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[email protected]!!- Article by Gareth Jones

[email protected] – Celebrating The Nairobi National Park!

In 1898, the Uganda Railway project reached a point where there was a swampy section at the railway marker of “mile 326”. The water was deemed clean and fresh enough to declare the place as a water station for the railway project. Soon there was also a small hotel, and a trading store and an administration office. The British enquired from the local maasai what the name of the place was, they were told it was “Enkare nya ryobi” meaning the place of “cool waters”, however, they translated the name as Nairobi.  And so from humble beginnings the mega city of the Nairobi we know today began about 121 years ago. While the city currently faces massive challenges to manage and control the environment, the Nairobi National Park still remains as a unique global iconic example of a national park with big game right next to a major city. It is a classic example of the duel of the “jungles”, the so called concrete jungle dueling against the wild natural ecosystem that includes the Nairobi National Park.

Colonel Mervyn Hugh Cowie was born in Nairobi in 1909 and lived in a hut on a farm at Kiambu, north-west of Nairobi. Before moving to Kenya his father was chief magistrate of Johannesburg. Mervyn studied Law and Accountancy at Oxford University. An incident happened to teach him that man and beast can live in harmony. One day, while passing a lioness in the area of what was to later become the Nairobi National Park he came off his motorbike. The bike pinned him to the ground as the lioness lay watching him and he was unable to move, with blood was oozing from a cut in his leg.

The curious lioness walked towards him pinned under a lump of metal, and stopped just a few feet away. The lioness sat down and they stared at each other for some minutes while young Mervyn prayed that the smell of petrol was greater than the smell of his own blood. Eventually, the lioness got up and walked off. Cowie was to later say that the incident made him grow up very quickly. He realised, that man and beast need not spend their time killing each other. “But first, man must learn to suppress his desire to kill, and beast must be afforded a place to live.” He then tirelessly began to pursue the Colonial Government to set aside National Parks in Kenya, starting with the Nairobi National Park.

Towards the end of 1945, the government formally established the concept of national parks and appointed trustees. Mervyn Cowie was appointed executive director. In December 1946, the Nairobi National Park was gazetted as the first national park in Kenya and later other parks like the Tsavo National Park, Aberdare and Mount Kenya Parks, Amboseli National Park and many others, including the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania and Murchison Falls National Park in Uganda. History now reveals that he masterminded much towards the protection and conservation of Kenya’s wildlife and wilderness areas . Next time you visit the Nairobi National Park, it is good to reflect on those who made the sacrificial effort to ensure that modern day
people can still continue to view and enjoy the natural heritage . The Kenya Wildlife Service was established in 1989 to conserve and manage Kenya’s wildlife. Just 26 years ago the Friends of Nairobi National Park (FoNNaP) was founded as society to work in close partnership to assist the Kenya Wildlife Service ( KWS) with various activities that help to manage and maintain the Nairobi National Park. There are many organisations that have also made meaningful contributions towards the conservation of the park. Organisations like the Conservation Alliance of Kenya, East African Wildlife Society, Wildlife Direct, The Wildlife Foundation (TWF). It should also be noted that due to influential methods of certain local leaders within the communities mostly south of the park, much wildlife has been saved. The predator deterrent system using flashing movement sensitive LED lights known as “lion lights” is a noteworthy success that has saved much livestock, and also the lives of many predators like lions and leopards. I hope that our modern conservation efforts will continue to help keep Kenya’s God given natural heritage intact for future generations.

On the 16th December 2021, The Nairobi National Park will be celebrating 75 years since being gazetted as the 1st National Park in Kenya and also East Africa. Since the humble beginning, when Mervyn Cowie was the first Warden, many caring people have been involved over the years in ensuring that the Nairobi National Park remains intact as a viable ecosystem. Over some extended time some battles have been won , and sadly some battles have been lost. As we are all aware we do not live in a perfect world , and the park is constantly being threatened in many ways, including being surrounded by the developments of a growing mega-city, pollution, poaching, Wildlife-Human conflict etc. Sadly, some species like bat-eared fox have not been sighted within the park for many decades, and a number of other species are rarely seen, or threatened. At this 75 year mark in the history of the park, there is an increasing need for more people to be active in ensuring the future. Although the creatures within the park and surrounding buffer area do communicate to themselves, they cannot speak as we do. So effectively what the Nairobi National Park needs is many more caring people who will “be a voice for the creatures who cannot speak!” There are many ways to get involved. Especially in the area of education, schools and parents can encourage children and young adults to get involved in nature conservation. The ongoing education of Tour operators should also remain a priority as they are a vital voice to share information about the park with visitors. The Friends of Nairobi National Park (FoNNaP) has been a powerful voice for the creatures for many years in partnership with the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS). However, in the current reality there are ongoing challenges affecting the park , and therefore more people are required to get involved in taking practical actions. What if this was the year 2046 , the 100th year of the Nairobi National Park? Would that year be a moment of great celebration, or merely a sober moment of reflecting on the sad lost past.

A priceless treasure is a treasure that is so valuable and unique that no money or any item of value can replace it. God has put many wonderful treasures on this earth. The Nairobi National Park is a priceless treasure that needs to be kept intact for future generations. Concerned citizens and environmental organizations need to continue to take action! Let’s make history together by working together to leave a legacy we can all be proud of, so that future generations can reflect on our actions , and thank those who responded for protecting a Kenyan national heritage! The Latin words “Custos Naturae” translate into English as Guardian of Nature. Custos Naturae is also the motto on the logo of the South African National Parks, however, irrespective of where we are in Africa or even worldwide, we need to protect the God given natural resources. Kenya is blessed with incredible natural diversity that needs to be protected for future generations as a national heritage. There are beautiful national parks that are gazetted by law to be protected, including the 117sq km Nairobi National Park. In the book of Genesis 1 vs 27-28 it is written – So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. Then God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

We need to ask ourselves , are we really the Guardians of Nature that we are meant to be? Pray we all start to really care about nature! …. decide now what the future will be? A sad loss? or hopefully a legacy to be proud of in 2046? Pray many many people have a change of heart, and become a powerful voice for the creatures who cannot speak!!!

The fact that the Nairobi National Park is still intact is indeed miraculous as the park has effectively “become a green island surrounded by a sea of development”. But on the positive side, we can all be thankful that the park is still “[email protected]”, pray we all work together to find solutions for the current and ongoing challenges. Finding workable environmental solutions will ultimately ensure that the park improves from “survival mode to thriving in the long term”. It is indeed true that the actions taken now and in the coming years will definitely determine the status of the Nairobi National Park by the 16th December 2046. Pray God help us all to ensure that the eventual status achieved will be known as an incredible legacy of success worldwide.


Gareth Jones – A passionate writer & photographer


  • Hemant Patel

    December 16, 2021

    An excellent article.

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