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 …..it 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 .

Richness of Nairobi Park


The plains turn from green to tawny as Nairobi Park  gradually dries out & the usual aridity replaces the moisture of an exceptional rainy season. The oceans of grass are setting seed, along with the trees & shrubs which make up this superb savannah park.

Plenty to eat for all the birds that have reproduced,probably twice since the Rains began 6 months ago…..


Helmeted guineafowl




Water birds have enjoyed the season, such as these Egyptian geese.


Mother with plenty of goslings


Kori bustards are running out of habitat on the Athi Plains, but they still have the park:these female has successfully raised 2 young-great news for the future of the world’s heaviest flying bird!


A Secretary bird feeds it’s young:there are several breeding pairs in Nairobi National Park.



Nairobi National Park is one of the best places anywhere to observe wild black (browse) rhinos. Here is a lone bull (cows nearly always have a calf at heel), Ngong Hills in the background…


The prehistoric appearance of this massive herbivores belies their incredible sense of hearing & smell…..


NNP rhinoes have ear notches for easy identification in the field. It is not always easy to get close to wild blacks -they are shy & retiring & VERY wary of humans.


This is unsurprising given the fact that there are estimated to be about 700 of these creatures left after their population was decimated by hunting in the last 40 years.

Of these, most are to be found in Rhino Sanctuaries in Kenya, of which NNP is one of the most successful in providing a breeding haven for these magnificent pachyderms.


Keeping a close eye on the future……


Nairobi Park Greenline

On 5th June, 5000 people came out to the Northern boundary of the Park to show their concern for Nairobi National Park & to plant trees.


They all held hands in a 5000-strong human chain to demonstrate support for the Park & the inviobility of it’s borders: the Northern boundary of the Park marches next to Nairobi’s Industrial area…..


A 50 metre wide prtection belt will eventually stretch all the way from ‘Carnivore Corner’ in the NW corner of the Park down along the Nairobi Athi River Highway -some 30 km of fencing. This corridor will be planted with indigenous trees, especially Acacia sp………..


The Greenline Day was a great success, with a huge turn-out & a large amount of money raised for the ongoing tree-planting effort.

Greenline -planting trees

Some of the folks who turned out to support the Park & fundraising….


Some of the VIPs at the Fundraiser’s breakfast: Greenline is a joint KWS/KAM (Kenya Association of Manufacturers) project.

See www.nairobigreenline.comfor further details……….

Grass Rhino Update


The Grass (White) rhinoes translocated into NNP about a year ago have settled in very well.

They are 11 in total including the calf (a male) born in the Park.


Portrait of a White Rhino: grass eaters, with wide mouths & rubbery lips……



Much easier to photograph than the Black rhinoes that are much more numerous in Nairobi Park, Grass rhinoes are very docile owing to a limited genetic pool from which they all descend.


Peculiar that these enormous pachyderms have found somewhere to live: cheek-by-jowl with a city of 5 million!!!!

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……..