Tag Archives: wildebeest

Waiting…..waiting for Rain…..


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…


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.


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.


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!


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.


The water holes are drying up…..


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


Thirsty gnu….


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……..

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

Athi Dam


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.


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.


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…..


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…….


Antelopes of Nairobi National Park


Today’s offering (after hours downloading images…..) is about the many species of antelope to be found within the various habitats of the park. These range from species represented by hundreds of individuals, to those such as these Mountain Reedbuck, of which there can only be about 20, all found in one locality in the park:in the Sosian valley.

How does a group such as this manage to survive, genetically?


Here’s a Mountain Reedbuck doe. Difficult to photograph, these small species of buck…Notice the gland below the ear. Antelope live in a secret world of scent difficult for us to comprehend & have glands near their eyes, & between their hooves & leave subtle messages in their lavatories telling others of their kind who what why & where they are….


The once dominant species of the Athi Kapiti Ecosystem, now represented by just a few hundred animals when in years past there were thousands! At least we’ve got at least 20 more this year.Wildebeest have calved in the safety of the park owing to the on-going drought.


The King of Antelopes, a bull eland. Mostly confined to the park these days owing to habitat loss in the dispersal area, this species is doing very well.


A Coke’s hartebeest or kongoni, in typical stance. This species is doing so well in the park that it must be getting close to it’s maximum sustainable population. This is excellent news as elsewhere this species is in decline.


A Bohor (where does this name originate?) reedbuck ram. Although there must have been Bohor reedbuck in the wetlands at the Eastern edge of the park historically, many have been translocated in from Western Kenya. These animals are very difficult to see & (like most small antelope) hide motionless in the vegetation as a defensive measure.


A Mountain Reedbuck ram testing a female in oestrous.


The best shot I have been able to get of the elusive steenbok, which live in pairs. Having no horns I assume this is a juvenile.


The elegant bushbuck is one of the most widespread antelopes in Africa, able to live close to humans (like in my garden) if not hunted. Solitary animals, they are numerous in all the habitats of the park apart from on the plains.


Impala are also a very adaptable & successful species, though they are water dependent.

Well over 600 in & around the park show that this species is flourishing in the park.


A doe oribi with young. This species has been translocated into the park.Hopefully it will not compete with the duiker sp. which occur in the park (grey & bush?)

I could not get pictures of suni (which occur in the Langata forest) or dikdik, (which I have never seen in the park but which can be found along the Embakasi Gorge & in the Silole Sanctuary.) Does anybody have images of these three species? Or klipspringer?

Below is a waterbuck, which occurs both in the Langata Forest & in the Athi Basin.


Getting Drier……..


With no sign of rain on the horizon, things in the Nairobi National Park are getting ever drier. Most of the smaller dams are drying up & water is becoming an issue for the thousands of head of herbivores in the park.Eland Hollow has been dry for a year now & the 2 dams at the East Gate junction are about to dry up. Even the huge Athi Basin dam is as low as I have ever seen it & as a reservoir for the thousands of cattle which have grazed the Athi Basin into short grass plain, will it empty?

Above is Karen Primary School Dam. Notice last year’s yearling wildebeest drinking & the vultures drinking & bathing…


Kongoni (Coke’s Hartebeest) are in sharp decline throughout their range. According to new research, they are adapted to living on coarse (unburnt) grassland. Will they adapt to the new regime of short grass over much of the park?

With so many kongoni in the park, there is plenty of argy-bargy amongst the bulls, defending their territories (see pic below.)


Here’s a fine portrait of a vulture -white backed or Ruppell’s -could a reader enlighten me? Like all creatures in the park, incredibly approachable & therefore easy to photograph..


A flying kongoni, a bull chasing a rival….


A snoozing saddlebill stork -male or female anyone? -patiently waiting for the rains & the reinvigoration of the park’s wetlands which are this species’ habitat.

Below a pair of Plains Zebra, with the Ngong Hills in the background.

The GOOD NEWS is that the long dry spell (3 seasons long so far) should soon be over as the ITCZ moves north over Kenya  & gives us vital RAIN…..


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.


Gnu Calving in NNP


Wildebeest were once the commonest large herbivore in the Athi Kapiti ecosystem,but they have virtually disappeared from the park, the majority of the remaining herds cut off from it by the Athi-Namanga highway. A few hundred at most remain & they tend to live just outside the park on the Sheep & Goat Land,which is classic short-grass plain habitat, which they prefer, especially for calving.

This morning I found several brand new calves with  small herds of cows moving towards the east of the park. Well done this old mother!!


Two calves, just born -not twins-another mother is just out of shot…


The park is looking FANTASTIC despite the cattle invasion of the southern boundary.

Here is a female oribi (probably translocated into the park) with young .


Kongoni -on the decrease throughout their range in Africa- are on the INCREASE in NNP.

They’re breeding well!


Does this chap think it’s going to rain? Kori bustards have come into the park after last years controlled burns: things (like koris & gnu) love the short grass plain.


The wildebeest are on the move deeper into the park from the Athi basin, where they usually like to be.


Here’s the future;wildebeest calves born into a migratory lifestyle. Sadly these calves will grow up to be confined within the park & it’s fast diminishing dispersal area.


What is really significant about these pictures is they show calves born in the park.Usually calving takes place outside the park. A combination of factors: a contracting range, a dry weather cycle & major competition from livestock leading to a complete denudation of grazing outside the park means that the future of our remaining population of gnu remains firmly inside. If they can breed like this their future is assured.Good Luck!!


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!