PROFIT VS CONSERVATION

Which way forward for Nairobi National Park?

A wildlife strategy launched by Tourism CS Najib Balala is gathering dust, while a management plan by the KWS envisioning fresh infrastructure developments has kicked up a storm

In Summary

• Land use changes have disrupted wildlife population and hurt conservation strategies

• While KWS is trying to give Nairobi Park a facelift, their plans including a proposed ecolodge have riled conservationists

SGR phase two inside the park
SGR phase two inside the park
Image: FILE

Seven years ago, two researchers set out to investigate the impact of land use changes on wildlife population in the Nairobi National Park and Kitengela dispersal areas.

Lynnette Kiboro and Christopher Kiboro established that fencing off areas that traditionally were dispersal areas for wildlife, land sub-division and sale of land, mining and quarrying disrupt wildlife population and were incompatible with conservation strategies.

Further, they found that the size of the dispersal area and wildlife population was intricately related.

 
 

“It is crucial for the government and other stakeholders to formulate legislation on conservation and protection of dispersal areas,” the duo said.

“This with the view of sustaining and reviving the already diminishing wildlife populations.”

Their findings have since been published in the International Journal of Science and Research.

But nearly a decade since the two scientists voiced concerns, the park is faced with even more challenges, including a proposed ecolodge that has conservationists up in arms.

THREATS AND PROPOSALS

The top 12 issues that face the park include habitat loss and fragmentation in the dispersal areas, decline in wildlife population, poaching, human-wildlife conflicts, alien and invasive species, pollution, mining and quarries.

 
 
 

Others are climate change, low park visitation, increased urbanisation, settlement threats on the sheep and goats ranch, and infrastructure development.

 
 

The Kenya Wildlife Service now intends to cure some of these problems through proposals contained in its draft management plan.

The plan will also be scaled down to 10 national parks, in what KWS bosses believe will improve their attractiveness.

KWS says a lot of work is lined up for the park. This includes fencing, a high-end ecolodge, improvement of infrastructure, development of KWS Club House high-end restaurant (Orpul Place), designing and establishment of adventure activity concessions and facilitation of alternative activities to traditional game-viewing.

KWS is considering improving park habitat, coupled with progressively fencing willing landowners in the park’s buffer zone.

It proposes an integrated land use management in the park's buffer zone and wildlife dispersal areas to achieve the park’s management objectives.

That is maintaining ecological integrity, enhancing the visitor experience, enhancing community benefits from wildlife, minimising human-wildlife conflicts and improving wildlife security.  

KWS said the option acknowledges the service has no jurisdiction on land and land use outside the park and, hence, it is imperative that it first concentrates its efforts on the conservation and protection of biodiversity within the park boundary.

The service proposes negotiations with landowners in the park’s buffer zone with the aim of managing these separate but interconnected units together with the park as a single ecological unit.

Under this option, wildlife habitat in the park will be improved.

This will be managed in accordance with legal agreements entered between KWS buffer zone landowners, Naretunoi Conservancy owners and the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries as regards Sheep and Goats Ranch.

This option proposes fencing the southern park boundary.

But even as KWS puts up the proposal, conservationists and nature lovers have rejected it, blaming authorities for presiding over the mismanagement of the park.

A lioness rests on a directional signage at Nairobi's National Park in Kenya's capital Nairobi, July 12, 2014
A lioness rests on a directional signage at Nairobi's National Park in Kenya's capital Nairobi, July 12, 2014
Image: REUTERS
I think an ecolodge is not needed as there are several hotels a stone's throw away
Conservationist Mohammed Hersi 

BONE OF CONTENTION

Conservationists and nature lovers faulted authorities for the mess inside national parks, saying most of them do not have management plans.

Those with such plans, they argue, did not involve the public as required by law.

Sarah Valentine, a Canadian, said she has been coming to Nairobi since 1973, and it is “heartbreaking to see what is happening at the park”.

“There is a need to look at the loopholes of what they (KWS) need to do,” she said through a Zoom meeting.

“Healthy ecosystems must be maintained. The profit model should not supersede the mandate of the KWS,” David Gottlieb said.

Reinhard Bonge said the management plan is going against the wildlife strategy that had been launched by Tourism CS Najib Balala.

Bonge said various reports that had been launched by the ministry and used millions of shillings have clear guidelines on how to salvage wildlife corridors and dispersal areas.

The report was launched two years ago and is still gathering dust in government shelves.

“We need to ask CS [Balala] about the moratorium he had promised in all the protected areas,” Bonge said.

During the meeting, most conservationists and nature lovers asked Balala to suspend the draft management plan until normalcy returns.

Some, however, said the whole plan needs to be discarded altogether.

Mohammed Hersi was, however, cautious. He said there is no need to draw out the plan in totality, adding the document can be fine-tuned.

“Personally, I think an ecolodge is not needed as there are several hotels a stone's throw away,” Hersi said, urging hotel owners to fully take part in matters conservation.

Paula Kahumbu, Wildlifedirect CEO, called upon the authorities to ensure correct procedures are followed when formulating such plans.

She said stakeholder consultations need to be clearly defined to wade off the authority’s attempts of using few people to rubber-stamp their work.

The conservationists were in agreement that any move to develop the park without input from Kenyans would render the park useless in a few years.

Friends of Nairobi National Park is among those against any further development of infrastructure in the park, which has a road network of 287km.

FoNNaP says many of the infrastructure proposals will be aesthetically unappealing. It also warns against the provision of the special-use zones in the park.

THREATENED: Lion cubs. Image: KWS
THREATENED: Lion cubs. Image: KWS

MEGA INFRASTRUCTURE

Conservationists and nature lovers cited massive infrastructural development that have taken precedence over conservation.

Interestingly, KWS agrees with conservationists and nature lovers on this. It admits it may have contributed to the challenges facing the 117km2 park. It allowed mega projects inside and on the periphery of the park.

These include the Southern Bypass and Internal Container Depot roads.

“The Southern Bypass passes through the park, and it has cut off a section of the park that borders Wilson Airport. The impacts of this road include noise and air pollution from traffic plying the road,” KWS says.

There are old and new pipelines passing through the park as well as wayleaves.

Overhead power pylons and underground power cables have also been constructed in the park.

“A 6km viaduct to hold the Standard Gauge Railway has been constructed across the park. There is a need to paint it to blend with the environment and minimise visual intrusion,” the service adds.

The SGR ESIA had identified a number of negative impacts of the project on the park environment.

It identified disturbance of park environment during the installation of about T-frame pillars along the 7.2 km long corridor. Each pillar will involve an excavation area of 4X4 m.

Others negative impacts include noise and vibration during the construction and operation stages and risk of introduction of invasive species during construction and operation stages.

The study further identified a negative visual impact on park tourism and solid waste disposal during the construction phase and also by train passengers during the operation stage.

AT RISK: The Nairobi National Park is threatened by among others habitat loss, poaching and human-wildlife conflict.
AT RISK: The Nairobi National Park is threatened by among others habitat loss, poaching and human-wildlife conflict.

KENYA'S FIRST PARK

Gazetted in 1946 as Kenya's first National Park through proclamation No. 48 of December 16, 1946, the park covers 117km2.

It has breathtaking fauna and flora. For instance, it is home to an estimated 400 permanent and migratory bird species as do African buffalo, the baboon, the Eastern black rhinoceros, the Southern white rhino, common zebra and Grant's gazelle.

Other animal species that roam the park are Thomson’s gazelles, Masai giraffes, elands, impalas, ostriches, jackals, warthogs and waterbucks.

The park has more than 45 lions among carnivores, such as leopards, cheetahs and hyenas. Hippopotamuses inhabit the Mbagathi River, while crocodiles reside in the dams.

The park is also listed as an IBA in danger by Birdlife International. It is an important roosting site for Falco Naumanni flocks on the passage (up to 5,000 have been recorded), although numbers have markedly declined in recent years.