Born free in Nairobi National Park

September 9, 2008 12:00 am

, NAIROBI, September 9 – It is half past six in the morning. Rising on the eastern horizon, the sun resembles a large, scarlet-colored jewel of remarkable splendor. Heralding the dawn of another day, its rays penetrate the glass windows of the tall office buildings, creating a golden tint. Within walking distance of these office blocks, a spectacular real-life drama is enacted.

A lion has been stalking a grazing impala for some time now, hiding itself in the tall grass. Sensing danger, the young antelope makes a quick dash, and the lion is hot on its heels. An intense, wild chase begins.

If successful, this lion will use the so-called law of the jungle to pass sentence on this hapless animal.

Such epic chases are repeated daily at the Nairobi National Park, lying near the limits of Kenya’s capital city, Nairobi. The animals there have humans as their closest neighbours.

But how did the wildlife and the city residents come to share this habitat?

The park’s establishment was no easy task. Several hurdles had to be overcome before the animals could enjoy the benefits of a well-protected home. Until the turn of the 20th century, they roamed unhindered over large areas of East Africa.

Here people have always had close bonds with the wild beasts, grazing their flocks in close proximity to them. Some even viewed certain animals as honorary livestock.

The completion of the famous Lunatic Line, as the Kenya-Uganda railway was then known, opened up the area around Nairobi to human settlement, further restricting the free movement of the animals. Their total banishment was looming.

Then, during the 1930’s, some voices spoke out on behalf of the animals. Archie Ritchie, a game warden at the time, and Mervyn Cowie, an accountant, were among these activists. Through meetings and press reports, they petitioned the colonial authorities to set up a national park that would help reduce, if not stop, the wanton destruction of animals.

The government was reluctant to adopt the idea. It was not ready to use land for the sole purpose of maintaining the flora and fauna in an area that was turning out to be the largest urban settlement in East Africa.

The conservation efforts were dealt another blow during the Second World War, when troops on practice sessions roughed up the land where the park currently stands. Animals too fell victim to the war.

The constant presence of soldiers in the area made the animals lose their fear of man, increasing the likelihood that they would turn into man-eaters. To prevent such an eventuality, some animals, including a famous lioness named Lulu and her lovable pride, were killed.

Compared to the other game parks in East Africa, Nairobi National Park is relatively small. Its estimated size is 117 sq km with the main entrance being less than 10 km from Nairobi’s city center.

Its fame, however, lies in that size. Few places on earth offer a visitor the panoramic view provided by this animal sanctuary, a rare contrast between the fast-developing city of Nairobi and the African bush.

The small size allows the visitor to meet most of the larger animals, except for the elephant, in a higher concentration than in expansive parks and reserves.

 It contains 100 mammal species and more than 400 bird species. The park lies near the approach route to the international airport in Nairobi.

The park teems with wildlife, such as buffalo, leopards, cheetahs, common giraffes, monkeys, hundreds of antelope, and the rare and endangered black rhino. Most of these are permanent residents.

In an interview with Capital News, Kenya Wildlife Service Head of Species Patrick Omondi pointed out that a factor threatening the park’s survival is the availability of a migratory route for some animals.

Omondi said that much of the park is fenced to prevent the animals from straying out and also to protect and conserve them.

He stressed that intense farming and herding of domestic flocks are choking up the small corridor that remains in the southern side of the park and concluded that total closure might have tragic results.

It is to this effect that the KWS head of species underscored the need for the park to be fenced off in its entirety.

“Wildlife also need dispersal areas. They need buffer zones. So in areas where these zones and corridors are not available, then the only option available to resolve the human wildlife conflict is to fence off,” he stated.

But despite all these problems, the Nairobi National Park continues to lure thousands of visitors annually to behold its contrasting charms.


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