Cheetah in NNP!

By Nikhil Patel, image by Chirag Patel

It was a crisp and misty Sunday morning when we arrived at the main gate of Nairobi National Park at 6:30 am. After getting our safari cards we thought it would a good idea to drive back out and enter via the forest gate. This is never a good idea as either the warden here has not arrived or he has “forgotten” the card too activate his smart card. Disappointed and mildly irritated we turned back around, drove back to the main gate and made straight for Impala View Point where we set upon our ART café croissants and coffee/orange juice with ravenous intentions (Chirag gets cranky if he doesn’t get orange juice and croissants for breakfast). The contrast of the hot coffee and the crisp morning breeze, carrying with it the smell of Africa, we felt charged and set off with a determined focus akin to that of pack of hunting dogs. The Eagerness to see something was almost palpable as after we had been driving for a while one of our group members (Kunal Patel) enthusiastically shrieked….STOP!!!!  We all grabbed a pair of binoculars and scanned the brush with a predatory focus…..alas the subject of our focus was just a bush, which swayed from side to side in a mocking wave. However, in my experience I have found that if something seems out of place, it usually is and deserves a closer look. As I panned my binoculars to the right of the bush a stark white flash came into focus. Surprised, I refocused my binoculars, and there came into focus one of the most elusive and graceful cats we have in the park…..I could barely believe what I was looking at and had to re-adjust my position to confirm the sighting. The excitement was contagious, some of us had binoculars glued to our eyes and others trying to get a picture of this phantom.



The soft rumble of a water tanker in the distance distracted us for a brief instant and as I peered in the rear view mirror I saw it closing in on us. I started the car to make room for the tanker to pass. It could not have been more than a 5second window where we had all turned our focus on the tanker, when we looked back it had disappeared just as magically as it had appeared….a true phantom of the savannah. In a mad panic we scanned the area, but to no avail. It wasn’t until the tranquillity of morning was disrupted by the snort of an impala and our photographer Chirag, spotted a herd of impala dash off in the distance. Making a calculated decision we made drove off in the direction of the commotion. With a combination of some keen spotting (Anjli Patel) sheer luck we found it again walking in the tall grass some distance from the road.

Like most of their kind, this individual was extremely shy and wary of us, I suppose this is what has kept it alive thus far, as it kept looking back at us and gradually made its way into thicker taller grass. We did not want to bother the animal and so hung back for a while in the hopes that it may cross the road or come out in the open. Unfortunately this did not happen……..and just suddenly as this enigma had appeared it disappeared, the tall grass closing behind it like a protective cloak.

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??



Awesome Day in the Park!

Story & pics by WILL KNOCKER:

On wednesday this week, Ed & Jeremy Hildebrand & I spent all day in the Park in superb weather & saw the best that the constantly surprising NNP has to offer….. first, these rhinos, note the bull on the right marking his territory with a horizontal blast of pee…

Early morning along the Empakasi was like a Vision of Eden…..

Then we came across this nursey herd of eland (calves suckle from any lactating female they find, an adaption to the nomadic way of life of these antelopes, who are constantly on the move.) NNP contains one of the most significant herds of eland in Kenya & the population is rising…

We definitely had a rhino day: we saw several unusual herds of Black (Browse) rhinos at close quarters….

We stopped for coffee at the Athi Dam, where zebra were watering & this kongoni posed for us. The kongoni population in NNP is exploding, bucking the trend in the rest of Kenya, where this sp. is in steep decline..

A spiral of large raptors brought us to this dramatic site: a kill…..

Ant the perpetrator, a stuffed lioness….

A pair of jackals tried to drive off the estimated 80 vultures gathered for the feast: an eland….but were ignored…..

But all soon moved off at the ‘owner’ returned to protect her kill….

There was masses of ‘plains game’ in the Athi Basin & on the top plains, where we found these zebra twins….

The Rains have not been good so far & so most biomass is in the park owing to overgrazing in the rangelands where they usually go at this time of year. The return of both Gran’ts & Thomson’s gazelles to the Park after many years of a ‘long grass’ regime is heartening. But where are the cheetah?

Ostriches under a big blue sky….

Proved to be a group with an adolescent chick: the last survivor (there is very heavy mortality amongst young ostriches…)

Then clever Ed spotted no less than six Black backed jackals: a pair of adults & four grown up cubs: great news for these little canids, which are not common in NNP…..

A bull Grass (White) rhino…..was this the individual translocated from the Mara after all his companions were killed?

As usual the Park was A1 for birds……this is a Superb starling, though we also saw the aptly named Hildebrandt’s……

And yet another bull rhino……

This was all BEFORE lunch, when we returned to Silole Cottage, where these piggies were enjoying a cooling wallow.

In the afternoon, yet more (Browse) rhinos…..

And in the Langata forest, Jeremy spotted this pair of magnificent Bateleurs, the only pair in the Park!!

And on our way home, in the distance, a new baby rhino…we couldn’t make out which type….

What a day! What a Park!












Of 250 gazelles counted in the park in February, 74 were Grant’s Gazelles -locally known as ‘oloibor siadi’ or ‘white bums’ as this slightly out of focus pic shows ….


Now fairly widespread over the park (the figure above is a minimum), this sp. is an indicator of short-grass plain habitat.


Grantis are favoured prey of cheetahs- which are the only creature capable of catching these fast & agile semi-arid adapted creatures


A buck, with no chetah to fear (only one male remains in NNP.)


Mostly does: notice large mob of zebra below. all pics taken in the Athi Basin….

The Last Cheetah


Yesterday, in the Athi Basin, we came across what I believe to be the last cheetah in Nairobi National Park: a large male.

He had killed a hen ostrich & on our approach, trotted off (an extremely wary cheetah, this: he would have to be , would he not, to be the last survivor?


Paradoxically there are many (8?) cheetahs in the ‘Orphanage’ at Main Gate & across the main highway to Tanzania (which is the southern, uncrossable, boundary of the park’s dispersal area) there seems to be a fair population of  wild cheetahs, but this is the last one in NNP: no cubs have been seen for several years now, though we hope that by some miracle a female may appear from somewhere……


Look at the belly:stuffed with ostrich meat!


The kill: a cheetah pulling down & killing an ostrich is something I have never heard of!


But then this is no ordinary cheetah: here’s a shot from several years ago of the same cheetah on a fully grown kongoni he killed: this individual is a formidable hunter……

Wet Season Wonders


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……


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……


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


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!


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’.


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??


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!


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…….

Another Cheetah!!


After posting yesterday’s cheetah story & writing an online prayer for more cheetahs an astonishing event: ANOTHER cheetah was spotted this morning…..could she be a female??

Above is the resident male (we think – a very large individual.)


The ‘new’ cheetah: can we now look forward to cubs?


In any case the advertised presence of cheetahs through the mysterious world of scent can only encourage individuals (especially of the opposite sex) to seek each other out in NNP…


Another shot of the big resident male on his kongoni kill yesterday.

Photos by Rob Allen, Dave McKelvie & Will Knocker

Nairobi National Park Wet Season


Although the dry cycle continues & Kenya north of Central Province is still horribly dry, in Nairobi we have had some (less than average) rain.

Unlike many parts of the country (Mara -Laikipia), the vulture population of the NNP ecosystem remains healthy. The population of White Backed vultures which nest in the park is of especial importance, but we also have visiting Griffons from the Rift Valley & at least one pair of Lappet Faced, seen in this picture…..


Most of the large mammals (such as this bull eland) are now concentrated in the Athi Basin & on the plains of the Sheep & Goat land just to the south east of the park, though hundreds of zebra, true to their natures, have wandered farther afield.They will be back soon, because the dispersal area is terribly overgrazed & there has not been enough rain for the grasslands (in the past one of the richest rangelands in the world) to recover.


You never know what you might come across in the park, such as this steinbok in the Athi Basin, seen clearly in the background…


The breeding season for ostrich is here again (July/August) & the cocks are red-necked with excitement. In this picture is a flock of last year’s chicks,now yearlings. NNP has the highest density of wild ostrich in Africa……


The most wary (could we deduce the most intelligent) of the antelopes- eland- have sensibly decided not to leave the park this year: there is simply nowhere for them TO go & they run a very high risk of being hunted for meat outside the park….


NNP is a quite exraordinarily diverse bit of country, given it’s small size (120 square kilometres.) As well as protecting classic savannah plains & dry highland forest & several river valleys, in the wet season, after rain, tiny intricate little wetlands occur such as this pool in the Athi Basin. A whole little aquatic cycle of life plays out with the existence of life giving water until the equatorial sun reasserts itself……


The big cats are doing well & we have 3 known cheetah in NNP, including a female with a single cub. Here is the scarey male – he’s a survivor- & you can see why: look at the industrial conurbation adjacent to the plains which are his home. The last of the Athi Plains, now surrounded by a humanised landscape.


The Athi Plains were home to coutless thousands of gazelles in the past, including Grantis like these, whom the Maasai call “oloibor siadi” -the white behinds. You can  clearly see why in this picture. Gazelles are more & more moving back into the park, which now , in this dry cycle, contains their preferred short-grass plain habitat. But they have to be aware of the one animal faster even than they:cheetah.


NNP is an island of biodiversity showing what the Athi-Kapiti Ecosystem really is, now surrounded by overgrazed &  environmentally degraded & increasingly urbanised plains on all sides. The last habitat, therefore, for these Jackson’s whydahs, respendent in their breeding plumage. This species is dependent on long grass, where the males create dancing grounds where they bob up & down a couple of feet at each jump- an extraordinary sight – in order to attract the females!

Cheetahs are Back!!


I know this is a tiny little image, but it is a real symbol of hope for the future of the Nairobi National Park. Here is a mother & cub cheetah, the first birth and/or sighting in the park for many years, recorded & photographed by Dave McKelvie.

This picture illustrates a new reality:after many years of a wet cycle in the weather & in the abscence of controlled burns, short grass plain habitat disappeared in the park, together with the  gazelles & gnus which live in such areas.

Since the end of 2007 & the beginning of controlled burning in the park, together with an extended dry cycle that still continues & with the complete overgrazing, in this drought situation, of the dispersal area outside the park & the consequent influx of cattle into the park to compete for grazing with the thousands of migratory herbivores which had taken refuge there, all excess grazing has been severely reduced.

This complete change in circumstances have seen the last of the gnu in the ecosystem come back into the park (they calved in the park this year for the first time in living memory), together with hundreds of Grants & Thomsons gazelles:food for cheetahs….

Apologies for the tiny photo- it’s all I could manage after hours of trying to post….