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When you think of safaris images of a vast African savanna with roaming herds of zebra and gazelle with lounging prides of lions relaxing under the trees often spring to mind. African is a huge continent and home to many world famous wildlife reserves. Kenya may seem like a small country in comparison to other African countries but it more than makes up for it in beauty.
Kenyan wildlife parks are not only tourist friendly but well-respected for their conservation efforts. There are over 40 different wildlife parks or reserves in Kenya alone but these 5 reserves are renowned for characteristics that can’t be found in any other park on earth.
Maasai Mara National Reserve
The Maasai Mara is an iconic wildlife park located in Narok County. It is adjacent to the also famous Serengeti National Park. Together these reserves make up Africa’s most incredible ecosystem, containing numerous species of wildlife within a varied terrain.
In 1961 the Maasai was established as a wildlife reserve and now covers 583 square miles. The reserve is home to all of Africa’s Big Five: lions, leopards, elephants, Cape buffalo and the black rhino. Aside from the Big Five Maasai Mara has thriving populations of zebra, antelope species, giraffe, hippos, crocodiles, hyena, cheetahs, jackals and foxes. As far as birds go, approximately 470 species make their home in the Maasai Mara. Raptors like eagles make up about 13% of the species.
Despite the name, the Wildebeest Migration doesn’t just involve the species. While a whopping 1.7 million White Bearded Wildebeest make up the migration, Thomson’s Gazelles, zebra and Elands also migrate. This migration is an ideal time to view these herbivores as well as the carnivores on the preserve, who eagerly anticipate the incoming herds. Maasai Mara boasts the largest population of lions in the world so you are sure to see plenty of activity from these beautiful big cats.
The Maasai Mara National Reserve is a truly remarkable place and a must-visit park in all of Africa, perhaps even the world. There are a number of reputable, safe safaris that will guide you through the reserve. Accommodations such as the Maasai Mara Sopa Lodge as inviting and make you feel right at home. If you decide to visit, planning your trip around the Migration will surely not disappoint.
Amboseli National Park
Second in popularity is the Amboseli National Park. Though quite smaller than the Maasai Mara National Reserve, at only 151.4 square miles, this park is packed with a variety of flora and fauna.
Amboseli is located in Kenya’s Rift Valley and largely consists of flat grassland. Despite being grassland, this region does have a few swamps and marshes, which are quite popular with certain types of wildlife. This area is famous for its view of Mt. Kilimanjaro which gives the savanna the classic backdrop of this towering mountain.
The Amboseli National Park has a wide range of wildlife for being so small in size compared to other reserves. The park namely has 400 species of birds as well as zebra, Cape buffalo (particularly in the swampy areas), lion, cheetah, hyena, giraffe and wildebeest. The most notable of Amboseli fauna would be the African elephants. This park is well-known as the best reserve in African to get up close with elephants so if you are a fan of these giants, this reason alone is enough to warrant a visit.
Amboseli National Park may be small but makes up for it with guarantees of seeing wildlife. The fairly flat, sparse savanna grassland makes spotting wildlife much easier and allows for more up close viewing than other parks. This scenery is also ideal for photography aficionados, especially if you are able to get Mt. Kilimanjaro in the background. An added advantage of visiting Amboseli is the ability to meet the wonderful Maasai tribe and see their village.
Tsavo East and Tsavo West National Park
Tsavo East National Park is the biggest and oldest must-see Kenyan wildlife park. This park is 5,308 square miles, making the great Maasai Mara reserve look small. Size alone it is one of the largest parks in all of Africa. Tsavo West National Park is 3,500 square miles. Combined both Tsavo National Parks are 8,808 square miles, however the parks are treated as two separate entities.
The two sections of the park are divided by a road and a railway but both the East and West have notable differences in terrain. The East is the classic flat grassland often associated with Kenya and safaris. The West is more mountainous and contains swamps, a lake and natural springs.
Tsavo East National Park’s size coincides with its number of animals and landmarks. Tsavo East contains all of Africa’s Big 5 as well as many species of smaller mammals. This park is also home to an incredible 500 different species of birds. Tvaso West National Park contains very similar species to the East Park but animals who are more at home in wet surroundings tend to live here. Cape Buffalo for example are more likely to be seen in this park versus the East. The West Park is also home to very large, thriving populations of hippos and crocodiles (namely in the Mzima Springs) for these reasons.
The Tsavo East is famous for its lion population made up of Tsavo lions. The Tsavo lions are found only in Tsavo East and around the Tsavo River. The males of this species have minimal or no manes and are quite fierce, hunting actively with the lionesses. The males are often larger than normal male lions and scientists believe increased testosterone in the species is the reason these lions are known to be so aggressive. The aggressive of Tsavo lions is well-known due to an 1898 incident in which two male Tsavo’s were believed to be responsible for killing upwards of 135 railway workers.
The Tsavo East and Tsavo West National Parks are both worth visiting if you are looking to go on safari in Kenya. Those who enjoy the mountains and rivers would be very happy with the Tsavo West park while the awe of seeing a Tsavo lion pride is enough to make some lion lovers put Tsavo East on the top of their must-visit list.
Lake Nakuru National Park
Last but not least of must-see Kenyan wildlife parks is the small but amazing Lake Nakuru National Park. Lake Nakuru National Park is only about 73 square miles with Lake Nakuru being the real gem of this park.
Lake Nakuru is a shallow lake that is home to one very iconic type of bird: flamingos. Two species of flamingo can be found in this national park and upwards of thousands, perhaps millions, will gather and nest here if the season and water is right. Aside from flamingos, thousands of other birds in the form of up to 400 different species gather in the lake to feast upon its rich fish population.
As far as large mammals go, there are a few different types that you can see in Lake Nakuru. Giraffes, rhinos and waterbucks are all within the parks borders. In fact, the size of the park was increased and fenced to keep populations of rhinos and giraffe safe. Big cats like lions, leopards and cheetah can be found within the park’s borders though they aren’t as common as other parks. Leopards would be likely to be seen. If you do see lions you may be lucky enough to spot a member of the small population of tree-climbing lions. Another predator, large pythons, are also fairly common due to the pockets of forest and the lake.
Lake Nakuru National Park is a paradise for ornithologists or bird watchers. When the season is right it is simply breathtaking to see a vast sea of pink flamingos against the drab savanna background. Lake Nakuru also has one of the largest populations of rhinos, another reason wildlife lovers should check out this park.
Kenya is a welcoming country that offers so many once in a lifetime experiences. These wildlife parks give people a way to see and appreciate wildlife in their natural surrounding rather than caged in a zoo. Money than goes into these reserves from tourists is used to support the parks and further help protect the beautiful African animals. Whether you are just an animal lover, already a veteran when it comes to safaris or someone who wants to experience a new culture, Kenya and these Kenyan wildlife parks won’t disappoint.