Nairobi National Park, sometimes called Kifaru Ark or ‘Rhinoceros Sanctuary’, was Kenya’s first national park, established in 1946. Only 7 kilometers (4 miles) south of the centre of Nairobi, it is the world’s only protected area that lies so close to a capital city. This makes the park very accessible and provides an ideal opportunity to witness some unique wildlife even for those with limited time.
Despite covering a relatively small area of 117 square kilometers (45 square miles) and its proximity to civilization, Nairobi National Park boasts a great variety of flora and fauna. Open grass plains are home to four of the big five - black rhinos, lions, leopards and buffalos – which can be seen on a regular basis.
The park is not big enough for elephants, but elephant orphans can be seen in the park’s sanctuary ran by the David Sheldrick Trust. Orphaned and sick animals are brought here from all over Kenya with the aim to release them back into the wild when ready. The sanctuary is known to be very successful and provides the visitors with a rare opportunity to see the endangered giants roaming in their natural habitat. They also answer calls from other Parks if elephants or rhinos there need their specialized medical assistance.
Nairobi Park is fenced in its northern, eastern and western boundaries to separate the wildlife from the city. In the south, there is a natural border created by the Mbagathi River, which features a riverine forest. The south border is opened to the Kitenegela Conservation Area and the Athi-Kapiti plains. An important migration corridor is located in this part of the park. It allows the animals to reach the plains in the wet season and then return to the park in the dry season where they are provided with additional water sources in the form of man-made dams built along the river. Many large herbivores can be spotted around this area and spectacular wildebeest and zebra migrations can be observed in July and August.
The park’s permanent river and dams support a large number of bird species and other aquatic biome. Hippopotami reside in the pools and the river area is a paradise for bird watchers who can expect to see many of the over 400 species found here, 20 of them seasonal migrants from Europe.
Nairobi National Park has been praised for its conservational efforts. In 1989, Kenyan president burnt twelve tons of ivory on a site within the park. The scene is now marked as the Ivory Burning Site Monument and reminds the visitors of the tragedy of elephant poaching.
The park has a selection of walking trails and you can take the Nairobi Safari Walk. Video shows and guided tours are available from the Wildlife Conservation Education Center. The park is a popular picnic and special events destination for the local city population.
The park can be visited throughout the year. January to March is hot and dry, April to June is hot and wet and July to October is known to be very warm and wet. During the dry season, migrating herbivores gather in the park to access the scarce water.