Kenya Trip Report

Hi all,

I’ve uploaded a report from my very successful 3-week visit to Kenya in July: VS-Kenya-0721

This was an amazing trip, both in terms of the number and quality of species observed. My most memorable sightings were Hirola (in Ishaqbini), Naked Mole-ratSokoke Dog MongooseManed RatCaracalStriped Hyena, melanistic Serval, and Harrison’s Giant Mastiff Bat among a record-breaking 126 species.

I hope this report also inspires more mammal enthusiasts to explore new places in Kenya, besides the ones covered here. Despite spending 19 nights and driving 4000+ km, I’m sure there’s a lot more to discover. I’m pretty confident Kenya is the world’s best country for mammal watching.

Venkat

18 Comments
  1. tomeslice 2 weeks ago

    Wow Amazing report, Venkat!!!

    I’ve been looking forward to this, although of course most of the spoilers were given on the equally excellent podcast episode.

    This is truly inspiring, and after much dilemma, I think there’s no doubt that my next destination in Africa will definitely be Kenya. (Sorry Ethiopia – we shall meet again in the future)

    Besides the obvious all-time mammal watching record, I loved the collection of sengis and galagos, which in themselves probably break categorial records for the most number of each being found on a single trip. Perhaps mongooses, too.

    Great stuff, and of course I’m super jealous of your caracal sightings (and embarrassingly, still of the servals as well), so I might just bluntly steal your itinerary for next July, putting a little less emphasis on bats, and maybe trying to focus a little on bongos, zorilla (any tips?) and wild dogs, all which I still haven’t seen.

    Great work! Amazing results 🙂
    Tomer

    • Author
      vnsankar 2 weeks ago

      Thanks, Tomer! I’m happy you enjoyed the report & podcast.

      I might recommend you do a trip in January-March or late Sep-Oct rather than July. I have a couple of reasons – 1) it will be warmer in the highlands (e.g. Mara, Laikipia) so night drives will be more productive and 2) accommodation will be cheaper as you won’t be paying peak season rates. You would miss the migration in the Mara, though, if that’s important to you.

      Now for your additional target species:
      Bongo – Good luck. Sightings are extremely unlikely on normal game drives in the Aberdares. Zarek may be able to arrange something with the researchers though. I didn’t think to ask.
      Zorilla – I think Kenya may actually be the best country for these (not SA). They seem really quite abundant in parts of the Mara! I think you’d have a good chance over a couple of nights of concerted effort at Mara North or Naboisho Conservancies. Stratton, the raptor researcher there, told me he’s seen “literally hundreds” on night drives over the years. Pretty regular at Laikipia Wilderness, Sosian, Ol Pejeta too.
      Wild Dog – a 3-night stay at Laikipia Wilderness should guarantee these.

      One caveat I’ll give you, though, is that many of the really good sites in Kenya for elusive carnivores (Naboisho, Mara North, Laikipia Wilderness, Lentorre, Ol Donyo Lodge) are NOT cheap. In fact most are in that brutal $500-800/person/night range. So you’ll have to make some tough decisions to keep the trip within a budget. For example, giving Naboisho/Mara North a miss probably cost me Aardvark, Aardwolf, and (countable) Zorilla.

      • tomeslice 2 weeks ago

        Thank you for the info Venkat!

        Yeah, it’s always a dilemma as when the ideal time of the year is, to see the most (and not pay the most).

        Do you think July is a particularly good time of the year for caracal and serval?
        I spent 13 days in Tanzania back in 2013 including the ngorongoro crater and the Serengeti l, where about 100% of people see servals, and saw none 🙁
        It was in late February though. We also had a shitty guide and did only 2 night drives – 1 in lake Manyara and 1 at Manyara Ranch conservancy.

        Regardless, I’ve already seen the great migration, so I’m more about the other species 🙂

        I’m interested about the bongos – it almost sounded like they were becoming easier to see, but now I understand they’re still very rare! I might just have to go back to Sangha lodge for those 🙂

        BTW – regarding zorillas – I don’t remember who it was that saw like 7-8 individuals on every single night in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park – so that might be a very good place to look, but I’ll try my luck in Kenya, as you mentioned.

        Did you chance upon any info regarding the striped weasel? Is it even remotely possible anywhere? (Camera traps and INaturalist make it seem like the best place is the Cape in SA, but I’m still wondering)

        Thanks again!
        Cheers!
        Tomer

        • Antee 2 weeks ago

          I am going to Mara North in a couple of weeks and will do some nightdrives.

          Lets see if the Zorilla and Serval is cooperative.
          It is supposed to be a good place for both.

        • Author
          Venkat Sankar 2 weeks ago

          Re time of year – for small cats, you want to go in either dry season after good rains (when their prey, rodents and birds, breed). Maybe Aug-Sep is best as the breeding peak is in the long rains of April-May, but February would be pretty good too as long as the short rains are OK. You don’t want to go too close to the rains as the vegetation will still be tall; if the long rains are good (like they were this year in parts of Kenya), there might be too much vegetation to spot small cats effectively in June-early July (or in Dec).

          I think you were a bit unlucky to miss Serval in Serengeti. Anyway, the best places in Kenya are Mara and Aberdares, where they’re often diurnal. Caracal is a crap shoot anywhere, but they’re having lots of good sightings at Lentorre this year and Arabuko is also decent. Just don’t be too disappointed if you dip.

          Zorillas – I’ve also seen that Kgalagadi report, definitely interesting! But like Caracal, I think seeing Zorilla is a bit of a crap shoot too. There may have been a rodent explosion that year that caused an unnaturally high number of Zorillas… It happens – we had 17 African wildcats in a day for just that reason on this trip. I’m sure that’s NOT replicable! If only those were Zorillas instead 😉

          Striped Weasels – I asked several people about these. Zarek and Stratton have never seen one in all the night drives they’ve done, just Zorillas. I don’t think there has been a museum record of one in Kenya since the 70s. I think most savanna ecosystems in Kenya are too dry for them. KZN in SA may be the best place.

          • Mattia from Italy 2 weeks ago

            I saw twice Zorilla in Laikipia in a week in early October during late evening game drives. A very beautiful place and the tented camp is lovely, small and essential, with Elephants coming into the camp at night and Lions roaring in the vicinity.

            Had even many encounters with Wild Dogs, including one memorable on foot. Safaris on foot, even one full day, are a speciality of Laikipia: maybe less to see but much more to learn, and you feel to be integrated with the environment, not an alien in a bumping jeep.

            Striped Weasel… you are always VERY demanding, Tomer, not easy to be your guide! 😀

          • tomeslice 2 weeks ago

            Thanks everyone for the info!!

            Venkat – as a matter of fact (and throwing us into a little bit of a tangent) – I went on a spontaneous night drive in Israel’s Golan heights, where my thermal scope batteries died and I didn’t have a replacement (D’oh!) so we resorted to spotlighting all night. And we spotted what we believed to be an explosion of African wildcats – like 6-7 encounters with wildcats, each with several kittens hiding in the rocks (the typical habitat of wild animals in the Golan Heights). Often in Israel there are street cats everywhere, but these both looked and behaved like wildcats, and were in the most remote parts, far from villages and closer to the border with Syria, but we literally spotted one every couple of minutes, which made me doubt whether they were truly wild.

            So we put the pictures up on a Facebook group of Israel Wild Mammals to be identified by local experts, and it seems they’re indeed wild. But I’ve never seen so many individuals of a single cat species on a single night! The closes was 3-5 leopard cats a night at Deramakot. So anyway this is interesting.

            Anyway, thanks again for the advice! I believe I will see a caracal at some point somewhere I just have to keep trying.
            Same with Serval, but serval should be easier…

            Regarding striped weasel – it’s always very interesting to ask about. I believe that eventually there will be a place for these as well. And it might end up being in South Africa 🙂

            Cheers!

  2. Vladimir Dinets 2 weeks ago

    Certainly the best hirola photo I’ve ever seen.
    I got 200+ species in Kenya in 2005, but I was there for over six weeks and trapped a lot. That was before thermal scopes made everybody lazy 😉
    Need to get back for maned rats now.

  3. samuel marlin 2 weeks ago

    Wow!! such an impressive trip report. congratulations Venkat
    Compared to yours, my own Kenya trip report look so banal fade although I thought we did great at the time with caracal, civet and striped hyena sighting by day 🙂
    The maned rat and naked mole-rat observations are very cool and will give me excuses to come there again
    I see that you had poor weather like us in July and funny enough, we may have crossed each other without knowing in Tsavo East since we were both there on the same days 🙂

    • Author
      vnsankar 2 weeks ago

      Thanks, Samuel! I’m happy you enjoyed my report – certainly come back for the Maned Rat and Naked Mole-rat. I also thought your sightings of Striped Hyena, Caracal, and Serval with kitten by day were impressive.

      Very interesting that you were in Tsavo too on those days. Did you see the big tusker near Kanderi and the Lions along Voi River circuit?

  4. Mattia from Italy 2 weeks ago

    Tomer, if you are desperate with Servals, and ends up in South Africa for the weasel, try at the Secunda Synfuels petrolchemical, 140 km east of Jo’burg, drop them an e-mail and they will arrange a guide for you, it’s quite cheap and the chances of Serval are near 100%. Not a nice place as Ngorongoro, but Servals appreciate the lack of competition and abundance of rodents.

    Best bet for Caracal in SA: West Coast NP in August and September, when the Postberg section is open, and De Hoop Reserve, of course at dawn and dusk. But never easy (well, anyway much easier than an Eurasian Lynx everywhere…).

    Regarding Israel, I was there twice in the last decade, and saw both times a Striped Hyena ad dusk at Yotvata circular fields (birding was my main purpose). Not sure if it’s big luck or Hyenas are common.

  5. Vladimir Dinets 2 weeks ago

    There used to be a really good place for servals in Amboseli, a marsh on the main route.

    • tomeslice 2 weeks ago

      Thanks guys.

      Yeah – I spent a single night in West Coast NP, but didn’t spotlight at all because it was “not allowed”… I was there with my mom and sister, so we didn’t try to “bend the rules” nor even go on a night hike. In all fairness, I was mammaled-out at the end of a 3-week trip to SA. I also stayed 2 nights at De Hoop, but didn’t do good enough of a job spotlighting there.. and spent all pre-dawn times from 4:30am until 8:00am looking for otters which never showed up. So no caracal for me yet. But I will find one, somewhere.

      I heard about the Secunda Synfuels place – I know servals are nearly guaranteed there.. but between all the places I haven’t been to, including Gaysay grasslands in Ethiopia, all the parks in Kenya, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia etc., I think I will just see a serval without desperately going out specifically to see it.

    • Antee 2 weeks ago

      Very true Vladimir.
      I got my one and only Serval at this plce in Amboseli.

  6. samuel 2 weeks ago

    Frankly, Masai Mara is also a great place for servals.
    We saw several of them in full daylight in multiple occasions there.
    The marsh in Amboseli is also good indeed and this year, there is a couple of melanistic ones that have been observed there since April (we dipped on them in July though…)

  7. Alex Meyer 5 days ago

    Just a top notch report Venkat! Bursting with helpful information and rarely photographed species. I’m honored to be mentioned and to have been of assistance in your planning. You’ve given me many ideas for a return and certainly motivation to match your Maned Rat, Sokoke Dog Mongoose, Ethiopian Dwarf Mongoose and Somali Lesser Galago (my top 4 targets for next time!)

    A note on Mattia’s post- “Desperate with Servals”- could easily be Tomer’s band name.

    • tomeslice 4 days ago

      Lol Alex…
      That’s a pretty sad band name.

      I already have the first couple of hits:
      1. Dreaming of a White Serval
      2. Caracal in The Wind

    • Author
      vnsankar 4 days ago

      Happy you liked the report, Alex. Your advice on the sites you visited certainly came in handy (and honestly, I wish I had used a bit more of it). When you go back to Kenya, in addition to those species please find me good sites for African Clawless Otter, Jackson’s Mongoose, Zorilla, and as many bats and rodents as you can 😉

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