the lion, but larger than the leopard.

Hyaenas live in groups called clans, which live in a permanent territory and are led by a dominant female. Females are generally higher ranking than males in the social hierarchy of the clan.

Some people think hyaenas are scavengers only, unable to fend for themselves by proper hunting. But in fact, hyaenas are skilled hunters, relying on endurance rather than on speed. They do eat carrion, but so do other big predators such as lions and leopards, too. The hyaena has very strong jaws, and can break and digest bones, which none of the other predators can.

Good parks for hyaenas: Serengeti (Tz) and Masai Mara (Ke). They can also be seen in many other parks.

The jackals are fairly small canines, up to 15 kg/35 lb in weight and 50 cm/20 in in height. Three different species are found in East Africa. The black-backed jackal is the most common one in the safari areas of southern Kenya and northern Tanzania, but also the golden, or common, jackal can be seen. The third species, the side-striped jackal, is active at night and less common, and is thus not seen very often.

The black-backed jackals are often seen in pairs; a male and a female, staying together for life. Sometimes they are accompanied by a third adult, a former cub of the two, which has stayed with its parents to help them raise their next litter.

Jackals hunt for small mammals, birds and reptiles, and may also eat fruit. They also eat carrion, and are often seen waiting in the background for lions or other larger predators to finish their meals at a kill.

Black-backed jackal. Black-backed jackal.

Golden or common jackal. Golden jackal (or common jackal).

Good parks for jackals: Serengeti (Tz) and Masai Mara (Ke). They can also be seen in many other parks, as well as in populated areas.

Bat-eared fox
Bat-eared foxes.The bat-eared fox is a small canine specialized in eating termites and other invertebrates. It is also shy, and therefore not seen very often, seldom at close range. When seen, it is unmistakable; it is small and has thick fur, black masked face and very big ears. The ears are used for locating underground termites, which are then quickly excavated.

Good parks for bat-eared foxes: Serengeti (Tz) and Masai Mara (Ke). They can also be seen in many other parks.

There are more than ten different species of mongoose in East Africa, although many of them are not widely distributed. Three of them are seen regularly on safaris.

The banded mongoose, seen in the picture, is normally seen in packs of 20 or more individuals, scurrying on the ground foraging for termites, larvae and small vertebrates. The dwarf mongoose has similar habits, although it is much smaller; it's the smallest mammal carnivore in Africa. The slender mongoose is a small solitary, and thus not as easy to find. It is often spotted when quickly crossing the road in front of the safari vehicle. Even if you only catch a brief glimpse of it, you may recognize it from the way it lifts and curves it's tail when moving.

Banded mongoose. Banded mongoose.

Dwarf mongoose. Dwarf mongoose.

A fourth species, seen at night only, is the white-tailed mongoose. It is a quite big, solitary mongoose, not seen very often due to its nocturnal habits, but it is not rare. You can recognize it by its white tail. If you look around at night in the lodge where you are staying, using a flashlight, you may be lucky to spot one. It's seen regularly at Treetops Lodge in Kenya and Tarangire Safari Lodge and Lake Manyara Hotel in Tanzania, for example. (Be aware that moving around in the dark in wildlife areas may be dangerous. You should never do so without first making sure no dangerous animals are around. Speak to the night watchman. You can also ask him to accompany you. Stay out of grass, shrubs and other vegetation. Make sure you can see where you're stepping; stay in lit areas or use a flashlight.)

A fifth species, on rare occasions seen by water, is the marsh mongoose. It is big, quite dark, and is known for it's ability to open crabs and mussels by standing on its hind legs and hurling them down onto a rock.

Good parks for mongoose: Serengeti (Tz), Tarangire (Tz) and Masai Mara (Ke). They can also be seen in many other parks.

Genet.Genets are only active at night, but can sometimes be seen around lodges (in some lodges, genets are even fed to help you see them). They may be seen both on the ground and in trees, feeding on small prey such as insects, small rodents and reptiles.

Genets are sometimes referred to as genet cats, but even if they do have some cat-like behaviour, such as certain postures, a purring sound and retractile claws, they are not cats; they belong to a separate carnivore family, viverridae, comprising genets and civets.

Good parks for genets: They can be seen in many parks. Some lodges where we have seen genets many times are Ndutu Safari Lodge in Ngorongoro Conservation Area (Tz), Seronera Wildlife Lodge in Serengeti (Tz) and Samburu Lodge in Samburu (Ke).

African buffalos. The buffalo is one of the most dangerous mammal species in Africa.

Hoofed mammals
The hoofed mammals, or ungulates, comprise all the various antelopes and gazelles, zebras, pigs and buffalos, and also heavyweight species such as elephants, hippopotamus, rhinoceros and giraffes.

Three of these – the elephant, the buffalo and the hippopotamus – are regarded as the most dangerous mammals to humans.

Below, four different orders of hoofed mammals are described; probocids (elephants), hyraxes, odd-toed ungulates and even-toed ungulates.

The great migration
One of the world's most spectacular wildlife features can be seen on the border between Kenya and Tanzania where Masai Mara National Reserve (Kenya) and Serengeti National Park (Tanzania) meet. Herds of up to 1.5 million wildebeest and a few hundred thousand zebras move from pasture to pasture, in search for quality grazing, in a never-ending migration.

The routes and time of the migration are never fully predictable, as local rainfall is an important factor, but during normal years, the herds spend August to October in Masai Mara, and December to June in Serengeti. Most of the calves and foals are born during January to March, when the herds are normally found in southern Serengeti. The calving and foaling season is highly interesting not only to the wildebeest, the zebras and us safari-goers, but also to predators of all sizes.

More about the migration

Proboscids (elephants)
One single East African species belongs to this order; the African elephant, or bush elephant. A second African species (formerly regarded as a subspecies), the smaller forest elephant, can only be seen in other parts of Africa.

African elephant
African elephant.Most safari-goers want to see elephants during their safari. And chances are good, as elephants can be found in many parks.

The African elephant population suffered from heavy poaching during the 1970's and 1980's. Today, poaching in Kenya and Tanzania has been greatly reduced. But another problem still remains; because of human activities, expanding farming and grazing etc, elephants are confined to protected areas, which in many cases are too small to support the local elephant population. The regrowth of trees and shrub can't keep up with the foraging elephants, and as a result, the local biotope can support less and less elephants.

Female elephants and their calves live in herds, led by a matriarch, usually the oldest female. All herd members are closely related; the oldest individuals are sisters, and the rest of the herd is their offspring. The herd moves over large areas, guided by the experience and local knowledge of the matriarch, to find food and water.

The males live alone, or sometimes in pairs of one older and one substantially younger bull, and mainly meet with females for mating or at waterholes. Males are larger (up to 6,000 kg/13,000 lb) than the females (4,000 kg/9,000 lb). They may need to eat 150–300 kg/330–650 lb of food every day, and drink 75–150 litres/20–40 gallons of water.

The elephant is one of the Big Five species.

Good parks for elephants: Amboseli (Ke) and Tarangire (Tz). They can also be seen in many other parks, although not in Nairobi National Park (Ke) and Lake Nakuru National Park (Ke).

More about elephants

This order holds some ten species of hyrax. They are often referred to as the closest relative of the elephant, and were formerly placed in the same order as the elephants.

Bush hyrax and rock hyrax
Hyrax.The bush and rock hyraxes, which are sometimes found sharing the same habitat, are often found in rocky areas such as kopjes, where they may be seen scurrying or resting on rocks, or climbing the thin branches of trees. They eat grasses and leaves, and form territorial colonies ranging from 5 to 25 individuals, led by a male.

Hyraxes are sized like rabbits, have primitive systems for digesting and regulating body temperature. For being such small animals, their eight-month gestation is unusually long.

Good parks for hyraxes: They can be seen in rocky areas in many parks.

Odd-toed ungulates
This order comprises zebras (one toe per foot) and rhinoceros (three toes per foot). None of them are ruminants.

Two species of rhinoceros are found in Africa (and three more in Asia): black rhino (or browse rhino), which has a pointed mouth for plucking leaves, and white rhino (or grass rhino), which has a wide and flat mouth for grazing grass.

Both are grey, despite the names. The name of the white rhino originates from the Dutch/Afrikaans word weit, which means 'wide' and refers to the shape of the mouth of this species. Subsequently, the other species was called black.

Both species are rare in East Africa, as well as in most other parts of Africa, following many years of hunting and poaching. Their keratin horns are highly prized, used in traditional Chinese medicine and for dagger handles in Yemen and Oman.

Black rhinoceros (aka browse rhinoceros). Black rhino (or browse rhino).

White rhinoceros (aka grass rhinoceros). White rhino (or grass rhino).

As a result, rhinos are absent in most parks, but can be seen in the prime parks and in sanctuaries focusing on rhino conservation. Some of these have re-introduced rhinos raised in South Africa, where parks such as Hluhluwe Umfolozi National Park for a long time successfully have been engaged in conservation.

The rhinoceros is one of the Big Five species.

Good parks for rhinoceros: Lake Nakuru (Ke), where both black and white rhinos can bee seen, is all enclosed by an electric fence to protect the wildlife within. Black rhinos can be seen in the Ngorongoro crater (Tz). Black rhinos are also present in Serengeti (Tz), Masai Mara (Ke) and some other parks, but are not seen very often.

Common zebra
Common zebra.The common zebra lives in herds on the savannas of southern Kenya and northern Tanzania, often seen together with wildebeest. They are found in most parks where the habitat is suitable, i.e. where there is a lot of grass. The most famous area for seeing them is the Serengeti-Masai Mara ecosystem, where zebras and wildebeest congregate in great numbers, moving between pastures in what is called the migration.

The herds are loose congregations, made out of family groups of a stallion, a handful of mares and foals. They eat grass, but do not ruminate.

Each zebra has an individual pattern of black and white stripes. The theories explaining the striping are many, ranging from camouflage and cooling by micro-winds to tsetse fly repellation. Modern theories say that the stripes are for social bonding.

Good parks for common zebras: Masai Mara (Ke) and Serengeti (Tz), but the presence of zebras highly depends on the time of the year (for more information, see The migration. They can also be seen in many other parks.

Grevy's zebra. Grevy's zebra
Grevy's zebra is restricted to northern and eastern Kenya, where it replaces the common zebra. It has thinner stripes and a more donkey-shaped body than the common zebra, and is mainly seen in family groups, not in herds.

Good parks for Grevy's zebras: Samburu and Shaba (Ke). They can also be seen in other parks in northern and eastern Kenya.

Even-toed ungulates
Most African herbivore mammals belong to this order, as do many of the herbivores we may know from our own countries, such as cattle, sheep, deer and pigs.

All even-toed ungulates in East Africa, except for pigs and hippopotamus, are ruminants.

Hippopotamus.Hippos are not very difficult to find, as they are restricted to permanent water and stay for long time in the same place. The hippo spends most of its day in the water, protecting its sensitive skin, which easily dries and burns in the sun. It doesn't eat in the water, but leaves it's pool or river at night to graze.

Hippos are aggressive and dangerous to humans, so it's a good idea to avoid them while boating, and to stay away from areas close to rivers and hippo pools in the dark. A large male hippo may be as heavy as 3,000 kg/6,600 lb, and fiercely defends its territory in the pool or river.

Good parks for hippopotamus: Lake Naivasha (Ke) and Serengeti (Tz). They can also be seen in many other parks.

Warthog.Warthogs can be seen in most parks, usually in family groups, consisting of a male, a female and a couple of piglets. They are herbivores, and good at finding food also in areas where resources are poor.

Pumbaa, the warthog appearing in Disney's The Lion King, is known to many safari-goers. Pumbaa means "daft" or "aimless" in Swahili, and the warthogs may appear to behave accordingly. They are far from harmless, though. Their sharp tusks may seriously injure attacking predators.

Besides the warthog, there are also other species of wild pigs in East Africa, but these live in forest and are not seen very often.

Good parks for warthogs: They can also be seen in many parks.

African buffalo
African buffalo.The African buffalo usually looks quite slow and peaceful, mainly spending its days grazing and ruminating. But the large horns say it all; the buffalo is dangerous. A threatened herd may chose to close ranks and defend itself, or chose to charge. Old males may be forced by younger and stronger males to leave the herd. Such single buffalos can be very aggressive, lacking the communal protection of the herd. The main threat to an adult buffalo is lions.

The African buffalo is one of the Big Five species.

Good parks for African buffalos: They can be seen in many parks. Katavi National Park (Tz) is known for it's huge herds of buffalos.

Eland.The eland is the largest antelope (up to 900 kg/1,900 lb) and lives mainly in grasslands, but also eats leaves and may appear in denser vegetation. It belongs to a group of antelopes called spiral-horned bovines, and is fairly closely related to buffalos and cattle. The common eland is found in eastern and southern Africa, while another species, Derby's eland, is found in countries further west in Africa.

The male eland is usually a dark greyish brown, while females are lighter and warmer brown. Both have horns, which are spiralled.

Despite their size and heavy body, elands are capable of high speeds and very high jumps. A legend says that an eland facing death in the mouth of predators may chose to kill itself by jumping straight up and landing on its head, breaking its neck. Such a behaviour isn't very likely, but rather illustrates the eland's jumping capacity.

Good parks for eland: Ngorongoro (Tz). They can also be seen in many parks, but are few and not regularly seen.

The giraffes all over Africa have been believed to belong to one single species, with a number of different subspecies mainly differing in markings and patterns. Modern research indicates that this may not be correct; some of the 'subspecies' may be full species (which, for example, don't breed with other species).

Three different giraffe subspecies/species are found in East Africa. The Rothschild giraffe is the least common, and is found only in far-western Kenya and in Lake Nakuru National Park, where Rothschild giraffes have been introduced to help conserving the subspecies/species.

The reticulated giraffe, found in northern and eastern Kenya, has a bold and attractive marking.

Finally, the Masai giraffe is found throughout Tanzania and in southern Kenya.

A big male giraffe may be over 5 m/16 ft high, a female slightly shorter, and reaching even higher thanks to a 50 cm/20 in tongue. The overall height, the long neck, the long legs and the markings make the giraffe unmistakable.

Rothschild giraffe. Rothschild giraffe.

Reticulated giraffe. Reticulated giraffe.

Masai giraffes. Masai giraffe.

The giraffe's long neck was formerly seen as a way for giraffes to find food which other herbivores couldn't reach, but today the neck is also considered an adaptation to the way giraffe males fight; they wrestle their necks and use their heads as clubs, which favours long- and strong-necked males.

Despite its size, the giraffe is not invulnerable to packs of lions, even if it can defend itself by deadly kicks. Lions often prefer to hunt for the calves, which are practically defenceless if singled out from their mothers.

Good parks for giraffes: Reticulated giraffe in Samburu and Shaba (Ke), Rothschild giraffe in Lake Nakuru (Ke). The Masai giraffe can be seen in many parks, including Serengeti (Tz) and Masai Mara. It's rarely seen in the Ngorongoro crater (Tz).

More about giraffes

Wildebeest (or gnu).The wildebeest, or gnu, is an antelope. The subspecies found in southern Kenya and northern Tanzania is called white-bearded gnu.

The wildebeest is known for its migration in the Serengeti-Masai Mara ecosystem on the border between these countries. Up to 1.5 million wildebeest, together with many zebras, move between pastures in a never-ending search for grazing and water. You have probably seen them crossing rivers on nature documentaries on television, defying currents and crocodiles.

The wildebeest is unmistakable, looking like no other antelope or herbivore. Because of its flat black face and it's seemingly clumsy way of moving, it's sometimes referred to as the clown of the savanna. A legend says, when God created the animals, he created the gnu last of them all, out of the bits and pieces left over.

Good parks for wildebeest: Masai Mara (Ke) and Serengeti (Tz) (for best seasons to see them there, see The migration). They can also be seen in many other parks. Ngorongoro (Tz) has a healthy population all year round.

Hartebeest (or kongoni).The hartebeest is fairly stationary, preferring the boundaries between open savanna and more densely vegetated areas, such as woodland. It drinks regularly, and is therefore seldom seen in very dry areas.

As to shape, it looks very much like its close relative the topi. Compared to the topi, it has a lighter coloration and a much wider gap between the horns (which also have a different shape). Like topis and wildebeest (another close relative), both male and female hartebeest have horns.

The East African subspecies of hartebeest is sometimes referred to as kongoni.

Good parks for hartebeest: Masai Mara (Ke), Nairobi National Park (Ke) and Serengeti (Tz). They can also be seen in many parks.

Topi.The topi prefers green grass and may move far to find it, but seems to prefer a stationary life in grassy valleys and surrounding areas. Compared to the hartebeest (see above), it's coloration is darker, with black blotches on its shoulders, and it has yellowish legs as well as narrower horns. Seen from a distance, it may be recognized from the typical position as seen in the picture, standing with its front legs on a termite mound.

Good parks for topi: Masai Mara (Ke) and Serengeti (Tz).

Waterbuck.The waterbuck is fairly stationary, and is usually found close to permanent water, as its digestive system requires a lot of water. There are two subspecies in Africa, common waterbuck (south-east) and defassa waterbuck (north-east and west). Both are found in East Africa. The common waterbuck, which has a big white ring on its behind, lives east of the Great Rift Valley, while the defassa waterbuck, which instead of a ring has a blotch, lives to the west.

The waterbuck has a shaggy fur, and distinct white markings in its face. Only males have horns.

Good parks for waterbucks: Lake Nakuru (Ke), Lake Naivasha (Ke) and central Serengeti (Tz). They can also be seen in many parks.

Reedbuck.The reedbuck is related to the waterbuck, and is always seen next to water. The male (which has horns, while females do not) keeps a certain part of the river or lake shore for a territory, defending it from other males, and trying to make passing females stay.

This type of habitat supports big trees, which are popular with leopards. So are the reedbucks; they are common prey to leopards.

Good parks for reedbucks: Serengeti (Tz) and Nairobi National Park (Ke). They can also be seen in many parks.

Bushbuck.The bushbuck is more closely related to the eland than to the waterbuck and reedbuck; it is a spiral-horned antelope, but unlike the eland, only the male has horns. It is shy, lives in shrubby woodland and forests, and usually waits to venture from vegetation to drink until dark.

Good parks for bushbucks: Arusha National Park. They can also be seen in many parks, but in Arusha NP, they seem to be less shy than elsewhere.

Impala.The impala is a common antelope in eastern Africa. It is both a grazer and a browser, and is usually found on the boundary between grassland and shrub- or woodland. It feeds mainly on grass during wet seasons, when green grass is abundant.

Impala females (lacking horns) live together in herds dominated by a single male (which has horns). Such harem herds of some ten females, their calves and the one male are common, but herd sizes of 50 females or more can also be seen. The dominant male is kept busy keeping watch for predators and defending his herd from rival males. The latter form bachelor herds, which are often seen not far away from the harem herds. Sooner or later, a bachelor challenger will oust the harem male and take his place with the harem.

You can recognize the impala by the male horns, the colouring of the flank (upper half dark brown, lower half light), the three black vertical stripes seen from behind (one on each thigh and one midstripe on the tail), and the patches of black hair just above each hoof.

Good parks for impalas: They can be seen in many parks.

Grant's gazelle
Grant's gazelle.Grant's gazelle is found in most parts of Kenya and northern Tanzania, where it prefers grassland, savanna and open shrub- and woodland. It lives in herds of some ten females and one male, or, as for impalas, in bachelor herds. Both males and females have horns, although the males' horns are longer and thicker. It eats grass, which it may eat even after it has dried.

Grant's gazelle is often seen together with the smaller Thomson's gazelle, but can always be distinguished from the latter by its larger size and by the rump, where the white colour extends above the tail. The white rump can often be seen at great distance.

Good parks for Grant's gazelles: Masai Mara (Ke) och Serengeti (Tz). Huge congregations of Grant's and Thomson's gazelles may be seen here.

Thomson's gazelle
Thomson's gazelle.Thomson's gazelle is mainly found in open grassland and savanna in south-western Kenya and northern Tanzania. To beginners, it may look similar to Grant's gazelle, but is generally much smaller. It can be recognized by the black stripes on the flanks, and by the rump, where the white colour stops below the tail. The male has big horns, while the female has smaller horns or, sometimes, no horns at all.

Both Thomson's and Grant's gazelles are important prey to cheetahs, which hunt the open grasslands and savannas of East Africa.

Good parks for Thomson's gazelles: Masai Mara (Ke) and Serengeti (Tz).

Gerenuk.The gerenuk is a gazelle found in dry areas in northern and eastern East Africa. As to colour, it reminds of the impala, but has a smaller head and a much longer neck (in some languages it's called 'giraffe gazelle'). It also lacks black markings and the male has horns shorter and thicker than the impala's.

The gerenuk has a special behaviour seldom seen with other antelopes or gazelles; it feeds from shrubs and trees standing on its hind legs. This position, combined with the long neck, allows the gerenuk to reach higher for food than most other species.

Good parks for gerenuk: Samburu and Shaba (Ke).

Dikdik.The dikdik is the smallest East African antelope. The most common species, seen in Tanzania and most of Kenya, is Kirk's dikdik, with has an adult weight of 4 kg/9 lb to 7 kg/15 lb. The less common Guenther's dikdik is slightly smaller, and is found mainly in northern and eastern Kenya.

The dikdik is mostly found in dry and shrubby areas, where it lives in permanent territories, kept by a male and a female staying together for life.

Good parks for dikdik: Tarangire (Tz). They can be seen in many other parks.

Klipspringer.The klipspringer is another small antelope, adapted to living in rocky areas, where it can move safely on minimal space thanks to small, specialized hooves. Klipspringers are often seen in pairs, sometimes in family units of three or four, but are difficult to spot because of their camouflage colouring.

Good parks for dikdik: The Lobo area in Serengeti (Tz).

Beisa oryx.The oryx prefers dry and fairly open areas, where it lives in small herds. The beisa oryx is found in central and northern Kenya (for example Samburu and Shaba), while the fringe-eared oryx is found to the south (for example in Tsavo in Kenya and Tarangire in Tanzania).

Some years ago, a female lion in Samburu was observed adopting oryx calves, which would normally be prey to lions. These events were filmed and have been shown on television.

Good parks for oryx: Samburu and Shaba (Ke).

Troop of baboons on the road.

Primates is a mammal order that includes apes, monkeys and prosimians (the latter is a group of primitive primates, including for example galagos and lemurs).

There are two main groups of African monkeys: colobid monkeys and cheek-pouch monkeys. In East Africa, the former group comprises a few colobus species, which are tree-dwellers mainly found in forests and along the coast. The latter group has more members, but, as most species live in forests, if you go for a savanna-style safari in traditional safari areas, your chances of seeing monkeys are restricted to a handful of species, for example baboons, vervet monkeys and blue monkeys.

Prosimians – primitive primates
All East African prosimians are nocturnal. To see them, you need to go for night safaris or look for them at your lodges or camps using a flashlight. The most common prosimians are the galagos, also known as bushbabies. They move about quickly in trees, but you may spot them from their eyes reflecting the light.

There are no lemurs in East Africa, or in any parts of mainland Africa (other than where lemurs have been introduced in private reserves). The lemurs origin from and are restricted to Madagascar, where many different species are found.

Olive baboon.Baboons live in troops numbering from a handful up to 150 or more individuals. They are mostly seen on the ground, looking for mainly vegetarian food, but they may also feed from trees on occasion. Each troop usually includes a couple of males (which can be identified by their substantially bigger size), a number of females and young ones.

Two species are found in East Africa; the slightly bigger and darker olive baboon in western parts, and the yellow baboon in eastern parts, including the coast.

Good parks for baboons: Lake Manyara (Tz) and Lake Nakuru (Ke). They can be seen in many other parks, as well as outside of parks.

Black-faced vervet monkey
Black-faced vervet monkey.This is the most common savanna monkey of East Africa. It lives in groups of up to 20 individuals, and is often seen in trees (usually acacias), mainly close to water.

Black-faced vervet monkeys are also seen close to many lodges and camps, where they may raid trashcans, bags, jeeps and rooms for food. They can make a real mess, and do it quickly, so make sure not to leave open doors or windows unattended.

Good parks for black-faced vervet monkeys: They can be seen in many parks, lodges and camps, as well as outside of parks.

Blue monkey
Blue monkey.The blue monkey is not seen as often as the black-faced vervet monkey. It lives in smaller groups, usually of less than ten females, their babies and a male. The blue monkey is mostly seen in trees and prefers forests, where it eats mainly fruits, but also insects, which are found by patiently searching bark and moss.

Good parks for blue monkeys: Lake Manyara (Tz), as well as mountain parks such as Arusha National Park (Tz), Kilimanjaro (Tz) and Mount Kenya (Ke).

Colobus monkey
Guereza colobus (aka colobus black-and-white colobus).A few different species of colobus monkeys are present in East Africa. The two black-and-white species, Angola pied colobus and guereza colobus, are found along the coast and in highland areas respectively. There are also four species of red colobus; one in the western parts of Tanzania, the other three in small local populations (Iringa and Zanzibar in Tanzania, and Tana River in Kenya). These red colobus are rarely seen, apart from the Zanzibar red colobus, which is often seen by tourists visiting the Jozani Forest on Zanzibar Island.

The colobus monkeys are less lively than the baboons, vervet monkeys and blue monkeys. They spend almost all of their time in the trees, and are found only in forested areas, such as gallery forests along rivers and montane forests. If you are an early riser, you may see colobus monkeys foraging in the trees lining the beaches along the coast.

Good parks for colobus monkeys: Arusha National Park (Tz).

Silver galago (or silvery greater galago).Galagos are nocturnal prosimians found in woodlands and forests. They are nocturnal, and thus rarely seen on safaris, other than during night game drives. Galagos are sometimes called bushbabies, a name that comes from the baby-like cries of the greater galagos.

The food varies between species, but may include Acacia gum, flowers, fruits, and invertebrates.

Chimpanzees are found in forested areas in Uganda and along Lake Tanganyika in western Tanzania, where two national parks are located: Gombe Stream and Mahale Mountains. Both have healthy populations of chimps, but you may have to tailor a safari to go there, as few packaged tours include these parks. Chimpanzees are also found in some private reserves, but these populations are not wild, but have been introduced.

There are no gorillas in Kenya or Tanzania. Mountain gorillas are found in southern Uganda and in Rwanda, bordering north-western Tanzania.


Small mammals
There is a multitude of smaller mammals in East Africa, belonging to different orders. On most safaris, you're looking for elephants, lions and other larger species, and you may see the small ones such as hares, squirrels and shrews mainly by chance. To see them, you need to look for them. They are not easy to spot while driving in a jeep, so your best chances may be looking for them on the lodges and camps where you are staying, between game drives.

Ground squirrel
Ground squirrel.Ground squirrels have claws adapted for digging rather than for climbing. They dig holes for themselves and their babies to shelter in, and where they can stash abundant food, such as seeds and nuts. They also eat roots and fruits. The East African ground squirrels prefer dry savanna or open woodland.

Good parks for ground squirrels: Dry savanna parks such as Tarangire (Tz) and Tsavo (Ke). They are generally found in the drier parts of East Africa, i.e. Kenya and northern and eastern Tanzania.

Bat.Bats are mammals belonging to an order of it's own: chiroptera or, simply, bats. A number of species are found in East Africa, and you may see them around lodges and camps in the evenings. It's hard, however, for amateurs to study and identify them as they appear mainly in the dark, and are on the move feeding most of the time. Most bats eat insects, but some are also feeding on fruits, flowers and leaves. Bats pollinate a tree often seen on safaris, the sausage tree, or Kigelia africana.

Good parks for bats: They can be seen in many parks, as well as outside of parks, in cities etc.

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Page updated 28 July 2009