Above: The Wildlife Foundation Centre at Naretunoi Conservancy, Kitengela
Copyright Rupi Mangat
Published: 10 November 2018
“We have everything here,” says Moses Parmisa of The Wildlife Foundation. “If you had spent the night here you would have heard the lions and the hyenas.”
We’re chatting over a cuppa tea and cakes at The Wildlife Foundation Centre on a lawn dotted with wooden sculptures collected from different parts of Africa. On arrival we’ve been met by Impi the two-year-old female antelope whose mother was killed by a predator. The foal was found on the grounds and now thinks she’s a ‘people’.
“Impi wouldn’t survive out there,” tells Jacob Tunoi of TWF giving her a little pat on the head. She follows him around like a puppy.
Out there is Nairobi National Park that’s unfenced on the southern side. The boundary is the Mbagathi River. On this side, Naretunoi Conservancy was founded in 2016, the word meaning ‘to support each other’ which in a larger context also takes in co-existence with wildlife.
Twenty-one Maasai households have leased 1,700 acres of their land to TWF in exchange for allowing the wildlife to wander through, with more households on the waiting list.
Between 2000 and 2012, there were 394 households that had leased land to TWF. But when donor funding ran out, TWF had to remodel itself.
TWF revamped the leasing programme and set up the conservancy as a way to generate funds for the many projects under its umbrella that includes The Wildlife Foundation Centre, employing wildlife scouts, monthly wildlife censuses and building predator-proof bomas with lion-lights installed to fool the lions into thinking that people are wandering around.
By now we’ve walked over the dry riverbed called Emakoko and are standing at the foot of a hill on the banks of the Mbagathi River. It’s the boundary between the conservancy and iconic park that takes pride of place as Kenya’s first national park gazetted in 1946.
The wild animals use the park as a dry season refuge but when the rains arrive they scatter on the plains all the way up to Isinya and beyond to Amboseli. It’s in Isinya that the wildebeest calf between March and June.
Driving in through Kitengela from Nairobi and if l didn’t know any better l would have thought we were in the Mara that is globally famous for the annual migration of the wildebeest yet a parallel migration of the wildebeest happened here across the Athi-Kitengela plains to Nairobi National Park. It ended in the 1990s when the Namanga road was built and the buildings like the cement factories and fences came up.
While we’re standing at the banks of the river that’s lined by tall yellow fever acacias and massive fig trees that Parmisa announces, “the rhinos come out here almost every day.”
At first we think the Maasai man are joking.
“We have two sets of rhinos,” he states without an eye blink. If you are here by 6.30 in the morning, you won’t miss them.” By now he’s even told us that it’s the critically endangered black rhino.
“Come on, we’ll show you,” adds on John Sinkeet Solonka, TWF’s field director. A few metres from the path is a rhino midden with fresh rhino dung in it. We’re all excitedly looking at it as if we were a real rhino. And it’s not the only one. Our guides show us more.
A Striped kingfisher settles on an acacia branch as the midday heat approaches. A flock of colourful lovebirds fly low in the under-storey of the trees. There’s is a story that baffles the scientists because they are the offspring of two separate species of lovebirds which technically cannot reproduce. They did and came up with the hybrid we’re watching.
“Some of the black rhinos that were taken to Tsavo and died this year were the ones that came here,” tells Parmisa. By now l’m looking at the saucer-shaped imprint of giraffes footprints which earlier in the morning strolled around nonchalantly on the plains.
The walk is getting more exciting and l’m cursing myself for not spending the night here because dawn and dusk are the two busy periods to see the rhino and the cats. “We had an old leopard who died here in July,” continues Parmisa. They installed camera traps by its carcass and watched how during the night the hyenas came and ate her clean.
“There are more lions in the park today,” states Solonka. “And that’s because of TWF and the conservancy. In 2013 there were nine lions. In 2018, there are 40.”
Nairobi National Park is the core of the wildlife-rich plains. Without it the plains would lose the wildlife and in tandem the plains would become bare. Both need each other to survive.
All pictures above from Naretunoi Conservancy. Copright Rupi Mangat
Half an hour out of Nairobi through Kitengela when there’s no traffic. You can do a day visit or spend a couple of nights there. The conservancy can only be explored on foot or biking. You can go self-catering or full board. It’s great for families and researchers. Your support will ensure that the local Maasai can protect their land and co-exist with the wildlife.