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Tsavo: five rare animals that call it home, and why they do

The Tsavo Conservation Area is a biodiversity hotspot, hosting a wide variety of wildlife. Among the remarkable creatures that call this, Kenya’s most, expansive protected area home, there are five that are worth mentioning as indicators of the important role the TCA plays in protecting this planet’s great diversity.

These species face numerous challenges but have managed to carve out their existence in Tsavo’s diverse, and sometimes difficult, habitats.


One of Tsavo’s rarest inhabitants, the hirola, also known as Hunter’s hartebeest, possesses a slender body and elongated face. With striking black and white markings adorning their coat and unique markings around their eyes, Hirola, if ever you get the chance to see them, are a sight.

Unfortunately, they are critically endangered, making Tsavo’s population even more valuable. The park provides the hirola with a suitable habitat, comprising grasslands and woodland, where they can graze on a variety of vegetation. However, the TCA is not part of their natural rangeland.

The population of Hirola that presently call Tsavo home are the descendants of a group that were translocated from Somalia. Brought into Tsavo in the 1960s and then again in the 1990s, the hirola were moved because of concerns about their well-being in conflict-ridden southern Somalia.

We’ve written a longer form article on Hirola and how Tsavo’s provision of protection has been huge in boosting our hopefulness of their survival. Suffice it to say, for this article, that Tsavo stepped in where few other sanctuaries could.

Grevy’s Zebra

Tsavo National Park shelters a population of the truly beautiful Grevy’s zebra, the largest and most threatened species of zebra. These zebras exhibit distinctive narrow stripes and a white belly, setting them apart from other zebra species.

With Tsavo’s varied landscapes, Grevy’s zebras find a mix of grasslands and woodlands to forage and find shelter. They are known for their endurance and can survive in arid conditions, making them well-adapted to Tsavo’s environment.

Evolution’s weighty influence has made these creatures improbably hardy and for hardy creatures, harsh conditions can be a blessing. In Tsavo, the Grevy’s has managed to carve out a niche it may have struggled to maintain in more traditionally productive environments.

However, and as many of you will know, the hardy creatures of Tsavo have been tested beyond many of their limits in recent years. The drought of last year, which we documented at length, brought many Grevy’s past their limit.


Tsavo National Park is home to a small but significant population of cheetahs.

However, they face numerous challenges, including habitat loss and declining prey populations. Cheetah, just like the next animal to feature on this list, are unlike other predators in that they tend to avoid areas of high prey density. This, we think, is because of the increased danger of their running into other, larger predators.

If you were to travel to either of Tsavo’s National Parks, you couldn’t expect to find cheetah. The hardy brush means that safari-goers cannot be promised a sight of their spotted pelt. Though this may seem frustrating for the camera-wielding mgeni, this may be part of the reason why, in Tsavo, cheetah populations continue while in others, where, despite a seeming abundance of prey, cheetah are outcompeted by other big cats.

African Wild Dog

African wild dogs, also called African painted dogs, are classified ‘endangered’ by the IUCN. In Kenya, according to our 2021 national wildlife census, there are only 865 wild dogs alive in the country. These beautiful, highly social creatures have managed to carve out an existence here.

Tsavo’s vast landscapes and diverse ecosystems offer them a habitat rich in prey and opportunities for successful hunting. However, it is really the size of Tsavo that allows for the continued existence of Painted dogs. African wild dogs are reliant on huge spaces for the maintenance and survival of their 5-15 strong packs.

For much the same reason that Tsavo’s huge space allows an element of protection to cheetah that they mightn’t find in the Maasai Mara, for example, wild dogs are also better protected in areas of reduced predator competition.

Taita Thrush

The Taita thrush, a rare forest bird species, is endemic to the Taita hills area of the Tsavo Conservation Area. It’s a beautiful bird, black and white with a sunset-orange breast, but it’s historical range is tiny. As a result, it is classified endangered.

Entirely limited to a few spots in the Taita hills, without the protection of its habitat, the Taita thrush will likely go extinct.



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