The Athi-Kapiti landscape stretches across six counties (Kajiado, Kiambu, Kitui, Nairobi, Machakos and Makueni) and is categorised into five conservation zones (Isinya, Kapiti/Lukenya, Kipeto, Kitengela and Ol Donyo Sabuk). Its proximity to the capital of Nairobi makes it a preferred residential area and business hub. This is increasingly placing a lot of stress on the ecosystem that serves Kenya’s premier parks and ecosystems and a growing cosmopolitan population.
Situated in the southern landscapes of Nairobi National Park and bordering the knuckle-shaped Ngong Hills to the east, the plains sit at an altitude of about 1,500-2,200 metres above sea level.
The Athi-Kapiti plains is largely savannah grasslands dotted with acacia bush, forest cover and hills.
The plains serve as an important dispersal area, connecting the Nairobi National Park to the megafauna Amboseli, Ol Donyo Sabuk, Tsavo and Serengeti ecosystems.
Within the Athi-Kapiti landscape are two protected areas: Nairobi National Park and Ol Donyo Sabuk National Park.
Nairobi National Park is a historical treasure as Kenya’s first national park. At about 117 square kilometres, the park is one of the smaller national parks in Africa and yet it is home to about 100 mammal species and 400 migratory and endemic bird species.
Situated just 10 kilometres from the centre of the capital Nairobi, the Nairobi National Park is world-renowned for being the only protected area in the world with such an astoundingly wide range of animals and birds within a capital centre, providing the unique experience of being deep in nature against the backdrop of skyscrapers. The park is a favourite must-visit for visitors of the capital as well as the local residents.
North of Nairobi, in Machakos County, is the Ol Donyo Sabuk National Park, which sits on an estimated 20 square kilometres. It is built around the slopes of a densely forested mountain, providing charming views over the Athi River and the peaks of Mount Kilimanjaro and Mount Kenya. One of the highlights of a visit to Ol Donyo Sabuk National Park is that you get to see a range of wildlife and abundant birdlife closely through a game drive or a hike.
The Athi-Kapiti ecosystem is home to the Big Five, with the Nairobi National Park hosting four of the five (lion, leopard, buffalo and rhino, including the critically endangered eastern black rhino).
The landscape also has one of the highest densities of cheetahs in East Africa and attracts other predators such as the hyena.
The shorter and more nutritious grass coupled with the open vast plains makes Athi-Kapiti plains a popular feeding ground during the calving season and the wet season for a range of herbivores, including zebras, wildebeests, waterbucks, elands, impalas and the endangered Masai giraffe.
Likes of the lesser kudu, wild dogs and gerenuk enjoy the wooded habitats at the central part of the ecosystem.
The plains are home to about 500 bird species, including the ostrich, helmeted Guinea fowl, yellow-necked spurfowl, yellow-billed egret, martial eagle and Africa’s heaviest flying bird, the Kori bustard.
Also found in the ecosystem is the white-backed vulture. AKWCA member Olerai Conservancy has breeding colonies that are helping safeguard the future of this critically endangered vulture.
The Athi-Kapiti landscape was originally home to the Maasai. As traditional pastoralists, the Maasai’s way of life allowed livestock and wildlife to live and thrive side by side.
The Maasai lived alongside the Kamba community, believed to have migrated from the Mount Kilimanjaro area and practised subsistence farming, beekeeping and livestock rearing.
More recently, the region has evolved into a more cosmopolitan area occupied by diverse communities. This has led to expansion in infrastructure and a shift in economic activities and land use as quarrying, greenhouse and irrigation farming as well as residential human settlement have become prevalent, which in turn have led to habitat and wildlife loss. Finding a balance between natural resources management and urban development is thus proving critical to the survival of the Athi-Kapiti ecosystem and its biodiversity.