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Mammals of Laikipia

A location interposed between the eastern African savannahs and the dry lands of the Horn of Africa gives Laikipia a unique mix of mammal species from both biomes. The larger mammals – elephants, predators, antelopes – will be sure to impress, but don’t forget the many smaller mammals, including bats, rodents and lesser predators, that also have roles to play in the area’s ecology.

List of Mammals

  • African Elephant
  • Aardvark
  • African Buffalo
  • African Wild Dog
  • African Wild Cat
  • African Civet
  • African Clawless Otters
  • African Porcupine
  • Aardwolf
  • Black-and-White Colobus
  • Bushbabies
  • Black Rhinoceros
  • Bushbuck
  • Beisa Oryx
  • Baboons
  • Cheetah
  • Caracal
  • Crested Rat
  • Eland
  • Grant’s and Thomson’s Gazelles
  • Grevy’s Zebra
  • Günther’s Dikdik
  • Hyrax - the large Procavia, the slightly smaller Heterohyrax, arboreal Dendrohyrax
  • Honey Badger
  • Impala
  • Jackson’s Hartebeest
  • Kirk’s Dikdik
  • Lion
  • Leopard
  • Mongoose - Slender Mongoose, White-tailed Mongoose, Egyptian and Marsh Mongoose
  • Naked Mole-rat
  • Patas Monkey
  • Plains Zebra,
  • Plains Zebra
  • Reticulated Giraffe
  • Reticulated Giraffe
  • Serval
  • Striped Hyaena
  • Spotted Hyaena
  • South American Coypu
  • Vervet Monkeys
  • Waterbuck
  • Wild hare – the Cape Hare and the Scrub Hare 

Elephants

After Man, the mammal having most impact on the area is the African Elephant. One hundred years ago, Laikipia had almost no elephants, and none at all outside the few forests in the north and west of the region. This may have been because the then resident Maasai burned the grasslands regularly, leaving little of the woody vegetation that elephants like. Laikipia’s proximity to ivory trade routes of old is another possible reason. There were, however, many elephants further north in Samburu, which became a magnet for early European elephant hunters.

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Black Rhinos

Laikipia is a stronghold of the globally endangered Black Rhinoceros. In the 1980s, as a wave of rhino poaching swept across Africa, the Black Rhino was, from an abundant species, brought to the verge of extinction. To save the species, Kenya adopted a policy of creating fortress reserves. The north’s last remaining rhinos were located and captured and then placed in sanctuaries such as those on Lewa, OlPejeta and Solio, where – under intensive protection – numbers have since built up, enough in some cases for there to be surplus animals available to repopulate other areas.

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Grazing Mammals

Laikipia is home to various antelopes and grazing mammals that also occur in the Masai Mara and other parts of southern Kenya. Examples are Waterbuck, Impala, Eland, African Buffalo, Plains Zebra, Bushbuck, Grant’s and Thomson’s Gazelles and Kirk’s Dikdik. There are no wildebeest, however, or Topi. The area also supports species typical of the dry country to the north, including Beisa Oryx, Grevy’s Zebra, Reticulated Giraffe and Günther’sDikdik. While most of these species occur side by side, the two similar-looking Dikdiks seem to stick to different areas, with Günther’s preferring the red soils of north-central Laikipia.

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Rare & Endangered Species

In conservation terms, Laikipia’s most important mammal species is Grevy’s Zebra, which differs from the Plains Zebra in having narrower stripes and larger, more donkey-like ears. The species occurs only in northern Kenya and in parts of Ethiopia. Everywhere but in Laikipia its numbers have been decimated by illegal hunting and by competition with domestic livestock. Whereas in the 1970s there were an estimated 15,000 Grevy’s Zebras in all, today there are fewer than 3,000 – the majority in Laikipia. In parts of Laikipia where Grevy’s and Plains Zebra ranges overlap, there is a problem of hybridisation between the two, as solitary Grevy’s stallions mate with Plains Zebra mares.

Read more: Rare & Endangered Species

Big Cats & other predators

Twenty years ago, Laikipia’s ranchers viewed predators in a very negative light, as they killed livestock. More recently, as tourism has gained in importance, new ways of protecting domestic animals, including lion-proof ‘bomas’, have been developed. A more tolerant attitude has seen predator numbers rise markedly. Traditional ‘bomas’ – enclosures where cattle are secured at night – are made from thorn branches. When lions jumped into these bomas, the frightened cattle would break out into the surrounding bush, where the lions could kill them at will. Lion-proof bomas are made from steel tubing to prevent such breakouts, while the lions, for their part, dislike confinement in a small space with a herd of terrified cattle. Widely in use on commercial ranches, the new bomas are being introduced to communal areas as well.

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Small predators & primates

Most often seen of the smaller predators are the Slender Mongoose and the White-tailed Mongoose, although both the Egyptian and the Marsh Mongoose are sometimes encountered near water. African Clawless Otters are rarely seen, but signs of their presence – usually the crunched shells of freshwater crabs – abound along most Laikipia streams and rivers.

Read more: Small predators & primates

Rodents

The largest rodent found in Laikipia is the African Porcupine, which lies up in holes during the day and is a notorious crop pest at night. The South American Coypu, introduced for its fur in the 1920s, escaped from fur farms and has spread wide and far. The two species of wild hare – the Cape Hare and the Scrub Hare – are not easily told apart in the field. In drier, sandier areas of northern Laikipia you may see the mounds of the Naked Mole-rat, a bizarre creature with a social system more like that of ants than of any mammal, having a single ‘queen’ and a sterile ‘worker caste’. As these creatures live underground, all you can expect to see are puffs of sand erupting from a mound, as the last in a chain of workers kicks debris out of a burrow.

Read more: Rodents
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