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SOS Rhino : In the News : Nairobi National Park Threatened by Human-Wildlife Conflict
 

Nairobi National Park Threatened by Human-Wildlife Conflict

 


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 frontier increases.

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,” says Leitoro.

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 for wildlife.”

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 park.”

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 guaranteed.”

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 conflicts.

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 happily.

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 areas.

The CORE program has encouraged people to start businesses such as making and selling curios, establishing camp sites, and investing in sanctuaries.

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 conclusion.

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