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PROTECTING THE ECOSYSTEM

Upgrading Nairobi National Park plan: Public participation needed

Fundamental questions are being asked about facilties, and on whether to expand park and fence the southern boundary.

In Summary

• The previous management plan expired in 2010, meaning the park operated without a plan for nine years. This was a serious oversight by KWS. 

• Now there are choices between high-end facilities, including a starred restaurant, and simpler options like toilets, nature trails, viewing platform, simple restaurant. And should the southern boundary be fenced. limiting migration? 

A demonstrator outside ParliamentBuildings demonstrating against constraction of the SGR in the Nairobi National Park on March 1, 2018.
SAVE OUR PARK; A demonstrator outside ParliamentBuildings demonstrating against constraction of the SGR in the Nairobi National Park on March 1, 2018.
Image: VICTOR IMBOTO

The Kenya Wildlife Service recently published the first draft of the Nairobi National Park Management Plan 2020-30 and submitted it to other stakeholders and the public soliciting views on what the proposals.

It is interesting to note that the previous management plan expired in 2010, meaning the park operated without a plan for nine years. This was a serious oversight on KWS’ part.

The purpose of any management plan is to provide parameters on how an organisation intends to attain its objectives within a clearly defined timeframe.

The plan, however, needs to include an ecological monitoring framework to provide a mechanism for assessing the overall health of the NNP ecosystem with defined objectives. This will not only guide KWS in monitoring its progress but will also give stakeholders the basis for holding KWS accountable.

Perhaps the greatest objective of the plan is KWS intention to expand NNP and fence in current buffer zones, including Naretunoi Community Conservancy and the Sheep and Goats Ranch.

This is informed by the concern that population growth, land fragmentation and human settlements in wildlife dispersal areas will continue. Land use patterns in the neighbouring Kajiado and Machakos counties have over the years changed from pastoralist to residential and commercial, posing a direct threat to wildlife survival.

KWS is proposing to fence the southern boundary of NNP, including the Mbagathi River frontage. This will create a closed system intended to save the remaining wildlife.

This option has its pros and cons as highlighted in the plan. However, it will come at a price as the communities adjacent to the park are concerned that they will be cut off from shared resources such as Mbagathi River. The local community that is currently benefiting from the land lease programme will lose a source of income because leasehold will cease. KWS, however, intends to negotiate with owners of the Naretunoi Community Conservancy and the Sheep and Goat Ranch to allow NNP’s expansion. So, happens to migrating wildlife that finds no way in or out?

As the plan acknowledges, acquiring additional land will be a daunting task. The negotiation will be protracted and land disputes will arise. What the plan fails to address is how fencing NNP will directly benefit communities that depend on wildlife resources and what alternatives KWS will provide to them.

While it is important to protect wildlife and their habitats as well as compensate people for losses caused by human-wildlife conflict, communities and the public must understand and acknowledge the critical importance of fencing NNP and why KWS believes that is the right course of action. This will require seeking a compromise with surrounding communities that will directly be affected by fencing.

Covid-19 has thrown a spanner in the works by making consultations difficult. Public meetings are banned. Digital platforms, which could be the alternative to face-to-face meetings, are not an option for local communities with limited competence in modern technology.

The fact that communities, especially the Maasai, living alongside wildlife have been known to support conservation initiatives is enough proof they have a stake in how NNP is managed. Their concerns cannot be overlooked. KWS must seek other means of reaching out and establish a clear balance between wildlife conservation and human interest for a mutual benefit before the implementation of the management plan. Citizen science could be tried to encourage public participation.

The success of the NNP plan will depend on a partnership between KWS and other stakeholders, who could, for example, be motivated to provide their support by being allowed to lead the fight against the pollution of wetlands in the park, while monitoring KWS’ implementation of the recommendations of the Environmental Management Plan (EMP) drawn up for the Standard Gauge Railway that runs through the park.

To support public participation efforts in improving the NNP Plan, the East African Wild Life Society has been collecting views from its members and the public via its website www.eawildlife.org.

The society will submit a consolidated report on the issues raised to KWS by June 30. EAWLS has also, in partnership with other stakeholders, organised an interactive online public participation forum on June 12-14. Details of the NNP plan and how to participate are on our website and social media platforms.

Register today and have your say!