Category Archives: wildebeest

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……

Migration Time

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Files of zebra have come into the park in the last week from the plains in the background:the fast diminishing ‘dispersal area’…..

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Most of the park’s kongoni population stay IN the park, but the few that have moved out in the wet season now move back….

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Even our last few wildebeest are on the move- this is a herd of adventurous yearlings, which with the bulls move ahead of the cows & calves, who remain on the Sheep & Goat land outside the park.

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Eland join the moving herds……

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And a shower of rain brings a flush of green to the rapidly drying out plains; giving the zebra encouragement to move into the park.

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Stripey equines: the NNP herd is about 4,000 strong…..

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Encouragingly, gazelles are back: these Thomson’s, but also the larger Grant’s.

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Buffaloes of Nairobi National Park

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Formidable bovids, with a fearsome reputation, Cape buffaloes were introduced to NNP, where they did not (in the last 100 years) exist….

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Portrait of a bull: it is true you do not want to meet one of these on foot, but the record shows that generally speaking, buffaloes are intelligent -avoiding people if they can (on the southern boundary of the park, which is unfenced) & are more like (gentle) wild cattle than the monsters familiar from hunter’s tales. If you are hunted, of course you are aggressive….

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NNP now boasts close to 1,000 of these large, social grazers & they are well distributed across the Park.

The significance of this number of large grazers on the 30,000 acres of the Park is considerable.

A few months ago & grass-a normally super-abundant resource in the NNP- a part of the one of the richest grassland ecosystems in Africa-was extremely scarce. Buffaloes are particularly vulnerable to drought owing to their massive bulk.

Now the Park is a sea of long-grazing grass & the migratory sp. -mainly zebra & wildebeest, are on the short grass plains OUTSIDE  the park.

The daily increasing buffalo population should have an impact on the grasslands of the Park, keeping them sweet & precluding the need for controlled burns by the Park’s managers, KWS.

And will our lions (estimated at 35-40) learn to hunt this increasing source of prey?

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Typical members of a herd: cows & calves (a distinctive light brown colour) whilst bulls come & go according to the Bull Politics of the herd, where the meanest & most powerful get to mate with the cows that are in oestrous…..

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Buffaloes are nearly always accompanied by very useful tickbirds (ox-peckers) as they are invariably afflicted by masses of biting ticks….

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Portrait of a bachelor herd…..

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A herd on the plains in the Athi Basin……

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and the herd bull……..

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Wet Season Wonders

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Rain has been falling in NNP since January & was particularly heavy over Easter…wet weather often means it is unusually clear & for a few minutes last week the mass of Mount Kenya (17,000 foot) was visible over the usual smog of the Industrial Area. On a VERY clear day one can also see Mt Kilimanjaro far to the south……

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A Crowned Eagle in the Langata forest. At least one pair of these magnificent forest eagles nests in the park. Leopards of the air (notice talons in this pic), these birds eat fully grown monkeys & small antelope……

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All over the park, seasonal wetlands brim with water & with life.

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Water lilies in the top Langata dam. Brian Finch reports at least 8 pairs of Crowned Cranes (see previous post) have raised chicks in the park this season & conditions are so fecund most pairs have managed to raise more than one chick!

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Apart from resident large mammal sp : giraffe, buffalo & rhino & the kongoni that have now decided to stay in the park permanently, the most numerous sp., plains zebra, are mostly out of the park now. Out of an estimated population of 4,000, only a few hundred are now in the park. Of the est. 1,000 gnu, which calve in March, we saw just a couple yesterday along with a large nursery herd of eland (see above) in the Athi Basin where most wildlife is now concentrated owing to the short grass & proximity of the fast diminishing ‘dispersal area’.

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The Athi Dam -nearly empty in the drought -is now full up, though no sign of the large crocs that used to be there: have they migrated to the river??

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The park is one enormous ocean of long waving grass right now, full of the sound of buzzing grasshoppers trying to attract mates: all life seems to be displaying, mating & breeding as the ecosystem is transformed by rain into a bountiful natural bread-basket for all life……this hen Kori bustard had a half grown chick with her!

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We saw several large herds of buffalo on the plains & hopefully their increasing numbers will help to keep the long grass grazed, otherwise the gnu & the gazelles will be tempted to stay out on the overgrazed areas outside the park.

Still no cheetah cubs alas…….

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…………

Waiting…..waiting for Rain…..

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Nairobi National Park is a haven for antelopes, such as these oribi, translocated in from agricultural land in western Kenya. I saw 3 today:these shy creatures can more easily be seen now that there is so little vegetation in the park…

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The resident herbivores are finding it difficult in the dry, hot conditions prevailing; but not Grantis (you can see why they is called “oloibor siadi” -the ‘white behind’ in the Maasai language!) , which are very well adapted to living on the hot dessicated savannah.They can exist perfectly well without water.

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The beestes are back! Almost miraculously some 1,000 of these (in our ecosystem) increasingly rare grazers have found their way back into the park. Precise numbers will be communicated in the next post as a count took place last sunday, but no details available from KWS, yet.

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The gnu look good considering illegal cattle grazing has turned the entire park into short-grass plains habitat,with very little ‘short grass’. The black mob on the horizon are the herd seen in the pic above….talk about a blasted heath!

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Kongoni -in decline nearly everywhere from grazing competition with cattle -are now having to contend with cattle competition in their”protected” haven in the Park.

As always in a drought, the old & the weak are in poor condition; let’s hope they get through this period (there are many young at heel) as this population of Coke’s hartebeest, which is critical in terms of the Athi Kapiti ecosystem.

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The water holes are drying up…..

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Another rare denizen of the park: a bush duiker -no doubt only visible because of the paucity of vegetation…..

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Thirsty gnu….

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Even giraffe -supremely adapted to life on the African plain- are getting hungry & wandering far & wide in search of browse -including to my garden in the Silole Sanctuary. In the Langata Forest some of their favourite food shrubs – Rus natalensis –has died owing to drought. We can only hope that the rain arrives on schedule mid-October……..

Birding with Brian Finch -September

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After not visiting Nairobi National Park since 28th August, when for
the only time this year, I described the visit as the doldrums period,
today 13th September I spent the day in the Park and found that the
doldrums were very much over.

I was through the Main Gate just after 6-30am, the initial cloud cover
soon burnt off and the day was bright, sunny and warm more like the
weather that we would expect in September. Although there was a
negligible evening shower two days before, there was absolutely no
sign that this had happened and the roads were very dusty.

Less than a few hundred metres from the entrance gate, a stocky
antelope walked out of the forest and walked slowly across the road
seemingly oblivious of me. I immediately recognised the animal as a
Red Duiker, all reddish, unmarked, a huge rounded backside and small
neckless head. The rump was a richer reddish-chestnut than the body. I
have certainly never encountered the species in the Park, and I have
never heard of a sighting in the Park. At home I checked up in
Williams, National Parks book, and there was no record listed in there
for Nairobi National Park. Has anyone even seen or heard of a record
from here? It would seem unlikely that KWS would have included this
species in their introductions scheme.

I stayed at the Ivory Burning Site for a while, there were quite a few
mammals including a Black Rhino. There was a single female
Violet-backed Starling, and speeding over the top of the short grass
was an African Hobby which disappeared gaining height towards Nairobi.
An African Hoopoe was the first in the Park for some time. There were
a pair of Giant Kingfishers displaying over Nagalomon Dam, and a noisy
Zanzibar Sombre Greenbul singing from the other side of the lake.
Along the road towards Splash there were a pair of Scaly Francolins
feeding on the road, and African Firefinch was singing from the scrub.
Along the creek feeding Hyena Dam were an African Water Rail, a couple
each of Green and Wood Sandpipers, and an extremely early flava-type
adult female Yellow Wagtail, certainly the earliest I have ever seen
the species in Kenya. There were about three more African Water Rails
calling on Hyena Dam, but apart from that only the small Great Egret
was of any interest, apart from a White Rhino.
The run-off was much quieter than recently, a black Gabar Goshawk
agitated the, over two-hundred Wattled Starlings that were in a dense
flock crowning the canopies of acacias, a single Namaqua Dove, a
couple of White-tailed Larks and the only Barn Swallow of the day.
Taking the inside road to Karen Primary School Dam, the juvenileTawny
Eagle was trying out its wings by flapping on the nest, there were
twenty of so Athi Short-toed Larks, and at the dam small numbers of
White-winged Widowbirds and Red-billed Queleas, but no sign of
Yellow-crowned Bishop all day, they all seem to have left.
Just past the Beacon there were more Athi Short-toed Larks and five
African Silverbills. There was a Steinbok above the Athi basin. Athi
Dam was most disappointing, there was an impressive thousand or so
Marabou Storks, but not much else. A single Yellow-throated
Sandgrouse, three Black-crowned Night-Herons, eight Black-winged
Stilts, two Spur-winged and four Kittlitz’s Plovers, palearctic waders
just three Little Stints and four Common Sandpipers. On the exit road
south of the dam there were some seventy Athi Short-toed Larks is full
song, and another Black Rhino. On the Mbagathi bridge below Baboon
Cliffs there were a pair of Pygmy Kingfishers, a pair of Violet
Woodhopoes were the first time I have seen them west of Hippo Pools,
and a Side-striped Ground-Squirrel. Near the turn-off to Maasai Gate I
stopped for three Golden-breasted Buntings in an isolated acacia in a
dry area, and on doing so heard the full song of Blue-capped
Cordon-bleu. I waited to see if the bird would show itself, but it
stayed in cover. I “spished” and the bird came straight out and posed
on a branch getting itself digitised in the process. This was the
first ever record of Blue-capped Cordon-bleu for Nairobi Park, and a
stunning adult male. Nearby was a single Black-headed Oriole, a
species that is inexplicably scarce in the Park even though a common
enough resident in local gardens. Towards Kingfisher Picnic Site at
(29), there were five more African Silverbills with ten Zebra
Waxbills. Olmanyi Dam had a single Greenshank but nothing much else
apart from a couple of passing Mottled Swifts. Retracing the Hyena Dam
run-off there was a male Saddle-billed Stork, but the Whinchat seems
to have left its small territory. Nagalomon Dam had a smart trio of
Darters on the roosting tree, and both Kisembe Forest Edge Dam and
Langata Dams had Green Sandpipers. The last named had a young juvenile
Bateleur hopefully the progeny of the only pair in the Park.
Vultures were still in good numbers, still unable to keep up with the
dead cattle in the area. There were seven widely distributed
Lilac-breasted Rollers seen today, Quailfinch have plummeted from
being the commonest bird in the Park to a mere handful, in fact today
there were more Zebra Waxbill seen.

Wild animals were plentiful, apart from the highlight species, good
numbers of Zebra and especially Wildebeest, Bohor Reedbuck in three
locations and several Bushbuck. Many new mammal excavations in
roadside banks today. Cattle still in numbers in the south of the
Park, but far more calves than cows and over fifty dead seen.

The Park is now entering an interesting time of year with the imminent
arrival of northern migrants, the mammals are so spectacular and the
place in spite of being so dry, gives a very good day out.

Athi Dam

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Waterbuck are not a species you would associate with the present dry conditions, but the population in the Athi Basin seems to be OK judging by the furry creatures pictured above.

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The Athi Dam is the biggest dam (by area) in the Nairobi National Park, but getting less so. In the last few days there have been storms over the Athi River town area & I can only hope that this included the Athi Basin, in which case the dam might have caught some precious water.

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Thirsty gnu trek in from miles around to drink at the fast receding waters. The only other water source is at the western end of the Park (Hyena & Nangolomon dams, Olomanyi is fast drying up) in the Mokoyeti stream. The Empakasi River (the southern boundary of the park), which means “Always Running” in the Maa language, has stopped running & is a series of stagnant pools…..

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The Athi Dam -a truly magical spot where there is ALWAYS something interesting to observe-provides a precious aquatic habitat for water birds such as this Black-winged Stilt.

Below, wildebeest trek in…….

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