Category Archives: Athi Kapiti Ecosystem

Fire in NNP

By Will Knocker:


A couple of weeks ago at the height of the drought I could see a huge fire in the Park from my home in the Silole Sanctuary…


Plumes of smoke drifting towards Wilson Airport


What the heck was going on?


My daughter Lucy & I decided to investigate…


Driving into the Park we could see that the plains above Olomanyi Dam were on fire..


Fire is scarey & one could only imagine what was happening in the several thousand acres of grassland now ablaze..


But fire is an absolute feature of the savannah & some of the grassland areas of the Park could do with a Controlled Burn to remove the tall, rank, inedible grass ….


A large part of the plains below the Langata forest (Narok Omom, meaning Black Head in Maa: mangled into the ‘Nangolomon’ known today) was burnt…


KWS were backburning & controlling the blaze on the verges of the tracks, which acted as windbreaks.

Luckily the wind had died down…


Within a few days, hungry zebra made thin by the recent drought, were in the Burn area, grazing on the fresh green shoots…


Within a few weeks & a downpour of rain from one of the localised storms which has been the norm so far these Short Rains & there were hundreds zebra, kongoni & gnus enjoying the new growth of grass, free from predators, on the clean short-grass plain….


Ostriches in NNP

By Will Knocker


It is said that Nairobi National Park has the greatest concentration of Maasai ostriches

anywhere & certainly it is a good place to observe & photograph these enormous,

ungainly but beautiful birds.


During the Long Rains, when there is plenty to eat, the birds get sexy & mate (see


Chicks hatch & a pair of ostriches might have up to 30 young in their nursery flock,

which are fiercely guarded by the parents.


Sadly ostrich chicks suffer very high mortality & only  a few at most manage

to escape the attentions of predators.


In an Anthropecenic world, where there is very little space for ostriches

to freely breed & reproduce, aren’t we fortunate to have the Park as

an a sanctuary for ostriches, amongst many other forms of life?

Great Gnews from NNP

Pictures by Alexandra Spyratos:


This is an Eastern White Bearded wildebeest, of which there are once estimated to have been 100,000 in the Athi-Kapiti Ecosystem of which Nairobi National Park is a part…

According to

there were still 90,000 or so of this Kenyan sub-species of gnu in existence in the late 1990’s.

However, estimates of Eastern White-bearded Wildebeest indicate a steep decline in the subspecies’ populations to a current level of perhaps 6,000-8,000 animals. Apart from NNP, the other haven for this sub-species is the Shompole Conservancy.

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For many years now, there have been about  250 individuals in the Park & the fast-dwindling dispersal area to the South.

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It has been a dry year in Kajiado generally & especially in the  intensively grazed Sheep & Goat Land which these short-grass plain grazers like & many wildebeest have moved into the Park  with the rain of recent days.


The fantastic news is that the photographer & I counted 450 individuals, many of them young yearlings: the NNP population is INCREASING & will continue to do so in the future given the massive grazing pressure on the Park  nowadays: gone are the days when one had to consider burning the Park to manage the grazing: innumerable buffaloes, zebra, kongoni & cattle are seeing to that: the days of grass as a super-abundant resource are well & truly over…


Dispersal Area


By Will Knocker:


For many years now, folks concerned with Nairobi National Park & it’s future have discussed the “migration” of wildlife in & out of the Park through “corridors” to a “conservation area” somewhere in the Kitengela. The fact is that NNP is now, to all intents & purposes, surrounded by the city & my purpose in this photo-essay is to show that this is the sad truth…


The only area unfenced along the Southern boundary of the Park is in the Athi Basin, west of Athi River town, where a Block of the Park exists in fact ACROSS the Empakasi river. This Block adjoins an area called the Sheep & Goat land which is supposedly government land but is in fact occupied & grazed by the local Maasai.


Brand new house & fence in this area, supposedly leased by the Wildlife Foundation as open rangeland suitable for wildlife.


This area is vital for the Park’s population of Eastern White-Bearded wildebeest, of which about 250 individuals exist in the Park from an estimated population of 100,000 in the Athi Kapiti ecosystem a hundred years ago…. they give birth to their calves outside the Park.



The area, especially in the woodland within the Park, has been taken over by the dreaded invasive weed Parthenium.


The boundary road along the edge of the Park.


The Athi Plains were rich & very biodiverse, especially in species of large grazers. These are now confined to the Park.


The Last Gnu? We’re nearly there….


A vision of the Future: urbanization & a world in which wild grazers have been replaced by cattle.


The Sheep & Goat Land today (all that is left of the ‘Dispersal Area’): homesteads, roads, ploughed areas, livestock, people, dogs,boda-bodas….is this really suitable for wildlife?


This just about sums it up……


The Park boundary….


This image shows the extraordinary richness of the grasslands of the Athi-Kapiti ecosystem, if it were protected, as this is, by fencing, paradoxically death to the population of wild grazers which once made this area a second Serengeti.

The parcelling out of the plains continues apace: you can buy yours by looking for ‘Kitengela Plots for Sale’ in your paper today.

Luckily, we still have the whole 120 square kilometres of the Park without people, livestock  or fences as a last refuge .




On the Athi Plains

By Will Knocker:


Is there a better place to be than on the African Plain?


On the Athi Plain in particular where grass is a super-abundant resource….


NNP & what is left (very little) of the dispersal area is home to a herd of 4000 Plains zebra…


and 18 species of Bovidae (buffalo & antelopes..)



And all this in a city of 5 million H. sapiens………WOW !

Wildlife Flourishing in NNP

By Will Knocker:






Yellow Throated Sandgrouse

By Will Knocker:


Yellow-throated sand-grouse watering at the Athi Dam…



This is the largest species of sangrouse in Kenya & found on the High Plains of the Mara & Athi-Kapiti, unlike other sp. found in lowland semi-desert….


They have a distinctive gutteral call when flighting in to drink: ” TIRI KOKO”….their name in Maa….


Two male birds….



The difference between male & female birds…


C’est tres magnifique !!

Dreaded Parthenium in NNP

By Will Knocker:


The dreaded Parthenium Weed -spread by human activities such as road building -has gained a foothold in Nairobi National Park, especially in the Athi Basin area, where a pylon line is currently being constructed….floodwater also spreads the seeds, so we can expect mega-infestation after the current Rains…


Each single plant is said to be able to produce 25,ooo seeds -if you want to see the end result, look on the verges of the new by-pass from JKIA heading to the Thika Highway: what a mess….


The experts tell us that this is a plant (it is of the Feverfew family) which poisons its neighbours, including grass & is a major threat to African grassland ecosystems…in Ethiopia (where it first arrived in Famine Relief supplies) it has compromised thousands of acres of rangeland.

Parthenium causes allergic reactions in people & animals, so pull it up with gloves or a handkerchief…..if you see this plant: DESTROY IT!!


Parthenium is not to be confused with one of our commonest & most widely spread wild flower species Heliotropium (see above)

For more information:

Consider the lilies of the field….

By Will Knocker:

“And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin:

And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these……..”

So says the Good Book & this year’s rains in Nairobi National Park has brought out the wild flowers in all their glorious profusion:


Wild harebells:Cyphia glandulifera…..


Pentanesia ouranogune


Ipomoea jaegeri


Hypoxis obtusa


The glorious, scented Gladiolus candidus….


The ubiquitous Heliotropum, one of the commonest wildflower geni in Kenya:

The word “heliotropium” is the Latin name for an ancient plant which had
the unique habit of turning to face the sun at all times. The plant’s name is
derived from two Greek words: helio, meaning “sun,” and tropos, meaning “turn.”


Pentas parvifolia



One for you Flower Fundis out there…..


Come on, readers….what have we got here?

Below, Commelina reptans….

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Commelinia ecklonia ssp. nairobiensis


Bauhinia sp..


The aptly named Gloriosa superba…

The Last Gnus

By Will Knocker:


C. t. albojubatus (Eastern White-bearded Wildebeest), of which species the IUCN says: ” However, recent population estimates suggest that the future prospect of some subpopulations or subspecies is of some concern, particularly that of the Eastern White-bearded Wildebeest (which, it seems, may have undergone a precipitous decline in numbers).”


Hope for the future? A yearling (born March 2012)……


This species was once one of the most numerous herbivores wandering the vast high plains of the Athi Kapiti Ecosystem of which NNP is the last remaining pristine corner: it has been estimated that there were 100,000 at the beginning of the Twentieth century.

Now: “Eastern White-bearded Wildebeest, 94,000 (with about two-thirds in and around protected areas)”, of which we in NNP have about one hundred & fifty individuals (144 counted in February game count).


‘Our’ gnus tend to live on the rapidly dwindling Sheep & Goat Land between the park & the ever-burgeoning New Town of Kitengela south of the Park, which is heavily grazed short-grass plain habitat. The question must be: will they move into the Park once this last stronghold goes the way of the rest of the ecosystem?

The majority of the gnus in the Athi Kapiti live south of the Athi-Namanga highway, which they cannot cross to get to the Park. These will find it difficult to survive in an increasingly humanised & truncated ecosystem .


Cows & yearlings in the Athi Basin yesterday…


Our last few Eastern White-bearded gnus, for whom the Nairobi National Park is their last refuge…..

For more info on on-going research: