Loisaba’s Big Five

By Hannah Campbell

When people think of African wildlife, the first term that comes to a lot of peoples’ minds (and therefore what they want to see most on safari) are the “Big Five”: elephant, rhino, lion, leopard and buffalo.

What many people don’t know is that the phrase comes from an old hunting term, which lists the five most difficult and dangerous animals to hunt on foot. Since trophy hunting was banned in Kenya in 1977, it turned into a list of species to ‘tick off’ on game drives.

While Loisaba is currently home to four out of the five, with an ambition to add the eastern black rhino to the list, several other wildlife species can also be found here – many of which can only be seen in areas such as Northern Kenya…

1. Gerenuk (Litocranius walleri)

Photo: Hannah Campbell

IUCN Status: Near Threatened

Population Trend: Decreasing

Found here in northern Kenya, these unusual antelopes are easily distinguishable by their extremely long necks – the name ‘Gerenuk’ comes from the Somali word ‘garanuug’, meaning “giraffe-necked”. They are extremely well adapted to the dry areas of the horn of Africa, due to the fact that they get the moisture they need to survive from the plants they eat – meaning they can go their entire lives without having to drink water!

2. Grevy’s Zebra (Equus grevyi)

Photo: Phoebe Belcher

IUCN Status: Endangered

Population Trend: Stable

Once found across Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti and Kenya, Grevy’s zebras have undergone one of the most substantial reductions of range of any African mammal – now only found in parts of southern Ethiopia and northern Kenya. Their population has reduced from around 6,000 in the 1980’s to an estimated 2,800 today.

As well as habitat loss and competition for grazing resources, Grevy’s have also been hunted for their striking skins. They are much larger than the Burchell’s zebra, with narrower stripes and huge rounded ears.

3. Reticulated Giraffe (Giraffa reticulata)

Photo: Down to Earth Films

IUCN Status: Endangered

Population Trend: Decreasing

It was once thought that there was only one species of giraffe, with 11 different subspecies. Recent research has suggested that there are in fact four completely separate species of giraffe that are as genetically different as a polar bear is to a black bear!

The reticulated giraffe is listed as endangered by the IUCN, primarily due to habitat loss. This species can only be found in Somalia, southern Ethiopia and northern Kenya.

Loisaba has partnered with San Diego Zoo Global on their “Twiga Walinzi” (giraffe guards) initiative in order to help save this species from extinction.

4. Beisa Oryx (Oryx beisa)

Photo: Phil Carter

IUCN Status: Endangered

Population Trend: Decreasing

The name ‘oryx’ is from the Greek word for pickax, an appropriate name for these striking ungulates. The myth of the one-horned unicorn may be based on oryx that have lost one horn. Aristotle and Pliny the Elder held that the oryx was the unicorn’s “prototype”. From certain angles, the oryx may seem to have one horn rather than two, and given that its horns are made from hollow bone that cannot be regrown, if an oryx were to lose one of its horns, for the rest of its life, it would have only one.

5. Laikipia Hartebeest (Alcelaphus lelwel x A. cokii)

Photo: Hannah Campbell

IUCN Status: ?

Population Trend: ?

Also known as the Kenya Highland hartebeest, this antelope is considered to be a cross between the Coke’s and endangered Lelwel hartebeest. They are darker in colour and larger than the Coke’s species, with longer heavier horns than both ‘parent’ species. Formally distributed throughout Kenya’s highlands between Lake Victoria and Mount Kenya, they are now believed to be restricted to fragmented areas in Laikipia and nearby regions.


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