Wilding in Nairobi, my National Park Experience

By Eddie Ssemakula

I had long heard that there is a national park in the middle of Nairobi, and I had seen this popular photograph of the Nairobi skyline with a wild animal in the foreground. Now it was my turn to experience it firsthand; what was I getting myself into here?

As our legendary 4X4 Land Rover drove in, a couple of jokes swirled inside the car about the waiting times in many African visitor entry points, but this wasn’t the case here; in mere minutes, we were driving in.

Tarmacked road I suppose we should reduce noise levels. Eyes that had just cringed at Nairobi city traffic now looked out for gorillas (control yourself, Eddie; those can only be found in Uganda).

Well, our informed guide started rolling on; we listened and chewed on our chocolate bars. Nothing to be missed—one eye on the candy, one eye on the wild fences.

Nairobi National Park, we learned, was gazetted in 1946 in response to the lion threat in this safari city.

Basically, indigenous Nairobi folks in the 1940s would be out buying Ugali ingredients, and a lioness would pounce from the thicket. The colonial authorities then decided to tame the problem (and who knew indirectly preserved the Ugali culture) by gazetting the now-close to 46-square-meter park. “The plan was to box in the lions,” remarked our safari guide. The ostrich population also seemed dominant, and it still is.

According to Wikipedia, Nairobi Park is also known as Kifaru Ark, which means rhinoceros sanctuary, and is one of the few places in the world where you can see a black rhinoceros in its natural habitat, which I did. The park also has a number of camouflaged crocodiles (best seen with binoculars) and helmeted guinea fowl families. Its antelope population appears to compete with Murchison Falls National Park in Uganda.

Despite being prey to lions, the zebra population there has not been reduced; just minutes in, we encountered a zebra herd with characteristically bloated stomachs, which our guide explained was due to some wild insects they ingest. He later asked our team how many lines a zebra has: 100, 74, or 200. Each replied, to which he eventually responded, “one.” Well, what was your answer?

Zebras are a proximal sight on Safari, in Nairobi National Park.

We discovered that zebra cubs are brown in color, which helps them hide from predators. The vulnerability of zebras was also highlighted by how passive they are when a lion devours one of them; “they will just look on and never fight back,” our guide exclaimed.

Nairobi National Park, we learned, is still under threat from squatters, but efforts by authorities such as the Kenya Wildlife Service have ensured its survival. Similarly, Nairobi’s central business district is home to a plethora of conservation advocacy organizations, both local and international, ensuring the preservation of sites such as Nairobi National Park.

I also came across an endangered rhinoceros and cub in the scorching heat (no, I stayed on the car top), from which I observed its horn, which has been speculated by locals to cure AIDS, and, as a result, poaching rhinos is punishable in Kenya.

Returning to Nairobi’s already well-kept streets seemed seamless; the city, I learned from billboards, had just hosted the Arfica climate summit. It all felt wildly surreal, like the feeling you get after visiting Nairobi for the first time.

My trip wound up at the ivory burning site located towards the park exit. This is where Kenyan authorities dispose of and burn tons of smuggled ivory each year, if only to send a message to opponents of conservation. This is a Safari city, a Safari nation.

 Talk to our travel advisor today to include Nairobi National Park in your itinerary.

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