BY HASSAN BARIWE
NAIROBI, Dec. 21 — Renowned worldwide as the only wildlife sanctuary within a city, the Nairobi National Park is expected to increase its populations following acquisition of more land to accommodate its burgeoning stocks threatened by human encroachment.
Under an easement agreement entered with one of the large-scale land owners that border game, state’s lead conservation agency, the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) will acquire more than 100 hectares of land to ease pressure from the rapidly expanding human settlements around the park. Nairobi National Park, which is about 15 minutes’ drive south of Nairobi City’s central business district, has in the past decade come under increased pressure from population explosion, which frequently triggers in human-wildlife conflicts as competition for available open space intensifies.
The latest of such conflicts are the current tussles over protected land between the government and illegal land owners in Syokimau and Kiang’ombe settlements, which the government says are in aviation and wildlife migration corridors. The park, through wildlife migratory paths is linked to world-famous Amboseli and Tsavo national parks that border Tanzania in the south. However, after a year of negotiations with one of the most influential families in Kenyan politics, KWS has reported success in striking an easement deal that will enable the government agency to acquire more than 100 hectares of land from John Keen, an influential businessman and former minister.
KWS reported relief in a statement issued on Wednesday that expressed optimism in easing the vicious human-wildlife conflict, which at times threatens the tourism industry, one of Kenya’s top five foreign exchange earners. Contacted, KWS communications manager Paul Udoto described the state of the Nairobi national park as choking.
In a statement issued earlier, KWS said, “To counter the alarming decline of Africa’s wildlife and habitat due to development and land fragmentation, Mr John Keen and his family have protected their land through the conveyance of an environmental easement to the African Wildlife Foundation (AWF) and Kenya Wildlife Service.” The land in question can be compared to 110 football fields and is adjacent to the park that is home to a host of attractions that include the elephant, lion, giraffe, leopard and rhino that freely roam in open space south of Nairobi. The park also hosts hundreds of bird and insect species.
The educational opportunities it present and ease of access makes it an ideal destination for research and recreational amenities for local tourism, besides foreign holiday-makers. Unlike wildlife kept in zoos in western countries, the wildlife in Nairobi National Park live in their pristine habitats. However, human encroachment on limited space forces KWS to curl species to minimize threats of environmental destruction. When necessary, KWS translocates some of the herds to game parks with less burgeoning herds of wildlife.
KWS says the execution of the voluntary environmental easement will add over 100 hectares of habitat to the park. The wildlife sanctuary is one of Kenya’s most visited parks and is dependent upon the open lands to the south for wildlife movement, habitat and dispersal. These private lands have become increasingly threatened from land sales, land conversion and habitat fragmentation, exposing the entire park to risk.
“I want this land to remain pristine today and in the future for wildlife and future generations. We have destroyed so much of our land and wildlife; it is time to save this country of ours!” Keen, a former minister in past Kenyan regimes says of the deal entered with KWS. Despite concerted efforts to conserve wildlife ranges, Kenya faces serious threats from illegal poachers and illegal trafficking in ivory and game trophies.
In the past one month only, KWS officers have impounded more than 300 elephant tusks at the Jomo Kenyatta International port and the Mombasa seaport destined markets in Europe, Middle East and Far East. Although the origin of the ivory has not been established, KWS personnel linked the ivory to the banditry in northern Kenya. KWS has in the past said Nairobi’s strategic location as an international transit point and business hub has turned into a major transit corridor for traffickers in ivory originating from neighboring countries.
Internecine conflicts in neighboring countries to the north of Kenya have unleashed a stream of refugees seeking asylum in Kenya. It is against this backdrop that the state has been shopping for more land for wildlife conservation as it seeks to increase its forest cover from the current two per cent to ten per cent. Immigration minister Otieno Kajwang’ admits the state faces a humanitarian crisis that has complicated further security along the borders, with criminal gangs taking advantage of the humanitarian situation to cross into the country to commit crimes, including poaching.
“Our efforts to flush out the criminals who pose threats to security within our borders are limited,” the minister says. President of the African Wildlife Foundation (AWF), Dr. Helen Gichohi, says to sustain wildlife as an economic resource, the country needs to create more room to hold more stocks. “Kenya’s national parks, sanctuaries and reserves safeguard roughly eight per cent of the country’s land for wildlife habitat, but these protected areas are small to support viable populations of wildlife and not connected.
To secure Kenya’s remaining wild places, we need creative solutions like easements,” says Gichohi. It took AWF over a year to strike out a deal on the details of the easement, which the parties says is a voluntary agreement that restricts certain uses of the land in order the keep the land open for wildlife. In the agreement, the Keens will retain full ownership of the land, but are subject to the restrictions agreed upon by the land owner and the holder of the easement.
The deal has the support of the United States Agency for International Development and Kenya’s ministries of wildlife and forestry, and tourism. “Environmental easements have proven highly effective in other parts of the world, and we believe that they have great potential to be equally successful in Kenya. We applaud the Keen family for their decision to place their land under an environmental easement and hope that their conservation leadership will inspire other landowners to do the same,” says Kathleen H Fitzgerald, AWF’s director for land. (Xinhua)