The African Elephant, the world's largest land animal
The African elephant lives in small family groups of 10-20 elephants, which often congregate in much larger herds at water or food sources. Elephant society is matriarchal; senior females dominating the herds while the bulls live alone or in bachelor groups. Depending almost entirely on its trunk for scent and communication, for washing, clearing, carrying, learning, drinking and eating, an elephant's lifespan (60 -70 years) depends very much on its teeth, which are highly adapted to its mode of living. As one tooth wears away the next moves down the jaw to replace it, and when the last tooth has come forward and is worn down the elephant will die of starvation. Although their sight is poor, elephants have an excellent sense of smell and well-developed hearing. Like humans, elephants lead complex inter-dependant social lives growing from helpless infancy through self-conscious adolescence to adulthood. Surprisingly graceful on their padded and carefully placed feet, a large herd of elephants can merge into the trees and disappear within minutes; their presence betrayed only by the noisy cracking of branches as they strip trees and uproot saplings.
The African Buffalo, the only native African cow
The African or Cape Buffalo is closely related to the domestic cow. Generally docile, buffalos can be extremely dangerous when threatened or surprised and must be regarded with extreme caution especially lone bulls, or cows with calves. Intensely gregarious, buffalos form into herds of between 200 and 2000 animals. Voracious eaters (both grazers and browsers), they spend most of their 15-20 year lifespan consuming fodder to maintain their strength and stamina.
Lion, king of the cats
The lion is the largest of Kenya's three big cats, weighing up to 280 kg. Inherently lazy, the lion is immensely powerful; at one leap it can clear fences 4 meters high and chasms 12 meters long, and its amber eyes, like those of the leopard, differ from those of other cats in so much as they are circular rather than oval. Lions hunt communally, running down their prey at a top speed of around 64 kph. Although they will kill almost any animal, they prefer large herbivores, which are the mainstay of their diet. Sightings of lions are normally during daylight hours when the pride is at rest, having spent most of the night in hunting, patrolling and playing. One of the most spectacular experiences is to come across hunting lions at night on one of our game drives. Although they rarely attack humans without provocation, lions are extremely dangerous and should be treated with particular caution (you should never get out of your car in lion territory).
Cheetah, the fastest animal in the world
The cheetah is the least catlike and aggressive of the big cats; the weakest of the group, it often loses its kills to lions, hyenas and even vultures. When hunting (around dawn and late afternoon), cheetahs spend a lot of time moving into position before bursting from cover and running down their prey in brief bursts of speed of up to 112 kph (sustainable for only 200-300 meters at a time). Unlike the other big cats, cheetahs never climb trees but prefer termite mounds, leaning trees or even vehicles as observation posts.
Leopard, beautiful, secretive and shy
Thanks to its harshly rasping territorial call, this intensely secretiveanimal is more often heard than seen. A supreme ambush hunter, the leopard is a solitary animal spending much of its time up a selection of favoured trees, which it uses as game larders for its kills. Mainly nocturnal and extremely unsociable, the leopard is very difficult to spot. Viewing tip: scan the trees for the telltale sign of the dangling tail.
African civet cat, secretive and scented
A solitary animal, mainly nocturnal and about the size of a medium sized dog, the civet can be recognized by its bushy tail, rough, black and white spotted coat, thick spinal mane and catlike face. Difficult to spot, by day it nestles under thickets or in tall grass becoming active only after sunset when it hunts for amphibians, birds, rodents, eggs, fruits and insects.
Did you know?
The civet emits foul-smelling oil from its perineal glands, which is much prized by perfume makers.
Serval cat, a prodigious pouncer
Capable of making huge leaps onto their prey, serval cats are tall, slender and long-legged, not unlike small cheetahs. Featuring a fine tawny coat, dotted with black spots that merge into bars and blotches on its neck and shoulders, the serval has large upright ears, a long neck and a relatively short tail. Lumo is renown for its black or melanistic strain, often seen on the plains during one of our night drives. Mainly nocturnal its prey includes rodents, birds, small reptiles and, if it is lucky, young antelope.
Genet, lone hunter
Cat-like, creamy-yellow with dark brown spots and a banded tail, the genet is common in the savannah lands as well as in woodland and hilly areas. Mainly nocturnal and aggressively solitary, it hunts for large insects and small vertebrates. Best spotted along roads shortly after nightfall, genet cats can be detected by the gleam of their eyes and the sweep of their long tails.
Spotted Hyena, the ultimate predator
The unearthly 'oooo-ooop' call of a spotted hyena in the night is one of the most memorable sounds of the African bush. Often reviled as a cowardly scavenger, the spotted hyena is actually a very efficient predator whose numbers are governed by a matriarchal social system. Preferring to hunt in packs, the spotted hyena lives on carrion and both large and small mammals.
Did you know?
When hunting, a spotted hyena can reach speeds of up to 60 km per hour and a pack will easily bring down a wildebeest or zebra.
Striped Hyena, lone and reclusive
Lean and long-legged, the striped hyena appears to be slightly more robust than its spotted cousin thanks to its long, shaggy mane and the handsome 'cape' that runs along its back. Belonging to loose clans, usually foraging alone and being a relatively poor hunter, the striped hyena scavenges mostly from the kills of other animals or resorts to catching sundry insects and small vertebrates.
Hunting Dog, relentless pack hunter
Now one of the rarest large carnivores in East Africa, the hunting dog resembles a long-legged dog with prominent rounded ears, a black muzzle and face, and white tail tuft. Almost exclusively diurnal, the strictly carnivorous hunting dogs are relentless and formidable pack-hunters. Relatively small, they are also capable of bringing down prey twice their size.
The aardvark, also known as the ant bear
A long animal, vaguely pig-like with a tubular snout, a powerful kangaroo-like tail, large nostrils protected by hair tufts and large rabbit-like ears, the aardvark is also known as an ant bear. With stiff, greyish hair to protect it from the bites of its prey, it forages by night for termite or ant nests, which it rips open with its powerful front legs and large spade-like nails. Living in deep burrowing shelters, the aardvark emerges only at night but can occasionally be caught basking outside its burrow in the morning sunshine.
The Honey Badger, also known as the ratel
Africa's equivalent to the European badger, the ratel enjoys a formidable reputation for ferocity, reputedly attacking animals the size of buffalos; and even vehicle tyres; consequently it has few natural enemies. Enthusiastically omnivorous, ratels are active between dusk and dawn. Around 90-100 cm in length, a ratel weighs up to 15 kg and should be treated with caution.
Giraffe, skyscraper of the bush
Reticulated giraffe: Kenya hosts three species of giraffe: Rothschild's, Masai and Reticulated (only Masai giraffe are present at Lions Bluff).
The world's tallest mammal (up to 5.2 meters tall), the giraffe uses its unique 45 cm long tongue and agile lips to browse on the leaves of trees that other creatures cannot reach, its especial favourite being acacia. Widespread and common in savannah, open woodland and plains, giraffe have a lifespan of 25-35 years. Non-territorial, they gather in loose leaderless herds to browse by day, while at night they lie down and ruminate. Masai giraffe have a broken pattern of dark blotches on a buff background. The more solidly built Rothschild's giraffe, is paler in colour and has distinctive white 'stockinged' forelegs. Both sexes have knob-like horns but can be told apart due to the fact that the males have bald horn tips while the females' are hairy.
Did you know?
Giraffe feed for up to 16 hours a day, and can consume up to 60 kg of leaves daily. They defend themselves by kicking and can run at speeds of up to 55 mph.
Gazelle, masters of grace and speed
Grant's gazelle are both grazers and browsers. The preferred prey of most predators, gazelles survive by being constantly alert and poised to flee within seconds of alarm (they can accelerate to a top speed of 80 kph when in flight). They have also evolved a sophisticated communication system consisting of a range of signals to warn against the approach of predators.
Kirk's dik-dik, shy and elusive duo
Miniature in size and usually seen in pairs, this gentle, greyish fawn darts in and out of thickets emitting a shrill, whistling 'zik zik' alarm call - hence its name. Shy and elusive, dik-diks are foliage browsers that live in pairs, or occasionally in family groups. Only the males have horns. snorts.
Did you know?
That a newly born wildebeest can run within minutes of birth?
Burchell's Zebra, the savannah horse
Unmistakably marked with broadly alternating black and white stripes, zebra are primarily grazers. They also enjoy a complex social system, which is built up around small groups of related mares over which the stallions fight with much spectacular plunging, rearing, slashing and kicking during the mating season.
Impala, swift, agile and elegant
Impala are abundant; the impala is both a browser and a grazer; which means it can eat whatever the other herbivores don't. Famous for their turn of speed, impala can leap 10 meters in one bound or 3 meters straight up into the air. The males, who have long lyre-shaped horns, live in bachelor groups outside the breeding season, but can be seen vigorously defending their harems during the rut.
A medium sized antelope, the hartebeest is easily recognized by its mournfully long, narrow face. Also by its short horns, which are heavily ridged and form a heart shape (hartebeest means heart beast in Afrikaans). A social animal, the hartebeest feeds primarily on grass, which allows it to mingle with the other grazers, such as zebra and wildebeest. Known as a Kongoni in Swahili, the hartebeest is also often to be seen perched atop an abandoned termite mound spying out its territory.
Eland, Africa's largest antelope swahili word means God's cattle Weighing close to a tonne, the eland is Africa's largest antelope. Resembling an ox but with beautiful spiralling horns that rise elegantly off the brows of both sexes, the eland lives in groups of around 6-12 animals and feeds on grass and foliage during the early morning, late afternoon and also at night.
Steinbok, the savannah antelope
Similar to a duiker, but taller and more slender, the steinbok is a light reddish-brown colour with pale under-parts and can be identified by the black mark or 'blaze'on its nose. Males have small widely separated horns. A solitary animal, whose only contact with its fellows is during the mating season, the steinbok is active morning and evening.
Bushbuck, shy bush browser
A shy, solitary and nocturnal browser the bushbuck prefers thick bush by permanent water. Generally more active on cool and overcast days the bushbuck is chestnut to dark brown with white vertical stripes between neck and rump. Only the males grow horns, which are straight and feature gentle spirals.
Waterbuck, wetlands resident
Water buck rely on grass for the greater part of its diet, the waterbuck is a large, sturdy creature with a short glossy brown to greyish brown coat; the common waterbuck has a white crescent across its rump, which distinguishes it from the Defassa waterbuck. Only male waterbucks have horns, which at approximately 70 cm in length are majestic and unmistakable.
Warthog, 'the Kenya express'
Strictly diurnal and easily spotted trotting around in family groups, tails erect, the warthog is the most common pig species in the region. Females have a single pair of warts under their eyes while males have a second set farther down the snout.
The rock hyrax, the elephant's closest relation
Rock hyrax. A member of a uniquely African group of herbivores, the hyrax physically resembles a large, plump, brown guinea pig and shares an ancient lineage with both the aardvark and the elephant. Aggressively territorial, hyraxes live in colonies of between 10-60 animals and are gregarious, sleeping together in large shaggy piles to keep warm and safe from predators. Infamous for their spine chilling screams, emitted variously depending on circumstances as a 'keep away' warning or 'come on' mating call, hyraxes are uniquely adapted to their environment in that the sweat generated by their rubbery paws creates a sticky surface which allows them to scale near-vertical rocks and tree trunks.
Bushbaby or Greater Galago
Categorized as 'primitive' tree-dwelling primates, bush babies are more closely related to 60-million year old fossils than they are to today's more familiar monkeys and apes. Equipped with enormous eyes, which allow them to see in almost total darkness, they are exclusively nocturnal and can leap up to 7m through their preferred habitat of dense woodland vegetation. Capable of rotating their heads through 180 degrees from front to back when hunting for fruit, seeds, insects and small reptiles, they are extraordinarily vocal, emitting a baby-like cry that may be repeated up to 100 times in an hour.
Olive Baboon, intelligent and opportunistic
Olive baboon have a distinctive brindled olive-brown coat and a ruffled mane around its neck and shoulders, the olive baboon is well equipped for defense, possessing acute hearing, sharp eyesight and fearsome teeth. Living in large troops of 40-80 animals permanently ruled by a dominant male, the baboon enjoys an extraordinarily complex social hierarchy. Baboons are diurnal, foraging mostly in open savannah and woodland for grass, tubers, fruit, insects and small animals. They are also rampant opportunists and can become a nuisance in tourist areas.
Black-faced vervet monkey, inquisitive forager
Vervet monkey is easily recognizable by its long, grizzled-grey body hair and white-fringed, black face (also by the fact that the male boasts a distinctive powder-blue scrotum), the vervet monkey is diurnal being most active early morning and late evening. Hunting in troops of up to 30 individuals, it forages for fruit, seeds and small creatures, and is also fond of the easy pickings to be had around lodges and campsites.
REPTILES AND INSECTS
Only two creatures from the Jurassic period persist in the African ecosystems: the crocodile and the tortoise. And, because the tortoises ancestry stretches back over 245 million years into the mists of the Permian Age (between the Carboniferous and Triassic periods about 290 to 245 million yeas ago), it is probable that the tortoise we see today looks much the same as the tortoise walking about under the feet of the dinosaurs. As to why more slow-moving tortoises are not trodden underfoot by moving herds, according to Maasai legend it is because they exude a scent similar to that of a hunting lion.
Insects, fuelling the cycle of life
Often unnoticed but present in their millions, insects are an invaluable link in the ecological food chain. Preyed upon by birds, mammals and other invertebrates, their own eating habits speed up the decomposition process of dead plants and animals; a process which in turn releases vital nutrients from the soil and fuels new growth. Safari ants or 'Siafu' Streaming in thick, glossy bands through the forest and moorlands, these fearsomely large ants march in foraging armies, guarded on both flanks by aggressive large-pincered soldier ants. Little stands in their way.
Bright clouds of butterflies
There are over 1, 500 species of butterflies in East Africa, 860 of which occur in Kenya.
Battalions of beetles
Kenya hosts a proliferation of beetles including some of the largest and smallest in creation.
Dung beetles, sacred scarab of ancient Egypt
Dung beetles are often encountered rolling along atop an immense ball of dung, this amusingly determined beetle is usually heading off in search of a hole in which to bury itself and the ball. There it will either lay eggs, or devour the dung. Known as the 'sacred scarab' it regularly featured as an adornment of the ancient Egyptians, who saw it as a manifestation of the sun god, Ra, rolling his ball of fire across the sky.
Ornithology in Kenya
Lumo Community Wildlife Sanctuary is an ornithologist's paradise boasting the highest bird species count in Africa and the fourth highest in the world (after Peru, Venezuela and Colombia), Kenya numbers over 1,089 species of birds (compared to 300 in Britain and 600 in North America). And, though forests cover only 1% of sub-Saharan Africa, 30% of Africa?s total of 1,500 bird species live in her forests. In Kenya, 335 of the bird species inhabit the forests, of which 230 are entirely forest-dependant and 110 are forest-specialist.
Did you know?
The prevailing bird spotting record in Kenya stands at 797 species in 25 days.
The best time for bird watching is early morning and late afternoon in the rainy seasons, and during the winters of the northern world, when Kenya hosts a wide range of European migratory species.