Unless you live in a cave or barely interested in what happens in Kenya, then just the name Nairobi National Park may have bypassed you. A lot has happened in 2016 within and around the park having been mentioned in the news too many times just this year. The good, the bad and the ugly have all happened and a spotlight has brightly shown on the park from the chaos that is the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) to lions escaping and as she celebrated her 70th birthday this year since its gazettement in 1946 as Kenya’s first National Park.
The Standard Gauge Railway
At the expense of wildlife heritage
In August 2016, the Ministry of transport publicized that the Kenya Railways Corporation (KRC) would build phase 2A of the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) that is set to pass through Nairobi National Park.
Later on September 16th 2016 they (Government of Kenya) defended their decision claiming it was unavoidable due to economic and logistical concerns. This was shocking since in April 2016 the Ministry had dropped the plans for the SGR to pass through the park.
How this project is being controlled in a casual manner raises questions among Conservationists, civil society groups and the general public alike.
Why is this project raising alarms?
When The National Environment Tribunal, through a court ruling, put a stop to any activities relating to Phase 2A of the SGR, KRC cancelled many of its public consultations scheduled but went ahead with a few public hearings which were not even publicly addressed despite the ruling.
KRA’s Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) document is biased and does not consider potential ecological impacts of the proposed railway.
Community members on whose land the railway is set to pass are not being fully consulted on the said project. This is a major concern since communities on areas where the phase 1 of the SGR project is passing through Tsavo National Park have not yet been compensated on their land which was used to build the SGR.
Communites have also being cut off from social amenities such as schools, hospitals, grazing lands and even themselves.
Culverts and wildlife crossing points were constructed at non-corridor areas in Tsavo National Park which could eventually lead to wildlife starving since their traditional crossing points have been compromised and this new ones will expose them to poachers and increase the cases of human wildlife conflicts. The same fate could be experienced in Nairobi National Park.
World Bank itself views this project as economically unsustainable for the country.
The government should suspend any decisions concerning the Phase 2A of the SGR until the most suitable route is first considered.
Largest Ivory burn
On 30th April, 2016, eleven giant pyres of tusks (more than 8000 elephants), rhino horn (from 300 rhinos), illegal hides of wild animals and illegally logged timber were set ablaze in Kenya’s Nairobi National Park. This was a ‘funeral’ for all the wild life illegally poached due to an unending surge of ignorance, greed and corruption. More on this event particulars here.
Lion Safari and Slaying
It’s not unheard of for wild animals to roam urban residential premises around areas that surround Nairobi National Park. More often than not, such cases are always reported to Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS).
In mid-February 2016, Lions spent a day roaming through Kibra before returning back to the pack and just days later, more lions were spotted in town.
In late March 2016, Mohawk (a male lion) was spotted roaming near a community outside Nairobi National Park in Kenya’s Kajaido county. Earlier that month a lion was also seen on Nairobi’s busy Mombasa road highway.
Lions always stray away from the park, and some do not get as much public attention.
So why did this four occurrences of fleeing lions this year gain immense publicity?
Social media has revolutionized how information is passed in our world and within minutes a message could be passed to hundreds of people within seconds.
On the instances lions roamed outside the park, Nairobians exhibited solidarity in alerting the authorities (KWS) on the location of the lions. This proved that Kenyans are aware of having a park within a city and would otherwise like to have both wildlife and people safe within the set boundaries.
Mohawk was a dark-maned old lion who possibly fled the boundaries of Nairobi National Park after been chased by other younger male lions who would take over his pride which is the norm in lions’ social behavior. Unfortunately for him, he came across an unsympathetic homestead oblivious of the dangers that would follow.
The lion was gunned down by the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS). In a press statement, Paul Udoto, Communications Manager at KWS said “The mob had formed and in the process somebody got injured, and by the time the Veterinary and security teams got to the ground it was already beyond salvation.” Conservationists however cite the whole situation could have been avoided as the lion was shot in unclear circumstances.
Lions lived beyond the boundaries of Nairobi National park and it’s an instinct behavior that leads them to roam outside park boundaries into human settlements. No animal is aware of man made set boundaries.
In the late 19th century when the colonialist arrived in the area where the park is currently located, the Athi plains east and south (Nairobi now), had abundant wildlife. The onset of population growth of up to 14,000 residents by 1910 would result to a foreseeable human wildlife conflicts. This conflicts led to wildlife being driven away to the west and southern parts of Nairobi and the colonial government set aside this area as a game reserve.
Mervyn Hugh Cowie, a conservationist born in Kenya, initiated wildlife protection and the development of tourism throughout East Africa.
Mervyn was concerned about human pressure on wilderness areas. He believed there should be special areas where wild life could exist without human interference. The concept of tourism was brought about on realizing the need to generate revenue to establish infrastructure and parks needed to protect wildlife.
Nairobi National Park was Mervyn’s first conservation area to establish in 1946 as the Executive Director of The National Parks Board formed by the then colonial government.
On the 16th of December 2016, the park celebrated its 70th birthday since its inception. Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) in commemoration of this milestone offered free entry and entertainment to the park for children under 18 years of age and adults above 60 years dubbed Nairobi Park at 70 and Beyond.
Citizens on 17th December 2016 marched from Nairobi’s Nyayo Stadium to Bomas of Kenya to commemorate her birthday and also demand that the SGR be rerouted away from the park and its environs.
On December 2nd 2016 concerned citizens held a peaceful demonstration from Capital Center along Mombasa road to National Environmental Management Authority (NEMA) headquarters calling for public hearings on the ESIA report of the SGR..
Vigils and peaceful protests and marches across the country (Mombasa and Kisumu), have been held as concerned citizens are calling for the SGR to be Re-routed. This is only the beginning. More here.
The future of Nairobi National Park may seem grim but I believe all is not lost and 2017 may as well see a turn of events on a positive note.