Chui Spotting…

By Will Knocker:

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On sunday afternoon  I was at the Masai Gate (which borders on the Silole Sanctuary) when the KWS ranger on duty - Jackson ole Kuyioni- looked over my shoulder down towards the brodge over the Empakasi River…”Do you want to see a chui?” he asked in Kiswahili

“Look up in the big acacia!” Can you see the leopard here?

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The binoculars revealed the cat just 75 m away, listening to us chatting: suburban leopard!

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Hopefully the leopard population in NNP is going up since two  of the big cats were poisoned by a new neighbour near the Sanctuary a year or two ago….

Clash of the Titans

By Will Knocker:

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Two bull Black (Browse) rhinos go nose to massive nose on who’s territory this is…

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Massive pachydems face off to determine who is the Boss…in the middle of the road…

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We kept our distance….(have you ever been charged by a rhino?)

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And watched in fascination  as the two protagonists got on with their confrontation…
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Good old KWS had to spoil the show..

 

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Visitors who had obviously NOT been charged by a rhino hoved in for a closer view & the rhinos, honour satisfied, trotted off back from the disputed border, back deeper into their territories….

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Happy World Wildlife Day 3rd of March……..

Dreaded Parthenium Threatening Nbi Nat Park

By Will Knocker

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Close-up of Parthenium weed, an invasive species rapidly encroaching on Nairobi National Park..this is in the Park, at the Athi dam… I have also seen  invasions along the Athi River -Namanga highway & along the shores of Lake Victoria.

IF YOU SEE THIS PLANT PULL IT UP, (though gloves are advisable for big infestations)

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Originally from Central America, this “noxious annual herb appears to have entered the Park in water flows , as well as on the wheels & radiators & under-carriages of vehicles & earth-moving equipment.

Parthenium infestations have CAUSED THE COLLAPSE OF MANY GRASSLAND ECOSYSTEMS AROUND THE WORLD in lands as widely spread as India & Austalia.”

“The FONNAP Natural History Guide to Nairobi National Park”

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“No more than half a metre tall, Parthenium releases toxic allelo-chemicals into the soil that inhibit gowth & germination of other species. Its abundant seeds are readily dispersed by the elements.  Each seed can grow within one month into a mature plant capable of producing another 25000 seeds viable for 2 years or longer…

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Parthenium contains potent allergins harmful to the health of ungulates & people.”

Contact with this plant causes dermatitis and respiratory malfunction in humans,  in cattle and domestic animals, due to the presence of toxin parthenin.

“Even in mixed forage, the unpalatable leaves,” which blister the mouths of grazers,”taint the flesh & milk of grazing animals. The extent of the potential disruption to the foodchain in incalculable.”

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These pictures are taken on the Magadi Road, next to the Media College bumps, but Parthenium is now established (forever…that is the reality of Invasive Species) along all of Nairobi’s new highway & bypass verges. This is within a few yards of the Park…

Thankfully, Parthenium finds it difficult to establish itself in pristine grassland, but alarmingly, it is spreading along the roads & rivers of NNP & especially in the Athi Basi with the new pylon lines. ( No thanks to KWS.)

What can be done?

‘ If the population in cultivated field is light, it should be removed manually. Otherwise it will spread very fast and the population will reach beyond control’… a situation already reached in some parts of the Park.

Last year I organised an Invasive sp. workshop at Silole Sanctuary through FONNAP: it was well attended & we told KWS we were ready to collaborate on removing this dangerous invader from the Park.

The response: nothing.

As far as I am aware there are no efforts being made to eradicate Parthenium, or any other Invasive sp. from the Park…..

More info: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parthenium_hysterophorus

At the Athi Dam

By Will Knocker:

Pictures from the Athi Dam: surely one of the best corners (amongst many)  in NNP:

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Yellow-billed storks, with an African spoonbill in the background..

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Why O why have KWS allowed pylons to be built & the ENTIRE Athi Basin aesthetically spoilt in an undeveloped area (ie this would be a perfect place for future tourist development) ? Who allowed this? So short-sighted….

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Diederik cuckoo: what a beautiful bird!

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Egyptian goslings have to beware……

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The aptly-named Black-winged stilt ….

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European storks have been numerous this year….

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And this is for you to ID: sorry out of focus…..palearctic migrants….ruffs??

New Fence at Main Gate

By Paula Kahumbu:

I was horrified today to see that KWS have started fencing off a huge piece of the Nairobi National Park for the major expansion of the Nairobi Orphanage. The fence follows the main road from the entrance all the way to the club house – which is almost to the ivory burn site.

I am writing to request that you help me to demand an immediate halt these plans. I have identified the following arguments; you may have others

1. Expanding the orphanage violates the very original purpose of the orphanage – to home orphans and act as a half way house before they are released. The orphanage was never intended as a zoo which is what it seems KWS wants to create. The Safari Walk on the other hand was created as a zoo – there is no need for two zoos in the same place in Nairobi. Moreover, wilderness in the National Park should not be sacrificed for the creation of or expansion of a zoo, instead a wholesome education experience through visitation to the park should be promoted as it is far more valuable.

2. The area for expansion will require the destruction of a sizeable piece of Nairobi Park. We are not aware of any EIA having been conducted, nor are we aware of any stakeholder consultation having taken place. As you know, FoNNaP which is 19 years old, has always defended the park and although our board meets regularly with the warden, there has been no consultation of these plans, and we have not been informed of these or any other plans for developments in the park.

3. We believe that these developments are in violation of the management plan of the park which is already out of date having expired a few years ago. It is also therefore a violation of the new Act which requires parks to have management plans that are developed through a stakeholder consultative process.

4. The area of land that is being fenced off will result in the destruction of highly endangered tropical highland forest including habitats for endangered add endangered species, as well as species of concern including lions, jackals, leopard, Crowned eagle (one of the only 2 nesting pairs in Nairobi nests in these trees), Suni, duiker, black rhino and bush pig all live in this part of the forest. I am sure there are also plants, birds and other animals that will also be threatened. By degrading this habitat and alienating it from the park the KWS will be violating the EMCA, and failure to consult the stakeholders is in violation of the constitution.

I have written to the Director KWS, NEMA Director and the CS to respectfully request the immediate halt to the ongoing fencing of the park, as it is not too late to restore any damage already caused.

I have also asked for an investigation to be initiated into how this proposal was developed and passed without any stakeholder consultation or EIA.

Please help by sending your own letter to the Cabinet Secretary, KWS Director (Director@kws.org) and NEMA DG on this issue so that they can see how serious this is.

Tracks Open Again!

NAIROBI NATIONAL PARK 13th January 2014

On the beautiful and cheerful sunshiny 13th January, Mike Davidson, Jennifer Oduore, Karen Plumbe and myself met up at 6.30am at Nairobi National Park Main Entrance. The traffic had been smooth, until arriving at the NNP new roundabout, where there was a tail-back towards the direction of the city.
Our first port of call was KWS Mess Gardens, three Suni were there to welcome us. Two Tree Pipits were feeding on the lawn, a couple of Nightingales were vocalising intermittently, a Spotted Flycatcher was along the fence and the lonely Black-collared Apalis now has a mate! It was fairly quiet, and we left for Ivory Burning Site, which was also not too active with a pair of Brown Parisomas in the Acacia gerardii above the picnic table, and a Common Buzzard that we flushed from there on our arrival. An Eurasian Reed Warbler scolded from dense cover.
On to Nagalomon Dam, the male Red-collared Widowbird who lives near the junction, and has been present when all others have departed and returned, is still in this same strange arrested plumage. All brown and streaky, but with a full tail and a red collar. Another feature that marks him as the same bird is that he is unbelievably tame and just feeds unconcernedly when parked literally only a couple of feet from him. There was nothing on the drift, and the dam itself was very quiet. But good news for interested parties is that the young Greater Spotted Eagle is still in the same area, and on this occasion was perched on the little peninsula where the Darters usually perch (and were not there today). We had out first of three different Eurasian Marsh Harriers, and that really was it.
Along the back road to Hyena Dam (still the flood necessitating a return but long may it remain this way), there was a Tree Pipit, and the Red-throated Wryneck seen on 30th November and 2nd December last year, in exactly the same place. Four hybrid Lovebirds were checking out potential sites on the new buildings. At the swamp we found an obliging African Water Rail, forty Wood Sandpipers, five Green and three Ruff, and to show that at this time of year migrants are on winter territories, the same Yellow Wagtails of the races lutea, flava, dombrowski and beema as last week. There were three Red-throated Pipits, and feeding over the area were about ten Eurasian Bee-eaters.
We retraced our way back round to Hyena Dam, and amazingly in the immediate vicinity were seven different Whinchats, with only two other recorded elsewhere in the Park. The Dam was quiet, if you can call a pod of nine Hippos quiet, but bird wise it was not very productive. The same Little Egret was still present, Water Rails were calling from two locations, two separate pairs of Secretarybirds were feeding in the grass, and we also had three other single birds today elsewhere, a Steppe Eagle fed on an unidentified something in the large acacia, whilst the other tree had a Martial Eagle. A Great Sparrowhawk was flying over with deliberation of reaching a destination, and a Bateleur passed overhead. There were a few Wood and Green Sandpipers, watching a small crocodile which seems to favour the same muddy patch. Whilst a large crocodile was being eyed by Sacred Ibis, who seemed intent on prodding it, until one slipped towards it and they backed off, without the crocodile showing any signs of awakening. A Speckled Pigeon manage to land to drink after several nervous circuits. Continuing along to the other side of the swamp we had a group of Buffalo flush two Common Snipe that we would otherwise have missed, and a group of four Quailfinch were the first for some time, feeding openly on the track. On the run-off was the same very young looking Black Stork and little else. The drive around to Karen Primary School Dam was so very quiet, as was the dam, but Eland Hollow had a single White Stork, the recently arrived African Jacana and a Spotted Thick-knee in its usual group of rocks.
Whilst continuing to Athi Dam, we had a female Hartlaub’s Bustard, the first of two Isabelline and first of four Northern Wheatears, and just one Long-billed Pipit.  The flooded murrum pit was attracting bathers with one Steppe Eagle, twenty White-backed and ten Ruppell’s Vultures. Athi Dam was also not very exciting, there were a couple of hundred Marabous giving synchronous sunning displays which is very impressive and 105 White Storks amongst them. Apart from a plethora of Egyptian Geese, maybe over 70 excluding chicks, the only other waterfowl were ten White-faced Whistling Duck and a pair of Red-billed Teal. Of the waders there were two Black-winged Stilts, ten Spur-winged Plover and eight Kittlitz’s, palearctics being reduced to eight Little Stints, four Greenshank, three Common Sandpipers and a few Woods. Three Black-crowned Night-Herons were roosting on the causeway.
Towards Cheetah Gate was also quite dull, maybe too hot for much action by this time, apart from a Harrier Hawk, a single Grey-headed Silverbill and a few Speckle-fronted Weavers, we did have our first of three Turkestan Shrikes and first of two Pied Wheatears. It was much more interesting by the Mbagathi on the Rhino Circuit. Here there were two Violet Wood-Hoopoes, an Olivaceous and two Willow Warblers together with residents including Lesser and Vitelline Masked Weavers. Not far from here Jennifer’s sharp eyes picked up a roosting Verreaux’s Eagle-Owl.
Driving towards Kingfisher was also hot and fairly birdless, our best being six White-bellied Bustards a stunning male Pallid Harrier and a Pangani Longclaw.
On the burn-off there were some fifty Crowned Plovers with seven Black-winged with them, and on the return a pair of Saddle-billed Storks below Impala Lookout.
Overall Barn Swallows were in very low numbers, but plains game were abounding especially in the Athi Basin. We had five White Rhinos, five more Hippos in Athi Dam, but otherwise good numbers of Eland, small Zebra representation and so very many baby Kongoni.
We were through the gate at 5.00pm having had a great day, and the traffic was moving nicely.
It must be said that the roads that were closed off so abruptly are now once again open access.

Hyenas in NNP

By Will Knocker:

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One of the most reviled of the African mammal species, but to my mind, one of the most interesting: the highly social, very intelligent, noisy, matriarchal Spotted hyena (Crocuta crocuta)…….

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Now that the Park is so full of wildlife, the hyenas are doing well & they also have the southern suburbs next to the Park to forage in at night. They do very well in the Silole Sanctuary where I live (adjacent to Ongata Rongai) where they love to scoff an occasional dog if they can catch one!

Here they are investigating something they can smell: like all mammals & especially carnivores, smell is key to their view of the world…

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Hyenas are dominated by the female of the species, who is pumped full of testostorone. Males (smaller & inferior to the dominant females) come way down the scale in Hyena society & are mere sex-slaves…

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Tail up is a sign of aggression/excitement: they probably smelled lions, or  competing hyenas. At night, excited hyenas emit the most extraordinary noises, including the far-carrying whoop which is one of the most evocative sounds of the African bush….

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For many years, misunderstood by people & poisoned, killed & persecuted, these amazing (& generally inoffensive: they are highly intelligent & steer clear of trouble) large carnivores are becoming much more numerous & visible in Nairobi National Park, a haven for this sp. as for so many others…..

Short Rains Indeed….

By Will Knocker:

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The Short Rains have proved to be very short indeed in NNP, although in the last few days the Langata Forest will have greened up with some decent rain to begin December…

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Gazelles are plentiful in the park now, as it is so dry & overgazed in the Sheep & Goat land, on the short grass plains where they like to be…. what happened to these cheetahs , KWS, could you not bring them here now gazelles are so plentiful? http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-24953910

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 Owing to the incipient drought, hundreds of cattle are in the park day & night, displacing precious Browse rhinos from their habitat…

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The City on the Plain….

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Many sp. of mammal have given birth, expecting plenty of food from the rainy season…..how will these new youngsters fare in the challenging conditions of drought which will carry on until our next rains in April??

 

 

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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No Answers from KWS…..

NAIROBI NATIONAL PARK 7th OCTOBER 2013

Mike Davidson, Heather Elkins, Fleur Ng’Weno, Karen Plumbe and myself
met up at 7.00am at the Main Entrance to Nairobi National Park. The
reason for the late start was that the traffic was appalling with the
construction still continuing past its completion date. The transition
through the gate was speedy and efficient, and we made straight for
KWS Main Gate after stopping to appreciate a Willow Warbler that had
survived the gauntlet of Mediterranean bird killers and was busily
feeding in a flowering Milletia.
It was a bright and sunny day and remained so, though never actually
got that hot.

Apart from a pair of Suni, the garden was not at all rewarding. The
usual birds were present, with additionally five Violet-backed
Starlings and a flock of forty Eurasian Bee-eaters flew over. From
here we went to the Ivory Burning Site with nothing at all to make us
linger.

The Thick-knees were not on the Nagalomon drift, but the Red-collared
Widowbird that lives in a very small area, and has managed never to
lose its tail, was. It is such an incredibly tame individual and feeds
alongside quite unconcerned. The dam itself was very quiet, there were
a couple of Darters, a few Black-crowned Night-Heron were loafing in
the waterside woodland, but it was too much like daylight for any
nest-building activity. With them was what was presumably the same
Madagascar Pond Heron seen resting on this same perch a number of
times over this season. But now it had greatly changed and was going
white, (see attached image), as it progresses into breeding plumage,
and soon to leave us.

Nothing was encountered along the back road to Hyena Dam, apart from
three Green and a Wood Sandpiper along the creek, and at the dam we
were to be confused by the presence of three Darters (were there still
darters at Nagalomon Dam?). It was a nice coffee break entertainment
watching their tilapia-catching success. Other than this we could only
muster a couple of White-faced Whistling-Ducks, a noisy African Water
Rail, three more Wood Sandpipers, and a few Barn Swallows that
remained a common sight all through the Park today. The only Whinchat
of the day was on the run-off and two Long-crested Eagles along the
Mokoyeti, and as these had all primaries accounted for and we had seen
one with several primaries missing near Nagalomon Dam, then there were
three birds in the area.

Then we took the long and boring drive from here all the way to Athi
Basin. It must be so frustrating for visitors to see all the plains
game such a long way off and not being able to get anywhere near them
for a photograph. Soon the word will get out that Nairobi National
Park is now a most frustrating place to see the wildlife, and no
chance of photographs at all, and will go elsewhere. One has to wonder
about the sensitivity to customer requirements by the people are in
tasked to manage the Park, they are certainly very quiet,
non-responsive to enquiries as to why all the roads have been closed,
and show no interest in replying to the questions sent to them both by
Fonnap and Nature Kenya.
So we drove through seeing dot-like Kongoni, dot-like White Rhinos,
dot-like gazelles etc. Birds were equally mundane with our confinement
to the main highway, though we found the first of four Secretarybirds,
of course the reliable Martial Eagle was at its nest, the Tawny Eagles
at Mbuni Picnic Site have fledged, and there was a group of five
Orange-breasted Waxbills flying ahead of us and feeding quite openly.
Although with bright red rumps, none of them showed anything other
than pale buff underparts and were thought a family of fledged
immatures. We did have a magnificent male Saddle-billed Stork that
could have put its bill through the window, and after very close
admiration we drove away leaving it still attending to its appearance.

Finally after the long long drag, thankfully after the speeding
commuters were already through the Park, and did not have to suffer
their dust along with all the poor suffering visiting tourists who get
their lens coated, thanks to them, in a dangerous abrasive film…. we
arrived at Athi Basin and at the murrum pits (road closed) we could
see a pair of Crowned Cranes who knows what else was in there.
Vultures were coming in to bathe (this used to be such a daily tourist
spectacle before the road was closed off), but now they land behind
the gravel hills, again who knows what was in there.

Athi Dam greeted us with a stunning vista of thirteen illegal giant
pylons, but worse than this was a smell that was so acrid it tingled
the nasal passages. It was like being in an over-chlorinated
swimming-pool. Because there was quite a wind, we could not tell
whether this was a contamination at the dam, or was noxious odour
blowing in from outside of the Park. It could be quite serious.
However there were no dead birds or mammals, but then again the dam
was as birdless at I have ever seen it at this time of year. The first
Common Buzzard of the season was feeding over the grasslands, a dark
bird. Later on we had a pale Common Buzzard near Leopard Cliffs. Of
the larger African species, there were single Crowned Crane,
Yellow-billed Stork, African Spoonbill, Grey Heron, and only a handful
of Marabous. Waders were four Spur-winged, eight Blacksmith and
fifteen Kittlitz’s Plovers whilst migrants were just three each of
Little Stints, Common Greenshanks and Common Sandpipers and a Green
Sandpiper. Six Speckled Pigeon fed on the foreshore weeds, and three
Black-crowned Night-Herons roosted on the Causeway. Whilst we had
lunch, Eurasian Bee-eaters could be heard somewhere. We saw a few more
bee-eaters along the Mbagathi and at Kingfisher Picnic Site.

Nothing along the road towards Cheetah Gate, apart from an incubating
Secretarybird, the Pearl-spotted Owlet was calling in the usual place
along the river, but could not be induced out into the heat of the
day. There were six stunningly all blue and black Violet Wood-Hoopoes
here, feeding low and glistening in the sunlight, and a couple of
Wattled Starlings fed on the backs of Zebra. Just above the Hippo
Pools was a group of three Speckle-fronted Weavers and the final birds
of the day were a pair of unseen noisy Brown Parrots calling down the
valley at Kingfisher, where they were two weeks ago. Possibly they are
nesting along there.

Black-shouldered Kite numbers might be dropping away now, with ten
seen, and no Lesser Striped Swallows have come back yet.

As far as the more interesting mammals are concerned, we had Hippos on
Nagalomon, Hyena and Athi Dams, a female Steinbok above the Athi
Basin, a Syke’s Monkey on the Mokoyeti just below Nagalomon, a
Side-striped Ground-Squirrel at Baboon Cliffs where there were nine
Bush Hyrax.

In the Rhino Circuit area we counted over 150 Cattle and three
cowherders inside the Park. We reported this to the ranger at Hippo
Pools. It took a long time to wake him up as he was in deep slumber,
he listened rolled over went back to his siesta and did absolutely
nothing. Cattle along the Rhino Circuit are a stake out, blind Freddie
could not miss them, but it seems a blind spot for KWS.

Just a little east from the Massai Gate turn-off we saw a woman
walking along the valley heading towards Lion Dip carrying a large
white sack.

At Nagalomon Dam having not long been in the Park, we were harassed by
a surly group of rangers led by a smile-less woman, that wanted to
check our tickets. Quite honestly I can think of far more pressing
issues that checking the damn tickets. If we are in there every week,
isn’t it obvious that we are in there having paid, if they check our
tickets and find them in order every time, is it likely that we have
tried to buck the system on this occasion?

The previous day was the organised game count. Some friends of mine
have been doing the count on the same block just north from Baboon
Cliffs for the past thirty years. Of course it is a service provided
freely in every respect by the interested citizens of Nairobi for the
benefit of KWS. There had always been an arrangement that rather than
drive all the way up Magadi Road and down to the Main Gate, that they
would enter Langata Gate (originally it was Banda Gate down the bottom
of our road, but they stopped that). They arrived and there was not a
soul stirring, after banging on the gate, a woman came to the gate and
said there was no-one there and they could not come in. So they had to
drive all the way round to Main Entrance. They advised me that there
was an official looking woman at Main Gate who was very neatly
dressed, obviously in charge and they took as the Warden. They told
them their problem with no-one at Langata Gate, in the politest of
manners, but the woman stormed of in a huff without acknowledging the
problem, and was most abrupt.
(All this is as it was reported to me, and I trust it implicitely).
Then they were doing the same block, counting game as they always had
on every organised game count, and a KWS vehicle drove up to them and
told them they were “Off Road Driving!!!!!!!!”

It will be most interesting to see the figures, they have to be down a
conservative 70% as there is no way to get to the animals to count
them now. If the numbers remain similar to before, then the accuracy
has to be seriously questioned.

As the Park continues its management spiral downhill, all these issues
now have to be addressed very urgently. The Director of Wildlife need
be aware of the problems, and Fonnap really needs to do something
positive in finding out what is going on with the administration of
the Park.

We were out of the Park just after 4.00pm and the traffic moved
steadily…..