Nairobi National Park

Lions killed as human-wildlife conflict increase in Kenya

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Recently there have been number of news reports of lions straying from Nairobi National park into city estates. One such incident led to a serious mauling of a man. While lions straying off the park is not unheard of, it is obvious these incidents are on the rise. This is attributed to increased human activity around the park, particularly building of the Southern Bypass road. Matters will only get worse when the Standard Gauge Railway will pass through much of western parts of the park. After this there will be only more pressure to degazette the park, seen as a prime land by many developers.

So far strayed lions have been returned to the park, but the latest incident saw a lion being killed by Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) rangers, sparking international headlines. The day after this, another incident saw Masai morans (a term for a Masai warrior) kill a lion by spears after the lion had killed a cow.  The park has just over 30 lions, so killing of these will have a significant negative effect on the population.

Lions at Nairobi National Park

Elsewhere in Kenya, there were widespread news of lions being killed near Masai Mara last year.

Increasing human habitation near parks and encroachment will inevitably lead to more human-wildlife conflicts around Nairobi NP and other parks in Kenya. Elephants trample fields destroying crops, while lions and other predators kill livestocks, and in the worst case, humans. For rural poor people, wildlife is a nuisance, not an asset (unless they engage in poaching). They are not the ones who benefit from tourism. While foreign tourists bring plenty of money to the country, most of it goes to few hands.

Pastoral Masai have lived among wildlife since long times. They are used to kill wildlife to protect themselves, but in a sustainable way. But not anymore as their population and amount of livestock have grown rapidly. Unfortunately Masai do not kill wildlife only to protect their safety and livelihood, but also use it as political tool.

Local people have the right to protect themselves and their property. National parks are there so wildlife can thrive free of significant human disturbance. But being isolated in relatively small parks has significant negative effects on population ecology. There will always be wildlife outside the parks where they pose a threat to local people. Consequently, managing human-wildlife conflict properly is really important, despite being a difficult issue to deal with.

Nairobi National Park under threat

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Kenya is known for its wildlife parks, and one of them, Nairobi National Park, sits right next to Nairobi, the capital of Kenya. Nairobi NP is sometimes said to be the only national park within boundaries of a major city. While that claim is not true, Nairobi NP is still very unique, being a large wildlife habitat attached to a metropolis. One may ask how it has been preserved despite the rapidly growing urban region. The answer is that it won’t be there much longer. The decision to build a railway line through it marks the beginning of the end of Nairobi National Park.

The “postcard” picture of Nairobi National park. Photo source: Wikipedia

While Nairobi National park  is good for wildlife viewing, most tourists prefer visiting famous parks further away, like Masai Mara and Amboseli. However, these cannot be visited on a day trip unless using air charter. Therefore those short on time, like conference guests, may find visiting Nairobi National Park being an ideal option.

Nairobi residents might also like making quick visits to the park, but this is often impractical due to traffic, as getting there may take more time than what’s spent at the park. Then expensive entry fees (especially for foreigners) and other costs (eg. vehicle) may deter people from visiting there. Despite much lower park fees, most locals cannot afford visiting the park as they represent lower social classes.

Nairobi National Park remains somewhat underrated, and some politicians and businessmen see the park as a prime land awaiting to be built. There has been lots of pressure  to give up at least parts of the park for to the sake of “development”.

The Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) is currently being built from Mombasa to Nairobi, from where it is eventually set to reach Kampala in Uganda. The replacing of old railway network is long overdue. Few would argue about the need of the new railway line. But how and where the track is built, is a different matter.

Instead of following the old railway, the Standard Gauge Railway will bypass Central Nairobi. That won’t be vital since transporting cargo will be the main (and only?) purpose of the new railway line. However this route means the new railway will be of little use in terms of passenger traffic, neither would it be useful as a part of much need commuter rail network.

Earlier this year a small chunk at the edge of the park was degazetted to pave way for railway line. This was mainly due to controversial decision to save Alan Donovan’s African Heritage House from being demolished. But the latest development is still way worse. The next phase of the railway from Nairobi to Naivasha, will cut large chunk of western portion of the park.

Planned Standard Gauge Railway route, cutting deep into Nairobi National Park. Source: Nairobi Star

There has been a wide railway reserve along the track to accommodate its expansion. But previous regimes saw no interest in developing railway (hence the derelict state of the exiting track), letting politically well connected land grabbers to take over railway reserves. Elsewhere the railway reserve has been filled by informal settlements. Thus a route following the existing railway would lead to significant demolition of existing infrastructure. Moreover, SGR cannot follow as tight curvature as the the existing line, thus using the old route would lead to even more infrastructure destruction. Another reason for the alternative route may be to avoid going through Kibera slums, where the existing railway has been subject to frequent vandalism.

Removing the old track would provide more space to lay the new track, but rather oddly, the existing narrow gauge railway will continue to be operated concurrently with SGR, despite little chance of being competitive.

While it looks inevitable that these plans go ahead, it not yet too late to prevent them. There must be better alternatives available. What Nairobi residents should do now is to show their opposition against these plans to save the park. Otherwise new infrastructure will continue encroaching the park, and soon Nairobi National Park will be no more.