Above: Oloolua Forest’s Mbagathi Waterfalls. Copyright Silver Mmaitsi
Published: Nation newspaper Saturday Magazine 25 June 2022
I’m enjoying the cool of the forest morning, listening to Mbagathi flow through the dense green foliage of the Oloolua forest on Nairobi’s southern side. A slight movement in the bush catches my eye. A tiny face peeks out, senses it’s safe and timidly crosses the opening under the bridge over Mbagathi. It’s a mongoose.
It happens so fast that when Fleur Ng’weno asks if the tip of the tail was black, I reply that I did not get a chance to notice such detail. Ng’weno the founder of the epic bird walks from the car park of the Nairobi Museum in 1972, is an icon. The walks have turned into a country-wide institution with a growing population of Kenyans taking to them.
A general census has it that the creature that just stole away has to be a Black-tailed mongoose. It’s fascinating to know that on the edge of one of Africa’s busiest and fast-growing cities, we are still home to the wild and wonderful.
“We are not in Nairobi now,” announces Silver Mmaitsi, Oloolua’s know-it-all guide. “We’re now in Kajiado north. The river is the boundary between the two counties.” I would never have guessed.
The trail leads us through a grove of trees with the morning sun warming the forest. Leaning on one, the floor of the forest is littered with massive mushrooms. The crown is larger than my hand. Mushrooms are either known for the pot or poisonous. But our learned friends throw in another fascinating fact about these amazing plants. They hold the forest intact. With their underground root system, mushrooms keep the soils aerated, and transport nutrients to the roots of the trees.
“Oloolua forest is a tropical dryland forest,” continues our guide. “That’s why the trees are not as tall as those in Kakamega forest which is a tropical rainforest.” Kakamega forest is Kenya’s only rainforest, a piece of the once rich Congo forest that belted the waist of Africa.
The trail becomes animated. A few metres away, the forest slopes to the stream, bright sunlight flooding the space and casting an ethereal golden hue on the spider’s web strung with the morning droplets of dew.
“A snake,” announces a voice from the group.
Instead of fleeing for their lives as most people do at the sound of the S word, everyone goes, “Where?”
It takes a special eye to see something so camouflaged in the tree trunk at eye-level. “This is a Brown house snake,” tells Gertrude Rop, a young herpetologist who has had a stint as an intern at the Nairobi Snake Park – which included rescuing a Puff adder from the recently cleared bush for an up-market housing estate. The Puff adder turned out to be an expectant mum who has delivered some 80 young adders.
Our tiny snake, no more than a foot long, coiled in the tree bark, is completely harmless and not venomous that feeds on mice and other pests around the house. Our tiny snake has reached instant fame with everyone photographing the reptile.
It’s a beautiful trail with trees in flower and the aloes in vibrant orange flowers. Suddenly by the edge of one of the forest pools, all necks crane skyward. The sound of the African crowned eagle has reached our ears and it’s circling the forest. This is one of Africa’s great raptors and the forest is home to three – the parents and a child.
“Stop at the ridge,” Mmaitsi says as we cross over the stream and follow its flow. Suddenly, on the tree branch is the nest of the African crowned eagle. Then it’s a double-whammy. The chick is perched above the nest. It’s a show-stopper.
Past the cave reputed to have been a hideout for the Mau Mau freedom fighters in the 1950s and the waterfall, we’re at a tall tower in the midst of tall trees. In 1986, Kenya’s famous raptor guru, Simon Thomsett co-founder of Kenya Bird of Prey Trust built a wooden hideout for Alan Root, who pioneered wildlife films in Kenya, to film the nest. It was great for the chick perched within a foot of the hideout.
Today, Kenya’s raptors are facing troubled times.
Oloolua is for us to protect – for our health and that of the planet. As the sign on the trail reads, ‘There is no Planet B’.
Read more about Oloolua’s eagles with Simon Thomsett.
Enjoy your day in the forest, tread gently and quietly, take your time and you’ll be rewarded with sighting like the dikdiks and chameleons we saw.
Join Friends of Oloolua Forest – you can be part of saving the green lung that feeds us with clean oxygen and water. It’s past Karen Blixen Museum at the end of Karen.