By Brian Otiego
Amidst the hustle and bustle of city life, about 7 km from the centre of Kenya’s capital city, lies a unique gem, the Nairobi National Park Key Biodiversity Area (KBA). Tucked within the city’s southern border, Nairobi National Park is separated from the busy Nairobi metropolis by an electric fence on the northern, western and eastern borders. The southern border of the park is open, marked by the Mbagathi River and serving as a gateway for wildlife dispersal to the Athi Kapiti plains that connect the park to the Amboseli ecosystem. The park is one of the world’s most unique wildlife reserves due to its vicinity to a major urban centre. Local and international visitors have the opportunity to witness Africa’s iconic wildlife against the backdrop of Nairobi’s skyline.
The KBA stands right on the line between two great ecosystems: the forested hills that rise toward the Aberdare range, and the grasslands that stretch all the way to Kilimanjaro. The park’s distinctive landscape, encompassing upland forest, open grasslands, rocky outcrops, acacia (now Vachellia) woodlands, dams and other wetland habitats host a remarkable array of biodiversity.
The park is a haven for a diverse range of wildlife species, featuring iconic large mammals such as lions, giraffes, zebras, buffaloes and rhinoceros. Rare plants bloom on rocky outcrops. Also found in this park are the charismatic but critically endangered obligate scavenging birds of prey: White-backed vultures (Gyps africanus) that breed inside the park, and Rüppell’s and Lappet-faced vultures that visit to feed. Other resident raptor species are Martial, Tawny, Long-crested and Crowned eagles, Bateleur, and Secretarybird, among some 500 other bird species.
Nairobi National Park faces several conservation challenges, primarily stemming from its proximity to the capital. Nairobi City is at the epicentre of rapid infrastructural development. Human-wildlife conflict, land use changes and associated fragmentation, pollution from liquid and solid wastes and degradation and loss of wildlife corridors and dispersal areas are key, escalating issues. Encroachment by the expanding city infrastructure have led to increased pressure on the park’s boundaries, posing threats to its biodiversity.
Navigating the challenges of conservation and urbanization requires a multifaceted approach that brings together Kenya Wildlife Service in collaboration with civil society organizations in conservation, researchers, community members and key decision-makers to sustain the delicate balance between urban development and wildlife preservation.
One of the noteworthy elements of such engagement is a vulture study project funded by The Rufford Foundation Small Grant. The study aims to establish the breeding population of vulture species within Nairobi National Park and its dispersal habitats and to raise community awareness on the plight of vulture conservation. Through such efforts, community engagement, and sustainable tourism practices, Nairobi National Park KBA stands as a beacon of success in the realm of urban conservation, offering a blueprint for other metropolitan areas facing similar challenges.