Nairobi Things to Do Tips by CatherineReichardt Top 5 Page for this destination
Nairobi Things to Do: 149 reviews and 259 photos
"Great objectives often require great sacrifices"
Was this really the most expensive bonfire in history?
Well, most probably not - although it was too good a title to pass up - as I am sure that equivalent (or higher) values of books, works of art and historical artifacts have perished in an endless string of shameful bonfires that have lit up the skies during cultural and religious purges over the centuries. However, never has there been a bonfire whose financial impact was easier to quantify than that ignited by Kenyan President Daniel arap Moi in the Nairobi National Park on July 18 1989, in which a 6m high pile of 2,000 illegally poached elephant tusks (with a value of 60 million Kenyan shillings) was incinerated.
It may seem counterintuitive that a substance as hard as ivory would burn, but after all, it is simply compressed keratin, which is chemically equivalent to human hair or nails. Still, ivory is tough stuff, so it doesn’t give up without a fight, and people like me who love irrelevant statistics will be fascinated to know that 60 tons of firewood and 40 gallons of gasoline were required to get this particular bonfire going!
The tusks burned on this bonfire were confiscated from the illegal ivory trade and the towering inferno was a powerful statement of Kenya’s zero tolerance towards ivory poaching. It was a breathtaking piece of propaganda masterminded by the charismatic Richard Leakey (the father of Kenya Wildlife Services) and predated the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) declaration -which outlawed trade in ivory - by a few months. Several further bonfires - burnign both elephant ivory and rhino horns - have since taken place on the same spot, which is now marked by a small memorial stating, “Great objectives often require great sacrifices”.
Visitors may be surprised to know that the international ban on ivory trade is still a contentious issue, with respected zoologists and conservationists positioned on both sides of the moral fence and vocal in their defence of their respective stances. The CITES convention was ratified to prevent ivory poaching that was endangering elephant populations, but over 20 years later, elephant populations in certain Southern African countries have become so large that they are inflicting severe damage on their host ecosystems, thus undermining not only their own sustainable existences, but also that of many other species. Countries who have healthy and rapidly expanding elephant populations (such as Botswana, South Africa, Zimbabwe and Namibia) argue persuasively that if a well controlled ivory trade were allowed, the funds generated from the sale of tusks generated by natural death and culling of animals (another highly contentious issue) could be ploughed back into conservation. It is interesting to note that these countries have twice successfully petitioned CITES to authorize ‘once off’ ivory sales (the last of which was in October 2008 and netted US$15 million).
However, if the CITES convention were to be modified to allow a controlled ivory trade, the challenge would be how this would be effectively implemented. The often vaunted template is the Kimberley Process (which is a self-regulatory initiative on the part of the mining industry intended to control the provenance and sale of diamonds, thereby eliminating the ‘blood diamond’ trade), but frankly the success of this initiative has been less than encouraging. The sad truth is that any relaxing of CITES is likely to reopen the door to poaching activity, particularly in countries where regulations are poorly enforced and the elephant populations are more vulnerable. A thorny problem, and one for which there is sadly no easy answer.
Update (July 2011): It seems that no sooner had I written up this tip than the next ivory bonfire was ignited, this time by President Mwai Kibaki! This time, US$16 million worth of ivory tusks and ornaments, which had been recovered by the Singaporean authorities in 2002 were incinerated. DNA testing indicated that the ivory was sourced from Zambia and Malawi.
To put the situation into perspective, the Mail & Guardian quotes the director of the Kenya Wildlife Service, Julius Kipngetich, in noting that "while East Africa's elephant populations are still relatively strong, West Africa's elephants are likely gone for good. Senegal has only eight left. Liberia lost its last one last year. Nigeria hasn't had elephants since 2005". Truly a tragic state of affairs.
Click here for more detail on the most recent ivory bonfire.
"Warthogs and children have right of way"
The sign says it all!
My only query is, "If there's a both warthog and a child in the way, which one do you swerve to avoid"???
Monument in Nairobi National Park
This modest monument in Nairobi National Park commemorates the founding of the park in 1946 - the first national park in Kenya, which opened the door for the subsequent proclamation of iconic parks such as Masai Mara and Amboseli.
View over forest in Nairobi National Park
Nairobi National Park is located only 7km from the Nairobi CBD: as a result, it is arguably the most accessible game game you'll ever encounter, and is easily explored on a half day trip.
It irks me that sometimes seasoned game viewers can be unreasonably snobbish, and convey a sense that if you haven't trekked days and days to see a particular beast or location, you're somehow compromised the value of the experience. On this basis, the overall accessibility of Nairobi National Park would make it easy for the the gamespotting zealots to belittle the experience as 'wildlife lite', which would be both unfair and untrue.
Nairobi National Park was Kenya's first game park, and was proclaimed as early as 1946. The park is primarily acacia-dominated savannah with some wooded thickets, and is a lovely spot, even discounting the wildlife. One of its advantages is that the topography is not flat, and there are a couple of vantage points from which you can get excellent views out over the park to the city skyline beyond. The mammal life is dominated by herbivores - zebra, giraffe and a whole range of antelope - and you'd have to be very unfortunate indeed not to see a good number of species. There is really good birdlife, much of which is large and will appeal even to the 'non twitcher': it's not often that you're lucky enough to get a good view of a secretary bird snootily stalking through the long grass in search of a tasty snake, and the vultures are just great! Other common (but nonetheless endearing) animals that you're almost guaranteed to spot are warthogs and ostrich. Compared to other East African game parks, I wouldn't claim that Nairobi National Park offers as many close encounters with big cats (although they do have lion, leopard and cheetah), but even if you don't see them, I would venture that you'll be so excited by what you do see that you won't mind.
The park offers guided tours which are advisable for two reasons, the first of which is that it negates the need for you to have your own vehicle. In order to improve your game spotting, it's best to have an elevated viewpoint which allows you to look out over the landscape, which the purpose-built safari vehicles offer, and also having a guide who knows what he's looking for is invaluable (since beginners take some time to 'get their eye in').
There are dedicated picnic areas, but there is no accommodation in the park. For up-to-date details on admission fees and other details, please see the website below.
So, if you're planning to visit Africa on business or pleasure, and won't necessarily have the chance to do any game viewing elsewhere, why not consider flying Kenya Airways, stopping off for a day in transit, and then catching your connecting flight? For the price of a night's accommodation and a visa (depending on which passport you hold, and generally available on arrival), you'll have the opportunity to recuperate from your long haul flight and enjoy a taste of that iconic African wildlife experience that you might not otherwise get around to: my only warning is that once you're hooked, you'll want to return time and time again!
Update (July 2011): My husband was recently in Kenya on business, and was intrigued to discover how his client avoided the horrific Nairobi traffic on his commute to and from work. It turns out that his client has offices near the airport (which abuts the Nairobi National Park), and he has bought an annual pass so that he can drive to and from work through the park. Now that's a commute that I wouldn't mind having!
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