Amazing Skies, Savannas and Species
Published Nation newspaper-Saturday magazine 28 April 2018
Above: Impala herd browsing in Nairobi National Park with Nairobi skyline
Copyright Rupi Mangat
Armed with the colour printout of some common reptiles of Nairobi National Park by the reptilian guru Stephen Spawls, co-author of the amazing 500-page tome of ‘A Field Guide to the Reptiles of East Africa’, we drove in wanting to see some rarities like the Black-necked spitting cobra and Puff adder listed as highly venomous.
Spawls had told us during a talk that week that snakes are very active during the rains because there’s a lot to eat around. And it was raining on the March morning – so it made sense.
Driving into the park of vast open savannas and skies that was established in 1946 –simply because one man had the audacity to stand up to the powers that be and call for a protected area for the wild animals that would otherwise lose ground as the urban areas expanded, Archie Ritchie apparently sat all day on the rickety steps of the government office – only to have a piece of paper unceremoniously flung at him. It was the official paper declaring Nairobi National Park as officially protected.
The sky is loaded with the most stunning clouds in tones of greys and whites while below on earth the rains have turned the savannah grasslands in eye-popping green. The sun breaks through and we take the road to the forest. In an open glade a brown figure appears by the edge of the forest. It turns out to be a black rhino and her calf. In the same frame a flock of White-backed vultures feast on a carcass. Both species are listed as Criticaly endangered on the IUCN Red List.
With the sky turning blue another flock playfully swoops on insects. They turn out to be the beautiful coloured Eurasian bee-eaters in blue and yellow plumage. A migrant, they are on their way back north for the summer.
The forest gives way to the woodlands and an exquisite Reedbuck nibbles on the shrubs. The woodland paves way for the grasslands that are bursting with giraffes, zebra, hartebeest, eland, impala, Masai ostrich, warthogs and white gladiolus, the wild flower in bloom.
In a word – it’s stunning.
It’s what gives Nairobi the city its unique identity of the only city in the world that shares its space with the last of wild.
Down the valley and up we climb to Mokoyeti Gorge on the extreme western side. Down in the gorge a lone Grey-headed stork perches by the river while (human) families enjoy a picnic in the wild posing for photo shoots.
Refreshed with a cuppa tea and driving back to the grass plains, the eye is suddenly assaulted by an industrial wasteland. It’s with a shock to see how far the standard gauge railway has stretched inside that park that is supposed to be protected – like any national park in the country.
A wave of sadness takes over.
We drive on. The sun begins its evening descent and as a last stop before the gates close for the night we return to the wetland sandwiched between the forest and the plains.
In the evening breeze the water brushed by the last rays of the sun, is rust copper. Yellow-billed storks feed on the edge while the trees heave with sacred ibises and little egrets that look like sprinkled white confetti.
Meanwhile, the snakes, crocodiles and lizards have kept hidden. It’s as Spawls says, “If you look carefully, you will see it. If not it’s not there.”
And at the same time he adds, “Our wild places are worth protecting.” Only recently, a new species, the Ngong agama was described and East Africa has the largest cache of reptiles next to Congo.
And then the evening matinee begins.
The hippos begin to pop with only their heads showing. In a few hours they will stride through the park for their nightly feast of grasses. A jovial, playful pair reveal their wide open jaws and lock them – are they in a mock fight or amorous mood?
Nairobi National Park is fascinating and despite the onslaught of development projects, is still holding on. But for how long?
Environmentalists want to see development too. If involved right from the beginning then a lot of these development projects can be planned with respect to our right for wild spaces and development.
More on Nairobi National Park
Join Friends of Nairobi National Park https://www.facebook.com/FriendsofNNP/ that looks out for the interest of the park including many activities like the animal counts. At this point the park is losing ground and can no longer be the 117square kilometres.
Nairobi National Park is a globally recognised Important Bird Area (IBA) and a rhino sanctuary.
Log on Kenya Wildlife Service http://www.kws.go.ke/ for rates