Kenya offers some of the most spectacular wildlife viewing on the African continent. From coastal plains and mountainous plateaus to bubbling soda lakes and grasslands that stretch into the horizon, the country is host to a rich variety of habitats and wild inhabitants. To protect and monitor them, much of Kenya’s wild-lands are divided up into game reserves, which benefit from funding, special regulations, and dedicated protection. With over 40 parks in the country, however, it can be difficult choosing which ones to visit. To help you plan your safari, we’ve put together this handy guide on the best game reserves to check out in 2020.
Comprising over 1,500 square kilometres of pristine wilderness, the Masai Mara is undoubtedly one of the best places to see wildlife in Kenya. Sitting in the South-West of the country, the reserve encompasses sprawling plains, forests, and rivers.
While all of the Big 5 can be seen within this corner of Kenya, the most spectacular wildlife event is the Great Wildebeest Migration. From the end of July to October, the reserve plays host to up to one and a half million wildebeest as they travel on their annual migration in search of water and fresh pastures. Visitors may see them take their chances against stalking crocodiles as they cross the river Mara, or flee for their lives from hunting lionesses.
Lake Nakuru is just one of eight ‘soda lakes’ to be found in Kenya’s Rift Valley. Taking its name from the Masai term for ‘dusty place’, the lake itself is fairly shallow and inhospitable to most wildlife on account of its highly alkaline waters. These conditions, however, are ideally suited for algae – the principal food source of the lesser flamingo. The best time to see these brightly-coloured birds congregate on the lake is during the dry season (from June to August); the lower waters have a greater salinity during this period, which means an abundance of tasty algae for the flamingos.
Apart from the sight of hundreds of pink birds lining the shore, the Lake Nakuru area more generally holds some special wildlife-viewing opportunities. Due to a concerted conservation effort, for instance, around 150 white rhinos and 50 black rhinos can be found in the park.
Formerly used for ranching during the colonial era, the Laikipia Plateau consists of 9,500 square kilometres of land that extends from the base of Mount Kenya to the Northern Frontier District. The reserve is divided up into a number of conservancies, many of which concern themselves primarily with the protection of elephants. There are around 7,000 of these majestic animals within the reserve, and approximately a third of them undertake an annual migration northwards through age-old routes towards the Samburu Reserve.
Alongside elephants, visitors may also catch a glimpse of the lesser-known Grevy’s Zebra, which is one of Northern Kenya’s key endemic species. The reserve holds around a quarter of the total global population of this endangered species of zebra, which is distinguished from the more widely known plains zebra by narrower stripes, a white belly, dorsal stripe, round ears, and a brown muzzle.
Meru National Park, covering a mere 900 square kilometres, is one of Kenya’s lesser-known reserves. Crisscrossed with as many as 13 rivers, the park is bursting with verdant forest, hidden swamps, and patches of acacia-dotted grassland.
Some visitors to the park may expect to see lions; the book and the later film-adaptation Born Free tells the tale of George and Joy Adamson as they befriended a semi-tame lioness named Elsa in the 1950s. These days, though, it’s more common to see elephants, giraffes and hippos taking advantage of the area’s abundant sources of water.
Another relatively small reserve is Mount Kenya National Park, right in the centre of the country. As one of the tallest mountains in Africa (second only to Kilimanjaro), the snow-capped peak of Mount Kenya stands 5,199 metres above sea level. On and around the slopes of the mountain are pristine glacial tarns, mineral springs, and dense alpine forests.
This high-altitude environment provides a habitat to some of Kenya’s most interesting wildlife. The critically endangered mountain bongo is known to live in the forests of Mount Kenya, but the chances of glimpsing one are very small; it’s estimated that there are only 10-15 animals in the area. Slightly less elusive is the Giant Forest Hog. Weighing in almost 300kg, it’s the largest wild animal in the pig family and sightings are rare.
Kenya is home to many game reserves, all of which offer unique wildlife viewing possibilities. Whether you’re gazing out across the Great Plains of the Masai Mara, surveying the soda lakes of the Great Rift Valley, or stalking through the dense forests of Mount Kenya, you’ll be sure to make memories to last a lifetime.
If you’re looking for a Kenyan wildlife experience without comparisons, take a look at what Governors’ Camp Collection has to offer. We have a number of safari camps across the Masai Mara that bring together old world charm with all the conveniences of modern-day luxury. Tucked within the boundaries of the reserve, visitors gain an unparalleled wildlife experience alongside our expert guides.
(Photo credits: Featured image and image no.3 – William Fortescue)