Nairobi National Park has always served as a dry season refuge for the grazers of the Athi-Kapiti Ecosystem & this year, in the middle of a dry cycle,is no exception. Most of the herbivores in the ecosystem are now in the park, including many Maasai cattle.
The Park comprises the high part of the Athi Plains, a high altitude savannah ecosystem consisting of very rich grazing. So rich that in a normal year it has to be burnt to prevent the existence of rank grazing avoided by wild herbivores, not least because it provides cover for predators.
So grazing by cattle in a drought year is no bad thing from a grass management point of view as this removes the rank grazing.
But the NNP is also the most important rhino sanctuary in the country, providing space for rhinos to breed, the resulting extra rhinos being translocated to suitable habitat elsewhere in the country. There are only c.550 black rhino (michealii) in the world….
Cattle disturb the rhinos in their last refuge.
Species of wild herbivores such as eland, kongoni (Coke’s hartebeest) & wildebeest, which once roamed the Athi Kapiti ecosystem in their thousands, are now down to hundreds of animals & confined to the park as their dispersal area on the plains becomes a truncated ecosystem in a humanised landscape, where land uses other than ranching mean that grazing for cattle is severely limited & as a result, severely overdgrazed.
Where are the wild herbivores to go ?
A breeding herd of the 278 counted wildebeest remaining in the park.
Buffalo -all introduced in the park – are increasing in numbers. They are the first species, being so large, to suffer malnutrition & rapidly lose condition in drought circumstances.
Cattle compete with the wild grazers for the last reserves of grazing in the ecosystem, all in the park….
Ticks which have fed on buffalo carry parasites such as East Coast Fever, which can cause high mortality amongst cattle.
Conversely, tick birds (ox peckers) which feed on dipped cattle can die from insecticide poisoning.
In a drought, there are conflicting interests. Should cattle belonging to individuals be allowed to graze in a national park, which belongs to all Kenyans?
And what about the tourists paying 40$ to see herbivores in the park. Are they getting their money’s worth? Will they come back another day?
Are tourists more important for Kenya’s economy than pastoralists, who have to safeguard their cattle?