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Upping the game at the Nairobi National Park

The number of visitors at the Nairobi National Park  has been dropping since 2006. To stop this trend, the management of the park is seeking to inject new life into the park to draw more visitors, especially domestic tourists. Photo/FILE
The number of visitors at the Nairobi National Park has been dropping since 2006. To stop this trend, the management of the park is seeking to inject new life into the park to draw more visitors, especially domestic tourists. Photo/FILE 

Nairobi National Park is many things to many people.

For some, it is an ideal recreation site.

For others, it is a vital source of pasture for their livestock.

For others yet, it is a vast expanse of land that can be developed for economic gain.

But for Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), it is a major source of revenue with massive potential.

KWS is now looking to increase its revenues from this strategically located resource, situated a few minutes from the city centre.

In order to do so, it is rolling out a strategy to attract more visitors through species enrichment, establishing luxury camps building additional picnic sites.

Mr Michael Wanjau, the senior warden at the park, says that they are working towards increasing the number of visitors to the park in order to increase their revenues.

They are also eager to raise the level of visitor satisfaction.

“We are looking at growing our numbers and in order to do this, we are rolling out new attractions that will see the park provide recreational activities as well as the traditional game viewing,” he said.

General slump

He says, the goal is to increase revenues to Sh300 million a year.

Last year the park earned about Sh100 million, and this year, it hopes to earn Sh150 million.

The number of visitors to the park dropped by 1.2 per cent last year compared to the previous year due to a general slump in the tourism sector.

However, this drop in visitors was not as high as that experienced by other parks such as the Lake Nakuru National Park, Masai Mara and Tsavo East, traditionally some of the best performing resources in the country, which recorded revenue drops of over 50 per cent.

The Mara, a key tourist attraction in the country, recording the highest drop in earnings at 80 per cent.

However, long before last year’s slump, the park in the city had already began to experience a decline in numbers back in 2006.

It is this decline that led it to develop and roll out a new strategic plan aimed at developing new initiatives to attract more visitors, and in particular, to draw domestic tourists.

In August the KWS director, Julius Kipng’etich, commissioned a new public campsite called Twiga Public Site.

Another picnic site, Buni, is under contraction and plans for new nature trails are under development.

KWS currently boasts sites that can be used for a day’s excursion, corporate events or even weddings such the Ivory Burning Site, Kingfisher Picnic Site and Impala Observation point.

The organisation had called for tenders for a luxury tented camp in the park’s forest, and according to Wanjau, the response was positive, with interest expressed by both local and international investors.

The process now awaits the completion of an environmental impact assessment.

The plan is to locate the luxury tented camp in an open area near a salt lick for rhinos.

The forest already boasts a wide range of wildlife including the rarely seen bush hog.

It is also a bird watchers paradise, boasting hundreds of bird species.

As the oldest park in the country, it the Nairobi National Park was gazetted in 1946 and boast as wide range of wildlife.

The park’s management is working on enriching the game viewing experience by introducing new species.

Recently it introduced ten white rhinos from Lake Nakuru National Park. In exchange Lake Nakuru received ten black rhino from the city park.

It is also looking at introducing additional species of animal such as the sable antelopes that are popular in Shimba Hills and the Gerenuk, popularly known as Swara-Twiga.

All these plans notwithstanding, the existence of the park is endangered by encroachment, pollution and fast-paced development in the land surrounding it all which is eating into the dispersal area and migratory routes.

At present, only a narrow corridor remains through which animals can migrate southward towards Amboseli, and there is fear that soon the animals will be completely restricted, with no room to move.

Massive development and fencing of property on both the Kitengela side and Rongai have seen the corridor narrow in the past few months.

“There have been moves to curb these developments but it is an uphill task that will require the enactment of a law to protect the remaining migratory corridor,” Mr Wanjau says.

Management also has to contend with the livestock that has become a part of the landscape of the Park as the local communities move their animals in search of pasture.

Community programmes

Some of the livestock does not make it out of the park alive, as is evidenced by the string of carcasses that dots the park.

Increased development along Mombasa Road and in Athi River has increased the level of pollution in the area emanating from factories.

This has led to the closure of the gate in Athi River.

There has also been a increase of slum dwellings along Mombasa Road, leading to encroachment as people move into the park in search of firewood and sometimes, in search of game meat.

On Lang’ata Road, vandalism of the fence has been the biggest problem.

In a bid to address these issues KWS has initiated various programmes which entail working with the local communities to craft solutions.

The Consolation Programme is one such initiative where KWS compensates the local communities when they loose their livestock to wild animals, especially lions.

During the wet season most grazers move out of the park to dispersal areas, with lions and other carnivores in hot pursuit.

This leads to an increase in the number of livestock attacked by these carnivores.

In the past this led to the culling of the lion population in the park.

However, since the introduction of the Consolation Programme, the number of lions in the park have risen from a low of 18 to over 30.