Go Big with Big Cat Safaris in Kenya

Are you interested in a big cat safari? I am a big cat-lover and got some great advice to share.

I wasn’t always a big fan of cats, leave alone big cats. I got slowly introduced to them and didn’t take long to fall in love with them.

I have an acquaintance who became an instant friend after sharing our mutual love for big cats safari in Kenya. I can vouch for the fact that it was an incredible experience which he still talks about even today!

What is a big cat?

Big cats are species of the family Felidae that include lions, leopards, and cheetahs. They are apex predators and have evolved to become some of the most powerful animals in nature.

Lorenz Oken identified Panthera as a genus within the Felidae family back in 1816, technically making it an official classification for all spotted cats. According to Wikipedia, this means that any-legged animal with spots can be classified under the Panthera name.

When to see the Big Cat in Kenya?

Kenya has some of the most diverse wildlife in Africa, and its big cats can be spotted year-round. However, the best time to visit Kenya for a Big Cat safari is between July and October. This is when the Mara River is full and animals flock to it in search of prey. It’s also during this time that predators like cheetahs and lions can be spotted hunting.

If you’re seeking to spot all three cats, the Masai Mara National Reserve is your best bet from July to October. With excellent big-cat densities in both Naboisho & Olare-Orok Conservancies, you have plenty of choices for a wonderful sighting experience. It is particularly popular for leopard viewing due to the large densities of these cats.

Tsavo East National Park also offers great opportunities for lions and cheetahs if ease is what you’re looking for while Amboseli National Park provides an ideal backdrop during dry season (May to October and January to March) with its incredible lion and cheetah populations.

Below is a detailed description of each Cat:

Lion:

Lions are the king of the jungle and live in pride of up to 30. They are strong, fast, and fierce. Lions can reach speeds up to 50 mph while hunting prey and they hunt mostly at night. The Mara and especially the Mara Triangle has the largest concentration of lions in Africa.

Boasting a striking tawny fur, male lions typically reach lengths of 10 feet and heights of 4 feet. On average, they weigh as much as five men or around 550 pounds—significantly more than the lionesses which are usually about 400 lb; three-and-a-half men’s worth! Moreover, adult males can be recognized by their magnificent mane that runs from the head to neck and sometimes even down throughout their belly area. Unlike other big cats on our planet – there is an immense difference in physical appearance between male & female lions!

Male lions have a unique tuft at the end of their tails, something that no other felines possess. If you’re ever lucky enough to get close to one’s tail, you’ll detect an acute bone hidden in its tufts! According to lore, maned cats used this spur as a whip for self-motivation prior to combat.

The map below shows countries or regions in Africa where you can find lions.

Get more details on this study (PDF)

Nicknamed the King of the Jungle, the lion is one of the most iconic big cats. They live in large pride and are famous for their roar, which can be heard from up to 5 kilometers away! Lions typically hunt during the night when it’s cooler and their prey is less likely to detect them.

While they are indeed the ‘king of the jungle’ lions are actually subdued animals that prefer to stalk their prey from a distance. They are fierce and powerful hunters, but they often prefer to scavenge for food over hunting it themselves.

At night, you can hear the overwhelming roar of lions, which is used to establish territory and scare off intruders. While on a safari in Kenya, you may be lucky enough to witness one of these magnificent cats in action!

What do lions eat?

Lions are social creatures, hunting in groups for food. Their typical prey includes zebras, gazelles, wild pigs and other sizable animals like giraffes and elephants. In times of lack thereof sustenance, lions may also scavenge the kills of others to survive. Female lions typically collaborate on hunts while males protect their pride from intruders; a duty that he does not take lightly!

Due to his immense size, mane, and defensive strength, the male lion is better suited for defending rather than hunting. He will sometimes even charge prey in order to steer them toward a group of concealed females. No matter who kills the animal though, it’s always the males that eat first; followed by female lions and cubs last.

Wanna know some other lion fun facts?

  • A lion’s muzzle is similar to a fingerprint – completely unique, with no two lions possessing the same arrangement of whiskers.
  • Lions greet each other with a friendly rub of the cheeks.
  • Lions bid farewell to one another by gently pulling on their stomachs with their teeth.
  • With an awe-inspiring roar that can be heard up to five miles away, the mighty lion reigns as the loudest of the big cats.
  • Lions typically stride at a rate of 2.4 mph (4 km/h), and are capable of sprinting up to 35 mph (60 km/h) when running! Furthermore, they can jump distances over 36 feet (12 m).
  • Lions stand alone among the large cats with their unique social structure.

Leopard:

Leopards are solitary animals that live and hunt alone. They have an incredible ability to climb trees which makes them the perfect predator for prey species like monkeys and antelopes. The best time to spot leopards is during sunrise or sunset when they come out to hunt. Olare-Orok Conservancy has particularly high densities of leopards.

As nocturnal hunters, Leopards would often be found in the shadows of the bush during the day. During this time they can rest comfortably away from other predators and focus on their next hunt at night.

Leopards are known for their spotted coat which helps them blend into their surroundings when hunting. Their fur is usually golden or yellowish in color and they have a white underside. Some leopards even have black fur, which gives them an extra advantage in the night as they are camouflaged even better into the shadows.

Leopards can be notoriously difficult to spot on safari because of their solitary nature and camouflage abilities but with patience, you might be able to spot one during a game drive.

Cheetah:

Cheetahs are the fastest land animals and are unique in that they can sprint at speeds of up to 70 mph for short periods of time! Masai Mara is one of the best places to find cheetahs as well as Samburu and Laikipia.

Cheetahs have small heads, long thin bodies, and tan fur with black spots. They are solitary animals and will generally hunt alone or in pairs. Cheetahs are mainly active during the day which makes them easier to spot than other cats like leopards and lions that prefer to hunt at night.

Cheetahs also have unique adaptations for running. Their long legs provide extra leverage for their powerful stride, and the enlarged heart and lungs allow them to take in more oxygen when running.

What makes Big Cat Safari in Kenya so special?

Kenya offers a unique big cat safari experience due to its abundance of wildlife and stunning landscapes. The diverse habitats provide the perfect opportunity to spot all three cats, while the Mara River attracts huge numbers of game during the rainy season. In addition, Kenya’s big cat populations are relatively stable, meaning that you have a better chance of seeing them when you visit.

The beautiful landscape and diverse habitats also make for stunning photographs and memories that will last a lifetime! Whether you’re an experienced wildlife photographer or just looking for a unique safari experience, Big Cat Safari in Kenya is the perfect destination.

Facts about big cats:

  • Sleep: Lions and leopards sleep up to 20 hours a day while cheetahs can nap for up to 14 hours.
  • Size: Male lions are the biggest of the big cats, weighing an average of 420 pounds! Cheetahs are the smallest, with an average weight of 140 pounds.
  • Hunting: All three big cats are carnivores and mainly hunt small animals like antelopes, rodents, and monkeys.
  • Social Behavior: Lions are the only big cats that live in groups or “prides” while cheetahs and leopards typically live alone.
  • Reproduction: All three cats usually have litters of two to four cubs.
  • Lifespan: Lions can live up to 15 years in the wild, cheetahs up to 12 years, and leopards up to 8 years.
  • Distribution: Big cats are found on every continent except Antarctica!

So, what does a big cats safari in Kenya entail?

Well, there are several options available depending on your tastes and budget. A typical package includes accommodation (in some of the best lodges in the country), game drives, and guided tours to view the big cats in their natural habitat.

You will also enjoy a visit to one of Kenya’s national parks or wildlife reserves, such as Masai Mara National Reserve or Nairobi National Park. Here you can observe lions and leopards in their natural habitats without disturbing them.

If you decide to go on self-drive, you can explore the stunning landscapes and wildlife in your own time.

The Big Cat Safari in Kenya is a once-in-a-lifetime experience that will give you an unparalleled opportunity to witness these majestic animals in their natural habitat. With the patience, preparation, and help of a local guide, you’ll be able to spot lions, leopards, and cheetahs roaming wild in their natural habitats. And with the stunning landscapes of Kenya, you’ll have plenty of photo opportunities to make your journey even more memorable.

Tips for Big Cats Safari in Kenya

1. Invest in a good safari guide: A knowledgeable and experienced safari guide is essential when it comes to big cat safaris in Kenya. They can help you locate animals, explain behaviors, and interpret the natural environment.

2. Take all the necessary precautions: Always take safety seriously, especially when encountering wild animals. Keep your distance and follow the instructions of your guide at all times.

3. Be prepared for all types of weather: Kenya can be quite hot during the day and cold at night, so make sure you’re prepared for all types of conditions.

4. Bring a long lens: Big cats can be difficult to spot and photograph, so having a powerful camera with a long lens is essential.

5. Go during the rainy season to get close-up photography: The best time to view big cats in Kenya and take great photos is during the rainy season around March to May and again in December when they are most active. This is also the time when they can be found in larger numbers. Read more on this blog explaining and showcasing lion photography in the rain. Many experts, however, recommend July to September as the ideal safari season.

6. Get an early start: Big cats are most active in the morning and late afternoon, so get out of bed early and make sure you’re on time for game drives!

7. Stay alert: Make sure you keep a watchful eye out for any signs of big cats in the vicinity. You don’t want to miss out on any opportunities to spot them!

8. Respect the animals: Always remember that big cats are wild animals and should be treated with respect. Don’t try to get too close or touch them as this could be dangerous for both you and the animal.

Big Cat Safari Package:

A typical package will include the following:

• Accommodation in a luxury safari lodge or tented camp

• Transfers and game drives

• Guided tours to view big cats in their natural habitat

• Visits to nearby national parks and wildlife reserves

• Professional guide with extensive knowledge of the area and wildlife

• All meals and snacks provided throughout the safari

• Optional activities such as bird watching, night game drives, or canoeing/boating

Where to see big cats during my Kenya safari:

Kenya’s Maasai Mara National Reserve is a wildlife enthusiast’s paradise, boasting an abundance of more than 100 species of mammals – such as the Big Five and all five types of large cats. With exceptional lion densities in both Naboisho & Olare- Orok Conservancies, you can be sure to witness some incredible sightings during your visit!

Tsavo East National Park is among Kenya’s largest parks and is known for its generous wildlife, including lion pride, cheetahs, and other predators. It offers a perfect environment to observe lions and cheetahs with minimal effort while Amboseli National Park takes the spotlight during the dry season (May to October & January to March) due to its remarkable concentrations of both animals. So if you’re looking for an incredible safari experience filled with stunning landscapes and exotic species, Tsavo East or Amboseli Nation Parks should be at the top of your list!

If you’re in search of a wild and thrilling excursion, Ol Pejeta Conservancy offers the amazing opportunity to track lions after sundown. For an even more intimate experience with Africa’s Big Three, Lewa Wildlife Conservancy is your destination. There are no crowds here, just remarkable wildlife!

Meru National Park offers visitors the chance to observe lions in their authentic ecosystem, while Lake Nakuru National Park holds home to both leopards and lions. Nairobi National Park allows you an even more remarkable experience by granting a glimpse of Africa’s wildlife with the captivating cityscape as your backdrop!

FAQs

Are there tigers in Kenya?

Tigers are the largest of all the big cats but unfortunately, Kenya with all its abundant wildlife doesn’t have any tigers. According to Wikipedia’s population estimates of tigers, more than 70% of them live in India and the rest of them are scattered across Asia. There have been efforts to tame tigers in South Africa but there is no documented evidence that any tiger roams any of Africa’s vast savannah.

Are there jaguars in Kenya?

Jaguars are the third-largest cats and they’re found mostly in South America, particularly Brazil. But they can also be spotted in Central America, Mexico, and even regions of Arizona and New Mexico in the United States. Unfortunately, jaguars are not present in Kenya’s ecosystem.

Are there Pumas in Kenya?

Pumas, also known as mountain lions and cougars, are found mostly in North America but there is evidence to suggest that they can be spotted in South Africa. They do not live in Kenya and unfortunately, they have not been seen in this region.

Is it safe to go on a big cat safari?

Yes, it is perfectly safe to go on a big cat safari provided you follow the safety guidelines established by your tour operator. Most safaris take place during daylight hours in open-air vehicles with experienced guides and safety protocols in place. It is important to remain alert, respect the animals, and follow all instructions given by your guides.

What do I need to bring on a big cat safari?

You will want to make sure you have comfortable clothes and shoes for game drives as well as any other supplies you may need such as sunscreen, insect repellent, binoculars and cameras. You will also need to make sure you have all the necessary documents such as your passport and visa if applicable.

When you’re observing cats in the wilderness, they may seem larger than your pet at home but can appear smaller if they are far away. To get a closer view of them, bringing along binoculars is a great idea while having a high-quality camera with zoom lens to capture stunning photos will make it more memorable! Of course, remember that all wildlife experiences start with enthusiasm and excitement – so don’t forget to bring yours too.

Are there any other important safety tips I should know?

Yes! It is important to keep a safe distance from the animals at all times and never attempt to get close to them. Be sure to listen and follow your guide’s instructions, stay in the vehicle as much as possible and never deviate from established trails. Also be aware of any potential dangers such as snakes or other wild animals, particularly at night. Lastly, take a first-aid kit with you just in case!

Big Cats Safari in Kenya 4-day Itinerary

BBC Wild Cats documentary has popularized Kenya as a destination for big cat safaris. It is particularly known for its lion and cheetah populations, but you can also find leopards, caracals, servals, and more.

I have personally spent 3 days at Governors Camp in the Mara North Conservancy learning all about BBC’s filming of the Marsh Pride Lions and seeing them in action with the help of experienced guides. A trip to Kenya’s Masai Mara National Reserve is a must for any big cat enthusiast.

You can watch BBC’s series on Wild Cats on its website here.

Other locations in the country offer different wildlife experiences, like the Samburu and Buffalo Springs national parks, where you can go on an elephant safari or take your chances looking for black rhinos. If you’re looking for big cats, the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy is a great spot to visit. It is home to many cheetahs, as well as lions and leopards.

Day 1:

Leave Nairobi for Maasai Mara North Conservancy by flying/driving.

By road, it will take up to 6 hours and will only take you 45 mins to fly from Wilson Airport to any of the camps in the Mara North Conservancy. Mara North has high proportion of big cats compared to the expansive Maasai Mara National Reserve and recommend you stay in a conservancy camp for your experience.

Day 2:

Spend the morning on game drives looking for big cats, with experienced guides to share their knowledge and understanding of the cats and their behaviors. Do not forget to enjoy lunch at a scenic location overlooking the Maasai Mara plains. Afternoon visit the Marsh Pride Lions of BBC Wild Cats fame and watch their activities for a few hours. Marsh Pride lions occupy marshy lowland areas along the Mara River. This pride has been filmed for over 30 years and consists of 12 lions.

Day 3:

On Day 3, you’ll get to see the largest pride in the MNC which are the Cheli and Peacock Pride. These prides are strengthened by dominant males that spend most of their time across the Mara River opposite Serian Camp on the Siria Escarpment. Day 3 is when you will also see other cats such as cheetah and leopard as they hunt for prey.

Day 4:

On your 4th day, you will have seen all the big cats you need to see. You will also get to see other animals including giraffes, elephants, zebras, warthogs, and more. You can choose to spend the last day of your safari taking a bush walk with an experienced guide or relaxing in camp.

After the 4 days, you have seen the big cats in Kenya and will need to return back to Nairobi and bid farewell to the lodge. This big cat safari gives you the opportunity to witness the beauty of Kenya’s wildlife and spend some quality time with animals in their natural habitat. It provides an unforgettable experience filled with exciting adventures for all ages!

​I hope this itinerary helps you plan your own big cat safari in Kenya. Remember, these are just suggestions – feel free to request a custom-made itinerary tailored to your specific desires! Happy safari-ing!

​Happy exploring! 🙂 ​​​​ ​​​​​​ ​​​​Safe travels. 😉

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