Nairobi: A concrete jungle with a wild side to experience

Bongo Antelope at the Nairobi Safari Walk

Bongo Antelope at the Nairobi Safari Walk

Nairobi is not renowned for any circus acts but after spending an afternoon 7 kilometers from the City Center, I realized my artistic senses need refining. The city has a circus, it’s not synchronized, and in it anything goes, including your food and if you resist you get growled at or slapped. This circus is confined within the boundaries of the 117 square kilometer, Nairobi National Park.

Nairobi Safari Walk – The Experience

Monkey on Boardwalk

Monkey on boardwalk at the Nairobi Safari Walk

Even before I paid to get into the Nairobi Safari Walk, in the Park, it was clear that, though humans run the park, the monkeys have showbiz department monopoly. At the car park, I met dozens of monkeys all about their monkey business. These tailed primate rascals instead of eating leaves and wild fruits at the Safari Walk thickets, have diversified their diets to include human diet.  That means if you don’t watch or clutch your lunch box tightly, you might as well not be sentimental about having lunch. The dense vegetation at the entry of the Nairobi Safari Walk nearly dampened my spirits as I struggled to spot any wildlife but monkeys, amidst the dense thicket.  However after I strolled further, on the wooden boardwalk it was almost like a veil was being lifted from my eyes. A cheerily shout by other visitors drew me to where a colobus monkey chewing a carrot, jumped from one hedge to another, and foraged dustbins. It was not bothered by human presence to an extent it stood still to pose for photos I think.
African Rhino

An African Rhino at the Nairobi Safari Walk.

Further in, I saw an enclosure where a docile black rhino was eating grass after a mud bath. As a photographer that was gold, as I took photos and then watched this endangered over a ton, horned marvel of nature graze chew grass slowly. It seemed grass was on the lunch menu that day, as a baby hippo was having some, after a swim at its pond. It looked cute all slimy and shiny while chewing on it. A marsh, nearby had two African Crocodiles that seemed frozen, if you are not observant, you pass them for carvings. Within the Nairobi Safari Walk on a sunny day, it seems like evening due to the dense canopy of tree cover.  There are about 150 tree species there. On one of these trees is where I spotted a lioness perched lazily on top of a tree.  The Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) has built a huge mesh that makes it impossible for the lion to jump from the tree to the boardwalk.  To get a clear view I had to go to a house with a thick mirror which offered a better view. Opposite the lioness’s enclosure was a grazing area where a buffalo, giraffe, antelopes, ostriches and two zebras were grazing, one which was albino and a tortoise. The albino zebra unlike the ordinary one has its black stripes look light brown.  Carnivores like the cheetah which are nocturnal were inactive and just lay on the grass asleep only taking casual strolls to stretch.  The hyenas, habitually nocturnal were the hardest to trace, and slept on the enclosure’s trenches, but I did see the back of one running. The wooden boardwalk is mazy, in some instances I walked in circles, but once I got the hung of it, I enjoyed the experience.  I’d never seen a leopard before and they are elusive, but I saw one on tucked in the dense vegetation pacing about on the mesh like in deep thought. Two clicks on my camera, and I had its motion frozen in time, with my camera. It dawned on me how vital the dense vegetation is, to a fulfilled experience at the Nairobi Safari Walk. This was after seeing a beautiful bongo antelope up close, chewing cud while lying down and partially obscured by the vines, small herbs and plants.  Its long twisted horns, brown coating with small white stripes tucked in the green vegetation seemed like Mother Nature had channeled Leonardo Da Vinci in act of random kindness, to us visiting the Walk, that afternoon. It was stunning view. The end of the wooden boardwalk led us to an African style house with thatch. Beneath it was a small stream with ducks and on the other side, the picturesque view of Nairobi National Park.  I stood there spellbound by the vegetation dotting the rocky uneven plains of the Park.  I forgot I was still in Nairobi an East African city, synonymous with hustle and bustle.  The tranquility of nature’s marvel had a healing effect on my urban fatigued soul.

Nairobi Animal Orphanage – Wildlife Viewing Up close

Done with the boardwalk I met some friendly Kenya Wildlife Service staffers who advised me to visit the Nairobi Animal Orphanage. “It’s only 250 shillings same as you paid here for entry,” one said. Though tired, I figured it was 4:30 pm and the orphanage closed at 6pm. I decided to visit it. The first animal I saw in the meshed enclosure after paying was the lesser spot nosed monkey.   Health and content, it stayed in one position as I took photos.
Monkeys at Nairobi National Park, engaged in

Monkeys at Nairobi National Park, engaged in “depth discussions.”

The good thing with the orphanage is, seeing the animals up close through the mesh. They are used to people; and a brown warthog didn’t run away, as it fed on grass. Monkeys are not restrained in the orphanage, they jump from cage to the trees watching for anyone with food and snatching it. Few monkeys did grab biscuits and chocolates from oblivious visitors touring the animal orphanage. One growled at a boy who resisted. That said if you don’t get extremely close to them, or seems to encourage them; the monkeys won’t snatch your food. The species at the orphanage are eclectic.  Before seeing the post with its name, I thought the serval cat was a malnourished cheetah. It’s slender and kept on walking about restless.  Also the grey mongoose in the next enclosure walked around its enclosure like it was marking its territory. But another animal, the silver backed jackal was content on basking in the sun. At that time of day, the leopard was the most alert of the bigger carnivores. Like the other at the Safari Walk board, this paced about in its cage seething at us watching it. This leopard came to the orphanage young having been found along and rescued in the jungle. It handler came with meet and feed it inside its cage without any conflict. At first glance, in another enclosure I thought I was seeing two domestic cats, but the two were Sokoke cats native to Arabuko Sokoke forest, in coastal Kenya. Behavior wise and looks, they are like domesticated cats only bigger.  Also there were two bird species there, the helmeted guinea fowl, and the Africa crowned crane which scrambled for nuts with the pesky monkeys.  One of two cheetahs lying on their enclosures purred at me, as I took their photos incessantly, I stopped and smiled.

A lion perched on a tree trunk on the Nairobi Animal Orphanage

The onset of the evening was the icing on the cake at the orphanage. About a dozen lions in various enclosures awoke and got active to announce King of the African jungle. While some chewed on the meat on bones, male lions perched atop a wooden ramp and roared. If one roared, other lions in adjacent cages did, and at one moment for few minutes it sounded like a synchronized roaring choir. One agitated lion would come and growl at visitors with their powerful paws on the mesh. But there is a safety wooden railing to ensure visitors don’t lean on the enclosures oblivious.  The roars awoke two striped hyenas, causing one to begin pacing about its enclosure combatively.  The biggest herbivore at the orphanage was a calf buffalo that looked like a domesticated buffalo. Only by looking at its fused horn did I realize this calf was a mature buffalo menace in waiting. About 6:15pm, warders alerted us time was over, but the monkeys were still heckling each other even louder, while going about their endless monkey business. This was an experience worth spending money and hours of my afternoon on, next on my bucket list is going for game drives to the rugged interior of the Nairobi National Park.

Getting There

If on budget and not fussy about excess luxury there are classy hotels in the downtown of Nairobi City Centre, that a night charge as low as USD $25 a night. From there, you can get an Uber Taxi to the Nairobi National Park and pay to enter the Nairobi Safari Walk and Nairobi Animal Orphanage. Should you want a game drive around the park you can make inquiries at the KWS reception.  The rates for game drives are not high and you get to use KWS vehicles. Staff members are quite helpful and the game drive, will take you to sites like where 105 tons of ivory were set ablaze in 2016 by President Uhuru Kenyatta.  In addition you get to see the Africa Big Five in their natural habitat, like elephants and wildebeests, not at the animal orphanage, or Safari trail. Within the jungle there are two picnic sites, Mokoyiet and Kingfisher camps and an Impala observation point. In Mokoyiet there is an observation point for leopards in proximity and you can have bush breakfast at Kingfisher. If you are crazy about birding there are 400 bird species to see.
  • The best way to get first hand information on charges and getting to the Nairobi National Park is by visiting the Kenya Wildlife Service. Still there are Kenyan tour companies like Mara Gates Safaris Kenya who organize tours customized to your needs.

James Karuga

James Karuga is a seasoned award winning Kenyan journalist and travel writer, with an unbridled passion for traveling around rural Africa. He has been published by Reuters,Business Daily Africa, Spore Magazine, Africa Business Network and others. He has visited Ethiopia, Uganda, Ghana, and Tanzania. In his country he has visited all the regions bar the north eastern region which is on his bucket list.He loves travel writing because it offers more creative and informal and descriptive writing style that comes naturally to him. Oh and soon he will begin to share his eccentric travel musings at