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KWS bets on new fence to save Nairobi National Park

A Kenya Wildlife Service officer
A Kenya Wildlife Service officer carries a tranquilising gun, during a search of two lions that left Nairobi National Park and went into highly populated areas, in 2016. PHOTO | AFP 
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Some privately owned land parcels bordering the southern end of the Nairobi National Park (NNP) may be fenced into the game reserve as part of a radical proposal to save the facility increasingly threatened by human encroachment and pollution.

The park is currently only fenced in on three sides—making its open southern section a big concern amid rising human encroachment on wildlife migratory paths and breeding grounds located in the area.

“To the south of the park residential areas are progressively closing the former wildlife corridors and migratory routes such that the park is increasingly becoming an ecological island,” the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), which manages the game reserve says.

KWS now proposes to build a special fence on the southern tip bordering the Mbagathi River to prevent wildlife from accessing high density residential areas as well as establish a buffer zone along the southern park boundary, which mainly comprises of privately owned land.

“Land fragmentation and subsequent settlement of people in the dispersal area will progressively continue until the Park is completely surrounded by residential houses and other incompatible uses. Acknowledging that KWS is the custodian of Kenya’s wildlife, it is its cardinal duty to keep animals inside the area it manages. As such, the southern boundary of the park will be fenced to save the remaining wildlife populations and it will be maintained as a closed system,” it says.

KWS recommends a phased fencing starting with river frontage parcels from Diguna to Silole Sanctuary since they border residential areas.

“River frontage land owners with significant land parcels who practice land uses compatible with conservation can be fenced in with their consent. This option takes into consideration the land use patterns and trends, and public infrastructure development in the southern Buffer zone/wildlife dispersal area,” it proposes.

“In addition, this phase will also include negotiating with Kenya Forestry Services(KFS) to establish a linkage between the park and Ngong Forest,” it adds.

The proposed fencing is an about-turn in the part of the KWS which had in 2016 termed it a lesser viable option in the protection of the game reserve. Some conservation groups have since moved to court seeking to stop the planned erection of the fence saying it would impede the movement of wildlife.

Human encroachment is at its all-time high posing the biggest threat so far to a park whose revenues more than doubled in the six-year period to 2018.

The NNP raised Sh429.672 million in 2018 reflecting a 109 percent jump from Sh205.47 million posted in 2012, underlining the huge potential for the park to boost the tourism industry that has been ravaged by restrictions enforced to curb spread of the coronavirus.

The park’s wildlife population has significantly decline over the last three decades amid pressure from infrastructure development, real estate and pollution in bordering residential areas such as Kitengela and the Athi-Kapiti plains. For instance, warthog, waterbuck, hartebeest and gazelle populations have declined by 70 percent, down to one-third of what they were just 40 years ago.

Zebras in Nairobi National Park.

Zebras in Nairobi National Park. PHOTO | COURTESY

KWS further estimates that 70-80 percent of the park's animals roam outside the protected area boundaries.

The proximity of the park to residential areas and illegal settlements (slums) has also fuelled the decline in the wildlife population because it makes them vulnerable to poaching.

“Incidences of subsistence and commercial poaching have become a common occurrence. The park's infrastructure, such as fences is being vandalised and illegal tapping of electric power from the fence has been recorded,” KWS notes.

For instance, snaring occurs along Mbagathi River, the dispersal area and the Machakos ranches. The affected wildlife species include giraffe, impala, Thomson's gazelle, Grants gazelle, zebra and Coke's hartebeest.

But of bigger concern is the human-wildlife conflict within the NNP ecosystem. Between 2015 and 2019, KWS reported 51 cases of wildlife threats to human life that involved lions, hyenas, rhinos, hippopotamus, buffaloes and lions.

Out of these, four deaths were recorded, two by hyenas and one a-piece by lions and buffaloes. All were within the Ongata Rongai metropolis.

The latest was the mauling of a casual worker by lions in the area between the African Nazarene University and Tuala last December.

For days, the lions roamed freely from Tuala, Ole Kasasi and Ongata Rongai town, highlighting a ticking time-bomb as wild animals defend their territory from human encroachment.

Between 2015 and last year, KWS says that at least 683 livestock (cows, sheep and goats) were killed by the predators.

Lions top the list, accounting for 353 killings followed by leopards at 223 and hyenas at 105. Crocodiles, jackals and pythons have each killed one cow.

Wildebeest, zebra and buffalo as the common competitors for pasture and water leaving a trail of destruction on crops, human deaths besides transmitting diseases like East Coast fever and malignant catarrh fever.

KWS also seeks to stop the discharge of raw sewer into the park, especially from the satellite town of Ongata Rongai.

“All the sewage and waste from the growing and unplanned suburban town of Ongata Rongai eventually drains into Mbagathi River, a major source of water for the wildlife, as there is no urban sewage drainage system for this town,” it says.

According to KWS, effluents from Carnivore Restaurant, the Langata Army Barracks, and southlands estates, pollute Hyena dam, while that from Karen and neighbouring learning institutions pollute the Nagolomon Dam and South Kisembe streams.

“Occasionally effluent from Mlolongo finds its way into Athi basin dam, especially during the wet season,” it adds.

The park also suffers air pollution, mainly from leather tanneries, which led to closure of its Cheetah Gate in 2009 because of air conditions that caused worker-health problems and wildlife aversion of the area.

“Small particles of dust from Bamburi and Portland cement factories also pollute the park environment. These particles settle on vegetation affecting primary productivity and reducing the aesthetic appeal of the park. Dust on forage is also not attractive to wild herbivores” KWS claims.

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