Meeting the Apex Hunter in Ngong Road Forest Sanctuary

Above: African crowned eagle at nest Ngong Road Forest Sanctuary copyright Washington Wachira

Published: 3 November 2018

“Listen,” said Fleur Ng’weno of Nature Kenya.

A piercing shrill drifted through the trees in the forest.

“It’s the African crowned eagle.”

african crowned eagle Ngong Road Forest Sanctuary copyright Washington Wachira (800x542)
african crowned eagle Ngong Road Forest Sanctuary copyright Washington Wachira

It was what we were hoping for but like any creature on the wild, nothing is guaranteed.

Quietly we walked along the path and there in the tall croton tree, was perched Africa’s mightiest raptor by its nest.

An OMG moment!

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Ngong Race Course that is in Ngong Road Forest Sanctuary Copyright Rupi Mangat

Here we were at the Ngong Race Course that is in Ngong Road Forest Sanctuary, in one of the busiest part of a city of four million people – and in its midst we’re in a natural forest that’s home to some of the rarest creatures including the Jackson tree snake.

Urban Crowns

I’ve borrowed the title from a short film by Washington Wachira, a young ornithologist studying the African crowned eagle.

nest of african crowned eagle Ngong Road Forest Sanctuary copyright Washington Wachira (800x600)
Nest of African crowned eagle Ngong Road Forest Sanctuary copyright Washington Wachira (800×600)

“There is a second nest deeper in the forest, on an Eucalyptus tree,” tells young Wachira. “So the sanctuary is definitely a favourite place for the eagles. This second nest had a chick earlier this year and it fledged successfully.

“In Nairobi, I have worked with seven pairs and nests. This means we have at least 14 individuals around the city,” he tells.

No city in the world can boast this.

“These eagles fascinate me because they are the top avian predator of Nairobi,” he continues. “Being at the top of the food chain means they control what the city’s ecosystem looks like. And any time we see them thrive, we know our city is doing well.”

This gets more intriguing as the forest continues to enchant us. Silhouetted high in the sky has the birders confused. The soaring bird turns out to be another raptor, an Ayres’s Hawk Eagle.

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Fleur Ng’weno in green jacket and naturalists in Ngong Road Forest Sanctuary copyright Rupi Mangat

“Birding in Nairobi is so fantastic,” enthuses Ng’weno. “The Nairobi forests are particularly important to conserve, because they are the lungs of the city, and also very rich in diversity. They are also in a unique position, between the grasslands to the east and south and the cultivated lands to the north and west.”

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Ngong Race Course copyright Rupi Mangat

The natural classroom has some school kids in the group intrigued holding a bird book open on the page of the African crowned eagle. It shows there’s a future for the planet with these youngsters.

“This nest has been known to exist here since 1982,” continues Wachira. “It is one of the most successful nests in Nairobi. From the historical trends recorded by birders and forest rangers, the nest has been used for nesting at an average interval of about two and a half years.

“African crowned eagles are currently regarded as Near Threatened from a global perspective, but if you follow the discussion on my film- Urban Crowns, you will understand that nationally they are endangered,” tells Wachira.

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Inside Ngong Road Forest Sanctuary copyright Rupi Mangat

“But I believe there is a bright future for these eagles in Nairobi. They have been breeding successfully during my study, and I have never seen a single mortality. This is because the forests they live in are being protected well by CFAs like Ngong Road Forest Association, and this gives me hope that the eagles will be here for a long, long time.

It’s been an amazing morning with 60 species of birds recorded. Seeing the African crowned eagle is comparable to seeing the Humpback whale on our coast or the lion on the savannah. We come out of the forest exhilarated.

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More on Ngong Road Forest by Simon Nganga of Ngong Road Forest Association

The forest is 1224.4 hectares – with two seasonal rivers, Motoine and Ruara

The forest is managed by Kenya Forest Service in partnership with Ngong Road Forest Association, a Community Forest Association formed in 2012 with membership from organizations, residents associations and individuals within and adjacent the forest.

The construction of the southern bypass has segmented the forest into five sections. With one section already fenced and secure, the Association, together with the Kenya Forest Service are seeking for supporters and partners to fence the whole forest to secure it from the imminent risk of destruction and potential land grabbing. Become a member to support the forest.

Watch Wachira’s film on the African crowned eagle and you will be awed –