Tourism Cabinet Secretary Najib Balala with Dr John Waithaka during a happier time in 2018. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP
'Extreme interference by the ministry of wildlife and tourism'
By LEOPOLD OBI
Nairobi National Park, the East Africa’s oldest park, has for the past several weeks been on the news for all the wrong reasons.
The storm began in mid-April when it emerged that Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), the custodians of the country’s national parks and game reserves, planned to fence off the park and build luxury lodges through a new management plan dubbed the Nairobi National Park 2020-2030 management plan.
The plan was later shelved to the end of June to allow time for public participation after strong opposition from environmental activists and members of the public.
The groups not only questioned KWS for giving only 14 days for public participation in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic, but also felt that the park should be left as natural as it can.
Yet now, trouble seems to be soaring for the conservation agency after its board chair Dr John Waithaka is alleged to have resigned from a post he has held for less than 18 months.
Dr Waithaka, a career conservation biologist, was appointed to chair the country’s wildlife conservation agency board in May 2018 for a period of three years.
A source close to Dr Waithaka told Nation that the biologist voluntarily resigned due to ‘extreme interference by the ministry of wildlife and tourism’.
The source also cited failure of KWS management to implement the decision of the board for Dr Waithaka’s surprise exit.
Tourism and Wildlife Cabinet Secretary Najib Balala said he is not aware not aware of any such claims of interference in KWS by his ministry.
“We provide policy direction and KWS does the implementation. We have supported decisions made by the Board and in fact helped in the implementation of some decisions by sourcing additional funds for KWS,” Mr Balala told Nation.
The fallout between the KWS chair and the agency is said to have begun sometime last year when KWS embarked on developing a 10-year management plan for the Nairobi National Park which many conservationists believed to be undermining conservation efforts.
The institution cites numerous cases of human-wildlife conflicts and soaring bills for human-wildlife compensations for its claim to fence the park. It also says that the hotels will boost the parks revenue collection.
Since the enactment of the Wildlife Act of 2013, the government has paid out claims amounting to Sh1.2 billion for human-wildlife conflicts compensation alone, according to the ministry of wildlife and tourism.
Currently the park is ringed by electric fencing in parts but is not entirely sealed off, enabling traditional migration by game in search of food and water.
In July 2017, the Ministry of Wildlife and Tourism set aside a taskforce to conduct a baseline survey on the status of Kenya’s wildlife corridors and dispersal areas.
The task-force, whose membership was derived from Kenya’s top conservation experts, developed a national report on Wildlife Corridors and Dispersal Areas to help ‘restore connectivity and resilience to the natural environment’.
The report notes that while much of Kenya’s wildlife depends on the protection of parks and reserves,’ healthy wildlife populations also needed access to resources in the broader landscape outside protected areas.
Essentially, the report opposed sealing off of parks, conservationists say.
Reinhard Bonke, a wildlife and environmental campaigner at Friends of Nairobi National Park says that complete fencing of the park will undermine the adjacent communities’ efforts to keeping the park’s lifeline dispersal area open for wildlife movement and grazing activities.
The fencing Mr Bonke says will cut off the dispersal areas which presently host the endangered Maasai giraffes besides serving as wildebeests breeding area.
Maureen Some, CEO WildNow,a conservation organisation based in Nairobi, notes that migration of wildlife is very important and it is actually what defines a park from a zoo.
Ms Some says that electric fencing tortures animals and is actually responsible for dozens of cases of handicap wild animals who lose their limbs to electrocution.
“We need migratory corridors. Tourists actually visit parks to experience nature and wildlife, not to see the housing.” explained Ms Some, adding that KWS should instead focus more on improving wildlife conservation to attract more tourists.
Having luxurious hotels in a conservation area according to her destroys the conservation area and kills its biodiversity.
“Constructions ruin nature and biodiversity hence giving birth to invasive weeds such as the pathelium which further destroys vegetation and grazing field,” noted Ms Some.
The conservationist notes that there must be a better way to improve the park without interfering with its biodiversity.
The conservationist recommends a change in land use policy advising that community lease the land, and make it sustainable.