Habitat 101: NAIROBI,  ONCE THE CITY OF BIRDS 

Located in Kenya and embeds the capital, not long ago in the ‘80s,’90s and early 2000s it was once known as the city of birds. Having a national park at its heart, the city was not only known as the city with a national park but also as a haven for a wide array of bird species. Not only would you see them in the park but also within a thirty kilometres radius around the park. That was when I was a young child. Fast forward to around year 2010 and later, things have taken a turn. 

Every city has to play it’s stake…

As a city grows, so does its population and other factors that affect it. With a rise in population so comes a demand in settlement. Once a fairly populated city, it has now become densely populated with an estimate of about 4 million people selling within the county. This calls for clearing of trees to raise building to accommodate settlement. It was a first step in clearing the birds natural habitat. Second, came in the factor of transportation. Being the capital city, it became the network hub of transportation to various destinations. Increase in cars trafficking the city led to increase in air pollution… Noise and fumes from hooting and engine revving to emissions from car exhausts.


Photo credits Nation Media Group

Most birds are sensitive to noise and with it on the rise can lead to shift in habitat. With now sparse vegetation, due to human settlement, led to shortage of birds food supply. This kicked in for what natural instincts would do… Migration. So as the years passed by, so did the birds species and population reduce and the place to view most of them, is to pay a visit to the game park. The city has played its stake, it’s infrastructure for habitat loss. So, if strict development planning measures are put up, will it reverse bird’s population to its former days? 

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The controllable flood

Recently there have been floods on the roads of Nairobi. Not that there are no drainage systems along the road but because I’ve come to notice something about it… human irresponsibility. Trash is being damped on the road by motorists and the passers-by drop them along the road. On the dry season this may not look like something tragic but to say, oh this place is dirty! But all changes when it starts raining heavily. Upon heavy rains, the soil gets saturated enough to absorb any more water. This leads to pools of water being formed and eventually small streams. Basically, water flows downwards along gravity and drainage systems are best suited in managing water clogging.

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Photo courtesy:  nyumbanitv.com

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Photo courtesy : jambonewspot.com

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Photo courtesy : ghettoradio.co.ke

As this small streams intersect down the slopes into the drainage channels, the small chunks of plastics get carried along with it. Too much accumulation of it in the drainage lines lead to blocked drainage‎ resulting in water overflow and eventually flooding on the roads or streets.

Much of it has been addressed by environmentalists and taught in schools about waste management and control. It’s sad that people have become arrogant about it and we’re now facing the consequences. Flooding due to human activity is controllable. Let’s not blame the rains. Don’t dump wastes in the environment expecting someone to come and collect it for you. Take responsibility and some of this things will come to change for the better.

Yours,

Kevin

On the rugged edges of the Menengai crater

Hold my hand, hold my hand! The grass roots gave in, I tumbled down the rugged edges and fell on a tree shrub. I lost consciousness.

 

Ken was getting excited to go for that academic trip to visit one of the passively active volcanic mountains in the Rift Valley. It was something he had planned for in two months since they re-opened school.

 

“Wake up, wake up! It due day. We’ve got to be ready for the school trip.” My classmate woke me up that morning at five O’clock. I was in my second year at high school. Things like this got us excited as I was in a boarding school. Quickly I prepped myself and went to the dining hall to have my breakfast. In everyone’s chatter, it was about what they expected to unfold in the day. Little did I know my fate.

 

Our academic trip started off at six in the morning. It was still dark, but who cared as long we’ll be travelling a distant place away from school. That is what got us thrilled. With soft music playing in the bus and watching the distant trees which seemed to be moving along with the bus, I gave in to a nap. After some hours of travel, we stopped at a nearby gas station to fuel the bus. Everyone was told to take a stretch, walk around and buy some snacks if need be and shortly we resumed our journey. Finally, the Rift-Valley. A scenery that cannot be forgotten. The steep slopes of the escarpment and a fairly flat ridge that stretched out at the bottom. It almost looked as if it was hand crafted.

 

It only took us two to three hours to get to the crater. It was like a steep climb up, volcanic stones scattered around, some large some small and small gravel-like volcanic rocks loosely laid on the road. A couple of times the wheels of the bus skid on this rocks. Finally, we were at the top. The huge crater which circumferences on a huge diameter. It has some steep banking on the side and on the bottom, you can see smoke spewing on different spots of the crater. I stood on the edge of the crater and looked down. It’s a far drop to the bottom with vegetation like small tree shrubs growing on the sides, all the way to the base. On the highest point, there was a pole with many arrows pointing to various cities around the world. We were not the only school or people to have visited the site. On count, there were also some local and foreign tourists around.

 

We had a 45 minutes’ lesson from the local guide on formations of volcanic mountains and craters in the rift valley and when they stopped being active to passive or dormant. It was now time to take some photos of the landscapes and us as a class. I remember we took a couple of them until I decided to take one on the edge of the crater, just to have a clear view of it in the background. ‘Snap, snap,’ “Oh wait, I want to move a little closer to the edge,” I told my friend. I posed, putting one leg a little back and that it when a turn of events took place.

 

I slipped over loose gravel and lost balance. I tried gripping myself on the ground but there was nothing to hold onto. I was on a quick drop! Luckily, I held on to some grass which had grown in tight clusters. It didn’t matter to me if it was going to let go as long as it held me to a stop. “Hold on Ken, am getting help,” said my classmate. There were some bruises on my arm and legs, a little bit of scratches on my face. “Help, help!” I could hear people calling on. Two men came down the slope, cautiously watching their steps. They didn’t want to make the situation worse by adding more casualties. “Hold my hand, hold my hand!” he said. I tried to stretch my arm but the grass started to give in. ‘Aaaaaarh’

 

I woke up, not knowing how long I’ve been unconscious. I was being pulled up by a rope. My whole body ached. What happened! “Don’t move,” I heard someone say, it almost sounded like a murmur. A sheer pain came from my leg. “Knot it tight to stop the bleeding,” I heard a man say. Through blurry vision, I saw a stick had pieced though my thigh. I gave in again; this time I woke up in a hospital emergency centre. What happened next, I can’t recall. I only woke up the following morning heavily bandaged but still in agony. “It took me a couple of months to heal completely but the scars I got remind me of that moment I escaped ill fate,” concluded Ken with some balancing tears in his eyes.

 

Cheers!

Kevin.

When the lights of the night sky were shut out

I flicker my torch on and off in the dark night and point it out to the sky just to see how far the light would go. It may not be pretty logical considering how far the sky is but in the moment it was worth passing my time in. The lights had gone off for some 30 minutes or so due to a faulty electric line. It was a cloudy night as far as I could tell and nothing much to look around at only for the passing cars and a group of children playing near the block. “One, two, three, four… nine and ten” all the children had scattered away to hiding and it was his turn to seek. I chuckled. “Funny how children can play hide and seek in the dark without the worries of this world,” said my neighbour as leaned on the barrier railing on the roadside.

This were the worst of my nights. My phone’s battery was critically low, I had not charged my laptop in the last two days and my favourite show was live on air. I felt as if I was being cut off from this world. “Got you, it’s now your turn” said the seeker. “Oh, look! Doesn’t it look amazing. I bet I can count more twinkling stars than all of you can,” he posed another challenge. I looked up and the clouds had broken through for the stars to be visible. Ten of them lay in a circle on the ground and they started counting, each of them pointing their tiny fingers to the sky.

“You see my ‘son’, over the years, man has advanced in many ways that they have forgotten the wonders in this world. You can tell the time by looking on the watch, seasons by referring to the calendars, travelling by locking the GPS on your phone or other electronic gadgets. That was not in my days,” he paused before continuing, looking at the stars as if he’s been caught by some Deja vu. ” In our time, we looked onto the night stars to know when it was the season to plant, harvest, go to war, hold a festival or even navigate our way away from home and back. We could travel great distances by looking onto the sky. I used to be the messenger in our clan.” He smiled.

He went back to the house and came back with a piece of paper and a pencil. He was an old man and he walked with a slightly bent posture. “I am an old man but it doesn’t mean am way beyond reasoning,” he laughed a little almost sounding as if he had a dry cough. “We didn’t have schools in our village, not like today where you can find them on almost every corner. School then… was for the rich in the society. But it wasn’t a shortcoming to me as missionaries came and I was lucky to be educated.” “But I heard many people were not all that welcoming to the system of learning,” I told him. “I had a strict grandfather who valued education and all it came with. He would smack me and I would burn the midnight lamp studying if he happened to see any signs of play with books. But that’s a story for another day,” he finally said.

He sketched some figures on the piece of paper and lifted it up for me to see. “This is what the Englishmen called Orion, to us it signified the season of hunting. You can see it just right above us. Other stars as these signified it’s time to plant, this one was for harvesting season, we held our festivals when we saw this kind of stars…” He showed me a couple of them, like 5 constellations, some of which had funny shapes. By how he talked passionately about the old days, I can say times have changed. More and more of the historical cultures are being forgotten. Technology has locked us to our screens, the night street lamps are brighter than the night sky. Who can blame anyone for not even noticing the stars?

As much as we’re all modernizing civilization, I can say it’s best to remember the traditional heritage. It’s what kept our ancestors going. Studying the sky was like studying an astronomical blueprint. It was that important to them. I can say, through their astronomical ventures, it is then that we came to know our world much better. Some of the festivals are still being performed in different parts of the world today, wearing the same costumes as they did. Astronomical structures they built then still exist today some dated back to thousands of years ago. Today they stand as museums, artefacts, or tourist attraction centres…all but to remind us of their great works. Let’s not blind the night sky.

 

Cheers!

Kevin.

The Buffalo Mountain

The wind gently blew past my face. I could feel the dew as I ran my fingers on the tall green grass and the sun was rising on the horizon behind the pale blue mountain. On the distant land I could see antelopes and zebras grazing all mingled up with the herd of cows and also goats of some local pastrolists who camped nearby.

I paced up my little steps down the hill to see the great river which quietly flowed on the gentle curves of the hilly banks. What a view! There were some fishermen fishing in the middle of the river. They didn’t have a boat. All they used was what they could find locally. Some logs of wood, cut to some length and tied together with a home threaded sisal rope.

“Mto huu unaitwa Athi,” said a man behind me. (This is called Athi river). I looked up and back to get a better view of him. He was fairly an old man with wrinkles on his face. His skin looked dry probably due to the extensive time he spends under the sun. On his right hand he held a long stick and with the left hand he pointed to something across the river. I looked over and saw an animal drinking water on the river bank.
“Je, unajua jina la yule mnyama?”
(Do you know the name of that animal?)
I shook my head to say no.
“Anaitwa nyati”
(Its called a buffalo)

Then we both looked up to the pale blue mountain.
“You see that mountain, it was named after that animal. Its called Kilimambogo, the Buffalo Mountain,” he finally said before a long-quiet-pause.

That was 18 years ago. A very young boy I was.

“Kuna mtu anashukia Kilimambogo?” the bus conductor shouted. (Anyone dropping off at Kilimambogo?)
Quickly I stood up and headed for the exit door. Whoa! The sun was too hot. Cattle were grazing along the road and I could see houses built in close ranges. This was not the kind of view I could get in my child days. You could only point your neighbor to a distant away. Your finger almost seemed as if its pointing upwards towards the horizon.

Two days later, and its was time to head down the hill to get the familiar view of the river. Pretty much it looked as it used to but not as much. The path down the river had changed. This was due to cultivation taking place near the river banks and the rising number of settlement. It also didn’t take a long time to know why the wild animals are no longer on sight. I dipped my hand in the water. It had some strange smell. The water was polluted. There were no longer fishermen nor the wild goose on the water or hippos on sight.

Suddenly, a young man came to fetch water to cultivate his crops. He was in his teenage, tall and happily whistling his way down to the river bank.
“Excuse me,” I started out, “Do you know where I can see the hippos? And what happened to the wild animals?”
“The wild animals you can find them in the game park. The hippos you’ll have to travel upstream along the river, just a few kilometers away”
“And where’s the game park? ”
“Its on that mountain you see there”

Two weeks later, it was time to face the Buffalo Mountain.

Mt Kilimambogo. Surely, who wouldn’t want to conquer the mountain to its summit? 6:30 am was the time I was advised to be at the park entrance. After the custom checks and regulations we were summoned on an open ground and given the precautionary measures as we were likely to encounter wild game. Finally, the green flag. Accompanying me were my kins and a game warden.

He was a sturdy man very upright and energetic. You could easily mistake him for being in his 40’s but he’s in his 60’s. That was some challenge of physical fitness to me. But the hike was part of getting to know what happened over the years. I pretty got the answers needed.

“Due to the increase in human settlement, wild animals were slowly being pushed away from their natural habitat. So they came to settle in the mountain area. The reason as to why the mountain is also part of the game park is not only to protect the game animals but also the natural forest habitat. With increase in population, charcoal business grew. Charcoal was considered as an alternative source of cheaper fuel. So the trees on the mountain slopes were being unnecessarily cut down. There was need to protect this natural vegetation. There are a couple of wild animals in the park but the most distinctive one is the buffalo. Wondering in this mountain without a warden can be seriously dangerous if you encounter with them. Due to their apex temper, a short encounter with them can be a matter of critical life evaluation. The population of hippos in the river dropped. This can be attributed to the increasing pollution levels in the river. Most of the hippos are moving upstream to safer waters. We need to create proper management of waste and chemicals disposals.” Warden X.

Atop the mountain you can see the massive deforestation. On one side of the mountain, bare land stretched out on an extensive area of land. The side facing the river, most of the natural vegetation is still preserved. Officials in the park hope to recover most of the tree cover through reforestation.

Don’t get the park as a nasty view. Its a place I’d recommend one to visit. On the mountain top is this large field of clearing with cool temperatures. You can play some outdoor games, picnic, take self or group photos and if you used a vehicle to get to the mountain top, there’s a good spot for viewing the buffalo. I never got the chance because I hiked my way up. There are also historical sites to get knowing.

As I close this story, lets all protect nature and make it better. We want the younger generation to experience as much as we do or even more.

Cheers,
Kevin