Nairobi National Park is a unique refuge which borders the capital city, Nairobi. Here most visitors receive their first introduction to Kenya's spectacular wildlife.
Nairobi National Park is just 117 sq. kms. in area but within its boundaries can be seen most of East Africa's big five, except the elephant. There are quite a number of lions in the park while several families of cheetah are resident and there is a healthy black rhinoceros and buffalo population. Several leopards live in the park but being mainly nocturnal, they are rarely seen. African wild cats and serval are occasionally encountered.
The population of animals fluctuates with the season, because the park is not ant entirely enclosed. The cats are mainly resident but most of the wildebeest, kongoni and zebra disperse southwards across the Athi Plains during the rains. When the water supply dries up outside,the herds return to the park where there is always water available for them.
The total number of animals in the Nairobi National Park varies from year to year but at the end of a particularly dry season, when the rains have failed, there are many ungulates concentrated there while the predator population may Increase, with lions and cheetahs moving in from the south.
Nairobi National Park was established in 1945, the first such park to be created in Kenya Until the late 1950s, it was open on all sides, but as Nairobi grew into East Africa's premier city,it became necessary to fence three sides of the park to prevent what until then had been regular incursions into the suburbs by prides of lions.
The fence cannot stop a determined lion and there are still occasional reports of lions being seen around the suburbs and surrounding areas. But those which enter and leave the park now normally do so via the unfenced southern boundary across the Mbagathi River. Climbing leopards on the other hand more often show up in these residential gardens at night.
Today, Nairobi National Park presents a spectacle similar to that seen by the early explorers who were amazed by the splendor and abundance of Kenya's wildlife. Much of the park is open grassland, unchanged over the centuries and providing seasonally abundant food for herds of antelope and zebra.
Along the western boundary, there is an area of dense highland forest favored by black rhinoceros and buffaloes while the semi-permanent Mbagathi River is bordered by open woodland dominated by spectacular acacias, the yellow 'fever trees' In addition, a number of artificial water holes have been created by damming streams to ensure that water is always available for the herds.
Nairobi National Park is noted for its Masai giraffes and impala, and it is one of the best places to study ostriches in the wild. Hippopotamuses and crocodiles are found in the river and in some of the larger dams while the large troops of olive baboons make a striking sight as they cross the plains, the youngsters alternatively riding on their mothers' backs and slipping to the ground to play with their cousins. But beware! The big males are fearless and many a driver has had the unpleasant experience of trying to eject from his or her car a baboon which has jumped in through an open window.
Visitors are allowed out of their cars at Observation Hill, which overlooks the central plain where the herds of antelope and zebra gather, and by the Hippo Pools on the Mbagathi River. Here, a nature trail has been laid out and it is possible to stroll at leisure through the acacia woodland. Bird watchers in particular enjoy this walk for they have an opportunity to see, often at very close range, a wide variety of African riverine forest birds. Masai giraffes, waterbuck and impala are usually present in this area.
For many, however, the main aim of a visit to the Nairobi national park is the first sighting of a wild lion. Circling vultures may indicate a kill, though more likely it will be a group of mini-buses which will reveal their presence. To see a lion undisturbed by others, you need to get into the park soon after it opens at 6 a.m. Then the lions are on the move, hunting. Careful scanning with binoculars, particularly of areas adjoining the herds my reveal the tawny outline of a Couched lion.
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