Glorious Biodiversity of NNP

By Will Knocker:


Malachite kingfisher…


A mating bull hippo: don’t you love the look on his face? (The cow is completely submerged!)


Male waterbuck…


Recently it has been very dry in the Park…


“Don’t mess with me,buddy!”


Elegant strider of the plains…the Secretary Bird. There are several breeding pairs in NNP…




Assemblage of waterfowl at Empakasi dam…


Bohor reedbuck..


Downtown Nairobi… lucky is this city?

NAIROBI NATIONAL PARK 25th February 2013

By Brian Finch:

Mike Davidson, Fleur Ng’Weno, Jennifer Oduore, Karen Plumbe and myself met at the Main Gate to Nairobi National Park at 6.50am having had some traffic difficulties. We were expediently processed and through the gate on the hour. It has been dry for a while now, and the Park is showing the signs of dehydration. There is still much grass, but all the green has gone and it looks sunburnt. The dams are still in fine condition, but the muddy margins are now appearing. Although cool in the mornings it has been of late warm at night, and quite hot during the day. Today was not hot, but a strong wind. Four of us stayed in the Park, and did not leave until 7.00pm having been checked out on entry. The evening was very spectacular and the traffic was moving well and we were not held up.

Our first call was KWS Mess gardens. Some five Blackcaps were coming in to a fruiting tree we have to identify (Strychnos is suspected), and there were two Nightingales in the hedge. The Black-collared Apalis was still present but recently has been calling from inside the Army Camp. There was a Suni on the lawn. From here we went to Ivory Burning Site which has been quiet this year, and yet used to be so interesting, with a host of good sightings. Today we were not disappointed, a male Pallid Harrier flew through, as strangely did a Secretarybird. We had seven different Secretarybirds today, they are obviously doing very well in the Park. Long may it continue. In the bushes were one Nightingale, and singles of Common Whitethroat, Olivaceous Warbler and Marsh Warbler. There was another Acrocephalus singing a sub-song that was thought to be an Eurasian Reed Warbler. There were a number of Red-collared Widowbirds around, some of which are already sporting red collars. There was another Acro singing softly and intermittently when we visited Nagalomon Dam, this was thought to be a Marsh Warbler but was not seen. There were two very impressive Crocodiles being visited by three Green Sandpipers and a couple of pushy Egyptian Geese, a pair of Orange-breasted Waxbills flew by without stopping and a Fan-tailed Grassbird was singing from a corner near the Mokoyeti River. Instead of circling back to Hyena Dam, we continued into the Kisembe Valley along the beautiful forested stream. On the way there was another Acro singing, thought to be a Marsh, and this was seen and confirmed. The immature Bateleur was circling with the first rising White-backed Vultures, a dark Booted Eagle was soaring over a clearing, a near adult Lesser Spotted Eagle came over us near Langata Gate, some ten Bee-eaters fed over the dam which had a Little Grebe with chick, and Moorhens also had a family. The old drinking pond that should be attractive to many Sylvia warblers and other birds, just had a pair of Little Grebes. There is far too much water around for this to be a magnet this year. We circled round back to the main gate to drop Fleur off, and an immature Fish Eagle had arrived on Nagalomon Dam.

After leaving the gate we took the back road to Hyena Dam, the Crowned Cranes were taking good care of their two chicks, and not seeming too worried about the diving Yellow-billed Kites which soon gave up. Out first of six Whichats were here, and a couple of Banded Martin were over the little swamp. Hyena Dam was quiet but we were much later than usual, there were three Wood Sandpipers and African Water Rail which refused to show themselves. There was a reasonable sized Crocodile hauled out on the bank. A Great Egret, which looks small and I believe has been visiting us for many years, was also there. The Run-Off was dry and did not produce anything, and the inside road to Eland Hollow was also very quiet. At this dam there were a pair of Spur-winged Geese, our only Red-billed Teal of the day, a Yellow-billed Egret, four more Wood Sandpipers, a Common Greenshank starting to show some attractive patterning, and the pair of Spotted Thick-knees were on their usual territory. Heading off to Karen Primary School  Dam we had a male Lesser Kestrel on a bush, and at the dam which was spectacular for bathing Zebra, the drinking Barn Swallow had a Sand Martin accompanying them.

Now it was time to head south, the vultures were at the drinking pool above Athi Basin, there were nineteen White-backed and nine Ruppell’s, nearby we had just seen a pair of Lappet-faced Vultures.

There were two Northern and two female Pied Wheatears along the top road and a nice Kori Bustard sheltering under a small acacia barely larger than itself. On the track to Athi Dam we found a full adult male Turkestan Shrike this was our only migrant shrike seen today, and a female-type Pallid Harrier was over the grassland. Whilst there was not a huge variety of birds on Athi Dam, the sight was nothing short of amazing. There were 1500 Marabou Storks, amongst these we individually counted 530 White Storks, which must be the largest number ever recorded together in Nairobi, poor Yellow-billed Storks were a  bit left out with only four! The storks surrounded the resident giant Croc who made even the Marabous look so small. Big croc number two was as usual on the island now joined back to the mainland. There was a single adult Pink-backed Pelican, a Great Egret of normal size, an immature Montagu’s Harrier, fifteen Yellow-throated Sandgrouse came in whilst we were there as did six Speckled Pigeon which is hardly a rare species, but I believe all the other records always involve a maximum of one pair. There was a male lutea Yellow Wagtail who had bright breeding plumage underparts but the head was still saying it was winter! In the wader line, there were four Black-winged Stilts, fifteen Spur-winged Plovers, a compact group of thirty Little Stints, but the only other palearctic waders were single Common Greenshank and Green Sandpiper. We had our traditional Carrot Cake on the Causeway, the Black-crowned Night-Heron adult was in his roosting tree, and a Western Marsh Harrier went over without stopping.

We carried on in the direction of the Cheetah Gate road, there was a stunning spring male Pied Wheatear, but our best bird of the day was a species I had never seen before in the Park. By the track was a female Black-faced Sandgrouse which posed for us. There is a historical record, this means over forty years ago but there are no details. On the road towards the Hippo Pools there was another female Pied Wheatear, an adult Fish Eagle along the river and a noisy Pangani Longclaw. Our last bird of note was a male roadside Hartlaub’s Bustard as we climbed up out of the Mbagathi Valley.

As we passed Karen PS Dam on the way back we stopped to look at a Black-headed Heron who had caught an unfortunate Battersby’s Green Snake, this was swallowed with surprising ease.

There was a sprinkling of Barn Swallows but nothing that looked like any passage, and there was evidence that Quail-finch were returning. We were out of the Park at 7.00pm.


It was a great day, nothing in writing can convey the stork spectacle of Athi Dam. This is probably a daily event, and it is necessary to be there at 3.00pm. Presumably the Whites are coming in from the Kitengela.


The game has returned in really impressive force as the dry sets in, Zebras in most impressive numbers, but a group of seventy Wildebeest in the Athi basin is a good number nowadays. None of the special mammal species were seen today, they were all in hiding. Hippos were in Nagalomon, Hyena, Eland Hollow and Athi Dams.


Hippos & Lions

Photo Essay by Gareth Jones:

Friday 18th June 2010 was an interesting day:t 3 lions had been eating on a buffalo carcass for the last 3 days at the waters edge of the Eland Valley dam…….then in the late afternoon a phone call from Dave Mc Kelvie to say that he was at the dam watching the lions …I then left the office and headed towards the East gate ….when I arrived at the dam the lions were sitting quietly on top of a mound , and the hippos were deep in the water , with the buffalo carcass visible on the opposite bank of the dam.


I sat and watched them for some time ….eventually the hippos began to move towards the buffalo carcass , and came out of the water and over the carcass , from a distance it was difficult to see exactly what they were doing ,but they appeared to be licking/muzzling the carcass on quite a few occasions .


I then moved closer to the buffalo carcass by taking the back track past the dam wall , as I stopped the hippo retreated into the water ….. so I sat quietly and waited ….after some time the lions began to move towards the buffalo carcass ( a lioness with 2 sub-adult cubs )  They each ate briefly on the carcass , and I could see they were all very full from the feasting .


Then the hippo’s began to advance while the lions were at the buffalo carcass ,  they boldly came out of the water , and the lions immediately timidly retreated . The hippos then repeated the cycle of licking & muzzling the buffalo carcass ,

It was again difficult to see from where I was parked , because the carcass was on the water’s edge and partly hidden by the bank and long grass plus it was getting dark , but the hippo’s spent some time over the buffalo , and through my binoculars there were time when I observed the hippo’s tongues left sticking out .

lioness&youngone@buf hippo-eland dam-18jun10

A truly fascinating event to witness …however this did get me thinking …..firstly how did the buffalo (it appeared to be a cow) die on the edge of the dam ? Was it alone at the time ? Was it weakened so that a single lioness with 2 half grown cubs could kill it ? Or did it die of another cause at the water’s edge ? It’s hard to tell .Then also the actions of the hippos was really amazing …were they trying the get nutrients like body salts etc from the buffalo carcass ? Hippos are not known to eat meat .

What is also particularly amazing is the location of this natural event in the Nairobi National Park …….the Eland Valley Dam is less that 1km from the park boundary , and approx 1.5km from the East Gate ….as I sat there the skyline in the distance clearly showed some buildings such as the Panari Hotel …and I could hear the muffled drone of heavy traffic that almost sounded like the noise of a distant waterfall … is exciting to think that a few weeks ago ,at the same nearby boundary on the 5th June –World Environment day – over 5000 people participated in the Nairobi Greenline Project to plant trees and form a human chain within a new double electric fence 50m wide zone , the length covered was 7km , but actions are well advanced to complete a 32km Greenline to Athi River .

Lastly….We were saddened by the news on Tuesday 22nd June that 2 young lions had been killed just outside the park past Embakazi towards Athi River , (possibly about 5km from the East Gate ) . Due to the recent heavy rains many of the herbivores – zebra , wildebeest etc…have moved out of the park ,so the lions either follow them or find easier options like livestock . We do not have detailed evidence at this stage of the circumstances around the dead lions .I have not seen the Lioness and her two sub-adult cubs since the 18th June , were they the ones killed ?

With every day that passes the challenge of Wildlife vs Mankind is increased ….and it is especially evident here in Nairobi with the Nairobi National Park and the rapidly growing Nairobi Mega City with a greater population of over 4 million . The management of the park by KWS and positive actions like the Nairobi Greenline Project all help to protect the park . However this is still not enough ….more dramatic actions are needed to ensure the long term survival of this national treasure .

Hippo Calf Update

Photos by ROB ALLEN


The hippoes translocated in the park in recent months (see previous posts) have scattered all over the park & many of the dams have had some(or one) hippoes in them.

But the calf featured here a few weeks ago was spotted & photographed by Rob Allen & is still with Mum in the Nangolomon Dam, itself overflowing with water owing to recent rains.

No mammal in Nature puts on meat (converted from grass;hippoes are of course grazers) quicker than hippoes……

But beware:hungry lions killed one of the translocated hippoes seeking new territory a week or two ago in the Kiserian valley running into the Park.

Let us hope that this fast growing little hippo survives into the future….


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…….

New Born Hippo

Photographs courtesy Major Max:

These photos were taken in Nangolomon Dam in the west of the Park, though hippoes can be seen in several of the dams after the translocation from Ruai Sewage works….. (see blog archives)

Another hippo was brought into the park at the weekend after having trapped itself in a culvert at Ruai. (See Standard newspaper last weekend.)





Happy Hippoes


One of the most popular destinations in NNP has always been ‘The Hippo Pools’, an interesting walking trail where one could usually guarantee a sighting of hippoes in their element.

In recent years however hippo sightings have become increasingly rare, perhaps because of the fact that the Empakasi River (the southern boundary of the park -where the Hippo Pools are located) has become a stream & has in some periods recently, stopped flowing altogether.


So I was quite amazed, in the last few days to count no less than 4 hippoes in the Hyena Dam, which, suffering from nutrient overload (sewage from the city) has been overgrown by waterweeds, so that a previously open body of water was completely covered.

Hooray for hippoes, they are now pushing side the weed & open water is now appearing again.

The Warden informs me that 14 hippoes were translocated into NNP in September/October from Ruai Dam in the Doonholm area of the city, which is where waste is processed, so these animals are well adapted to wallowing in, well, you know what…..


Above is a picture of a happy hippo grazing in broad daylight (these animals normally graze at night) indicating they have happily settled down in Nangolomon Dam & in Hyena Dam, where Gareth Jones, who took this picture, reports a new born calf.

This replaces the hippo that wandered through the fence to the north of the park & into a township on the edge of the city, where it was shot & eaten….

So we have at least 14 hippoes in NNP, not counting those (very few) that were already here.

Did you know that of all mammals, hippoes are reported to be the most efficient at converting grass into protein ?(themselves…) -(Jonathan Kingdon)