Gerenuk facing camera, Special Five of Samburu, Kenya safari

Go on safari in north Kenya to see the Samburu Special Five

Jul 28, 2023
Reading time: 5 minutes

The Samburu Special Five are five rare species of wildlife that you cannot see anywhere else in Kenya. Going on safari in Samburu National Reserve in the north is all about stepping off the beaten tourist track and seeing a wholly different side of Kenya!

In Kenya's north-central county of Samburu, named for the Samburu tribe who are its main residents, you can find some special wild animals: the Samburu Special Five.

These wild creatures are:

  • gerenuks
  • reticulated giraffes
  • Beisa oryxes
  • Grevy's zebras
  • Somali ostriches

The Samburu Special Five can't be found anywhere else in Kenya, which is a part of what makes them special. Very few international safari-goers make the journey to Samburu, which is why our safari itinerary that takes you to see the Samburu Special Five is called Undiscovered Kenya.



Let's now look at a couple of fascinating facts about each of the Samburu Special Five, as well as how to identify them ...

1. Gerenuks

Gerenuks aren't well-known antelopes. Which in a way is surprising, given how unusual-looking they are and their unique habits.

Gerenuk eating leaves off tree, African safari, antelope

A female gerenuk

For starters, gerenuks are dainty antelopes with long legs and elongated necks, which makes them slightly reminiscent of giraffes. They also have large eyes, which makes them quite endearing to humans (is it time for a gerenuk anime character?).

The name gerenuk (said with a hard g) comes from Somali and means "giraffe-necked".

Secondly, a gerenuk can live its entire life without taking a single sip of water! This is very helpful, as it lives in the semi-arid brushland and desert regions of East Africa.

Gerenuks gets all the moisture they need from the leaves, shoots, fruits and flowers that they eat. Gerenuks's long legs and necks are also great, as they often stand on their hind legs to reach the leaves of trees.

Gerenuk in Samburu region, Kenya safari

A female gerenuk in Samburu Game Reserve

Male and female gerenuks are sexually dimorphic (meaning the two sexes look different). Most notably, males have short, curved horns, like in the feature image for this blog post, while females (like the one shown above) have none.

2. Reticulated giraffes

Reticulated giraffes have the 'cleanest' patterning, if you will, of all giraffes – polygonal orangish patches with neat white lines separating them. They live in northern Kenya, southern Ethiopia and Somalia.

Two reticulated giraffes fighting with their necks, Kenya safari

Two reticulated giraffes fighting (they bash necks like swords)

Giraffes are fascinating creatures, as we're sure you already know. There's just nothing quite like them (although they are related to okapi, also called the zebra giraffe).

What you might not know is that they are diel, which means they're active during both the day and the night. The only sleep for short stretches of around two hours, often standing up. And they spend most of their lives grazing – roughly 13 hours a day!

Also, the gestation period of the reticulated giraffe is roughly 15 months.

The female giraffe gives birth standing up and the calf is able to stand within five to 20 minutes of being born.

3. Beisa oryxes

Beisa oryxes (or East African oryxes) are large, regal-looking antelopes found only in the semidesert and dry plains of the Horn of Africa.

It's easily recognisable by its distinctive black markings and towering, thin, tall horns (which the females also possess). Their horns are a key part of their defence against their fearsome predators, which include lions, hyenas and cheetahs.

East African oryx, or Beisa oryx, standing with douma palms in background, safari

Beisa oryx with douma palms in background

Fun fact: the beisa oryx can store water by raising its body temperatures and so avoiding perspiration!

4. Grevy's zebras

Grevy's zebras (or imperial zebras) are the largest living equid and the most endangered of the three species of zebra. They can only be found in northern Kenya and in a few isolated pockets of land in Ethiopia.

Grevy's zebra close up headshot copy

Close up of a Grevy's zebra, also called an imperial zebra

Most safari-goers are familiar with plains zebras (this is the populous species found throughout East and Southern Africa), and some have seen the mountain zebras of South Africa and Namibia.

Grevy's zebras can be told apart from other zebra quite easily because they have distinctively large, rounded ears. They also have thinner, 'tighter' stripes, a white belly, and a very erect mane. In fact, the mane on a foal can look charmingly oversized, like that on the youngster below!

Grevy Zebra foal seated on ground

A Grevy's zebra foal

Believe it or not, but Grevy's zebras can survive for up to five days without water.



5. Somali ostriches

There are only two species of ostrich: the common ostrich and the Somali ostrich. They look very similar, but the male common ostrich has a pink neck and pink legs, while the male Somali ostrich has a blueish neck and blueish thighs.

The Somali ostrich is also called the blue-necked ostrich because males have a blueish neck – in fact, it becomes bright blue in mating season.

Male Somali ostrich with camouflaged juvenile offspring, Samburu Game Reserve, Kenya

A male Somali ostrich with an almost-camouflaged juvenile

Like many bird species, Somali ostriches are highly sexually dimorphic, with the males getting the looks. The females, as shown below, are brown.

Female Somali ostrich, Kenya safari

A female Somali ostrich

Did you know that ostriches don't actually bury their heads in the sand, despite the popular saying? Also, ostriches are the only bird with two toes. If you're not from Africa, you might be unaware that locals are very careful around ostriches. One kick or slash from an ostrich can be enough to kill you!

So always do as your safari guide says – and perhaps read our Safari safety tips (not just for dummies).

Head to Samburu to see the Special Five

You can fly to Samburu from Nairobi or drive there, which takes the better part of a day. While in Samburu, and en route, there's plenty of other exciting things to do and places to see, like visit Reteti Elephant Sanctuary, go on safari in Hell's Gate National Park, or climb Mt Meru.


Dancing at a Samburu wedding

The Samburu people and their livestock live alongside the Samburu Special Five and the other wild animals of the region.

If you'd like to visit the Samburu Special Five, please drop us a line, and we're happy to chat and perhaps plan this exciting adventure for you!