A day of safari in Nairobi National Park, July 2020

An account by Washington Wachira (photos by Washington & Maureen)

Wildlife safaris across Africa are majorly focused on mammals. Of all the groups of animals in the continent, mammals are probably the most visible and luckily most visitors enjoy them equally. Choosing where to go for your mammal safari can be determined by many factors:-

  • Costs involved in the trip- costs include both the entry fees to the park and also the secondary costs like accommodation and transport.


    a Common Eland enjoying the grassy plains
  • Availability of good guides. Guides come in many ways; including human safari guides and also published guides, such as books or checklists. Depending on your level of experience and your targets, you may choose to use published guides or hire a local expert safari guide.
  • Transport needs required for the destination- some locations require you to drive strong 4×4 vehicles.
  • The attractions available at the destination- both in terms of wildlife and also landscapes. Some visitors also add extra activities as part of the attractions, such as rock climbing or zip lining activities.
a young Common Zebra exploring the park

On the last Saturday of July, 2020, we chose to per take a safari in Nairobi National Park. This is Kenya’s oldest national park and one of my best parks in the entire African continent. There are many reasons to love this park, but for me the wildlife diversity is just the biggest tick. Being a small park, averagely 117 square kilometres, you can see virtually all popular groups of animals and plants represented here.

On our safari drive across Nairobi National Park, the mammals were as great as expected. From the main entrance gate, we found a group of Olive Baboons snoring as they concluded their naps. By the time we went across the main gate, it was still quite dark, and the baboons were understandably still enjoying their bed time.

a herd of Coke’s Hartebeests

Looping around the main forest, we did not encounter any of the regular forest mammals, but it was quite chilly and still dark. We continued to the open areas around the Ivory Burning Site, where we were treated to the first of our two very great mammal encounters – a feeding Bush Duiker (also known as a Grimm’s or Grey or Common Duiker). This is one of the rare mammals in Nairobi, and one that is not often seen on regular game drives in this park.

We continued across the Nagolomon Drift, where like clock-work, the resident Hilgert’s Vervet Monkey. We encountered many more of these small primates across the bushland habitats that line up dry river beds across the Mokoyeti River.

a Common Hippo playing in the water

At the Nagolomon Dam itself, we enjoyed good views of Nile Hippopotamus (also known as Common Hippopotamus).  These massive giants kept us entertained with their constant calls, raking through the cold atmosphere and carrying on through the echo from the neighbouring Kisembe Forest. It was just a sight to behold; and we spent a few minutes here enjoying more diversity around the dam.

Another mammal that we found close here is the Common Impala, an agile antelope where only males bear horns. We came across an exciting male that had one horn- maybe from a previous battle with a rival or an attack from a predator.

the mono-horned Common Impala male

Continuing across the Standard Gauge Railway line, we came across a great group of the Coke’s Hartebeest; locally known as Kongoni. These masculine antelopes are often famed for being one of the fastest antelopes.

The Coke’s Hartebeest species is different in appearance from other Hartebeest species that occur elsewhere in Africa. One exciting feature is the way their horns rise on top of their ears, looking almost like “double ears”. We later found many more of these across the grasslands.   


In the open grasslands inter-spaced with scattered trees and bushes, we encountered many Maasai Giraffes; these amazing ruminants tower across the plains, like the skyscrapers of Nairobi. Unfortunately, giraffes are facing many threats across Africa and listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN RedList- a global list that documents the threat levels of all species globally.    

Maasai Giraffe across the plains

Crossing the Ol Manyi area, we encountered another Bush Duiker. This was a great record, having seen two individuals of this species on the same day. This was also a shy individual and it scattered quickly into the tall grasses.

Close to this site, we met two beautiful Common Warthogs running in front of our vehicle.

Common Warthogs taking off!!!

It was nice to see them raise their fluffy tail tips in the blowing wind; making it appear as if they were flying small flags.

Around the rocky cliffs overlooking the mighty Mbagathi or Empakasi River, we enjoyed great views of a family of Yellow-spotted Hyraxes (also called Bush Hyraxes). The Hyrax group is complex with species often tough to distinguish. These Bush Hyraxes often have small whitish marks above their eyes – often called “white eye brows”. Exciting to note that Hyraxes are the closest relatives to African Elephants!!!

Yellow-spotted Hyrax enjoying the sun

Around the Hippo Pools drive, we met more animals and here we added a new species- the Common Waterbuck. This beautiful mammal is often considered as a separate species from its sister, the Defassa Waterbuck. The Common Waterbuck occurs to the Eastern edge of the African Continent; with the Defassa Waterbuck occurring more Westerly.  

Here we also encountered the largest East African antelope- the majestic Common Eland. There were many of them around the Sosian plains; and then we later encountered more around the Athi Plains. This species is sometimes split on their continental distribution, with the Kenyan population falling under the East African Eland split group.  

Around the Rhino Circuit drift, we came across two majestic male African Lions, lying in the bushes but still well visible. These were several other visitors enjoying the views and trying their best to get some photos through the grasses, but the lions seemed more interested in their mid-day nap. Nairobi National Park is always a great place for lions and one stands a great chance of seeing these big cats on any visit here.  

a male African Lion relaxing under a bush

Around the Athi Dam area, we were treated to a huge array of antelopes. Main herds included Grant’s Gazelles. There were many males and females mixed quite well in the groups. Some males were advancing the females and trying to get their interest in a series of courtship displays.

There were also some Common Hippos enjoying a cool afternoon at the Athi Dam. These ones were more silent compared to their friends that we encountered earlier in the day.

On the Western end of the Athi Dam, there were more Common Waterbucks feeding here.

There was also a troop of Olive Baboons feeding on flowers here.

Olive Baboon mom and baby

Leaving the Athi Dam, Common Zebras (also called Plains Zebra) were busy grazing on the plains above the dam. This zebra species is very common in the park, although today we did not encounter that many. They sometimes disperse outside the park heading into the neighbouring Athi-Kapiti or Athi-Kaputiei Plains. These plains are located to the Southern end of the park and represent community and private land, with excellent grasslands for grazing mammals. Zebra taxonomy is quite complex, with many known interbreeding or overlapping traits around Africa. This has allowed for the recognition of several species and sub-species. The East African population is classified as Equus quaqqa boehmi. I at times like to just call it the Boehm’s Zebra; following with its Scientific name.   

There were also several small herds of Thomson’s Gazelles (sometimes spelt as Thompson’s Gazelle) feeding here and these were later joined by their almost look-alikes, the Grant’s Gazelles.

a female Thomson’s Gazelle

Nairobi National Park is also known as one of the best rhino sanctuaries in Africa. Here both Black Rhinos and Southern White Rhinos co-exist and breed successfully. We were lucky with 8 individuals on our safari, starting with two at one site and another six feeding together at a second site. All our individuals were Southern White Rhinos, a massive mammal, which prefers grazing – unlike its cousin the Eastern Black Rhino (which I at times refer to as Michael’s Rhino; based on the Scientific name Diceros bicornis michaeli) that browses the bushes across this park. White Rhinoceros are also known as Square-lipped or Grass Rhinos. The Black Rhinoceros are often called Browse or Hook-lipped Rhinos.     

a relaxed pair of Southern White Rhinos

We were also able to encounter many herds of African Buffalo in different parts of the park. This member of the cattle family is an amazing mammal and often regarded as one of the toughest bovid. They are actually known to attack and even kill lions- and you may have watched these eternal rivalries between lions and buffaloes on documentaries. Buffalo taxonomy is also varied, with many recognized divisions that are distributed across Africa. The population in Kenya falls under the split group known as Cape Buffalo.

a lone Cape Buffalo taking a stroll

To close our day, we found two more Nile Hippos at the Hyena Dam. These ones were also active, with sounds and also water action. One individual kept yawning and splashing water from the dam’s surface. Hyena Dam is a small wetland that is home to hippos, almost throughout the year and across all seasons.

At the main gate, as we exited the park, once again we met the same troop of Olive Baboons- this time they must have been planning for a long cold July night.

a male Grant’s Gazelle pursuing a female

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