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What are the Samburu Special 5?

You've heard of the 'Big 5', but what about the Samburu 'Special 5'?



Travel Writer
Published on

20 Nov 2017

Updated on

09 Oct 2020

Reticulated Giraffe In Samburu Kenya

You've heard of the 'Big 5͛, and maybe even the Little 5͛, but what about the Samburu 'Special 5͛? There are countless reasons why you should head to Samburu National Reserve for your Kenyan safari. To explore the diverse wilderness, meet the Samburu people, and to own bragging rights to somewhere far more off the beaten track than the Masai Mara.

Samburu Guides
Samburu Guides

Yet the stars of the show up here in the remote north are undoubtedly the Special 5, a rare collection of unusual animals not found in the southern reserves.


Ever seen an antelope walking like a human? Well you can here in this reserve. The creature in question is a gerenuk, which in the Somali language means ‘giraffe necked’. This useful height advantage, coupled with the animals ability to stand erect on its hind legs, means it can feed on the highest, juiciest leaves. Always a bonus when you’re competing for dinner in such an arid landscape. Unlike most other grazing animals, gerenuk give birth at any time of year, so keep your eyes peeled and you might spot a fawn sleeping under a shady bush.

Gerenuks Feeding In Samburu Kenya
Reticulated Giraffe

These mega-herbivores look very different from their cousins elsewhere in Africa, with striking red hides divided by a jigsaw pattern of white lines (reticulations!). They blend in well with the red Samburu earth and love taking a morning stroll down the dried up river bed (also a great spot for a bush breakfast). Reticulated giraffes are becoming quite rare with numbers falling dramatically over the last few decades, and Samburu is one of the few places you can still see them in all their glory.

Reticulated Giraffe
Reticulated Giraffe
Grevy’s Zebra

I love Zebras. Possibly because their comedy characteristics have been captured so well in movies (Madagascar wasn’t just for kids, right?), or perhaps simply because their black and white colouring is so different from all the other creatures out there. Either way I was excited to see my first Grevy’s zebra on our recent safari in Samburu. Our guide drove us close to the zebras each morning, and despite the vast size of the dazzle (possibly the coolest collective noun ever?), the only sounds were quiet munching and the occasional tail swish as they concentrated on their breakfasts.

Grevys Zebra In Samburu Kenya
Grevys Zebra
Somali Ostrich

These birds may be big, but they sure are elusive. Which is why having a local Samburu warrior guide to help us track them down was kinda useful. We’d been practically tripping over lions, inundated with elephants and surrounded by buffalo, but it took a whole 3 days before we finally sighted our first ostrich. Worth the wait though!

Somali Ostrich
Somali Ostrich
Beisa Oryx

These guys like hanging out with the zebras, so they were pretty easy to spot, although they always began wandering away from our vehicle rather than ignoring us as soon as we approached. Can you call an antelope majestic? I reckon so. The oryx we came across possessed an air of majesty (or perhaps just nonchalance) and struck us as rather proud, magnificent beasts. They looked especially superb in the morning and evening light with the sun bouncing off their pale hides.

Beisa Oryx
Beisa Oryx

If you’re still hungry for more animal action after spotting the Special 5, then watch out for the leopard, civet cat, striped hyena, and even the rare wild dog (or painted wolves as I prefer to call them). And of course there are plenty of lovely lions.


Most safaris concentrate on finding the ‘Big 5’ for their guests. Which is fine if it’s your first time in Africa and everything is still new and exciting. However for those who have already ticked off multiple lion, rhino, buffalo, elephant and leopard sightings over the years, then Samburu National Reserve is the perfect place for something a bit different. As for bragging rights, they don’t come much better!

On Safari in Samburu

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