By Naftali Mungai
NAIROBI, Kenya, March 18, 2003 (ENS) - “People crowd even
closer to animals as a magnificent park turns 50,” said photographer
Virginal Morell, about the Nairobi National Park while visiting
Kenya on assignment in 1996. Today, the park appears even more crowded
as the growth in human population surrounding the park’s southern
The Nairobi National Park, located only about seven kilometers
from the city center, is the only protected area in the world with
such a variety of animals and birds close to a major city. Situated
on the southern side of the park is Kitengela, an area inhabited
by a community that once practiced pastoralism but has now adapted
a sedentary kind of lifestyle, the Maasai.
Elizabeth Leitoro, the community wildlife officer at Nairobi National
Park, says problems leading to human-wildlife conflicts in the area
have resulted due to the changes in land policies. “Gone are
the days of communal land ownership," she said. "Land
in Kitengela, is now privately owned.
“The problems being experienced did not exist when the Maasai
were pastoralists. Then, they harmoniously coexisted with the wildlife.
But now Kitengela, from which the park derives its unique stature,
has seen the land tenure system changing over the years, attracting
new landowners from other communities who have settled in the area,”
The park is on its way to becoming an amalgam of the city center
which has rapidly expanded in the last few years, Leitoro warns.
“Fencing and cultivating,in the immediate vicinity of the
park, amongst other things, have greatly reduced land available
Individuals are fencing their area to keep off wild animals, and
Leitoro observes, “This has created physical barriers to migratory
species. As a result, zebras and wildebeest that had previously
migrated without any hindrance find it difficult to move back into
the park due to the changes imposed by human settlements.”
Human-wildlife conflicts arise, Leitoro says, “when the migratory
species file in to move back into the park from their dispersal
area, Kitengela, wildebeests destroy these fences and crops in a
bid to secure their historical route used to move back into the
Communities frequently lose livestock killed by predators in search
of food, crops are destroyed and there is competition between their
Maasai cattle and wild animals. As wildebeest give birth, malignant
cattha – a diabolical type of fever – spreads to the
livestock and causes death.
Leitoro says, “In general security for the community is not
Since 1992, the Nairobi National Park has attempted to facilitate
an eco-friendly coexistence between the communities around the park
and helping the people to benefit from the animals’ presence.
Under the Conservation of Biodiversity Resource Areas (COBRA) initiative,
funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development, the Kenya
Wildlife Service has constructed classrooms, waterdams, cattle dips,
boreholes and homes for teachers in the Kitengela Dispersal Area.
Communities were encouraged to conserve by the service, which provided
on-site and practical educational tours to Maasai Mara and Laikipia
people. “Communities around five national parks in the country
benefited from this initiative, with Nairobi National Park being
one of the beneficiaries,” says Leitoro.
“After the COBRA Initiative, communities said that they wanted
to gain individually,” she says.
With limited resources available, the Kenya Wildlife Service took
up the control of problem animals, a program that minimized human-wildlife
In 1999, Friends of Nairobi National Park was formed, and in the
following year kicked off the Wildlife Consolation and Lease Programme
(WCLP). Under this program, landowners are paid to forego any development
on their land, thus safeguarding the migratory corridor.
“At first only two individuals agreed to this program. Now
77 landowners have agreed, and the park has acquired 6,700 acres
of land under the lease program for conservation,” says Leitoro
In the year 2000, COBRA was replaced by CORE (Conservation of Resources
Through Enterprise). CORE’s main aim is business oriented,
focusing on the promotion of wildlife related activities in conservation
The CORE program has encouraged people to start businesses such
as making and selling curios, establishing camp sites, and investing
A landowner who lives in Kitengela and spoke on condition of anonymity,
explains how he has benefited through CORE. “I have built
a restaurant and bar on my land next to the Mbagathi River, which
happens to border Nairobi National Park, and one of the migration
routes through the Kitengela. Tourists come here to stay and watch
the zebras and giraffes.”
“Instead of looking back and talking only about the benefits
that have been denied, one should look forward and see the available
opportunities,” he counsels.
For some, the only solution left is fencing the southern boundary
with Kitengela to prevent further human-wildlife conflicts. But
for this man, fencing the last corridor, “will affect both
the animals and the landowner.”
While some people support fencing the southern boundary, a majority
are still of the opinion that this should not happen. To this end,
dialogue and debate forums are being organized and encouraged to
assess all the pros and cons of both views and accommodate the divergent
opinions of each stakeholder to arrive at an agreeable and amicable