What to see and where
The conservancy is host to large herds of Burchell’s zebras, and African buffaloes, both of which are often found close to water. Family groups of warthogs are also commonly seen. On the drier rangelands, the tiny Kirk’s dik-dik can often be seen. Elsewhere steinbok, reedbuck, bushbuck, waterbuck and klipspringer browse. Soysambu’s largest antelope is the ox-sized eland, which often congregates in large herds, as do the graceful impalas, Grant’s and Thompson’s gazelles.
The Conservancy offers sanctuary to healthy numbers of the endangered Rothschild’s giraffes, which have been translocated from Western Kenya. Similar to the more common Maasai giraffe, they can be differentiated by the fact that they have three to five skin-covered horns and unspotted shanks.
The most common predator to be seen on the Conservancy is the black-backed jackal, and the more timid side-striped jackal. The largest carrion eater is the spotted hyena, which is mainly nocturnal, its whoop being a feature of Soysambu nights. Typically nocturnal predators include the bat-eared fox, the ratel or honey badger and the white-tailed mongoose. Soysambu’s cats include the small African wild cat, the slightly larger solitary spotted serval , the lynx-like caracal and the largest of them all the shy and solitary leopard, which is usually nocturnal but is occasionally seen in the daytime, usually up a tree. Primates include vervet monkeys, black and white colobus monkeys and olive baboons. Other animals include the typically nocturnal aardvark and the kangaroo-like spring hare.
More about the wildlife
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.
Giraffe, skyscraper of the bush
Kenya hosts three species of giraffe: Rothschild’s, Masai and Reticulated. 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.
Leopard, beautiful, secretive and shy
Thanks to its harshly rasping territorial call, the intensely secretive leopard 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.
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.
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.
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. Mainly nocturnal its prey includes rodents, birds, small reptiles and, if it is lucky, young antelope.
Genet cat, 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.
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. Groups of 6-10 animals and dines on molluscs and frogs.
Gazelle, masters of grace and speed
Kenya features two species of gazelle: Thomson’s and Grant’s gazelle, both of which feed as 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.
The pretty Thomson’s gazelle, with its short stumpy tail perpetually in motion, is the smaller of the two and is famous for its stiff-legged standing-still jump, which is known as ‘pronking’. The larger impala-sized Grant’s gazelle can be differentiated by the fact that it lacks the distinctive black side stripe of the ‘Tommy’.
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.
Wildebeest, migration star, also known as the gnu
Star of the world’s greatest animal spectacular, the annual migration from the Serengeti to the Masai Mara, the wildebeest is an extremely gregarious animal, moving in herds that can number up to 150 females and young, headed up by 1-3 bulls. Unmistakable with their peculiar head-high, rocking gait, wildebeest live almost entirely on grass, and in the dry season a herd can cover up to 50 km a day in search of water. Males make a continuous cacophony of low moaning grunts and explosive 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. Two species of zebra inhabit Kenya, the most common being the Burchell’s zebra, which is best-known for accompanying the thousands of wildebeest that make up the annual migration from the Serengeti to the Masai Mara – and back again. East Africa’s other zebra species, the Grevy’s zebra, is larger than its cousin with finer stripes and large rounded ‘Mickey Mouse’ ears.
Impala, swift, agile and elegant
Abundant in Kenya, 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
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
Relying 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
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.
Olive baboon, intelligent and opportunistic
With 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
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.
Black and white colobus monkey, agile social climber
These enchanting creatures have glossy black fur, with a white face, bushy white tail and a silken, white fur cape that streams out behind them when they leap through the trees. Usually found in troops of up to 25 monkeys, the colobus is arboreal and spends most of its time in forest areas. Colobus can be distinguished from other monkeys because they have no thumbs, their hands having lost the thumb as a genetic modification to make hooking on to passing branches easier (hence their name which means mutilated in Greek). Like all primates, family bonds are strong and social grooming is an important pastime.