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The Survey of Kenya's First Map of Nairobi Royal National Park

The first map of Kenya’s first national park, Nairobi Royal National Park, documenting wildlife, topography, and roads.

It was compiled and drawn in 1956, just ten years after the park was founded, by the Survey of Kenya. It is based on aerial photogrammetric mapping of the area.

The map, printed in color, features the entirety of the park’s boundaries, including where it abuts the aerodrome and roads leading back to nearby Nairobi. The land outside the boundaries is left blank, allowing the park to be highlighted with its plains, forests, valleys, ridges, and rivers. Ranger stations are prominent landmarks.

All the labels are in English, with a legend in the upper right corner cataloguing an extensive list of animals in the park. These are split into carnivores, herbivores, rodents, and “various,” a group that includes aardvarks and baboons. The reptiles have their own list, split between snakes and others including crocodiles and tortoises. To the right of these tables is a simple but elegant compass rose.

In the lower left is another legend with symbology for roads, rivers, forests, signage, and contours. The bottom of the map features a scale communicated via a representative fraction, a scale bar, and a scale statement.

Survey of Kenya (SOK)

This map is one of those published by the Survey of Kenya. The Survey was founded in 1903 under the colonial government as an official agency for all matters of mapping and land surveying. It is one of the country’s oldest departments, under the administration of the Ministry of Lands and Physical Planning.

The program was strongest in the mid-twentieth century, from the 1950s onward. It provided reliable, up-to-date property and topographic maps during a time of need for Kenya. In the 1970s, the Survey established land registries across the country.

Today, services of the SOK include surveying general boundaries, resolution of boundary disputes, deed plan preparations, and the sale of maps and national atlases.

Photogrammetric Mapping

This map is an example of photogrammetric mapping, as mentioned in the lower right corner. Photogrammetry is divided into two distinct categories: aerial and terrestrial. Aerial photogrammetry uses overlapping photographs taken vertically from an aircraft, compiled together to create measurements and show features. With terrestrial photogrammetry, the camera is located on the ground.

This map of Nairobi Royal National Park was created using aerial photogrammetry, as evidenced by the fact the images were provided by Fairey Air Surveys Ltd.

Wildlife Conservation in Kenya

This map represents an important moment in Kenyan conservation history, documenting the status of the park and the animals that occupy it a decade after the park’s founding. Before and during British colonial presence in Kenya, local communities used wildlife primarily as a food source for satisfying basic needs. Protecting the country’s diverse wildlife did not become a necessity until the rise of British imperial rule in the 1890s. Safaris for hunting prized animals became popular, particularly with British officers and colonial officials, which created a need to preserve wildlife for future hunting. In 1896, the South Game Reserve and the North Game Reserve were established, allocating a total of over 26,000 square miles of land for wildlife and hunting.

A Game Department was established in 1906, but as the century wore on more need arose for protection of wildlife habitats. The British Protectorate put the National Parks Ordinance in place in 1945, and the following year established the first park, the one shown on this map, Nairobi Royal National Park.

While the preservation areas indisputably kept wildlife populations in check, they presented dilemmas of displacement for local communities. Many were forced to leave the land they had long occupied even though their livelihoods did not pose threats to the wildlife populations in focus.

This map was made using an innovative technology and shows Kenya’s first national park, an important center of the country’s conservation policies. It is also a first edition, as mentioned in the lower left corner.

Mungumi Bakari Chongwa, “The History and Evolution of National Parks in Kenya,” The George Wright Forum, vol. 29, no. 1 (2012): 39–42. MEJ