Surprising Animal Encounters in Kenya 

Enjoy this engaging post about wildlife in Kenya, Africa by Nadine Murphy of The Expat Mummy. 

Kenya is famed throughout the world for its incredible safari experiences, its tribes – the Maasai being the most famous – and for the Great Rift Valley. Wildlife is all around you in this East African country. Not just in the game parks and wildlife conservancies but living in your garden, tearing up the school playing field, and stealing mangoes from your kitchen table. 

In Kenya, residents have learned to live alongside animals. When I first came here, I was shocked at how lackadaisical people’s attitudes were to encounters with dangerous animals, but after 3 years I’m as laid back as the next Kenyan.

Kenya wildlife
Swimming with crocodiles and Maasai herdsmen in the Brown River.

Nairobi, Kenya

Nairobi is the capital city of Kenya, and the only city in the world to have a National Safari Park in its boundaries. Nairobi National Park is 110 sq kilometers of safari’s best. Until recently all of Africa’s Big 5 were located in the park but elephants had to be removed due to human-wildlife conflict.  However, Nairobi National Park isn’t enclosed, it’s open to Kenya’s plains and animals can come and go as they wish.  In May 2020 an elephant family entered the area surrounding the park and trashed housing, ate crops, and stopped traffic. Eventually, they had to be darted and moved to the safer environs of the Maasai Mara.

Nairobi National Park is right within the city, in fact, my children’s school borders the park. At night it is usual to hear the lions roar and the hyenas call.  The school is often overrun by warthogs and monkeys. Any animal that has some agility can leave the park, over the fence, or by digging beneath.  Leopards live in our garden and lions have escaped and roamed pedestrian streets several times.

Skulls on the roadside at Ol Pejeta

Nairobi sits atop the Great Rift Valley, that 8000-kilometer scar in the earth that stretches across several African countries and is so huge it can be seen from space.  Near Nairobi, the walls of the Rift fall sharply 1000 meters into a valley of volcanoes, spurting geysers, and soda lakes. 

Just 90 minutes from Nairobi is Lake Naivasha, one of the few freshwater lakes in the rift. The lake is filled with hippos, one of the most dangerous animals in the world. Of course, this being Kenya, campsites and holiday cottages have sprung up along the edge of the lake and for the slightly insane (my children) it’s a wonderful place to swim and boat. On the southern end of the lake is a boating area, where adults and children swim just meters away from beady-eyed hippos. At night the hippos come on land and we huddle in tents or cottages avoiding encounters with the famously grumpy beasts.

wildlife camping in kenya
Lake Naivasha Sailing Club

As the lakes are filled with hippos so are the rivers with crocodiles. Our family has gone on many a camping trip down to Maasai land, in the south of Kenya. A furnace of a place: scorched deserts, soda lakes, and light so bright it burns your eyes. In this arid landscape, the river Ewaso Ngiro is the only source of water, a wide river filled with crocodiles and shaded with acacia trees that are home to leopards.  Of course, the only way to cool down is to get into the water, many days have been spent neck-deep in brown water, quaking in fear.

Camping in Kenya

Wild camping is one of the highlights of my life in Kenya. Simply packing up your tent and heading out to the wild is amazing, but even better is camping within a conservancy or park. These are the fenced off areas that are kept as sanctuaries for Kenya’s endangered animals as well as keeping most of Kenya’s predators (or destructive elephants) away from communities. A visit to a park is a guarantee to see wildlife – one if not more of the Big 5 (leopard, lion, elephant, buffalo, and rhino) – and a thrilling place to camp.

When I first went wild camping Ol Pejeta National Park, I thought that the campsite would be a fenced-off area away from the animals, with perhaps a guard around, but that isn’t so. In Kenya designated campsites may have a long drop toilet and if you are very lucky a bucket shower but they are as open to the elements and the animals as the rest of the park. 

where to see elephants in Kenya- camping in Kenya
Elephants across from our camp at Ol Pejeta

The trick is to build a fire big enough to scare the animals away and ensure no one leaves the camp alone. Nights in the tent are incredible, we have had a herd of elephant pass through the camp, so quiet you would hardly know they are there until you open the tent in the morning and spot the steaming piles of poo. We have lain awake as lions roar nearby and things paw at the tent. As with many animal experiences in Kenya, it is completely crazy, utterly mad, and the most awe-inspiring experience I’ve ever had. 

Nothing in the world makes you feel as alive as being in such close proximity to animals.. and in Kenya, there is no other way to live.

Nadine Murphy is a British expat who writes stories about travel and Africa as well as authoring an award-winning Kenyan travel blog at The Expat Mummy. Nadine is devoted to her three children, travel adventures and wine, not necessarily in that order. You can also follow her on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.

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