Category Archives: Nairobi

Nairobi Greenline Becomes Nairobi Pipeline…….

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Everybody knows the Chinese are in Kenya & they are doing great things with infrastructure…..including  a fuel pipeline (pictured) which without any advice,impact assessment or consultation, suddenly punched it’s way through the middle of the Nairobi Greenline (see www.nairobigreenline.com) on the northern boundary of the Park!

Now Nairobi is an expanding city & needs infrastructural development, but without a by-your-leave, to trash the electric fence freely donated by supporters & the trees so carefully nurtured within shows a very cavalier attitude indeed…….

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Road Kills…..

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NNP is a city park, where city folks drive into the park to look for large mammals.

Of course there are many noctournal animals that cannot deal with vehicle headlights after dark.

Above is a zorilla (an African skunk- a member of the weasel family) which was killed on Thursday night.

KWS vehicles zoom along the bottom-of-the Langata-forest where this unfortunate victim of the motor car was found….

Roads have recently been improved in the Park, so vehicles are driving faster.

SLOW DOWN, ANIMALS HAVE RIGHT OF WAY (even if you are not in the park!)

Update on Leopard Research in NNP

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Yesterday Yumi the leopard researcher came to look at leopard pugs behind Silole Cottage & gave me an update on the research she is doing on NNP leopards. She collared 2 leopards in order to monitor their movements.One is ‘ours’: she lives in the park & in the Silole Sanctuary abutting the park, whilst the other animal is resident in the Langata Forest in the west of the park.

Yumi was telling me about analysis of the scat (droppings) in these 2 areas of the park & the results are interesting: these leopards really are suburban, making use of the food resources inside & outside of the park. The first (Silole) leopard, which inhabits the area around the river-gorges of the Kiserian & Empakasi rivers had baboon & hyrax remains in it’s scat, along with the hairs of sheep & goats presumably stolen from Masai homesteads outside the park, whilst the second leopard, whose movements show it crosses the Magadi road into the neighbouring Mukoma Estate had bushbuck remains & domestic dog hairs in it’s scat. So now you know where your missing pet went to…….

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History Of Kenya’s Oldest National Park

NAIROBI NATIONAL PARK
By Daphne Sheldrick D.B.E.: UNEP Global 500 Laureate.

Fifty years ago, the first Game Warden of Kenya, Capt. Archie Ritchie, O.B.E. M.C. writing in the fledgling Park’s first handbook, had this to say about the Nairobi National Park:-

“I want to give an assurance, a guarantee that the Park is wholly “genuine”. Persons visiting it now for the first time may well imagine that its faunal population, varied and teeming as it is, has been laboriously built up, and that many of the animals to be seen have been brought from elsewhere, or at least induced by artifice to come in and dwell. The exact opposite is the case, and the area is essentially the same as when I first took charge of it as a corner of the great Southern Game Reserve in January 1924, and marvelled at the wealth and variety of its wild life….And the beasts are the same as those I found there that long time ago. Some species are now rather more numerous, some rather less, for populations, particularly of migratory or partially migratory species, are subject to periodical downs”.

Fifty years later, and the dawn of another millennium, the same is poignantly true today, despite the immense changes that have taken place in the country, though perhaps the term “teeming”, as a description of numbers as they were fifty years ago, today would have a lesser connotation, for what remains today is a mere shadow of that bounty. Everything is fewer, not through the natural “down” that Capt. Ritchie mentions, but due to human expansion that has constricted the animals’ once large dispersal area and brought human habitation right up to every boundary. Some rhinos have been brought in, as have some orphaned hand-reared buffaloes; the African wild dogs are no more and the predator population seriously eroded, but the Park remains still a rare jewel in the crown of Kenya’s conservation efforts. No other city in the entire world can boast a natural wilderness within easy reach of its centre, where visitors can spend a magic afternoon viewing a microcosm of what used to be a hundred years ago. Nairobi National Park is, indeed, unique – and must be nurtured at all costs, not just for its obvious tourist appeal, and the revenues it brings into the country, but for important therapeutic reasons also. The human soul needs access to Nature to heal its psyche, for humans, whether they acknowledge it or not, are also an integral part of Nature and need the tranquillity wilderness offers to offset the negative impact of stress. More importantly still, the Park serves the vital role of being the very lungs of Nairobi city, its natural vegetation and remnant forests renewing the oxygen levels and cleansing the air of pollution spewed forth from a sprawling city now harbouring close on 3 million human souls.

Capt. Ritchie goes on to write “you may imagine with what jealous care I watched and worried over it (the Park) during the long years when its ultimate fate was hanging in the balance, and the importunate claims of a fast-growing town were frequent and ominous”. Today, as another millennium dawns fifty years later, we still watch and worry over its ultimate future and the fate of all its wild denizens. But, before considering the hazards posed by the future let us step back in time and take a look at the hazards the Park has endured in the past, before it was afforded National Park status way back in 1945.

At the end of the 1800’s, a handful of white immigrants – all adventurers, prospectors, traders and hunters happened to be camped around the swamp known by the Masai as Nairobi (meaning “cold”). Here the advance gangs of the Uganda Railway had just established an advance base and lions still slaked their thirst at the swamp, as did all other forms of wildlife. Even elephants passed by periodically in their long range meandering and it was said that giraffe ate the washing from the lines and the monkeys and baboons swung on the guy ropes of the tents. The animals were unafraid then because they had never heard the sound of a gun. They lived in harmony with the indigenous peoples who took only what they needed to survive and who were sparse and scattered. Then the population of Kenya was estimated at just 8 million and the human bones strewn around the swamp were evidence of the countless scourges and battles that kept the population static.

Whilst the white adventurers exchanged yarns around the camp fire by night, the pulse of wild Africa beat all around them, undisturbed. They regarded the wild animals as just one of many unavoidable hazards of the unpredictable “Dark Continent”, providing a boundless larder there for the taking. Instead of sending an order to the butcher for tomorrow’s dinner, a man would simply take up his gun and pick off the nearest antelope without even having to move from the entrance of his tent.

Time passed and Nairobi grew into an embryonic town as shacks and shelters replaced canvas. Early pioneers such as Delamere and Percival, who had adopted the country as their own, saw that its character changing for man with his machines and industry was driving the game into retreat. They managed to persuade the incumbent Colonial Governor to pressurise Whitehall into setting aside areas where hunting was prohibited by law. One of these was what became known as the Southern Game Reserve, a huge chunk of country which at that time even embraced Nairobi and Kiambu.

However, the Southern Game Reserve was a sanctuary only in name, for the laws that were designated to protect it could not be enforced through lack of manpower. Nor was the intention that a National Reserve be established solely for wildlife – the animals coexisted with the people, as, indeed, they had done through millennia long before the advent of the White Man. Then wildlife was teeming in seemingly infinite abundance. It was not uncommon to see huge dust clouds rising into the air thousands of feet for weeks on end as the great herds moved Westwards towards the Yatta escarpment, making the Mara wildebeest migration of today pale into insignificance by comparison.

Whilst today traffic speeds from Nairobi to Thika on a dual carriage way in half an hour, in those days the pace was much slower. Travellers made their way by ox wagon, mule or rickshaw on a rugged track hewn by hand through the bush, and en route they faced many unexpected hazards. One old Kenya tale relates how a drunken fortune hunter in-spanned a lion instead of his missing ox whilst making his way to Thika and it was no uncommon to find a traveller sitting dejectedly by his wagon, all his oxen having been killed and eaten by a pride of lions during the night!

Then came the First World War of 1914 with the German enemy in neighbouring Tanganyika right on Kenya’s doorstep. The German East African Campaign called forth all the limited resources and manpower the young country could muster and thoughts of a National Park were relegated to the back burner. The road to the front line ran clean through what is now the forest of Nairobi National Park near Mbagathi where a large military camp was established. There was even a light railway, field firing ranges, battle trenches and row upon row of tents and inevitably the forest suffered as did the traumatised animals who sought shelter in the thickets and gorges and who were also slaughtered indiscriminately to feed the troops.

Peace came in 1918 and with it came more white settlers via a Soldier Settlement Scheme initiated by the British Government. Furthermore, way back in 1900 Queen Victoria had apparently given dispensation for a dozen or so Somali ex Servicemen and their families to reside in the heart of what is now the Park, but was then known as the Nairobi Commonage. These men were heroes, their chests sporting a host of campaign medals won in battles fought for the British Crown in far off lands, some even commemorating the famous siege of Mafeking in South Africa. Over time their numbers had proliferated, as had their livestock and cattle sheep and goats now swarmed all over the battered plains, whilst the gorges and thickets harboured a growing number of vagrants. Also, by this time tribes that had been displaced by Masai expansion were clamouring to regain ancestral lands and in 1933 the British Government sent out a Commission to try and establish the rights of the various factions and fix defined boundaries. Capt. Archie Ritchie, the Chief Game Warden, took this opportunity to resurrect the question of upgrading the Nairobi Commonage to a National Park to preserve what he already knew was a unique biodiversity. The Commissioners concurred, but whilst their recommendations were being buffeted between Nairobi and Downing Street, the Commonage continued to be systematically ravaged, being now the very back door of a fast growing city. However, public apathy prevailed, everyone too busy doing their own thing, so i n 1938 Colonel Mervyn Cowie, who resided on the outskirts of the town, orchestrated a cunning press campaign using reverse psychology to fan the flame of public emotion and rouse the populace from its lethargy. He recommended that all wildlife be annihilated because it served no useful purpose. This had the desired affect on the white population of Kenya, bearing in mind that only they had a voice in those days. A massive public outcry ensued forcing Whitehall to establish a Game Policy Committee with a mandate to recommend how and where National Parks could be set aside in the troublesome Colony, Britain having already accepted the principles of a National Park at an International Convention in London in 1933.

No time was lost in preparing to establish Kenya’s first National Park which was Nairobi. By the middle of 1939 most obstacles had been overcome and the boundaries of the Nairobi National Park had been established but then the Second World War broke out and yet again the Commonage had to pay the full price. Yet again a huge Army Training Camp sprang up where the first had stood in 1914, but this time there were more machines, more men and more instruments of destruction, even though the theatre of War was further removed. The famous landmark known as Lone Tree was labelled as a Royal Airforce bombing mark, and the peaceful valleys groaned again with the disturbance of grinding army trucks, again sending the terrified animals fleeing back into hiding. Only some of the lions benefited by preying on unsuspecting pedestrians!

Six years later, in 1945, peace came again a second time and miraculously, against all odds, the four-legged inhabitants had managed to survive, despite the presence of South African troops, who were well known as indiscriminate killers. The land, however, had taken a severe thrashing. Furthermore, pressure mounted with demands for local settlement, transit slaughter houses, quarries, firing ranges, military bases and a hundred and one other activities none of which were conducive to wildlife conservation. And yet, in spite of the upheaval the world had endured, or perhaps because of it, the yearning for unspoilt wilderness close to the hustle and bustle of town life endured, and in 1945 the Nairobi National Park came into being, supported by the strongest legal authority that could be devised within a system of Colonial Government. The dream of those early far-sighted Settlers had, at last, been fulfilled.

However, now another kind of struggle began. People had to be convinced of the justification for stricter control, money was in short supply, but had to be found, the infrastructure had to be created; roads constructed, poaching stopped and above all, the game afforded full protection in order to recover from its fear of man. Gradually the Somali ex servicemen were restricted, their cattle reduced from thousands to just 220, salt-licks replenished, flood waters impounded and trespassers prosecuted. And gradually, the wildlife came out of hiding and returned in vast numbers, swelled by immigration from the still well stocked wide open dispersal areas of the Kitengela and Kapiti plains. At last Nairobi had on its doorstep something that no other city in the world could claim – a wildlife sanctuary only four miles from its centre, just a fence segregating the folly of man from the wisdom of Nature.

The reason for such a variety of animal life in a tiny Park only 44 square miles in extent is, of course, that small as it is, it includes many different habitats, each harbouring its own typical fauna. The Park comprises open plains, broken bush, some real forest, a permanent river with fringe thickets, luggas, long grass, short grass, flat land and foothills, so a multitude of forms can live in close proximity to one another. On the open plains, grasslands alternate with Acacia dominated savannah, whilst the Athi River, cuts deep gorges of considerable depth and varying width as it winds its way through. The slopes of the gorges that are not sheer rock provide dense cover for many shyer creatures and where there is a good depth of soil large wild figs with spreading crowns, attaining a height of 80 – 100 ft. are plentiful. In areas where the water table is closer to the surface, such as at the Hippo Pools, yellow fever trees form beautiful stands, conspicuous with their sulphur yellow trunks and pale foliage. Stunted whistling thorns predominate in the shallower soils of the open wind swept plains, providing food for browsing species such as giraffe and rhino and on the black cotton soils, the highly nutritious “oat grass” (Themeda triandra) dominates amongst a wide variety of other grasses and legumes. Dry luggas and riverbeds afford places preferred by lions, and the forest which is confined to more broken country on higher ground, shelters forest species such as bushbuck, suni and monkeys.

The forest is, in fact, the southern fringe of what used to be the extensive Langata Forest and is comprised of Crotons, Muhugus, Cape Chestnuts and other indigenous species, but because the soil in the section that is in the Park is shallow, the tree growth on the whole does not reach the height of the forest proper. Nevertheless, its air conditioning role is irreplaceable. Hence the Nairobi National Park is a memory that echoes in microcosm the land as it was when it was young and unspoilt one hundred years ago. The variety of species it shelters is unique indeed for such a small area and in its capacity as the lungs of Nairobi, it is, of course, crucial. Yet the future of the Park today is no less certain than it was in Capt. Ritchie’s time. With human settlement right up to the boundaries and the Park electrically fenced on three sides, but not on the fourth, the Park is now more vulnerable than ever. Today the migratory species run the gauntlet every time they set foot beyond that fourth boundary, becoming entangled in snarelines, chased and killed by poachers with packs of dogs, and shot legally on culling quotas allotted to landowners – all to fuel the run away commercial bush-meat trade. Where there is money, there is graft and many licensed operators fudge their quotas, their outlets being tourist lodges and up market hotels. Meanwhile a voracious meat hungry escalating poorer population helps itself to free pickings, it being preferable to snare a wild animal than part with a goat or cow. As before, the laws in place to try and protect wildlife simply cannot be enforced, this time not through lack of manpower, but due to too many in an unwieldy and unworkable bureaucracy that inhibits field operations. Beset by the commercial meat trade, the migrant species return to the sanctuary of the Park in fewer numbers every year, and dangerously, the dispersal area reservoir which seemed infinite a hundred years ago, is now beginning to run dry, likened to an egg timer with a hole in the bottom.

Up until 1992 the possession and sale of game meat was illegal and hence meat poaching could be kept in check. Legalising the possession and sale of game meat has been a mega conservation blunder and one that threatens the very survival of many species. Game meat must again be placed off limits, and rapidly so, otherwise East Africa will follow West Africa in becoming a faunal vacuum. The tourist industry will collapse and the people become even more desperate and impoverished.

However, all is not lost yet. Whereas previously only the white population had a voice, today more and more concerned young Kenyans value their irreplaceable heritage and are urging the Government to address this issue issue. Youth Clubs undertake de-snaring patrols along Park boundaries and help to spread the word. They want to see the Wildlife Service bureaucracy streamlined through retrenchment so that the Service can function efficiently again and run on its own momentum.

The outlet for the migratory inmates of Nairobi National Park is via what today is known as the Sheep and Goat land situated adjacent to the Park boundary near the Hippo Pools. Concerned people have come together through Friends of Nairobi National Park and are in the process of trying to initiate a lease scheme whereby Kitengela landowners are remunerated for allowing the wildlife unhindered access through their holdings. However, this is not the first time that attempts have been made to secure the migration routes to and from the Park. A similar scheme was in place in the 1960’s whereby people all over the world contributed money to actually purchase one acre of land for a corridor for the migrants, but the funds simply vanished when Government disbanded the National Parks’ Board of Trustees, and seized control in 1976. Today, however, with greater transparency and accountability within Government circles, the lease scheme has a better chance of success.

And if it doesn’t succeed, what then? The Nairobi National Park will have to be fenced on its fourth boundary before all is lost, and what can naturally live within such constraints will, and what can’t won’t. Those who lack faith in the ability of Nature to adjust to changing circumstances contend that the Park would then have to be artificially “farmed”, but who, for instance, farms and manipulates the numbers of wild animals in the world famous Ngorongoro Crater, which is only 12 miles across, and has been a closed basin for thousands of years? The answer is, no-one other than Nature through evolution, yet the Crater holds a veritable array of wildlife in spectacular abundance. There the migrant species such as wildebeest, zebra and the gazelles simply satisfy their urge to trek by going round and round the crater in an endless merry-go-round, grazing down the pastures in one section and then moving on to the next. Neither does anyone actively farm the wildlife of Solio Ranch which is half the size of Nairobi Park and holds the country’s largest population of Black Rhino plus a spectacular array of other animals. Lake Nakuru is another example of an island Sanctuary, harbouring a good diversity of wildlife even though some species have still to adjust to a satisfactory balance. If the bushmeat trade cannot be closed, and if the lease scheme founders, then Nairobi National Park will also have to become an island Sanctuary before it is lost, but even as such, as long as all its indigenous components are represented, it will remain a priceless jewel for the country if humans have the wisdom to let Nature work its wonders and dictate what can and cannot live there naturally through a hands-off policy. Above all, it must remain a place of peace and sanctuary for the wild animal neighbours of Nairobi city.

Zebra Migration

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After 6 months of good rain, the migratory species of grazers in our ecosystem are coming back to the Park through the Athi Basin: the last corridor open to the rapidly diminishing & humanised ‘dispersal area’ outside the park on the short-grass plains.

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For the lions, it has been a difficult ‘hunger period’, with their chief prey species,plains zebra, outside of the park. We have lost several yearling cubs which wandered out of the park looking for prey: 2 of these were killed on a cattle-kill in the Kitengela area. But now the lions should be happy & the zebra safe in the park. Meat poaching is common outside the park & it is rumoured that there is a Chinese contract out on zebra skins….

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Zebras have got to take the “Designer’s Prize’ for Best Dressed species: each individual has a unique design of stripes!

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Zebra are always on the move, looking for grass & water. At this time of year they aggregate in big mobs to undertake long journeys safe in large numbers. Here they stop to drink at  waterhole on their way to the west of the park, where several hundred have already arrived.

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Plains zebra on the move…..

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NNP has about 4000 in the park & wider ecosystem.

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Zebra in the Athi Basin -the conduit of the migration.

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The ocean of grass in the park has been reduced a little by the large numbers of buffalo resident. Together with the zebra, these 2 sp. are able to manage the rangeland by grazing, making it more palatable & attractive for short grass specialists such as wildebeest & gazelles.

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Zebra crossing……

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Long may our big herd of wild equines gallop across the plains of Nairobi National Park: their last refuge, surrounded by 4 million people!

NNP Migration?

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Nairobi National Park is looking fantastic at the moment, with massive grassland regeneration throughout the park & especially in the western, wetter end.

In the past, in conditions like these, the large species of grazers -plains zebra, kongoni & eland usually migrated out of the park into the ‘dispersal area’ to the south of the park.

The sad fact is that this ‘dispersal area’ hardly exists any more & the biomass of the park is now restricted to the park & an area adjacent to the Athi River/Kitengela conurbation called the ‘Sheep & Goat Land’ which used to be a stock quarantine area & is now a vital calving ground for the last gnu which have access to the park….

Above, large herds of zebra in the Athi Basin area of the park, with large numbers also congregating in the Sheep & Goat Land outside the park.

The few zebra to have wandered further into the increasingly urbanised ‘dispersal area’ are falling prey to poachers: apparently there is a (Chinese?) order out for zebra skins….

Luckily we have c. 4,000 zebra in the park & surrounding areas, so maybe there are a few to spare …….bear in mind though, that even the resilient plains zebra is disappearing in much of it’s range (see separate WildlifeDirect story on translocations to Amboseli….)

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The commonest antelope in NNP is the impala, which did well despite the recent drought.

This sp. are browsers, though they graze green grass when it is available. They do well in the diverse habitats characteristic of Nairobi National Park, comprising as it does short grass plain, long grass savannah, highland dry forest & rocky river valleys with riparian woodland…..

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These ostrich have wondered out of the park into the Sheep & Goat Land……

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The Athi Plains were once covered in thousands of gazelles -Grant’s & Thomson’s, which have increasingly been squeezed out by fencelines, quarries, agriculture & property development. The last few thousand -of both sp.- are found o the short grass plains of the Athi Basin -in the park & immediately adjacent to it……

Above, tommies, their tails incessantly wagging……..

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A lioness (notice her teats: has she got cubs somewhere?) on the prowl in the Athi Basin , where most of the wildlife in NNP is now concentrated………this gives the grazing in the rest of the park a much needed rest.

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There were several hundred eland around the Athi Dam when these pictures were taken (March 8th) including this fine bull.

This sp. no longer leaves the park- shy animals, they cannot take the level of human activity & disturbance now prevalent in what used to be their wet season ‘dispersal area’.

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A pic of the Athi Basin, where most of these pictures taken (you cannot say I do not keep you up to date on this blog!)

Notice the rooftops of Kitengela township on the horizon……

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A seasonal wetland on the plains so important to th fantastic biodiversity in NNP.    Outside the park, such spots have been built over……..

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Such as in this picture, where the reality of our fabulous park is quite clearly demonstrated: the Last of the Athi Plains, surrounded by the City……

Kongoni (Coke’s hartebeest) are another sp. now entirely confined to the park: they are breeding well & herds of cows & calves can be found all over the park.

We must have close to 1,00o 0f this sp. making NNP an important haven for these large grazers -in decline elsewhere from competition with cattle.

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Pairs of Grey Crowned Cranes are nesting in most of the wetlands in the park at present.

Here’s a splendid male just for you, wherever you are…………

Hyenas in Nairobi Park

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Nairobi National Park is a haven for the Spotted Hyena -Crocuta crocuta-surely one of the most fascinating of the large Carnivora…..

Being noctournal animals, these creatures are shrouded in myth, much of it ignorant, such as the belief that hyenas are scavengers…….in fact they are  intelligent,very social,highly effective predators very often at the top of the food chain in the savannah ecosystem.

They are also quite at home in ‘human zones’ such as cities & in suburban situations. To give an example, Ethiopia is home to tens of thousands of these large predators & yet has no significant wildlife numbers. Reason:Ethiopia has the highest livestock population in Africa & as hyenas are tolerated by the people, they do very nicely thank you & do an excellent job keeping the streets clean.

In Nairobi, in contrast, owing to ignorance, they have been persecuted since the city of Nairobi was founded 100 years ago. A bounty was paid on dead hyenas up to the ’60’s & in the ’70’s large-scale poisoning of large predators was the norm.

Only recently have their numbers begun to go up & today we have a good population (numbers unknown) in Nairobi National Park.

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Above & top, a ‘clan’ of hyenas at the Athi Dam -these animals are not easily seen in the daytime:they are more usually heard at night; their characteristic contact loud whooping call being a characteristic sound of the African wilderness…..

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Hyenas enjoy a matriarchal society:females are larger than males & dominate in the social hierarchy…….

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Here’s a soft focus pic of these cuddly predators, more usually pictured covered in gore at a kill…….

Let’s hope that hyenas have a rosey future in the unique Nairobi National Park, where the wilderness of the Athi Plains rubs shoulders with a metropolis of 5 million Homo sapiens.

Ideal habitat for these opportunistic & intelligent animals…….

Leopards in NNP

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Last week I had the pleasure of meeting up with Yumi, a zoologist from Kyoto University researching leopards in NNP, specifically looking at the conservation of these elusive cats & at interaction between leopards & people in the extraordinary periurban situation that is Nairobi National Park.

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Yumi trapped & collared 2 female leopards in the park in January this year & has been trying to keep up with them through radio signals & GPS readings showing their movements since then.

One of these is probably the individual that wakes me up at night by walking on my currugated iron roof as it was trapped along the Empakasi River next to the Masai Gate below the Silole Sanctuary where I live……Yumi estimates her age as less than 3 years old, which makes her immature..

The other moves in & out of the park from the Mukoma Road Estate into the Langata Forest. This individual is also young, but appears from the examination of her teats to have had cubs…

She has positively identified at least 5 different males & estimates the entire NNP population at between 10-20. The huge margin for error is perfectly easy to understand by those of us who are lucky enough to spot a leopard in the park….

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KWS report a female with 3 cubs in the Langata Forest. Females appear to share territory, whilst males are much less tolerant of intruders……

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If anybody has information or sightings of leopards in NNP please let me know & I will pass on to Yumi…

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A usual sighting of a leopard -a sleeping beauty almost impossible to see amongst the foliage. Leopards are mainly noctournal &  are opportunistic predators eating whatever is locally available . Not surprisingly around NNP they are very fond of eating dogs & cats including my dachshund last year…….

Photos by top cat-spotter Dave McKelvie.

Game Count in Nairobi National Park, 1st February 2009

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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……

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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…….

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Positive Trends

As it is the intention of this blog to accentuate the positive whenever possible & to celebrate the undoubted attractions of the NNP, herewith some GOOD NEWS stories…

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There used to be several thousand wildebeest in the NNP ecosystem, but after El Nino in 1997 & the wet cycle of weather following the drought of 2000, they all but disappeared in recent years, but now….they’re back, with 278 individuals counted in the park in October.It is the breeding season now & several herds of cows are in the Sheep & Goat land next to Kitengela town about to drop their calves.Once it gets dry again,the park’s short grass plains will be perfect for wildebeeste & let us hope that numbers are now on the way UP!

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Here is one of the 5 adult lionesses resident in the park. One has 3 young cubs whilst there are estimated to be 13 yearlings/adolescents in the park at present.

Not good news for the wildebeest,their favourite prey…

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Owing to the controlled (& uncontrolled) burns in the park last Xmas, the short grass plain habitat now covers as much as two thirds of the grassplains of the park.Whilst having voted with their hooves & moved OUT of the park in previous years (during a wet cycle), gazelles are now back in good numbers,including this fine Granti buck…..but where are the cheetahs?

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This has been a terrific year for ostiches (NNP holds the densest population of wild ostrich anywhere) with many clutches of eggs having successfully hatched.As a result there are many proud parents with their broods (all varying in size & number) on the short-grass plains; a wonderful investment in the future.

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Mark Stanley Price studied kongoni in the NNP in the 70’s & concluded that there were 2 populations of kongoni in the park:resident & migratory. Times have changed, however & the kongoni are now uncommon outside the park in what remains of the dispersal area.

Those that are resident appear to be flourishing, with close to 600 individuals counted in the park in October.Now, in the rains, young are to be seen in all the herds.Another great resource doing extra well in the NNP after years of decline….

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NNP is an excellent place for watching antelopes of many different species:eland,wildebeeste,kongoni,waterbuck,impala,2 sp.of gazelle (Grants & Thompsons) bushbuck,steenbok,oribi, common duiker,suni & 2 sp. of reedbuck (Bohor & Mountain-see above). Curiously dikdik seem to be absent,though occur on the rocky hillsides of the Silole Sanctuary (www.silolesanctuary.com) to the south.

Now it is wet & green, the zebra have done their usual disappearing trick into the dispersal area.But continuing dry weather & a dearth of grazing outside the park will doubtless see them back soon (those that have not been eaten.)This is all part of the trend by which the migratory species are increasingly confined to the park, including the nursery herd of eland (see below) which numbers about 100 individuals.

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