Category Archives: cattle

Game Count in Nairobi National Park, 1st February 2009


On 1st of February a game count took place in the park. These figures are MINIMUMS but give a good idea of overall TRENDS in the park, which , as the dry season refuge for the Athi Kapiti ecosystem is full of migratory game right now owing to the ongoing dry cycle.

In addition, the park is getting more & more isolated & many of the species present in the park are today confined to it, owing to the ‘humanisation’ of the dispersal area.

Warthog (above) have recovered from the rinderpest outbreak that nearly wiped them out 10 years ago & can be found all over the park:they are breeding well & will provide a much needed source of food for the lions once the wet season arrives in April (hopefully!) when the zebra move out. 38 were counted.


Buffaloes are also increasing in number in the park: 355 were counted, but no doubt there plenty more up in the Langata forest, where these grazers are concentrated right now.


Giraffe (the Masai variety) can be very easily approached in the park & bulls often refuse to move out of the road on the approach of an oncoming vehicle.After all, they have right of way & are several times taller than any vehicle……157 were counted.This is probably close to the real population figure, giraffe being so visible & easy to count.


Eland are a species that are going to be more & more confined to the park as it is encircled by development. A shy species, eland cannot take disturbances associated with people & need the browsing that has all but disappeared outside the park owing to habitat change &  the presence of goats.

There are several nursery herds in the park (eland calves have an intense attraction for one another) which is good news as they and their mothers are safe from meat hunters, (eland meat is particularly delicious & such big animals are very valuable to a poacher) & their dogs…….211 were counted in the game count.


As Kenya’s premier rhino sanctuary, the rhinos will have been disturbed by the recent cattle invasions of the southern boundary. They need territory & peace & quiet to breed. 12 were counted and this probably gives a good estimation of the total, which might be twice this number (which would make 24 individuals.) The KWS given figure of 65 is erroneous……


The gazelles are back, which is terrific news: 148 Thomson’s were counted & 94 Grant’s, which is a greater total than for many years; a vindication of the KWS policy of controlled burning, which has restored the short-grass plains habitat to the park.

Sadly the victim of too many years of no burning & during a wet cycle has been cheetahs.A single male occurs in the park: all that remains of a population which was forced to move out of the park as there were no gazelles for them to feed on…….


I’m surprised that only 1,682 zebra were counted. They are very adaptive & are well able to move out into the humanised dispersal area in the Rains. They’re breeding this year in the park as it is so dry………….Having said this, there are STILL zebra outside on the parched  & overgrazed plains.


632 impala were counted in the park, showing that it’s wide range of habitats is perfect for this medium sized antelope, which browses or grazes, according to the seasonal food supply.


The very best news is that the gnu are back in the park in good numbers after many many years.203 were counted & this number should go up as the cows are calving right now: in the park for the first time that I can recall over a 10 period. Again the presence of short grass plain habitat makes all the difference to these wanderers of the plains, whose habitat has been gobbled up by the fast expanding city of Nairobi.


Kongoni are also breeding well: 371 were counted & with a whole new generation born in (& increasingly confined to) the park, hopefully this species will adapt to staying in the park as outside is no longer suitable habitat.

Below is Ujonjo the Big Male of the park’s estimated 22 lions, of which 18 were counted. (Photo by Gareth Jones -thanks!) The lions are having a great time with so much to feed on & at least one of the 5 adult lionesses is reported pregnant.


Diversity in Drought


It has been very dry in NNP in this continuing dry cycle (despite 27mm :1 inch of rain last night 26/1/09), with much stress caused by an almost complete lack of grazing in the much-humanised ‘dispersal area’ between the park & the Athi -Namanga highway.

As a result, most of the herbivores in the Athi -Kapiti ecosystem are in the park & a visit is a must as the current rains bring a green flush to the extensive short-grass plains that are a welcome feature at present, owing to controlled burns last year.

Above are one of the herds of wildebeest that used to migrate in their thousands into the park during dry times. Alas no more, but at least we’ve got some left!


The Athi Basin is being intensively grazed by wild herbivores & Maasai cattle alike & the Athi dam is in danger of completely drying up for the first time that I can remember. A sign of the times is large flocks of yellow-throated sandgrouse coming into drink in the early mornings, with much throaty chuckling:splendid birds indeed!


And what will our large meat-eating crocs do if the dam dries up? Go back to the Embakasi river a kilometre or so away, itself currently a mere trickle…


It is marvellous the way that organisms react to even the tiniest shower of rain, such as the underground bulbs of these Crinum sp. lilies. A most unlikely sight in the surrounding tawny dryness.


A pair of a signature species for the park :white-bellied bustards, whose far-carrying cackling cries can always be heard on the plains, a most evocative sound.


And the keynote species of mammal: lions. A lioness with her 3 fast-growing cubs on a zebra kill in the grass, with giraffe looking on.


Cattle Conundrum


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?