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13 Jul, 2024
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The Little Ones! – Article by Gareth Jones

THE NAIROBI ANTELOPE – THE LITTLE ONES- BY GARETH JONES

Many people only seem to notice the larger creatures like rhinos, buffalo, giraffes, lions etc. when visiting the park, however there are many interesting small creatures ranging from insects to reptiles, to bird life and small mammals. The small mammals are again separated into herbivores and predators. In this article the focus is on herbivores, namely the small Nairobi antelope species “the little ones” like the suni & dik-dik that are less often seen in the park.

A while ago, while driving on the tar road, towards the main gate in the late afternoon, I saw a tiny antelope eating next to the road. It was a tiny suni, only found in the forested section, mostly seen if driving very slowly in the early morning or late afternoon, when they feed on green shoots and leaves. They are very shy and sensitive and it is rare to get close to them, I mostly watch them through binoculars, as we sit quietly so as to not disturb them.

The suni suddenly ran across the road, and went into a thick clump of bushes. I looked and could scarcely believe my eyes, a tiny, tiny, minute little lamb was trying to stand and suckle on its mother. WOW! what a super suni sighting, a mega tick on my all time sightings in the park. The lamb could not have been more than an hour or two old, and the mother was trying to force it to walk, as she slowly moved away every time the lamb tried to stand and walk on its wobbly newborn legs. There is always something very precious and special about witnessing the start of a new life.

In contrast to the excitement of witnessing a newly born suni, I have also had sad occasions, like when a pregnant suni was killed in the forest due to a speeding vehicle a few years ago. Over many years with a growing city more people enter the park, and speeding has definitely increased dramatically, resulting in many other small species like birds, and even bushbuck being killed. This speeding practice is very selfish and shows no consideration for those persons who keep to the rules and drive slowly. It is only a matter of time before a large animal like a black rhino, buffalo or giraffe is hit by a speeding vehicle if there is no action to stop speedsters. For the best wildlife drive viewing experience, I would advise to drive at a speed of less than 30 km/hour.

Suni are often mistaken for dik-dik. The tiny antelope seen in the forest area are suni (Neotragus moschatu) also know as “Paa’ in Kiswahili, even smaller than dik-dik, they are the smallest antelope in the park. Suni are around 30-38cm high at the shoulder, 57-62cm long, weighing 4.5–5  kg. They vary in colour from fawn grey to chestnut brown on the back with white underneath.

Recently while driving in the Athi basin on the road from the hippo pools to junction No11, we rounded a corner and suddenly a tiny creature jumped onto the road. It stood still and looked directly at our vehicle, WOW it was a Kirks dik-dik!! Rarely seen in the Nairobi National Park.

Over many years I have personally seen a Kirk’s dik-dik actually inside the park on three occasions, along the Eastern and Southern boundary. I have also seen them just outside the Masai gate in the Silole Sanctuary. It should be noted that Kenya has three types of dik-dik, namely Kirk’s (in the south) and Günther’s (in the north) and rarely seen Salt’s dik-dik in North Eastern Kenya. In Somalia there are two other dik-dik species namely Salt’s and Silver, making a total of 4 species of small antelope in the genus Madoqua (dik-dik) in East Africa.

All dik-diks have an elongated nose with a tuft of fur on the top of the head. They stand about 30–40 centimetres at the shoulder, are 50–70 cm long, weigh 3–6 kilograms and can live for up to 10 years. Dik-diks are named after the alarm calls of the females. Both the male and female make a shrill, whistling sound. These calls may alert other animals of predators.

Next time you drive through the park along the rocky dry Eastern Southern boundary be on the lookout for the rarely seen Kirk’s dik-dik, and next time you drive through the Langata forest section be on the lookout for the special suni antelope.

The park is open daily from 06h00 to 19h00.

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servalsGareth Jones – Nairobi Park Dairy – A passionate writer & photographer