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Shida 'Nairobi National park'
Our orphaned Rhino “Shida” is the calf of an elderly Nairobi Park cow named Stella, who, during the night of the 29th October, 2003, lost the struggle to survive another dry season and was found on the morning of 30th, too weak to even rise near the Ivory Burn site in Nairobi National Park, just below the Kenya Wildlife Service’s Headquarter complex. She was euthenased and her 2 month old baby came into our care.
The Nairobi National Park came into being in 1948, mainly due to the efforts of two people, Kenya’s then Chief Game Warden, Capt. Archie Ritchie, O.B.E. M.C. and Colonel Mervyn Cowie, appointed the first Director of Kenya’s fledgling National Parks.
Human expansion has constricted the animals’ once large dispersal area and brought human habitation right up to every boundary; rhinos have been brought in, as have some orphaned hand-reared buffaloes, the African wild dogs are no more and the predator population has been seriously eroded, but the Park remains still a rare jewel in the crown of Kenya’s conservation efforts. No other city in the entire world can boast a natural wilderness within easy reach of its centre, where visitors can spend a magic morning or afternoon viewing a microcosm of the bounty of yore. Nairobi National Park is, indeed, unique – and must be nurtured at all costs, not just for its obvious tourist appeal, and the revenues it brings into the country, but for important therapeutic reasons also. More importantly still, the Park serves the vital role of being the very lungs of Nairobi city, its natural vegetation and remnant forests renewing the oxygen levels and cleansing the air of pollution spewed forth from a sprawling city now harbouring close on 3 million human souls.
The reason for such a variety of animal life in a tiny Park only 44 square miles in extent is, of course, that small as it is, it includes many different habitats, each with its own typical fauna. The Park comprises open plains, broken bush, some real forest, a permanent river with fringe thickets, luggas, long grass, short grass, flat land and foothills, so a multitude of forms can live in close proximity to one another. On the open plains, grasslands alternate with Acacia dominated savannah, whilst the Athi River, cuts deep gorges of considerable depth and varying width as it winds its way through. The slopes of the gorges that are not sheer rock provide dense cover for many shyer creatures and where there is a good depth of soil large wild figs with spreading crowns, attaining a height of 80 – 100 ft. are plentiful. In areas where the water table is closer to the surface, such as at the Hippo Pools, yellow fever trees form beautiful stands, conspicuous with their sulphur yellow trunks and pale foliage. Stunted whistling thorns predominate in the shallower soils of the open windswept plains, providing food for browsing species such as giraffe and rhino and on the black cotton soils, the highly nutritious “oat grass” (Themeda triandra) dominates amongst a wide variety of other grasses and legumes. Dry luggas and riverbeds afford places preferred by lions, and the forest which is confined to more broken country on higher ground, shelters forest species such as bushbuck, suni and monkeys.
The forest is, in fact, the southern fringe of what used to be the extensive Langata Forest and is comprised of Crotons, Muhugus, Cape Chestnuts and other indigenous species, but because the soil in the section that is in the Park is shallow, the tree growth on the whole does not reach the height of the forest proper. Nairobi National Park is a memory that echoes in microcosm the land as it was when it was young and unspoilt one hundred years ago.
The variety of species it shelters is unique indeed for such a small area and in its capacity as the lungs of Nairobi, it is, of course, crucial. Yet the future of the Park today is no less certain than it was in Capt. Ritchie’s time. With human settlement right up to the boundaries and the Park electrically fenced on three sides, but not on the fourth, the Park is now more vulnerable than ever. It will have to be fenced on its fourth boundary before all is lost, and what can naturally live within such constraints will, and what can’t, won’t.