Category Archives: wildebeest

Thirsty Herds

By Will Knocker:

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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.

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 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.

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Plains zebra watering at the Athi dam.

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Zebra & gnu in the Athi Basin.

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

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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!

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Wildebeest Calving

By Will Knocker:

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

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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..

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

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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:

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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).”

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

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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).

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‘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 .

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Cows & yearlings in the Athi Basin yesterday…

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

For more info on on-going research: http://www.nrel.colostate.edu/projects/gnu/nnp.php

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:http://nairobinationalpark.wildlifedirect.org/2011/04/12/sheep-goat-land/

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

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

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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….

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

http://www.nrel.colostate.edu/projects/gnu/track_nairobi2.php

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…..

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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:

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

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Plains zebra; Ngong Hills behind.

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

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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.

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The Plain in the City.

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Sheep & Goat Land

Story & pics by WILL KNOCKER:

Much effort & debate swirls around the ‘dispersal area’ of the park.

Below: the ‘real’ dispersal area for much of the park’s migratory grazers: the Sheep & Goat land.

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This is government owned land (it used to be/still is? a holding ground for livestock going to the slaughterhouse at Athi River.)

It adjoins the block of NNP which lies across the Empakasi River just downstream of the hippo pools….

It is quite large: several thousand acres & heavily grazed by Maasai livestock

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Part of NNP across the Empakasi, looking north into the park…….

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The Sheep & Goat land is VITAL for the last few gnu in NNP (once there were 100,000 (est.) in the ecosystem. They drop their calves there…..

We now have 1000 (1 % of the above) who have access to the park. The remainder are on the Kapiti plains across the Athi River/Namanga highway….

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The Sheep & Goat land is not only of ecological importance to gnus: thousands of grazers (see these current pics) use this area which is or SHOULD BE an INTEGRAL AREA of NNP.

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So what steps are being taken by KWS, FONNAP, Wildlife Foundation etc. to conserve & BIND TO THE PARK this essential area: the only true short-grass plain habitat available to gazelle sp., gnu, zebra etc?

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The debate on the ‘dispersal area’ really, urgently, needs to focus on this prime bit of habitat.

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We wildebeest are watching you……….

Early Rains

By WILL KNOCKER (who has a new camera):

In NNP we’ve had 100 mm (4 inches) of rain in the last couple of weeks & the Park is looking beautiful…….as usual, at the first sign of rain the grazers head straight out of the park…..

Below, landscape & sky…..

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The  last ‘corridor’ remaining out of the Park is in the east of the Park in the glorious Athi Basin, where wildlife is now concentrated. (I shall post on the crossing shortly.)

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My favourites-eland (which means moose in Dutch!!) with abundant young.

Zebra, kongoni & eland, as well as the gazelle sp. drop their young beginning December….

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There are plenty of giraffe in NNP- 68 in the February count -definitely a MINIMUM number…

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???

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A solitary gnu in the park, Athi Basin in the background…

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And gnu calves & cows on the Sheep & Goat land just outside (but contiguous with) the park. Notice what is behind -to the south -the daily expanding township of Kitengela…..

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Buffalo at the Athi Dam, (247 counted in Feb Game Count.) I’m sure there are many more than this……

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An Athi River mammal eater with his friends (White faced whistling duck)

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NNP surely remains one of the best places in the wild to view Browse rhinos: here are 6 of them in the Athi Basin.

They’re Back!!

Photos courtesy of SQUEAKS VAUGHAN:

It is hot & dry in the park: hot enough for the last wildebeest in the park & dispersal area to begin to wander into the Athi Basin.

The gnu (it is estimated there were once 100,000 of them in the Athi Kapiti Ecosystem) are down to 1,000 (1% of what once was -counted in NNP in 2009) & they usually stay well out of the Park in the Sheep & Goat Land adjacent to Kitengela town.

We saw about 150 in the Park. Will they breed inside the park this year??

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Notice the “Dispersal Area” in the background: increasingly unsuitable for wildlife, though nearly all the zebra (4000 or so) go out in the wet season….this area is also a stronghold for gazelles……..

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Last year’s calves: now yearlings……