Tag Archives: Lions

Game Count April 5th

Apologies for the delay in passing on these figures:I have been away in the NFD (sadly little but ostriches, grantis & a few gerenuk to report from there….)

The following figures are significant because they represent most of the large mammals currently to be found in the Nairobi National Park & environs. Most of all species were in the park looking for grazing and/or water in the midst of a nasty drought which has now, thankfully, broken.

The question remains: where are the 300 odd eland, the 700 odd kongoni & the 1,000 gnu here counted going to go now? (The 3000 zebra are better adapted to living out on the humanised Athi Plains that is the dispersal area nowadays)

The fact is that they are going to have to adapt to living in what is an increasinly encircled Nairobi National Park……

Count was conducted by KWS & FONNAP:

Buffalo 372


Bushbuck 7


Dikdik 10 (the counters have misidentified suni -a dwarf forest antelope- here….)

Duiker 1

Eland 281


Grants gazelle 246


Thomsons gazelle 417

Giraffe 123


Kongoni (Hartebeest) 675

Steinbok 2

Waterbuck 20


Wildebeest 989


Warthog 62

Impala 502

Black rhino 6


Zebra 3071

Baboon 71

Vervet monkey 37

Spotted hyena 6

Silver backed jackal 2

Lion 2


Serval 1


Ostrich 94

New Male Lion in Nairobi National Park?


Is this the face of a new dominant male in amongst the lions of Nairobi National Park?

For the last couple of years the single pride that exists in the park has been dominated by Ujonjo, a dark-maned adult male in his prime. Other males are younger & are probably Ujonjo’s sons or young brothers.One is distinctive in that he has a kinked tail.


Lion genetics are of great importance,because as recently as 2005 there were only 6 adult lions in total in the park, which included but one adult male. Now we are in the happy position of having at least 2 adult males competing for the attentions of the adult lionesses amongst the estimated 24 (25 if you count the subject of this blog..) lions in the park today.


One possibility is that the lion population is fragmenting into the 2 separate prides that traditionally held sway in the park. The average population of lions has historically been about 30, so we are getting up close to that healthy figure.

The question remains as to the identity of the tawny maned stranger. Is he a grown up youngster (he certainly doesn’t look like it) or is it possible that he has come in from the fast shrinking & nowadays thoroughly humanised dispersal area outside the park?

Can anybody out there shed light on this question?

In the meantime, here is the new boy on the block, marking his territory.

Photos by park  & lion afficianado Rob Allen. Thanks Rob!


Birding With Brian Finch

On 2nd March 2009, I spent the day in Nairobi National Park. There
were a couple of surprises, but basically the birds that have been
with us for most of this year, are still with us, and the population
was stagnant, there being no evidence of any northward passage. Birds
on the dams continue to fall in numbers in line with the drop in water
level, although the variety is still good.

There were numerous Blackcaps on the way to Ivory Burning Site, and a
few Willow Warblers were calling near the entrance. At least six
Nightingales were at the picnic area, the male Irania still present
and active in its usual territory, but shows no interest in singing
now. Only one Upcher’s Warbler was present in the Acacias. The morning
was bright and sunny, Scaly and Crested Francolins were calling from
the scrub and simultaneously Shelley’s Francolin was calling from the
grassland lower down.
The back road was quiet, apart from two more Nightingales the only
other migrant being the first of nine Red-tailed Shrikes (only one
isabellinus) recorded today. In scrubby growth to the right, opposite
the “pumphouse” there was a Broad-tailed Warbler calling, and my
personal second only Beautiful Sunbird in the Park, a stunning adult
male, was in the same locality (the acacia gerardii that forms a
canopy over the road) as my first, late last year. There was nothing
of any interest at the back of Hyena Dam, and little at the dam itself
apart from an African Water Rail in the marshy opening, but the
resident Eurasian Marsh Harrier female was in residence, and also a
single overflying Yellow Wagtail, Taking the track from the dam along
the run-off there was a male Pallid Harrier and ten Athi Short-toed
Larks, plus the first of only three Lesser Kestrels seen. There were
single Northern Wheatear and Whinchat on the way to Karen Primary
School Dam where there were single Green and Wood Sandipers and a
Greenshank. On the way to the bone dry Eland Hollow Dam were single
Northern and Isabelline Wheatears and a Rosy-breasted Longclaw in full
breeding dress. Zitting, Desert and Pectoral-patch Cisticolas were all
singing in this area. At the burnt area beyond the “Beacon” were
Montagu’s and Pallid Harriers, a pair of Temminck’s Coursers, a
Black-winged Plover, two Northern and an Isabelline Wheatear. At the
Ruai Dam junction was a Kori Bustard and the usual resident
Lilac-breasted Roller. Descending from the ridge into Athi Basin there
were fifteen Athi-short-toed Larks (and another ten south of the dam),
a White-tailed Lark and another breeding plumage Rosy-breasted
Longclaw as was a male Pangani Longclaw. Athi Dam level is still
falling, there are less waterbirds now although it is still
interesting. Three Pink-backed Pelicans, single Great Cormorant and
Red-knobbed Coot, only two White Stork, no interesting ducks, Ruff
down to 45, 20 Little Stint, 8 Marsh and 4 Common Sandpipers, one
Greenshank completed the palearctic waders, whilst African residents
were fifteen Black-winged Stilts, five Spur-winged and merely a single
Kittlitz’s Plover. The white-wing Marsh Harrier rested in the shade
all the time I was there. Towards the Cement Factory, I heard an Olive
Tree Warbler singing, and managed to get a photo and video by sitting
in the vehicle and waiting for it to reveal itself. This is a very
rare migrant to the Park, and I was most surprised to find a second
bird only a hundred metres further down the road. Whilst it is
possible that these represent passage migrants from the south, in view
of the unusual dry country migrants that have wintered this year,
maybe these two have been staying in the area. Towards Cheetah Gate I
found eight Crimson-rumped Waxbills and a Vitelline Masked Weaver in
full breeding plumage, on Rhino Circuit was nothing other than an
Olivaceous Warbler (all three grey Hippolais species being recorded
today). Nothing more was recorded until the Mbagathi bridge below
Leopard Cliffs, where there was a single Mountain Wagtail, an adult
Steppe Eagle flying over from Kitengela and Kingfisher Picnic Site had
but a single Northern Wheatear in the area. On the forest edge towards
Langata Gate were single female Eurasian Marsh Harrier, a dark Common
Buzzard and a pair of Nairobi Pipit, whilst the Crowned Cranes are
still incubating on the small dam sharing it with a young Little
Grebe. Quailfinch were scarce with not many in evidence from areas
where they had been recently numerous, Barn Swallows were also in very
small numbers, but Cinnamon-chested Buntings were still in good
Mammals were so impressive, there even seems to be more than on the
recent better days. There was a lioness stalking Zebra, actually on
the main road near “Lone Tree” using the fringe of taller grass to
conceal it. Domestic mammal count numbered two groups of fifteen
cattle near the Cement Factory, and a collection of sheep near Rhino
Circuit, areas not much visited now with the closure of Cheetah Gate.
Also forty cattle near Leopard Cliffs, so there is an attempt at
reinvasion but nothing like before. I reported all of these
whereabouts to roving Rangers, and will let the Chief Warden know.
Some interesting migrants must be fated to pass through the Park soon,
it’s just a matter of being here when they pay their visit.

Game Count in Nairobi National Park, 1st February 2009


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.


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.


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.


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.


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……


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…….


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.


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.


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.


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.


Diversity in Drought


It has been very dry in NNP in this continuing dry cycle (despite 27mm :1 inch of rain last night 26/1/09), with much stress caused by an almost complete lack of grazing in the much-humanised ‘dispersal area’ between the park & the Athi -Namanga highway.

As a result, most of the herbivores in the Athi -Kapiti ecosystem are in the park & a visit is a must as the current rains bring a green flush to the extensive short-grass plains that are a welcome feature at present, owing to controlled burns last year.

Above are one of the herds of wildebeest that used to migrate in their thousands into the park during dry times. Alas no more, but at least we’ve got some left!


The Athi Basin is being intensively grazed by wild herbivores & Maasai cattle alike & the Athi dam is in danger of completely drying up for the first time that I can remember. A sign of the times is large flocks of yellow-throated sandgrouse coming into drink in the early mornings, with much throaty chuckling:splendid birds indeed!


And what will our large meat-eating crocs do if the dam dries up? Go back to the Embakasi river a kilometre or so away, itself currently a mere trickle…


It is marvellous the way that organisms react to even the tiniest shower of rain, such as the underground bulbs of these Crinum sp. lilies. A most unlikely sight in the surrounding tawny dryness.


A pair of a signature species for the park :white-bellied bustards, whose far-carrying cackling cries can always be heard on the plains, a most evocative sound.


And the keynote species of mammal: lions. A lioness with her 3 fast-growing cubs on a zebra kill in the grass, with giraffe looking on.


Dry cycle


Here’s to a great 2009 for Nairobi national Park & readers of this blog.

It’s very dry in Nairobi (& indeed in central & eastern Kenya generally) & the Park is coming into it’s own in it’s traditional role as a dry season refuge for grazers, both wild & domestic. Most of the grazers in the dispersal area are now in the park, including our 3,000 estimated zebra population , good numbers of kongoni (c.600), a similar number of eland & close to 300 gnu, who are thriving on the dessicated short-grass plain characteristic of most of the park at present.

It’s a good time to be a lion in NNP, with our estimated 22 lions in good shape owing to plentiful prey. Here’s a great shot by local lion fanatic Gareth Jones.


The lions are often found near the fast-diminishing water points, such as the Empakasi Dam, seen here with a mob of thirsty zebra.


Judging by the water level of the Athi Dam, it might dry up this year, for the first time that I can remember! Luckily in the park we have several spring-fed dams that are very unlikely to dry up. Notice the wildebeest.


Masai cattle (c.1000) are also grazing in the park day & night despite intermittent KWS efforts to keep them out. Impossible when there is zero grazing outside the park.


NNP is the best place in the world for ostriches & they do very well in the dry, needing minimal water. They have bred very well this year (see above) & lions are eating quite a few of the less wary….

Meanwhile high mortality rates in these dry conditions mean bonanza times for scavengers, such as these vultures. Every cloud has a silver lining for some!


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…


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!


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…


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?


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.


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….


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.