Game Count in Nairobi National Park, 1st February 2009

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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……

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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…….

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Birding in Nairobi National Park with Brian Finch

I spent the entire day in Nairobi National Park 23rd February 2009. I
travelled throughout much of it, and I am so pleased to report, that
all of the livestock has been removed over the week-end. I saw a
ranger on the road near Leopard Cliffs and asked him what he was
doing, he replied “We are chasing all of the cows out of the Park.” So
I must say in all fairness, the Chief Warden has exacted an immediate
result to the first of my issues. I had sent him the relevant parts of
the last report from last Friday, asking him what action he planned to
take (I did actually threaten to bring in the media as well.) Nairobi
National Park is no longer a farm, but wall-to-wall plains game and
looks superb…..
I arrived right on 6:30am, to avoid the Commuter traffic, and I was
through the gate having had my card processed by 6:31am!
First port of call was of course Ivory Burning Site, Blackcaps were
very vocal, but there might not have been quite as impressive a chorus
as a few days previously. The male Irania was present, but not singing
a word, five or so Nightingales did so intermittently. I only found
one Upcher’s Warbler, the only other migrant here being a Willow
Warbler. There was a Zanzibar Sombre Greenbul calling from somewhere
beyond the toilet block, and the arrival of a Great Sparrowhawk made
it all very quiet for a while.
In spite of being a bright and sunny, warm morning, there was a swathe
of grey from the Kitengela southwards, and in spite of continuing to
be a sunny day in the dehydrated park right up until 3:00pm it
remained grey and overcast to the south, when the first cloud-cover
reached the south end of the Park. Maybe they had rain, and maybe
there is hope for us. My thoughts are that the birds knew this. Along
the back road there was a Nairobi Pipit singing from the roof of the
“Pump House”, it would launch itself into the air and do a song
flight. It was dry and warm, I have always associated singing Nairobi
Pipits with good rainfall, but this bird was behaving as it had
poured. Interestingly there has not been a Nairobi Pipit using this
roof as a territory for over six years. Let’s hope that it continues
to use it. Migrant-wise the back-road was migrant-less apart from one
Nightingale, whilst “spishing” to see what was hiding in the scrub, I
brought in a Spotted Morning Thrush. This was a surprise and the first
I have seen in the north of the Park, all records being along the
Mbagathi River where it is common.
Nothing of interest was seen until reaching the back of Hyena Dam,
where there was a Sedge Warbler that had forsaken cover to feed in an
acacia growing next to the reeds. There was another in the reeds at
the little opening, that continues to become a smaller and smaller
aperture. The Eurasian Marsh Harrier that has its winter territory
confined to the dam, was there, an African Jacana was flying around
looking for stable footing on the surface vegetation, there was an
African Water Rail calling, a single Yellow Wagtail, but the most
interesting sighting here was a flock of about a hundred Athi
Short-toed Larks (and two Fischer’s Sparrowlarks) flying low over the
dam and landing in the plains. Presumably some raptor had flushed them
from nearby. Extraordinarily the Lesser Swamp Warblers were in
incredible voice, and cavorting all through the reed-beds. Why have
they suddenly broken into song?
Continuing on the circuit, there was a Black Kite, (in fact Eurasian
Black Kites were scattered over the Park), and a pale Booted Eagle. I
stopped to look at a gathering of vultures on a fresh kill, but they
were hopelessly against the light, but whilst I was there a dark
Booted Eagle dropped like a stone to the side of me, scattering Athi
Short-toed Larks that I hadn’t noticed. Another raptor passing over
the area was a near adult Lesser Spotted Eagle in rather heavy moult
still. Seems rather late for a migrant to be in such a condition.
Towards Karen Primary School Dam, there was an adult Black Stork, a
male Pallid Harrier, a few Lesser Kestrels, the first of the
Red-tailed Shrikes of the day which numbered three phoenicuroides and
five isabellinus (but none of them unusual plumage), a Whinchat, and a
pair of Northern Wheatears. I was sitting at the Dam for two-hours
waiting for the vultures to come in to bathe, to see if there was
anything unusual amongst them. Whilst there, some ten other vehicles
came and visited, which is not bad for a Monday. It was spectacular
with Zebras constantly arriving to slake their thirsts, with Kongoni,
Wildebeest, Wart Hogs with babies, twenty Ostrich, two hundred
Marabous, a host of vultures and waterbirds. It was a very pleasant
two hours with all of this going on. The surprise vulture to come in
was a near third-year Egyptian, a strange and attractive surprise. It
is a good few years since the last of its kind was recorded in the
Park. Whilst videoing the vultures bathing, the Marabous were (it
seemed) playfully tugging at their tails, or lightly pecking at their
necks. The vultures made aggressive sudden movements towards the
Marabous. This antagonism went for almost all the time the vultures
bathed although there was no violent aggression. On playing this
amusing scene back on the computer I picked up something I did not see
in the field, and I only realised what I was seeing by playing frame
by frame. A dragonfly flew past a Marabou, it made a snap at it and
missed, whilst the dragonfly carried on flying it snapped again and
missed, the dragonfly continued on, and a third snap caught it in
flight. All this happened in a fraction of a second, and I appreciate
that their methodic slow-motion movements are very deceptive as to
what lightening reactions the birds are capable of. A pair of Lanners
paid a visit, whilst amongst the waterbirds were singles Greenshank
and Green Sandpiper. Two Yellow Wagtails flew over, and there were
good numbers of Red-capped Larks in the short grass. Just past the
“Beacon” was a pair of Temminck’s Coursers, and the Lilac-breasted
Roller is still at the Ruai Dam junction. It really seems to like it’s
solitary tree. Ruai Dam has all but gone, perhaps one more week if no
rain. Birds apart from two Yellow-billed Storks and an African
Spoonbill have vacated it. There was the only Montagu’s Harrier
(female) seen all day, a female Eurasian Marsh Harrier and eight
Lesser Kestrels. There was nothing much of note until the descent road
to Athi Dam, where two White-tailed Larks were flushed. With the dull
tones of the grass, the tail-feathers shine like a beacon. The dam has
new islands as the water level falls, however there are many birds
still enjoying its muddy margins. Three Pink-backed Pelicans and a
Red-knobbed Coot were on the open water, whilst there was a
concentration of 37 Yellow-billed and 17 White Storks on the edge. A
sub-adult Fish Eagle, and the white-wing Eurasian Marsh Harrier were
in residence and causing the birds to move around the dam. A young
Steppe Eagle was also flying in the valley. There were 65 Ruff, twenty
Little Stints, six Marsh Sandpipers with one remarkable individual
having a slightly upturned bill, certainly nothing I had seen before,
two Common Sandpipers, whilst afro-tropical waders numbered ten
Black-winged Stilts, five each of Spur-winged and Kittlitz’s Plovers.
There was a Namaqua Dove flying over and another near Cheetah Gate.
Here there were a compact flock of twenty-five Lesser Masked Weaver,
which is a big number for here, four Speckle-fronted Weavers and an
Olivaceous Warbler. Whilst scattered widely, I thought that
Cinnamon-chested Rock Buntings were in smaller numbers than a few days
ago, until near Kingfisher Picnic Site I came across a party of ten
birds. Quailfinch were widespread, but much easier to see at any of
the smaller dams, Barn Swallows were in good numbers and there were
small parties throughout, and finally the Crowned Crane is still
incubating near Langata Gate.
The best mammals were not species, but Athi Dam is a bit of a nursery,
one group of Wildebeest had four barely day-old young, there was a day
old Thompson’s Gazelle, a crèche of Kongoni, and the Wart Hogs there
also had chicks. Of course seeing the wild animals vistas not
punctuated with the multi-hued herds of domestic animals was the
greatest highlight.

Gnu Calving in NNP

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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!!

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

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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 .

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

They’re breeding well!

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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.

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

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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.

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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!!

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Lions and Buffalo

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Here’s a super sequence of photos from professional photographer PAOLO TORCHIO, a regular chronicler of events in Nairobi National Park. Paolo please forgive the fact that these pics have been ‘cropped’ in the posting process & my technical inability to prevent this……..

These photographs are significant because they record an unusual situation in the Nairobi National Park: lions taking on an adult bull buffalo!

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Buffaloes are an introduced species into the NNP, (although there must have been buff in the Langata forest in historical times.) Researchers are quite clear: buff are not on the traditional menu of the NNP lions, which favour plains species such as wildebeest, zebra, kongoni & warthog.

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This has been a problem for the lions, for 3 of these species are migratory & usually moved out of the park in the rains. In the period 2000-20005, NNP experienced a wet cycle, when the park was relatively empty of herbivores & the lions starved.

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They left the park & began to kill cattle out of the park even though there were plenty of buffaloes in the park. In turn, most of the lions -over 20 of the 30 in the park at the time- were killed by angry pastoralists.

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Things have changed. Lion numbers are up to an estimated 22 in the park, which has experienced a pronounced dry cycle since 2005 & is therefore full of herbivores at the moment. In any case migratory grazers have limited options these days: they have a rapidly decreasing area in which to disperse during the rains. So it’s good times for the lions & if they can learn to hunt & kill buffaloes, so much the better!

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