Nairobi National Park ranks first among the live entertainment most people come to see in Nairobi. The 28,911-acre park is the smallest in Africa and the oldest in Kenya (established in 1946). It is so close to the town that you could call it a suburb inhabited by animals. That makes it the only one of its kind in the world bordering a city. Unfortunately, Nairobi National Park is losing its acreage pretty fast, and sooner than later, this fantastic place may become a figment of our imagination. That is why you need to hurry and do these five things while it still exists!
1. Explore Kifaru Ark
Nairobi National Park is sometimes also called Kifaru Ark because of its role in the conservation of the Black Rhino. The Rhino Sanctuary here is a major Black Rhino restocking point for other wildlife areas in the country. Other animals you are likely to see include Zebra, Kongoni, Gazelle, Wildebeest, Giraffe, Impala, an occasional Rhino, Baboons, Crocodile and Hippos in the river pools, Leopard, Cheetah, Hyena, Eland, Warthog, Ostrich and over 400 species of birds. If you drive into the wooded Langata corner from the main gate, you are quite likely to find lions strolling along the road. More often though, you will find them lying up in the shade of a thorn tree, or among some rocks. Early in the evening is the time to see them. At this time, they are waking up from their afternoon siesta.
2. Visit the Ivory Burning Site
The ivory burning site is where a staggering 128.8 tonnes of ivory has gone up in flames in four historical and dramatic bonfires. The bonfire events were a bid to eliminate the mass slaughter of Africa’s elephants for their tusks. A commemorative plaque with the legendary words, ‘Great objectives often require great sacrifices’, is placed at this location. The first fire in 1989 lit by Kenya’s second president, Daniel Arap Moi, consumed 12 tonnes and in 1991, he burnt another 6.8 tonnes. In 2011 the third president of Kenya, Mwai Kibaki, torched 5 tonnes and finally president Uhuru torched a phenomenal 105 tonnes at the most massive ivory burn ever in history on April 30th 2016. Ivory is very difficult to disintegrate – even with the hottest fire – so what you will see at the site are pebbles of the aftermath of the fires.
3. Catch the Great Migrations
That’s right! Most travellers associate the Great Migration with only the Maasai Mara, but that is far from the truth. Nairobi National Park also hosts migrations of its own. Every year, wildebeest and zebra come in and out of the park via the Kitengela migration corridor. When it rains they migrate south to the Athi-Kapiti plains to graze. They return in the dry season to the park to take advantage of permanent water sources on the banks of the Mbagathi River.
4. Play with Elephants
Within Nairobi National Park is the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust. The trust runs an orphanage for rescued elephants and rhinos here. Founded by Dame Daphne Sheldrick in 1977, the charity opens its doors to visitors for one hour every day between 11 AM and noon. For a minimum cash donation of USD 7, you can watch baby elephants get a bath and even play with them.
5. Walk, View and Picnic
Nairobi National Park has a network of great walking trails, viewpoints, and picnic sites, where you can safely leave your vehicle. From here, you can enjoy your lunch or snack while taking in the sounds and smells of the wild. Make sure not to miss the trail to the hippo pools. The pools provide a home for these aquatic herbivores. The Impala Observation Point offers a fantastic picnic area with panoramic hilltop views.
Nairobi National Park has a rich history, being the first in Kenya. Records show settlers from Nairobi including Isak Dinesen, author of the award-winning book, Out of Africa, rode horses among gazelles, impala, and zebras in this reserve. The famous Kenyan-born conservationist, Mervyn Cowie, on his return to Kenya in 1932 after a 9-year absence, was shocked to see how the population of wild game on the Athi plains had dwindled as humans and livestock encroached.
The area that later became the Nairobi National Park was part of what was known as the Southern Game Reserve. Besides hunting, almost every other activity, including grazing cattle, dumping, and even bombing by the Royal Air Force was allowed. Cowie started to campaign for the establishment of a national park system in Kenya. The rest, as they say, is history. You can read Cowie’s full story in our Hall of Fame section.
Apart from the main Langata Road entrance, you can use the gate on Magadi Road or the Athi River gate. The park is navigable with a 2WD, but a 4WD is better, especially if the rains have been substantial. Make a point of visiting this park one of these weekends. You can check the latest rates on the Kenya Wildlife Service website.