Kenya is very rich in wildlife and also keen on maintaining wildlife habitats. There are various wildlife reserves both private and public that are always open to visitors for tourism purposes.
Various travel agents offer packages that include game viewing when one is visiting the country. Most of these agents always use the phrase ‘the Big 5’ as a selling point for safaris in Kenya.
It took me a while to actually understand what they mean when they talk of viewing the Big 5, I thought a safari just involved viewing all or any wild animal found in a game reserve. But the way they advertise with such excitement, it made me do more research on the subject to get their perspective.
The big five was formed by the old day hunters and used to refer to the most difficult animals to hunt on foot in Africa. These animals include; the lion, leopard, rhino(both black and white species), elephant and cape buffalo. The animals were chosen for the difficulty in hunting them and the degree of danger involved rather than their size. They were the most dangerous yet popular species for big-game hunters.
The term was later positively adopted by tour operators for the marketing of safaris across Africa. It is common among tourist and wildlife discussions used mostly to refer to guides on African tours. Kenya is one of the countries where all the Big 5 are found, others include; Angola, Botswana, Zambia, Uganda, Namibia, Ethiopia, South Africa, Tanzania, Zimbabwe and Malawi.
Now people go for safaris not to hunt these members but to view them. You cannot claim to have heard a good game safari if you have not seen any or all of these five animals. It is always a thrill to move around a game park looking for them and once found there is always that unexplained satisfaction.
The Lion is known as the king of the jungle though it seems to thrive well in the grasslands. Lions always hang out in pride of around 12 with a male or two hanging out with a bunch of females and their cubs. The male is distinguished by its shaggy mane and they are generally larger than the female.
The female is known to do most of the hunting then share the meal with the rest of the pride. The lion naturally preys on herbivorous especially the wildebeest, zebras, impalas, giraffes, gazelles etc.
Most parks in Kenya have Lions who are always lying on the grass sleeping since they spend around 20 hours a day sleeping. Maasai Mara game reserve is known to have the largest number of lions due to availability of prey, in particular, the wildebeest.
Elephants are known as the largest land animal in the world. The bulls(male) usually operate solo but the females are generally found in groups led by a matriarch with other younger females and their offspring.
They are able to walk silently through the bush because they use the tips of their toes which is a thick cushion made of elastic tissue. They are known as gentle giants but have been known to charge at vehicles, humans or other animals when threatened.
They are marked as an endangered species as they have been illegally hunted for their ivory tusks. However, due to drastic conservation measures, there has been an increase in the number of elephants in major parks over the years. You can see big herds of elephants in the big parks like Tsavo East and Tsavo West National Park, Amboseli National Park, Maasai Mara Game Reserve, Samburu National Park, Aberdares National Park, Mount Kenya National Park as well as private parks like Lewa Conservancy, Ol Pejeta Conservancies among others.
There is also an elephant orphanage and rehabilitation centre called Sheldrick Wildlife Trust that takes cares of orphaned and abandoned baby elephants that are hand-rared and rehabilitated back to the wild.
There are two types of Rhinoceros, namely black rhino and white rhino. The white rhino has two subspecies, the northern white rhino which is now functionally extinct and the southern white rhino which is a common species in Kenya.
This is one of the most endangered big animals that has almost gone extinct due to poaching had it not been for the drastic measures taken by conservationists worldwide. Seeing a rhino in its natural habitat is now considered a rare treat.
However, there are quite a number of rhinos in Kenya kept in private parks as well as restricted reserve where they are offered maximum security against poachers who are always devising new ways to bring down this big mammal.
Though very elusive, you can view the Rhino in parks like Nairobi National Park, Maasai Mara, Lake Nakuru National Park, Aberdares National Park, Meru National Park, Tsavo West National Park and private reserves like Lewa Conservancy, Ol Pejeta Conservancy, Solio Game Reserve, Il Ngwesi Group Ranch among others.
The buffalo is known to be the most dangerous to humans among the five. They are very territorial and are known to charge at astonishing speed when threatened. They are known to hang out in large herds and spend most of their time grazing in the Savannah.
Their primary predator is normally the lion though they have been known to kill lions who try to attack a member of their herd more specifically their young calves.
The buffalo needs a lot of water to survive hence cannot be found in deserts. They are found in most game parks in Kenya namely; Nairobi National Park, Maasai Mara National Park, Hells Gate National Park, Samburu National Park among others.
Unlike the lion, the leopard is nocturnal, solitary and secretive always staying hidden during the day. They normally hunt during the night or early morning and spend most of the day up above the tree camouflaged. They are the least seen of the Big 5.
They share the same territory as the lion and hence hunt at night to avoid competition. They kill and hide their prey up a tree to prevent the lions and hyenas from stealing it.
The leopard is not confined in any part of Kenya due to their elusive character. They are found in many parks and reserves though you have to search for them keenly. The Maasai Mara and Samburu National Reserve are known to have a good number.
Where to Find All The Big 5
One of the major parks to see all the five members is the Maasai Mara Game Reserve. However, due to its large size, this could be quite a task to accomplish and may require a full day or two to be able to cover all corners of the park as the animals are scattered.
However, for a better view of the 5, you can opt for the smaller reserves like Ol Pejeta Conservancies, Lewa Conservancies which have a good number of them all.