Nairobi National Park is a national park in Kenya. Established in 1946, the national park was Kenya’s first. It is located approximately 7 kilometers (4 mi) south of the center of Nairobi, Kenya’s capital city, with an electric fence separating the park’s wildlife from the metropolis. Nairobi’s skyscrapers can be seen from the park. The proximity of urban and natural environments has caused conflicts between the animals and local people and threatens animals’ migration routes.
Colonists arrived in the area where the park is in the late 19th century. At this time, the Athi plains east and south of what is today Nairobi had plentiful wildlife. Nomadic Maasai lived and herded their cattle among the wildlife. Kikuyu people farmed the forested highlands above Nairobi. As Nairobi grew—it had 14,000 residents by 1910—conflicts between humans and animals increased. Residents of the city carried guns at night to protect against lions. People complained that giraffes and zebras walked on and ruined their flower beds. Animals were gradually confined to the expansive plains to the west and south of Nairobi, and the colonial government set this area aside as a game reserve. Settlers from Nairobi including Isak Dinesen, author of Out of Africa, rode horses among gazelles, impala, and zebras in this reserve.
The park covers an area of 117.21 km2 (45.26 sq mi) and is small in comparison to most of Africa’s national parks. The park’s altitude ranges between 1,533 and 1,760 m (5,030 and 5,774 ft). It has a dry climate. The park is the only protected part of the Athi-Kapiti ecosystem, making up less than 10% of this ecosystem. The park has a diverse range of habitats and species.
The park is located about 7 km (4.3 mi) from Nairobi’s center. There is electric fencing around the park’s northern, eastern, and western boundaries. Its southern boundary is formed by the Mbagathi River. This boundary is not fenced and is open to the Kitengela Conservation Area (located immediately south of the park) and the Athi-Kapiti plains. There is considerable movement of large ungulate species across this boundary.
Nairobi National Park’s predominant environment is open grass plain with scattered Acacia bushes. The western uplands of the park have a highland dry forest with stands of Olea Africana, Croton dichogamous, Brachylaena hutchinsii, and Calodendrum. The lower slopes of these areas are grassland. Themeda, cypress, Digitaria, and Cynodon species are found in these grassland areas. There are also scattered yellow-barked Acacia xanthophloea. There is a riverine forest along the permanent river in the south of the park. There are areas of broken bush and deep rocky valleys and gorges within the park. The species in the valleys are predominantly Acacia and Euphorbia candelabrum. Other tree species include Apodytes dimidiate, Canthium schimperiana, Elaeodendron buchananii, Ficus eriocarpa, Aspilia mossambicensis, Rhus natalensis, and Newtonia species. Several plants that grow on the rocky hillsides are unique to the Nairobi area. These species include Euphorbia brevitorta, Drimia calcarata, and Murdannia clarkeana
The park has a large and diverse wildlife population. Species found in the park include Cape buffalo, baboon, eastern black rhino, gazelle, Grant’s zebra, cheetah, Coke’s hartebeest, hippopotamus, African leopard, lion, eland, impala, Masai giraffe, ostrich, vultures, and waterbuck. Herbivores, including wildebeest and zebra, use the Kitengela conservation area and migration corridor to the south of the park to reach the Athi-Kapiti plains.
The park has a high diversity of bird species, with up to 500 permanent and migratory species in the park. Dams have created a man-made habitat for birds and aquatic species.
Nairobi National Park is the main tourist attraction for visitors to Nairobi. Visitor attractions include the park’s diverse bird species, cheetah, hyena, leopard, and lion. Other attractions are the wildebeest and zebra migrations in July and August, the Ivory Burning Site Monument, and the Nairobi Safari Walk and animal orphanage. Inhabitants of Nairobi visit the park and thousands of Kenyan children on school field trips visit the park each week.
The Nairobi National park’s Wildlife Conservation Education Centre has lectures and video shows about wildlife and guided tours of the park and animal orphanage. These tours are primarily, but not exclusively, to educate schools and local communities. There has been criticism about animals’ housing, and they now have more spacious housing in a more natural environment. The Kenya Wildlife Service has created a Safari Walk that highlights the variety of plants and animals that are in Kenya, and how they affect Kenya’s population.