About 8% of the Kenya’s land mass is protected area for wildlife conservation. Protected areas are gazetted landscapes/seascapes that have been surveyed, demarcated and gazetted either as National Parks and/or National Reserves. In Kenya, protected areas embrace various types of ecosystems namely; forests, wetlands, savannah, marine, arid and semi-arid. The protected areas comprise of 23 terrestrial national parks, 28 terrestrial national reserves, 4 marine national parks, 6 marine national reserves and 4 national sanctuaries.
In parks there is complete protection of natural resources and the only activities allowed are tourism and research. On the other hand, in reserves, human activities are allowed under specific conditions. These activities are for instance fishing in marine reserves or firewood collection in terrestrial reserves. We have highlighted all the national parks, national reserves, marine parks, sanctuaries, orphanages and safari parks in Kenya.
a. Mount Kenya National Park & Reserve
Climbing to 5,199 meters, Mount Kenya is the second tallest mountain in Africa. The scenery surrounding this designated World Heritage Site is breath-taking. It is pristine wilderness with lakes, tarns, glaciers, dense forest, mineral springs and a selection of rare and endangered species of animals, high altitude adapted plains game and unique montane and alpine vegetation. Visitors can enjoy mountain climbing, camping and caving with the mountain’s rugged glacier-clad peaks providing the perfect backdrop.
b. Amboseli National Park
Crowned by Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest peak, the Amboseli National Parks is one of Kenya’s most popular parks. The name “Amboseli” comes from a Maasai word meaning “salty dust”, and it is one of the best places in Africa to view large herds of elephants up close. Nature lovers can explore five different habitats here ranging from the dried-up bed of Lake Amboseli, wetlands with sulphur springs, the savannah and woodlands. They can also visit the local Maasai community who live around the park and experience their authentic culture.
c. South Island National Park
Covered end to end in volcanic ash, the nightly glow of its South Island’s luminous vents has inspired numerous tales of ghosts and evil spirits. The island is home to a profusion of birdlife including 34 species of European migrants most spectacularly viewed as they return home between March and May. At least 23 species breed here, including Goliath heron, and African skimmer, while African open-billed stork, Duck and Gulls feed on the shores and the volcanic island lakes attract lesser flamingos. Birds of prey are also abundant, especially swallow-tailed kites. This park is ideal for game watching and has one of the world’s largest concentrations of crocodiles.
d. Saiwa Swamp National Park
A veritable haven for nature lovers, the Saiwa Swamp National Park is a forested paradise filled with exotic flowers, trees and birds. It is also the habitat of the rare and endangered semi-aquatic Sitatunga antelope and as a preserve for the rare De Brazza’s monkey. Within this tropical wetlands and mosaic of riverine forest, sedges and acacia woodlands, with fringing dense rushes and grass bedsBird life is abundant. Water birds include the lesser jacana, grey heron and the African black duck while the forest shelters the Narina trogons, the collared and orange-tufted sunbird, the yellow bishop, Hatlaub’s marsh widow bird and the Noisy Ross’s turacos which are difficult to miss.
e. Sibiloi National Park
Located on the wild and rugged shores of Lake Turkana – the cradle of mankind – Sibiloi is home to important archaeological sites including Koobi Fora where the fossil remains have contributed more to the understanding of human evolution than any other site in the continent. The area is characterized by semi-desert habitat and open plains flanked by volcanic formations including Mount Sibiloi, where the remains of a petrified forest can be seen.
Sibiloi serves as a stopover for migrant waterfowl and is a major breeding ground for the Nile crocodile. Terrestrial wildlife includes zebras, Grant gazelles, lions, leopards, stripped hyenas, Beisa Oryx, greater kudu, cheetahs and northern topi among others. A total of over 350 species of aquatic and terrestrial bird have been recorded in Lake Turkana. Sibiloi is surrounded by the Turkana, the Gabra and the Dassanach who are communities with very rich and unpolluted traditional cultures.
f. Ruma National Park
A mosaic of landscapes, ranging from riverine woodland and rolling savannah to magnificent escarpments and towering cliffs, Ruma National Park promises undiscovered wildlife treasures and undisturbed peace. It is also Kenya’s last remaining sanctuary for the endangered roan antelope. Ruma lies on the flat floor of the seasonally watered Lambwe River Valley bordered by the Kanyamwa Escarpment to the South-East, and by the volcanic plugs of the Ruri Hills to the north.
Ruma’s birdlife is exceptional. The park is also the only protected area in Kenya where the globally threatened blue swallow, a scarce intra-African migrant, is regularly recorded. Blue swallows, which depend upon moist grassland for both feeding and roosting, arrive in Kenya from their breeding grounds in Southern Tanzania around April and depart again in September.
g. Ol Donyo Sabuk National Park
Dominated by a small mountain covered in montane forest, the Ol Donyo Sabuk National Park is home to 45 species of birds including the white-browed sparrow weaver, grey- headed sparrow weaver, African pied wagtail, mourning dove, augur buzzard, African hawk eagle and purple-breasted sunbird. Buffalo are the dominant animals in the ecosystem and other wildlife include bushbucks, leopards, olive baboons, aardvarks, porcupines, mongoose, pythons and monitor lizard. The mountain’s summit also offers visitors scenic views of Mount Kenya.
h. Ndere Island National Park
Located on Lake Victoria, this island is a haven for birds. Covered mostly in grassland, Ndere Island provides beautiful scenic views of the Homa hills to the south, Mageta Island to the east and the glimpses of Kampala in Uganda beyond the south west horizon. The lake shore supports a wide variety of animals including hippos, monitor lizards, Nile crocodiles, several fish species, snakes, baboons, impalas, the rare sitatunga antelopes, water bucks, zebras and warthogs. Over 100 different species of birds can be seen here including African fish eagles, black headed gonoleks and grey headed kingfishers.
i. Mount Longonot National Park
Rising from the floor of the Great Rift Valley like a monolith is the extinct volcano of Mount Longonot. A unique feature is the thick forest that lies within the crater of the mountain. The crater rim also provides great scenic views across the beautiful Rift Valley all the way to Lake Naivasha. Major wildlife attractions at Mount Longonot include buffaloes, elands, lion, leopard, bushbucks, common zebra, giraffe and Grant’s gazelles.
j. Mount Elgon National Park
High in the mist-wreathed hills of western Kenya is a towering volcanic giant, crowned by a vast caldera etched by glacial tarns, honeycombed by labyrinthine caves, fissured by valleys and cascaded by streams. Visitors can explore the forest, see the elephant caves and also enjoy biking, hiking, and rock on the eighth highest mountain in Africa, Mount Elgon.
k. Meru National Park
Brilliant on a magnificent scale, the Meru and Kora sister parks feature luxuriant jungle, coursing rivers, verdant swamp, khaki grasslands and gaunt termite cathedrals all under the sky’s great blue bowl. Little visited and utterly unspoilt, few places are comparable to the remote and rugged atmosphere found here. Visitors can see Grevy’s zebras, elephants, Bohor reedbucks, hartebeests, pythons, puff adders, cobras, buffalos and more than 427 recorded species of birds.
l. Lake Nakuru National Park
On the floor of the Great Rift Valley, surrounded by wooded and bushy grassland, lies the beautiful Lake Nakuru National Park. Visitors can enjoy the wide ecological diversity and varied habitats that range from Lake Nakuru itself to the surrounding escarpment and picturesque ridges. Lake Nakuru National Park is ideal for bird watching, hiking, picnic and game drives.
m. Tsavo East National Park
The sight of dust-red elephant wallowing, rolling and spraying each other with the midnight blue waters of palm-shaded Galana River is one of the most evocative images in Africa. This, along with the 300 kilomtere long Yatta Plateau, the longest lava flow in the world, make for an adventure unlike any other in the Tsavo East. The park forms the largest protected area in Kenya and is home to most of the larger mammals, vast herds of dust-red elephant, Rhino, buffalo, lion, leopard, pods of hippo, crocodile, waterbucks, lesser Kudu, gerenuk and the prolific bird life features 500 recorded species.
n. Nairobi National Park
A short drive out of Nairobi’s central business district is the Nairobi National Park. Wide open grass plains and backdrop of the city scrapers, scattered acacia bush play host to a wide variety of wildlife including the endangered black rhino, lions, leopards, cheetahs, hyenas, buffaloes, giraffes and diverse birdlife with over 400 species recorded. Visitors can enjoy the park’s picnic sites, three campsites and the walking trails for hikers.
o. Aberdare National Park
Picturesque, steep forested ravines and open moorland characterise the Aberdare National Park. The park provides a habitat for elephants, black rhinos, leopards, spotted hyenas, olive baboons, black and white colobus monkeys, buffalos, warthogs and bushbucks among others. Rare sightings include those of the Giant Forest hog, bongo, golden cat, serval cat, African wild cat, African civet cat and the blue duiker. Visitors can indulge in picnics, trout fishing in the rivers and camping in the moorlands. Bird viewing is rewarding, with over 250 species of birds in the park, including the Jackson’s Francolin, Sparrow hawks, goshawks, eagles, sunbirds and plovers.
p. Hell’s Gate National Park
Named for the intense geothermal activity within its boundaries, the Hell’s Gate National Park is a remarkable quarter of the Great Rift Valley. Spectacular scenery including the towering cliffs, water-gouged gorges, stark rock towers, scrub clad volcanoes and belching plumes of geothermal steam make it one of the most atmospheric Parks in Africa. Hell’s Gate is an ideal venue for a day trip from Nairobi where, in addition to the bio-diversity that includes raptors, visitors can enjoy mountain biking, rock climbing and a natural spa.
q. Marsabit National Park & Reserve
Far to the north of Kenya, a densely forested mountain and three crater lakes provide a haven for a variety of birdlife, mammals and reptiles. The beautiful Marsabit National Park is a refuge for huge tusked bull elephants, diverse birdlife and reptiles. Hikes in the dense forest, wreathed in mist can be enjoyed along with camel rides, bird watching and visits to the singing wells.
r. Kora National Park
Home to the Adamsons’ Camp – Kampi ya Simba – the former home of George and Joy Adamson, the Kora National Park offers a pristine wilderness dotted with tall inselbergs and graced by the Tana River on which the Adamson’s Falls, Grand Falls and Kora Rapids are found. Visitors can enjoy the diverse birdlife, fishing in Tana River rock-climbing and also visit George Adamson’s grave.
s. Chyulu Hills National Park
Verdant rolling hills of endless green, great blue skies and spectacular landscape views are what the Chyulu Hills provide to nature lovers. Large mammals include buffalo, bushbucks, elands, elephants, leopards, giant forest hogs, bush pigs, reedbucks and giraffes along with various reptiles and insects. Horse riding, camping, mountain climbing and bird watching can be enjoyed in this hidden part of paradise.
t. Central Island National Park
Emerging starkly from the blue-green waters of the largest permanent desert lake in the world, Lake Turkana, the Central Island is made up of three active volcanoes that belch sulphurous smoke and steam. Three crater lakes, Crocodile Lake, Flamingo Lake and Tilapia Lake, provide breeding grounds for the world’s largest concentration of Nile crocodiles. Central Island has a campsite where visitors can enjoy the beautifully haunting sight of the lake’s luminous waters wash up onto a black lava beach while the moon rises over the menacingly smoking craters.
u. Tsavo West National Park
From the sight of fifty million gallons of crystal-clear water gushing out of from the under parched lava rock that is the Mzima Springs to the Shetani lava flows, Tsavo West is a beautiful, rugged wilderness. The savannah ecosystem comprises of open grasslands, scrublands, and Acacia woodlands, belts of riverine vegetation and rocky ridges including the Poacher’s Lookout where visitors can see the teeming herds in the plains below. Tsavo West offers some of the most magnificent game viewing in the world and attractions include elephant, rhino, Hippos, lions, cheetah, leopards, Buffalos, diverse plant and bird species including the threatened corncrake and near threatened Basra Reed Warbler.
v. Arabuko-Sokoke National Park
Arabuko-Sokoke National Park together with the forest reserve is the largest stretch of coastal forest remaining in Eastern Africa. It is located 110km north of Mombasa. The ecosystem comprises of three forest types, mixed forest, Brachystegia and Cynometra, each containing many rare species of birds, butterflies, amphibians and plants. The Clarke’s Weaver is completely endemic to the forest, while the Sokoke Scops Owl, Sokoke Pipit, and the Amani Sunbird and Spotted Ground Thrush are only found in the park and a few in Tanzania.
w. Malka Mari National Park
Malka Mari National Park is situated along the Daua river on the Kenya-Ethiopia border. It is accessible via the Mandera Airport, and is probably the least visited national park in the nation. The park is mostly semi-arid bushland and scrubby grassland with riparian woodland and along the river. There are plants in the park that are unique to the area.
2. National reserves
a. Mwingi Game Reserve
Hot, dry, remote and unspoiled, this reserve is a designated a Wilderness Activity Zone and allows for fly camping, fishing, camel and horseback safaris for the intrepid visitor. Other attractions include the Adamson’s Falls, fishing and boating on Tana River and visiting Kampi ya Simba – former home of Joy and George Adamson and the grave of Elsa the lioness.
b. Kakamega Forest National Reserve
Time has stood still for the Kakamega Forest, a remnant of the rain forest that stretched all across Central Africa. This beautiful forest is home to various mammals including bush pigs, giant forest hedgehogs, colobus monkeys, Debrazzar monkeys and pottos. Some of the birds to be seen here include the Blue Headed Bee Eater, Black Billed Turaco, Turner’s Eremomela and Grey Parrots. Bird watching, hiking and rock climbing can be enjoyed here in the serenity of the forest that time forgot.
c. Shimba Hills National Reserve
As one of the largest coastal forests in East Africa after Arabuko-Sokoke Forest, this reserve is rich in flora and fauna and hosts the highest density of African elephant in Kenya. Other animal species found in the area are Sable antelope, elephant shrew, bushy tailed mongoose and other small mammals like fruit bats.
The forest is an important bird area and is endowed with forest birdlife while the grasslands hold localized species such as red-necked-Spur fowl, Croaking Cisticola and Zanzibar Red Bishop. The scenic Sheldrick Falls and the dense Mwaluganje Forest are also found here along with four campsites.
d. Nasolot National Reserve
Beautiful and rugged, the Nasolot Reserve is located to the north of Mount Melo. The reserve is quite remote which means few visitors and a chance to be at one with nature in the seemingly endless plains within its borders. Visitors to this paradise can enjoy spectacular views from Nasolot Hill, bird watching, camping, fishing and nature walks.
e. Bisanadi National Reserve
In the vast arid wilderness north of Meru National Park lies the Bisanadi National Reserve. This hot and arid bush land is host to many species of mammals including lions, elephants, cheetahs, rhinos, buffalos and over 400 species of birds. Visitors can go boating and fishing on the Tana and the Rojewero rivers and enjoy camping under the stars in this tough but beautiful place.
f. Mwea National Reserve
The Mwea National Reserve is located within Mbeere District, in Eastern Province, a distance of about 200km from Nairobi. The savannah ecosystem comprises of small hills with bushy vegetation and scattered large trees. Other areas are open grasslands while along the main rivers, large trees with thick undergrowth are found.
Trees mainly found within the ecosystem are the different Acacia species and baobab trees. The ecosystem’s main features are the meeting point of rivers Tana and Thiba, Kamburu and Masinga hydro-electric dams, which harbour variety of biodiversity. Its endowed with many wildlife attractions, as well as birds and reptile species.
g. Maasai Mara National Reserve
Maasai Mara National Reserve is situated in south-west Kenya and is one of Africa’s Greatest Wildlife Reserves. Together with the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania it forms Africa’s most diverse, incredible and most spectacular eco-systems and possibly the world’s top safari big game viewing eco-system.
It hosts over 95 species of mammals and over 570 recorded species of birds. It is world-renowned for its exceptional populations of lions, leopards, cheetahs and elephant, and the annual migration of wildebeest, zebra, Thomson’s gazelle and other antelope, to and from the Serengeti every year known as the Great Migration.
h. Lake Bogoria National Reserve
Lake Bogoria National Reserve is in the Great Rift Valley, Kenya, covering Lake Bogoria and the land immediately surrounding the lake. It is administered by the Kenya Wildlife Service. The reserve is in a semi-arid area. The only major river feeding the lake is the Waseges River, which rises on the northern slopes of the Aberdare Range. The lake is alkaline, feeding blue-green algae which in turn feed flamingoes.
At times the number of flamingoes feeding in the lake may be as high as two million. Raptors such as tawny eagles prey on the flamingoes. In total, 135 species of bird have been recorded. The reserve has a herd of the relatively uncommon Greater Kudu. Other large mammals include buffalo, zebra, cheetah, baboon, warthog, caracal, spotted hyena, impala and dik dik.
i. Samburu National Reserve
Samburu National Reserve is a game reserve on the banks of the Ewaso Ng’iro river in Kenya. On the other side of the river is the Buffalo Springs National Reserve. In the middle of the reserve, the Ewaso Ng’iro flows through doum palm groves and thick riverine forests. It provides water, without which the game in this arid region could not survive. There is a wide variety of animal and bird life seen at Samburu National Reserve.
Several large game species common to Kenya’s northern plains can be found in abundance here, including the following dry-country fauna: gerenuk, Grevy’s zebra, oryx and reticulated giraffe. All three big cats, the lion, cheetah and African leopard can also be found here, as well as the elephant, Cape buffalo and hippopotamus. Other mammals frequently seen in the park include olive baboon, warthogs, Grant’s gazelle, Kirk’s dik-dik, impala, and waterbuck. There are over 350 species of bird. The Ewaso Ng’iro river contains large numbers of Nile crocodile basks.
j. Buffalo Springs National Reserve
Buffalo Springs National Reserve is located south of the Samburu National Reserve, which lies on the other side of the Ewaso Ngiro river. It is named after an oasis of clear water at its western end. It is a gently rolling lowland plain of old lava flows and volcanic soils of olivine basalt. The main feature is the Champagne Ride in the southeast, an ancient lava-terrace. The climate is hot, dry and semi-arid.
There is a narrow band of riverine forest along the Ewaso Ngiro which includes Tana River Poplar, Doum Palm and magnificent specimens of Acacia elatior. Vegetation includes acacia tortilis woodland and large stretches of bushland dominated by Commiphora. Wildlife include Grant’s zebra and the endangered Grevy’s Zebra.
Other species of mammal include reticulated giraffe, the African bush elephant, oryx, gerenuk, African buffalo, lion, leopard, cheetah and hyena. Over 365 species of bird have been recorded in the reserve. The river is home to hippopotamuses and crocodiles. Somali ostriches are widespread within the national reserve. It is larger than the Masai ostrich’s and is distinctive for their indigo legs and neck.
k. Rimoi National Reserve
Rimoi National Reserve is an animal conservation reserve that is located in the Elgeyo Marakwet. It lies adjacent to Lake Kamnarock which has recently dried up and is part of a conservation area that is five larger than its size. Traditionally the only large mammals in Rimoi and Kamnarok were elephants, which wander in and out and up and down the valley at will, in accordance with the availability of water and food. The elephants feed mainly at night. Smaller mammals include dikdik, impala, bush pig, warthog, monkeys, civet, genet, and pangolin. Reptiles include; crocodiles, Agama and other lizards, tortoise and many snakes.
l. Arawale National Reserve
Arawale National Reserve lies 77 km south of the town of Garissa. The reserve is a critical refuge for a range of wildlife species including four globally threatened species; hirola, Grevy’s zebra, East African wild dog and East African cheetah.
m. Dodori National Reserve
Dodori National Reserve is a protected area located in Lamu. It is part of a larger area that has been recognized globally as an important cultural heritage area and a prized conservation site by international organizations such as the IUCN, Conservation International, World Wildlife Fund, among others.
n. Boni National Reserve
Boni National Reserve is a national reserve for conservation and lies in the Garissa. Common herbivores in the region include hippopotamus, bushpig, warthog, buffalo, common duiker, topi and waterbuck. Common carnivores in the reserve are the vulnerable African wild dog and the aardwolf.
3. Marine parks
a. Kiunga Marine National Reserve
Further north along Kenya’s spectacular Indian Ocean coast is the Kiunga Marine National Reserve. This pristine ecosystem incorporates a chain of about 50 calcareous offshore islands and coral reefs in the Lamu Archipelago. Visitors can view the teeming sea life in the coral reefs, sea grass and extensive mangrove forests which are a refuge for sea turtles and dugongs. The reserve provides ideal opportunities for wind surfing, diving and snorkelling, water skiing and sunbathing.
b. Mombasa Marine National Park & Reserve
Warm azure ocean, swaying coconut palms on white sandy beaches are to be found in the Mombasa Marine National Park and Reserve. The park lies between the Mtwapa and Tudor Creeks and its blue waters are ideal for wind surfing, water skiing, snorkelling and diving. They also provide a home to a colourful variety of marine species including crabs, starfish, stone fish, cucumbers sea urchins, corals, turtles, sea grasses and interesting migratory birds including crab plovers.
c. Malindi Marine National Park & Reserve
From swimming with zebra fish to windsurfing, this beautiful slice of Kenya’s Indian Ocean coastline is provides the perfect getaway. The park is endowed with magnificent resources such as fringing reefs, coral gardens in the lagoons, sea grass beds, mangroves, mudflats, marine mammals, turtles and various species of shorebirds. Visitors can also enjoy glass bottom boat rides, snorkelling, camping and beach walks in this veritable paradise.
d. Watamu Marine National Park & Reserve
Green turtles, unique coral gardens, the Gede Ruins – the Watamu Marine National Park & Reserve has it all. The park is part of a complex of marine and tidal habitats along the Kenya’s north coast with rich and diverse bird life, fish, turtles and dugongs. Visitors can enjoy the white sandy beaches, snorkeling, water skiing, windsurfing and glass bottomed boat tours.
e. Kisite Mpunguti Marine Park & Reserve
Unspoiled, beautiful and sun kissed, the Kisite Marine Park was established to protect the scenic islands and special habitats of a wide range of endemic marine animals and breeding migratory birds. It lies in the coral gardens south of Wasini Island and encompasses three small coral rag forest islands, each with considerable areas of fringing reef. Kisite is one of the most rewarding snorkelling locations at the coast. Visitors can also enjoy bird watching, diving and of course, sunbathing.
a. Lake Simbi National Sanctuary
Located close to Kendu Bay town, Lake Simbi is a tiny Crater Lake measuring about one kilometre in radius. Both Lake Simbi and adjacent Odango sites support a substantial bird population that includes flamingos, little grebes, little egrets and Egyptian geese, making it a haven for bird watchers.
b. Kisumu Impala Sanctuary
Set on the shore of Lake Victoria, the largest freshwater lake in Africa, the Kisumu Impala Sanctuary is a peaceful, relaxing place to enjoy the natural beauty that abounds here. The sanctuary hosts impalas, the rare Sitatunga antelope as well as big cats, buffalos, giraffes, cheetahs and several primate species. The sanctuary is also home to five campsites all with spectacular views of Lake Victoria. Bird watching, nature walks and glass bottomed boat rides compliment the activities availed at the sanctuary.
c. Mwaluganje Elephant Sanctuary
Mwaluganje Elephant Sanctuary (MES) is a community-owned elephant park, a conservation area for elephants and Encephalartos cycads in Kwale. It is located 45 km southwest of Mombasa and is adjacent to the Shimba Hills National Reserve. It is an example of ecotourism, as well as community-based-conservation efforts, both of which are very recent trends in conservation management. In this community-based program, the local people have leased their privately-owned property to a community-based trust. The trust manages the sanctuary for the conservation and preservation of the elephants.
5. Orphanages/Safari Walk
a. Nairobi Animal Orphanage
The Nairobi Animal Orphanage is located in the Nairobi National Park. It serves a treatments and rehabilitation centre for wild animals. The Orphanage hosts lions, cheetahs, hyenas, jackals, serval cats, rare Sokoke cats, warthogs, leopards, various monkeys, baboons and buffalo. Various birds can also be viewed including parrots, guinea fowls, crowned cranes and ostriches.
b. Nairobi Safari Walk
With its raised wooden boardwalk that allows for uninterrupted views of the animals, the Safari Walk is a show case for Kenya’s Parks and Reserves, allowing visitors to discover what they can expect to see across the country. Visitors can see a sample of the country’s rich animal life including the rare bongo, white rhino and albino zebra as well as big cats, antelopes and primates. It is also home to some 150 species of local trees.