Nairobi National Park, a jewel at the green city in the sun

A short account by Washington Wachira  

Many cities in the world have nick-names; which help visitors and residents relate well to the local space and beauty. For Nairobi, it is “the green city in the sun”. It is indeed a green city and has some of the best green spaces found anywhere in the world. These come in many forms, including public parks, forests and even a national park just 7 kilometres from the city centre. Nairobi National Park is Kenya’s oldest park, having been formed in the year 1946. Nairobi National Park is nicknamed The World’s only Wildlife Capital. This small park (117 square kilometres) is indeed a great place for safari and hosts some of the best wildlife anywhere in Africa.  

an Aspilia Flower

The park is endowed with amazing habitats, starting with a great upland forest right at the main gate. The same forest flows through the Lang’ata Gate and onwards to the Workshop Gate. In total, there are over 500 species of plants recorded in Nairobi National Park by local and visiting botanists. Some of the common trees and shrubs here include the Hook-thorn Acacia, Yellow-backed Acacia, Tree Croton, Orange-leaved Croton, Natal Rhus, Carissa, Sycamore Fig and Strangler Fig.  

Other common habitats in Nairobi National Park include the vast grasslands. These are sometimes interspaced by tall solitary trees or by small bushes. There are also many riverine bushes that are aligned along the dry riverbeds. At several locations, there are nice and productive wetlands that host many animals and plants. The local wetlands are mainly made up of swamps, rivers and small dams/ reservoirs. During the rainy season, smaller wetlands are formed around the park and also rock pools fill up with water. To the South of the park, many exciting rocky cliffs also provide habitat for animals and plants.

low Rocky cliffs emerging over the grasslands

Nairobi National Park has over 100 species of mammals. Many visitors to the park are keen to find the numerous rhinos; that are hosted here as a sanctuary for breeding both Eastern Black Rhinos and Southern White Rhinos. Other exciting species of mammals that call Nairobi National Park home include African Lions, often known as the capital lions. There are also a good number of Leopards in Nairobi National Park, but just like any other park, these cats are very much elusive.

Once in a while, sometimes in a span of five or more years; Nairobi National Park hosts Cheetahs. These beautiful cats used to me more common to the Southern end of the park, and are believed to have been driven out by the ever-increasing lion population. Spotted Hyenas are also a great threat to Cheetahs, and may have also contributed to their departure. There are beautiful and expansive grasslands beyond the park where the Cheetahs have a better breeding and feeding area. These plains, known as Athi Kapiti or Athi Kaputiei, formerly connected Nairobi National Park to the grasslands and plains towards Amboseli National Park (foothills of Mt. Kilimanjaro).

a Nairobi Lion

Smaller carnivores in Nairobi National Park include Serval, Black-backed Jackal, Egyptian Mongoose, Slender Mongoose, White-tailed Mongoose and the occasional Bat-eared Fox. Some species seem to have become extremely rare and possibly extirpated from the park e.g. Striped Hyena and Side-striped Jackal. Besides, rhinos, other herbivores are also plentiful in Nairobi National Park. These include the majestic Maasai Giraffe, African Buffalo, Common Waterbuck, Defassa Waterbuck, Bushbuck, Nile Hippopotamus, Common Zebra, Common Impala, Thompson’s Gazelle, Grant’s Gazelle, White-bearded Wildebeest, Coke’s Hartebeest, Suni, Common Warthog, Bohor Reedbuck, Mountain (Chanler’s) Reedbuck and Common Eland. Primates include the Olive Baboon, Hilgert’s Vervet and Mt. Kenya Kolb’s Monkey. Bush Hyraxes and Southern Tree Hyraxes are also common in the park.

Common Zebra walking across the plains

The amazing David Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage is also located within the park to the Western end. This great project helps rescue injured and orphaned elephant babies from around Kenya. The babies are then cared for at the centre and then released back to the wild, mainly around Tsavo East National Park, in Southern Kenya.

For those who love the smaller animals, Nairobi National Park is also a haven for smaller wildlife species. Insects and arachnids are abundant here. Over 150 species of butterflies have been recorded in Nairobi National Park. Some local species of butterflies here include Brown-veined White, Citrus Swallowtail, Mocker Swallowtail, Narrow Green-banded Swallowtail, Green-veined Charaxes, Diadem, Fig Tree Blue, Ciliate Blue and African Monarch.

There are also over 60 species of reptiles and amphibians known from here. Some common reptiles in the park include Nile Crocodile, Striped Skink, Leopard Tortoise, Kenya Red-headed Rock Agama, Blue-headed Tree Agama, Tropical House Gecko and Helmeted or Marsh Terrapin. Amphibians include the Athi Reed Frog, Savannah Ridged Frog, Senegal Kassina, Guttural Toad, Northern Clawed Frog and Angolan River Frog.   

Kittlitz’s Plover

Birds are amazing in Nairobi National Park and many birders who have visited here will always attest to the fantastic species seen. The park has a bird list of close to 600 species. This is an amazing record and is in fact almost the same as the total species known in some countries. The good list compiled for Nairobi National Park is in part thanks to a huge group of birders who live in Nairobi. A great job has been done by Friends of Nairobi National Park, Kenya Wildlife Service, Nature Kenya and renowned birder Brian Finch. Thanks to this great partnership, an official list was compiled for the birds of Nairobi National Park.

Nairobi National Park is also special in many other ways, including being a site for ancient rock art. This phenomenal attraction is located along the cliffs to the South of the park. There are paintings of shield, fingers and other forms of life from a bygone era. It is believed that some of the art was done over 100 years ago, during rites of passage ceremonies. The two main tribes represented in the rock art include the Ndorobo (hunters and gatherers) and Maasai (pastoralist herders).

baby Impala suckling

The Nairobi Animal Orphanage and the Nairobi Safari Walk are also interesting attractions at the Nairobi National Park. Many local families and school groups enjoy visiting these two locations and they are also special in that you can access them on foot.

More publications have been done on other forms of wildlife across Nairobi National Park and are available at the Kenya Wildlife Service, Nature Kenya and Friends of Nairobi National Park.

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