Category Archives: wildebeest

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….


Drought Stalks NNP

By Will Knocker:


Things are getting very dry in Nairobi National Park & several sources of water like this gravel pit are now dry: shouldn’t they be scooped out now, ready for the Rains?


Driving into the Mokoyeti valley gives the impression of a dessicated landscape…


The Acacia mellifera is in flower: it only does so when provoked by a dry period: food for bees & other insects…


This is a good time for the scavengers such as these vultures: NNP is a refuge for these Masters of the Skies…not a cloud to be seen


The large mammals such as the 150 or so Masai giraffe we have in the Park are hungry & wandering far in search of browse: they cannot go too far into the humanised world outside the Park: they are constrained…


A victim of drought, strangely untouched by scavengers…


Wildlife ,such as this tommy, stay close to sources of water (Empakasi river)


The wildebeest are giving birth in this unusually dry year: will the precious calves survive? Only a few thousand of this sub-species of gnu exists: about 500 of them in NNP


Nursery herd of Eastern white-bearded gnus


The Plains zebra are foaling too: it’s tough for the youngsters & their lactating mothers too..


The Athi dam is receding & a magnet for all forms of wildlife..


Like these thirsty zebras…


This old Grant’s gazelle will not survive this bitter season


But in the receding dams, new life emerges: White-faced whistling duck & ducklings

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Aquatic birds like the splendid Saddle-billed stork look out of place on the dry plains…


Whilst impalas stay in the shade at mid-day


The dams are frequented by thirsty herds…


And the Empakasi river flows very slowly. We all await the Life-giving Rains…..

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…


Thirsty Herds

By Will Knocker:


It looks like the Rains have failed in Southern Kenya & the Park is getting very dry, causing the  wildebeest population (c.250 animals) to come into the Park proper from the Sheep & Goat land across the Empakasi.


 Eastern White-bearded Wildebeest (Connochaetes taurinus albojubatus). This is a rare sub-species of gnu which consists of less than 5000 individuals East of the Rift Valley. In this respect Nairobi National Park is a very important haven for these creatures.



Plains zebra watering at the Athi dam.


Zebra & gnu in the Athi Basin.


Gravel pits become useful water points in dry years like this.


A wet August was not great for nesting ostriches, but these guys seem to be alright. Sadly very heavy mortality  amongst young ostrich means that almost certainly these chicks will be eaten!



Wildebeest Calving

By Will Knocker:


The NNP gnus calve in March & this year is no exception..


Usually they drop their calves in the Sheep & Goat land, but this year they have calved in the Park proper, perhaps owing to lack of grazing outside as a result of a very hot January/February..



There are only about one hundred & fifty wildebeest in NNP, so let’s hope it is now that figure + +


Once one of the most numerous herbivores in the ecosystem, wildebeest numbers are much reduced.

Let’s hope that trend  reverses with these new additions to the population..



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:

The Herds are Back…

By Will Knocker:

After months of greenery & long grass, the Park has turned tawny & the migratory herds are back: eland do not go far: across the Empakasi into the Sheep & Goat land. This is one of Kenya’s significant populations..

The NNP kongoni (Coke’s hartebeest) population is a conundrum: it used to consist of 2 populations, resident & migratory. As the migratory population has been confined to the Park (the remaining dispersal area is short grass plain-unsuitable for this sp. which is adapted to long grass areas) the population has shot up, in spite of record numbers of lions, for whom kongoni are a favourite prey sp.  …

The Plains zebra are back! In a year of good rain such as this, our population of up to 4000 roam as far as they can in the remaining dispersal areas. However it seems that even these remarkably adaptive creatures, able to deal with the suburban conditions (fences, people, dogs) outside the park have had to overcome their fears about lions & have come back in small family groups & some bigger migratory mobs consisting of hundreds of animals…the lions will be happy!

Up until the turn of the century, such sights would have included thousands of wildebeeste, but alas the last few hundred like the short grass plain of the Sheep & Goat land & only venture into the park if pressed by drought conditions….

NNP remains the last pristine corner of the Athi Kapiti Ecosystem, now a truncated shadow of what it once was. It is so encouraging to see the herds of migratory species come back to the park safe & sound after the Rains…..













NNP Dispersal Area

Photos & Story by Will Knocker:

The dispersal area for nairobi National Park is being severely overgrazed by livestock, partly due to rangeland loss to developments.

The dispersal area is severely overgrazed by livestock, partly owing to rangeland loss to development.

The Last Wildebeest? The Athi-Kapiti Ecosystem, of which the Park & dispersal area are the northern park, was once one of the world’s richest grassland ecosystems: it is estimated to provide a home for 100,000 wildebeest. We counted 2 bulls out on the plains at Sholingei..

Looking east down the Kitengela river valley; a major ‘mlango’ for wilflife to move to Top Plains at Sholingei; this is a humanised landscape not suitable even for passage by large grazers.

Heliotrope flowers in bloom where grass no longer grows….

Roads gouged out of the good earth by the stone trucks serving the quarries that take up the river valleys in the dispersal area, ceaselessly removing tons of blocks of stone with which to build the city of Nairobi & particularly the fast growing dormitory towns of Ongata Rongai & Kitengela (in picture.)

“Community Land”? This is government land: the old livestock holding ground for Athi River. It is now used for grazing by local herders, but permanent settlements there (of which there are quite a few) are illegal. At least the herders stop the area from being built over by the fast-growing Kitengela township…….& pastoralism is of course very compatible with wildlife as far as land-use is concerned.

When the park lions venture onto the ‘Sheep & Goat Land’ as this essential bit of the dispersal area is called, it is a very different story: if they kill livestock, there is a major conflict of interest & they will be killed in retribution……

New (built last year) temporary (there is no one living there now) homestead designed to hold livestock to illegally graze in the park during dry spells.

Giraffe in the block of the Park across the Empakasi, adjacent to Sheep & Goat Land

The breeding herd of eland across the river: the instincts of this highly migratory species tell them to move out of the Park; but they have nowhere to go…….

If we do not take the Sheep & Goat land seriously, we might lose the last few gnu we have in NNP…..

The amazing Athi Basin, where all “the migrants” go to after rain…..thankfully, sp. such as kongoni now stay in the Park & their population is increasing by leaps & bounds: elsewhere in Africa, all hartebeest are in steep decline wherever there are cattle (with whom they compete) & therefore overgrazed rangelands, which is not hartebeest habitat…

The dispersal area across the river is vital to NNP & ESPECIALLY TO WILDEBEEST: this is where they live & calve…..

Suburban wildebeest: the pressure is on for this species, both in the Park & in the rest of the Athi-Kapiti Ecosystem…..(remember there used to be 100,000…….!!!!)

The Dispersal Area is riddled with quarries & the air filled with the blasting of dynamite…..the plains of the Athi-Kapiti are , below a miniscule layer of earth, are in fact solid rock!

Tuala, a typical frontier town where land speculation is the main activity: the plains of the Dispersal Area is being rapidly parcelled out: townships & suburban areas will completely encircle the Park within, I would estimate, 10 years…..

For reference:

One idea: if a part of the northern bit of the Park is to be excised to make way for the Southern Bypass, as seems likely, can the authorities not look to formalise the Sheep & Goat Land as an integral part of NNP, forever??















The Last Wildebeest & the Sheep & Goat Land


Recent pics of the few wildebeest currently in the park…..


The Last Wildebeest? Gnu are true creatures of the plains, having evolved in the great plains of Africa.

Certainly they have not adapted well to changes in habitat around NNP: fences, human activity, meat-hunting & so on.

It is estimated there could have been at least 100,000 of this sp. in the Athi Kapiti ecosystem, but we are down to the last 500 in NNP: the rest are cut off by the Athi-Namanga Highway….


Gnu on the move. Scientists have been studying how & where they move in the NNP dispersal area:

What seems to be very clear is that our last few gnu spend most of their time centred on the Sheep & Goat Land (see previous posts in the category menu to the left…..


Gnu at the Athi Dam.

Surely it must be a priority to look very closely at how to integrate the Sheep & Goat Land more securely to the Park.

Or else we will lose the last of these peculiar but wonderful creatures in one of their main habitats……

(Short)Wet Season in NNP

By Will Knocker:


The township of Kitengela lit up by the sun…..from the park.


Plains zebra; Ngong Hills behind.


A large mob of zebra were grazing the lush grass of the Empakasi floodplain.



The rangeland in the park is in excellent condition, with plenty of short-grass plain habitat & plenty of grass in reserve in the Acacia drepanalobium plains in the North of the Park, in what promises to be a dry year.


The Plain in the City.