Short Rains Indeed….

By Will Knocker:


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…


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?


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


The City on the Plain….


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



Lions Kill Buffalo

Story & pictures by DAVE MCKELVIE:
Came across 3 lions who were in the process of killing a buffalo
A very large buffalo
2 large males and a female, just next to 4b, they will still be there as they have a lot to eat
Female and a male at back end feasting
Large male had a hold on snout and paws round horns suffocating the buff
Large male buff was still alive, kicking a bit and trying to move his head, but was already weak and on his last breath

Buffaloes of Nairobi National Park


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


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….


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?


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…..


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


Portrait of a bachelor herd…..


A herd on the plains in the Athi Basin……


and the herd bull……..


Eland in Nairobi National Park


A cow eland in the Nairobi National Park, an oasis for the largest antelope in the world.

These animals are your writer’s particular favourite animals, large, beautiful, gentle & perfectly adapted to living in the vagaries of Africa’s savannah ecosystems, of which the NNP is a perfect example.

Grazing 25% of their food in the scarce wet seasons, making use of the abundant grass resource when it is available & then browsing in the dry season, or in dry areas, eland traditionally wandered over huge areas at will……


An eland bull- a truly massive animal -heavier even than a buffalo according to Kingdon-& formidable, as demonstrated by bulls’ ability to graze in long grass areas without fear of lion predation.

Generally however, the eland’s primary response to danger is to run away or jump: they are spectacular leapers able to jump over fences with effortless ease (especially the cows:bulls are a little too massive!)

We have 500 + eland in the park & I see this population rising over time as their shyness & alertness prevents them from wandering out into the fast-diminishing ‘dispersal area’ outside of the park, which is increasingly humanised by the day & where delicious eland meat is at a premium in a country where the poor cannot afford to but meat in butcheries = plenty of illegal hunting for bushmeat.

In the park they are safe…..& to successfully breed as well…..


A bull eland looks down at the writer’s cottage in the Silole Sanctuary, just outside the park.


A bull eland browsing. Not only can they make use of available plant nutrients, eland are very efficient in their use of water & can live in arid areas or exist without drinking for long periods . Compare their dry droppings to the wet pats of cattle…..


A bull & youngsters, which have an intense attraction for one another & so are found in (usually large-especially in NNP) nursery herds where they seem to communally suckle from lactating cows . ( Might an expert enlighten us on this thesis?)

Eland milk is one of the richest milks in nature (like whale milk) & young eland grow rapidly as  result.

Africa has not been innovative in using it’s wildlife eg. hippoes are the creatures which are most efficient in turning grass into meat (protein) in comparison to inefficient & resource gobbling domestic animals.  In contrast,eland have been domesticated on the steppes of Russia, where their milk is fed to the sick in local hospitals…..


Long live these elegant & beautifully adapted animals in Nairobi National Park…….

Impunity Rules in NNP


The authorities in NNP are having to struggle with a mass invasion of livestock:sheep & goats as well as cattle have invaded the park from the north (where the electric fence is not live & livestock, woodcutters & even hunters break through at will) & the south, which is unfenced…..

Photo: Courtesy Gareth Jones


A cattle ‘highway’ fanning out into the park.There are plenty of these along the southern boundary, mostly used by thousands of cattle at night.


What your average 40$ an entry visitor gets to see in NNP today.


Competition with grazing livestock is causing mortality amongst vulnerable sp. such as this kongoni, in decline throughout it’s range because of…………competition from cattle.


One of the park’s estimated 35(?) black rhino making it’s way through a herd of cattle. The NNP used to be a vital breeding sanctuary for this sp. of which not much more than 500 occur globally. To breed, rhinos need minimum disturbance….


Nature works in mysterious ways however & it ain’t all bad.

As every available blade of grass has been scoffed by the grazers in the park (both wild & domestic) the Thompson’s gazelles are back with a vengeance……they like short grass plain!


And this Crocuta crocuta loves carcasses-mostly dead cattle, which litter the park……


There are park rules in ‘force’ & customers are harassed if they are seen ‘out of their cars’, but what about this guy??


And these, with their hundreds of cattle?


Tourism is one of the major employers in Kenya & visitors come to see sites such as this. KWS is playing with fire by allowing pastoralists (with whom we all sympathise in this horrible drought) to graze in the park. The only consequence of overgrazing in the park will be the destruction of livestock & wildlife as well…….


And then what hope for this young male lion, worth, some say, a million dollars to the country’s economy?


NNP remains a very beautiful sanctuary with rules that prohibit human activities…….Carissa edulis in flower..


With space for this coalition of young male lions to compete with the dominant male Ujonjo…..


Nearly half way through the Short Rains, dams are still empty & rivers have not run. This is scarey: could the drought continue? And how will NNP fare with no grazing reserve & with it’s entire biomass in the park during the dry season?

Below: a rare aardwolf (a termite eating hyena) photographed in the early morning…….


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……..

Dams are Drying Up…..


Scavengers feast on a dead cow, of which there are plenty in the park as the drought continues to bite: we’ve still got an estimated month to endure.

Historically Nairobi National Park was always a dry season refuge for the creatures of the Athi – Kapiti ecosystem. Why? WATER -permanent dams, rivers & springs, whatever the weather……

As you can see, this year is no exception, with  deadly drought affecting most of the country. The question is, will our water points hold out?


Cattle in the park. KWS continue to be unable or unwilling to keep cattle out of the park, which is littered with stray herds, especially calves, untended & with the bodies of those which die…..


The Athi Dam. This area of the park has been seriously neglected by KWS & is seriously overgrazed, covered in wind blown litter & full of livestock.

A precedent has been set & the local people freely graze their livestock in the park.

KWS do nothing. Doing this article there were calves in the parking lot at the Hippo Pools. I don’t think visitors payong 40$ wull think they are getting their money’s worth….


The drought has brought in the thousand or so gnu we have into he park. How they manage to survive (they look very healthy!) in the moonscape above the Athi Basin shows they well adapted to short grass plains they are….even in the dry season!


A thin & thirsty waterbuck sucks up some of the last water in a pool still miraculously to be found on the top plains, which are covered in thousands of grazing kongoni, gnu & zebra.


Luai (which is the Maa word for Acacia drepanalobium -whistling thorn) -or Empakasi – Dam, getting very low, but with lots of thirsty zebra lurking in the thorn thickets nearby.


One of the double dams (Karen Primary Dam) on the way to East Gate, with marabous fishing for catfish in the rapidly diminishing water….


The water in Middle Dam -its not marked on my map of the park -is nearly gone.


Despite the cattle invasions, we have at least 2  groups of new ostrich hatchlings -I think this small clutch had been attacked, because one of the young birds had lost a wing & in addition, ostrich clutches are usually more numerous than what we see here…


Wildebeest & other grazers using the wetlands along the stream below Hyena Dam, which flows into the Mokoyeti, which is still flowing (just.)


Hyena Dam, overgrown with water weeds owing to nitrate enrichment from outside the park…… hippoes eat this stuff?


Nangolomon Dam below the Langata Forest. Even if all water sources were to dry up, the park would still have this large body of fresh water,the source of the Mokoyeti River.


Olomanyi Dam is nearly dry -the water you see is just inches deep…..


A Bohor reedbuck at Olomanyi.Because the park is so opened up by grazing (mainly cattle) these skulkers are much easier to spot. Many of them were translocated into the park from Western Kenya.


Kingfisher Dam still has some water in it.


Warthogs have made a spectacular comeback to the park. Here a couple enjoy the last pool in one of the 3 dams in the glades of the Langata forest in the west of the park, all of which are about to dry up…..


Drought Crisis


Apologies for not posting for so long:school holidays & power cuts in Nairobi owing to the drought we are currently enduring.

The only winners in this situation are the scavengers, who are doing extremely well.

The fact is that Nairobi National Park has been invaded by thousands of head of hungry cattle from the overgrzed & drought stricken rangelands to the south.

What are the effects of this? Firstly, the grass resource of the park, which includes the last remaining pristine (?) corner of the Athi Kapiti Ecosystem, one of the richest grassland habitats in the world, has been grazed to the point of degradation by hordes of cattle. At this time of the year & in these exceptional dry conditions, all of the grazers in the ecosystem are also in the park:about 3,000 zebra, 1,000 wildebeest, 800 hartebeest & 600 eland, not to mention the resident rhinos (35?), buffaloes (1000) giraffe & the many different species of antelope (12 sp. in total.)

All of these creatures have suffered from this cattle invasion. Ostrich (NNP has the densest population of wild ostrich anywhere) have not nested this year;presuably displaced by the thousands of head of cattle grazing illegally at night. 2 rhinos are reported as having died due to “anthrax” -unlikely for a browsing species-much more probable is that these were males killed by territorial fighting as the rhinos have been squeezed into the areas of the park ungrazed by cattle, such as in the Langata forest.


Tourists in the battered tourist industry (wholly dependent on the network of “protected” areas “managed” by KWS) are paying 40$ a time to see sites such as this & forlorn herds of abandoned cattle in the overgrazed, cowpat littered park.

More serious is the health risk posed by carcasses of cattle left on riverbanks such as the Empakasi River shown here, whose toxic juices drain into a water source used by thirsty people downstrem at a time of acute water stress.


Anthrax, foot & mouth disease & East Coast Fever (ol tikana n Maa) are all reported in the herds of cattle coming to graze in the park, not all of which belong to suffering pastoralists, who are in crisis in this horile year. It is reported by KWS that many of these cattle belong to rich folk:prominent Kenyans & politicians…..

Here is the body of a dead impala -IN the river…..


Many parts of the park stink with many carcasses of starved/diseased cattle littering the dusty plains.

Litter is never collected in the park by those who manage it, who concentrate on revenue collection……this cattle has been eating plastic, which is an eye sore & a major health risk to the grazing animals in the park.


Whlist most illegal grazing happens at night, in the eastern part of the park close to Athi River, hundreds of cattle graze openly on the plains.

Notice the Athi Dam, which threatens to dry up completely this season…..


KWS seem unwilling or unable to keep cattle out of the park.

Yesterday (Wednesday 26th August) KWS moved in 4 white rhino into Nairobi National Park from Nakuru National Park. (6 more are to be translocated in during the coming weeks, to make a total of 10.) Is this sensible when 2 BLACK rhinos have died of anthrax, a bacteria which lives in the ground & is dispersed in dry conditons?

White rhinos are of course GRAZING animals, very susceptible to anthrax spores…..


Cattle Invasion


The Athi Kapiti grasslands, of which the Nairobi National Park is a part – a dry season refuge for the grazers, both domestic & wild, that live here-is one of the richest rangelands in the world.

A prolonged dry cycle, a truncating ecosystem (thanks to NNP’s position right next to the rapidly expandig city of Nairobi) & too much livestock on a diminishing & degrading grass resource outside the park has led to thousands of cattle grazing within it.

Above you can see a microcosm of healthy rangeland -forbs, herbs & grasses which provide for the rich diversity of herbivores which depend upon it.


The park has received fair rains, in contrast with the dispersal area & the wider Kajiado district, which is suffering from drought, is terribly overgrazed & where sights such as above are no longer seen…..


A view of the Athi Basin in the park, the Athi Dam in the foreground & large herds of cattle in the background. This picture is taken on a sunday evening, when visitor numbers are at a premium. Notice the zebra in the foreground, now filtering back into the park after the traditional ‘migration’ out of he park during the rains. They didn’t find much grazing out on the plains……


Cattle……INSIDE the electric boundary fence……..


A vision of the future for NNP?


Note the herd of resting wildebeest behind the grazing cattle.


The protected areas of Kenya are currently under siege by cattle & livestock generally, because of the drought. There is a clear conflict of interest between that of KWS (mandated to protect & manage protected areas) & pastoralists whose livestock is threatened by the drought.


But if livestock is allowed to graze in parks (often because of political pressure) then what becomes of park rules? If herders are allowed in the park with hundreds of cattle why should anybody else PAY to enter ? Overseas visitors pay 40$ to visit NNP. Are they getting their moneysworth? Will they return in the future? What will they tell their tour operators back home?


Nairobi National Farm?

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.