You could say that Nairobi’s game park begins where the city stops. It is the only city in the world with a natural, unenclosed wildlife reserve on its peripheries: wilderness and urban sprawl side by side. There is of course an electric fence along the urban perimeter to divide man from beast, but the city is always pressing against the boundary. To the south the park is open to the Athi and Kapiti Plains to allow migrating herbivores such as wildebeest (there are a couple in the background) to come and go. These grasslands are important feeding grounds in the wet season, and so it is essential for the health and wildlife diversity of the park that the southern corridor remains open. When we left Nairobi in 2000 there were fears that it would soon be closed by encroaching farmers, and community initiatives were being devised to avoid this.
By African game park standards the park is very small, 117 square kilometres, but it supports a breath-taking array of animals – lions, cheetahs, leopards, rhino, all the antelopes, and a host of small game. Only elephants are absent. The birdlife is equally diverse with over 500 species. And despite the proximity of the city, there still are wild places where the high rises cannot be seen on the skyline.
There is also another kind of diversity in this photo: the zebra’s stripes. Every individual has its own livery. Once when we were on a game drive on a private ranch in Zambia, our very tipsy guide was insistent that we grasp this fact. “Every zebra’s butticles have different markings,” he declaimed, “so their offspring know how to recognise their mamas.” I have been grateful ever since for that gift of the word ‘butticle’.
copyright 2015 Tish Farrell