What wildlife can I expect to see on safari in East Africa?

By Claudia Smargiasso | 21 November 2023

Embarking on a safari in East Africa is like stepping into a live wildlife documentary where nature unfolds its raw beauty and diverse wildlife. This region, particularly Kenya and Tanzania, offers some of the most spectacular wildlife experiences in the world, and is often said to be one of the best places in Africa to see wildlife. Of course, a common question before booking that safari of a lifetime is 'What animals can I see on safari in East Africa?" so let's take a look.

2 Planning Your East African Safari

What animals can I see on safari in Kenya?

Kenya, known for its classic savannahs and quintessential safaris, is a haven for wildlife enthusiasts. Kenya's most iconic safari destination is the Masai Mara National Reserve, famous for the Great Migration – the awe-inspiring annual spectacle of millions of wildebeest, zebras, and gazelles traversing the plain in search of fresh grazing.

On a visit to Kenya, you might see:

  • The Big 5: A Kenyan safari offers a chance to see the famous Big 5 – lion, elephant, buffalo, leopard, and rhinoceros. The Masai Mara is excellent for spotting these magnificent animals, although rhino can be difficult to spot as they tend to prefer the cover of dense bush. However, the Ol Pejeta Conservancy offers unprecedented sightings of both black and white rhino, and is a must-see for those wanting to view the last remaining northern white rhinos on the planet.
  • Big cats: Once again, the Masai Mara delivers as a top spot to see big cats in Kenya, including cheetah, lion, leopard, and rare serval cats.
  • Diverse birdlife: Kenya is a paradise for bird watchers, with over 1000 species recorded. From the flamboyant flamingos of Lake Nakuru to the majestic eagles soaring high above the Masai Mara, you don’t need to be a bird lover to appreciate the variety.
  • Unique species: Some species are unique to the region; for example, the Samburu National Reserve is known for its own unique Big 5: the reticulated giraffe, the blue-skinned Somali ostrich, the beisa oryx, Grevy’s zebra, and the long-necked gerenuk antelope.
  • Iconic scenes: To the south of Nairobi, Amboseli National Park is home to some of the largest herds of elephant in Kenya, making for incredible photography opportunities against the spectacular backdrop of Mount Kilimanjaro.
3. Rhino Ol Pej (1)
DSC 1132

What animals can I see on safari in Tanzania?

Tanzania's wildlife safaris are equally thrilling, with the Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater standing out as some of the top destinations. Of course, Tanzania is much bigger in size than Kenya and, therefore, offers more varied landscapes. In addition to seeing the Great Migration in Tanzania, these are some of the other animals you can see on safari in Tanzania:

  • The Great Migration: The Serengeti is synonymous with the Great Migration, where the vast herds of wildebeest and zebra move along their circular route across Tanzania and Kenya. Choose to experience the thrilling river crossing up north or the incredible calving season on the verdant plains as far south as the Ngorongoro Conservation Area (though not in the Crater itself).
  • Predators galore: The Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater are excellent for spotting lion, leopard, and cheetah. As a natural enclosure, the Crater offers a higher density of predators and more accessible viewing opportunities.
  • Chimpanzee in the wild: Rubondo Island, a small island on Lake Victoria, has been a haven for wild chimpanzee since the 1960s. In addition, the island is also home to the shy sitatunga antelope, elephant, and giraffe. Of course, birdlife on the island is also spectacular.
  • Wild dog: The wild dog is an endangered species, but the Ruaha and Nyerere national parks are a stronghold for wild dog, alongside `healthy populations of hyena and black-backed jackals.
  • Elephant Haven: Tarangire National Park should never be overlooked; it’s one of the best places in Tanzania to see large herds of elephant. The baobab-studded landscape provides a unique and iconic backdrop for your elephant viewing.
  • Birdlife and reptiles: Tanzania is blessed with a rich diversity of birdlife. Lake Manyara National Park is a highlight for bird enthusiasts. The park is also known for its famous tree-climbing lions and large populations of hippo and crocodiles.
  • Endangered species: Ngorongoro Crater is one of the best places to spot the critically endangered black rhinoceros. It's one of the few places in East Africa where seeing a black rhino in the wild is relatively likely.
Chimpanzee Rubondo Island LR
Selous Wild Dog RR

Final thoughts

A safari in East Africa is more than just an opportunity to see animals; it’s an immersive experience into the heart of the wild, where each day brings new surprises and the beauty of nature in its purest form. Whether it’s the thunderous hooves of the Great Migration, the graceful leap of a leopard, or the gentle gaze of a giraffe, the wildlife of East Africa will leave an indelible mark on the heart of every visitor.

If you’ve long been dreaming of a safari in East Africa, don’t forget to check out our offers page for some great deals.

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