A city safari in Nairobi National Park. An early morning game drive to match any safari in the bush!
It seemed weird to leave our four-star city hotel and drive through commuter traffic for an early morning safari. Usually, it’s a question of stumbling out of a tent into the Bush… [Note to self: next time, don’t miss the safari vehicle when it leaves the hotel!] If you’ve seen the incongruous-looking photographs of wildlife in front of a modern urban background, then you may know I’m talking about Nairobi National Park (which is actually in Kenya’s capital, making it very accessible for weekend or business visitors).
Despite many wonderful safari experiences in Uganda, notably while working for the Uganda Conservation Foundation, this was my first safari in Nairobi National Park and my first time to see White Rhino, Thomson’s Gazelle, Wildebeest, Eland, Ostrich and Reticulated Giraffe in the wild. (Uganda has Eland but they are very shy, and Ostrich are in the remote northeastern park of Kidepo).
Nairobi National Park is a pocket-handkerchief-sized 117 km² and the animal diversity is pretty amazing! The park is home to to 100s of species – elephant being one of the few that are missing. You’ll have to go to Maasai Mara, Amboseli or Tsavo – among many other conservancies and National Parks – to see elephants.
Immediately we entered the park, there were the familiar smells of damp vegetation and animal manure. It smells like a National Park, it sounds like a National Park, and the variety of wildlife we encountered was soon to demonstrate that we really were in a National Park, despite it being surrounded on three sides by human development. Small aircraft flying overhead gave the Park another dimension. (You might say Nairobi National Park is boxed in from the air too).
We passed the site where the Kenya Wildlife Service made history and burned the stockpile of confiscated elephant ivory. Kenya has taken bold steps to tackle poaching. It is well documented that the sale of legally gotten ivory (through the natural death of an elephant, for example) has stimulated unprecedented demand for ivory in China and fuelled the catastrophic levels of ivory poaching across Africa.
The destruction of ivory, sometimes by burning, but these days by crushing, is the only answer. The temptation to steal confiscated ivory (valued at several thousand US dollars per kilo) is too much for many, and the penalties for being caught not harsh enough.
Early morning, our driver Anthony communicated in Kiswahili by radio with the other drivers in our safari convoy and announced that another driver had just spotted a pride of eleven lions ahead of us. (You can imagine our excitement!) We paused above a wooded ravine but it seemed the big cats had gone to cover. They were (understandably) not in a rush to come out and be gawped at by us lot!
Instead of seeing lions, we were rewarded with seeing three White Rhino.
Nairobi National Park has a population of 27 White Rhino. It was wonderful to see them in the wild! (To date, I’ve only seen White Rhino at Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary in Uganda. Uganda’s own population of Black and White Rhino are extinct).
[Note to self: wear something warm if you’re going on an early morning game drive when the safari vehicle pop-up roof is open!]
It peered at us through the open roof as it brushed the side of the van. With gasps of excitement as the giraffe walked within inches of us, not one of us professional travel writers, bloggers and photographers managed to take a decent photograph!Next stop was the hippo pools. I’ve seen and written about a gazillion hippo in Uganda, so I was far more interested in learning the ecology of Nairobi National Park. The park signage, developed by Friends of Nairobi National Park, has excellent information about the network of man-made reserves that water the park and its inhabitants.
Wildlife is under immense pressure by human encroachment. Nowhere demonstrates this better than Nairobi National Park: human development on three sides of the park; planes flying overhead; the need to install water systems for the wildlife because the human populations are preventing water reaching the park. Controversially, infrastructure projects such as the Standard Gauge Railway have also been designed to go through the park. I’m a big fan of train travel – as you may remember from my trip on the Lunatic Express from Nairobi to Mombasa but I believe that one day Kenyans will regret the decision to let the train route go through the park (many are bitterly against it). Why can’t the SGR and the bypass be rerouted around the outside of the park? Why can’t underpasses be built? The deal has been done. We just pray disturbance of animals is kept to a minimum.
Have you been on safari in Nairobi National Park?
I really enjoyed our early morning game drive and saw many species I had never seen before. A safari in Nairobi National Park is a fantastic day out if you have limited time in the capital. It’s a delightful way for people who live in Nairobi to (re)connect with their incredible natural heritage too.
Where to find more info on safaris in Nairobi National Park
I think that if I lived in Nairobi, I would volunteer with Friends of Nairobi National Park. Check out their web site, plus the management’s own Nairobi National Park website and the Kenya Wildlife Service’s Nairobi National Park and Nairobi Safari Walk pages.
Wildlife fans will have to visit the Nairobi Animal Orphanage too! (It’s located in Nairobi National Park so you can visit after your game drive).