Above: Black rhino and her calf in Nairobi National Park with Nairobi city in the horizon.
Copyright Rupi Mangat

Published Nation Newspaper – Saturday magazine – 21 November 1998

The Nairobi National Park – a rare place where modern skyscrapers brush shoulders with the creatures of the wild

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Space, beauty, vast savanna in Nairobi city in the horizon. Copyright Rupi Mangat

The uninterrupted flow of the sky, the wide open space, the grass carpet on the savannah, the unexpected thrill of seeing a wild animal – it’s all so fascinating. So it never fails to amaze me when someone remarks, “We never saw anything at the Nairobi National Park.” How on earth can anyone say that? But l guess for a lot of people the idea of a national park is a place teeming with wild animals where drama is the order of the day, where the glossy brochure lion strides majestically across the plains, where the cheetah sprints at full throttle and where eagles soar in the sky. Fed up with such stories from the array of glossy holiday brochures and coffee table books showcasing the models of the wild, it’s not hard to imagine why so many people expect to find things like they do in a shopping mall – where whatever you want to buy or see is where it always is. We are used to the expected, and so when we visit the national park, the animals must be all there for us! But national parks aren’t zoos – you don’t go from one cage to the next, where neat little signs tell you what animal you are looking at. The national park is about the unexpected – you go there as a guest to experience the grand spectacle of life. And that is what Nairobi National Park is all about.

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Black rhino with oxpeckers on her back in Nairobi National Park Copyright Rupi Mangat

The unexpected is hearing the silent wisp of a sound that turns out to be a rhino just about to step out of the thickets when we creep up on it (in a car). This has happened to me only once since my childhood. The unexpected is a crocodile still as a log by the murky pool. In the silence the prehistoric animal slithers into the water, as silent as the air, all signs of its precence vanished. Yet in the murky water we know what there is. The unexpected is the pride of lions in the evening glow of the day – a childhood memory. The unexpected is silently walking past a giraffe on a recent trip, watching the terrapins enjoying the sun, the herds of impala, the python so deep in the bush that only the ranger knew about it.

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Impala so handsome in Nairobi National Park Copyright Rupi Mangat

Sometimes the animals disappear. That’s when people say, “we didn’t see anything”. We have to take a lesson from the wild. The animals know when to come and go. The migration is on, the gnus come to graze and the rest follow. The dry season sets in, the grass turns from fresh green to dry wheat. The grazers know when it’s time to leave, to follow the grass trail so that by the next wet season when the grass has turned green again they can return. The predators follow them – the park becomes quieter – but it’s not empty. There’s magic happening. It is getting ready for the animals to return. And still the panoramic view of the park is there to enjoy.

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Nairobi National Park with Nairobi city today – in the horizon. Copyright Rupi Mangat

Nairobi has many faces. It’s a pot-hole city. It’s a city with tall, modern skyscrapers, traffic jams and people, people, people! Then there’s the Nairobi that’s a reminder of the wild. It’s the Nairobi from where you can still see the molten sun as dawn breaks and the last glow disappear into the horizon as night falls. It’s still the Nairobi where you can breathe clean, crisp air and walk with the wild. It’s the Nairobi where you take your children to show them the real Punba and Shenzi and Nala and Simba, the Lion King. Nairobi National Park is the kind of place that few cities have.

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‘Nala’ the lioness on the hunt in Nairobi National Park- it’s dry season and the grass so dry. Copyright Rupi Mangat

We have it, so enjoy it and whatever you see on your visit appreciate it because Nature has its way of bringing out some harmony in us. I guess it’s the call of the wild since our ancestors are monkeys (depending on which theory you believe in).

For Kenyan citizens it’s a bargain – entry is Ksh 25 per child and Ksh 100 per adult plus Ksh 200 for a five-seater car. Take a picnic breakfast or lunch and have a super day out. The unexpected might happen!

Be Wild Wise:

Drive slowly – it gives you a better chance of seeing animals.

Don’t make noise – it scares animals.

Don’t throw litter about – animals can choke on litter, especially clear plastic and bottle tops.

Don’t feed wild animals – besides encouraging them to become scavengers, you disrupt the natural food web.

Don’t chase the animals, especially when they are hurt – report the matter to the rangers.

Don’t drive off-road – take a pair of binoculars. That way you can see more of the unsuspecting creatures, which add up to the great diversity of life on earth.

Walk only on permitted nature trails, but even then tread softly because this is the kingdom of the wild. The migration is on from May to June. There are about 38 lions and 55 rhinos in the park and a famous family of cheetahs. On some days you might meet a few of them and on others you might not!