Isiolo County is earning more revenue from tourism as security improves in the area. The county has two game reserves that have made it among the leading tourism destinations on the Northern Kenya tourism circuit.
It is home to the famous Shaba National Park, where the British couple George and Joy Adamson reared the lioness Elsa and her cubs. Adjacent to Shaba is Buffalo Springs, famous for its wildlife and birds. The two parks on either side of the Isiolo-Moyale Road are located about 40km from Isiolo town. There is also Bisanadi that borders Kenya Wildlife Service-managed Meru, Kora and Rahole national parks. However, Bisanadi is not as developed as the other national parks.
Isiolo Assembly Speaker Mohammed Tubi says the county is a ‘tourism goldmine’ but laments that its potential is not fully exploited. “Our parks are not congested like others in the country. We have the potential to grow our tourism which has expanded despite being ignored by marketers,’’ said Mr Tubi, a former senior game warden in the defunct Isiolo county council.
In the past, insecurity limited the area’s tourism potential, and adverse travel advisories led to cancelled bookings. The advisories were fuelled by inter-clan clashes near the parks or when herders drove their livestock inside the parks in search of pasture during drought.
This has largely been contained and travelers can now enjoy the beautiful scenery and ample vegetation supported by permanent natural springs. The Shaba and Buffalo Springs are home to abundant wildlife, including the ‘special five’ only found in the area.
The animals unique to the area are the Somali ostrich, beisa oryx, grevy zebra, reticulated giraffe and gerenuk.
Major hotels today run game lodges in the parks, and these include Sarova, Simba and Ashnil. The two reserves also have several camp sites, among them the famous Joy Adamson Camp.
With the pull of the Adamson’s name, Shaba has over the years attracted Hollywood filmmakers and more than ten movies and dozens of documentaries had been shot there.
The films Born Free, Out of Africa, To Walk with Lions and CBS TV blockbuster series Survivor Africa have been shot in locations here with the CBS series attracting millions of viewers around the world. In Kenya, The Standard Group’s Kenya Television Network (KTN) aired the programme.
In recent years, the county government had partnered with local and international donors to develop the dormant Bisanadi that borders the Meru park. Camp sites are already operating while several firms now want to set up game lodges, county officials reveal.
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“Bisanadi borders four parks in neighbouring counties and is rich in wildlife. Visitors can also savour the rich culture of the local pastoralists. It’s vital that we fully develop this virgin park,” said Tourism CEC Suleiman Shunu.
Tourism is the major source of income for the county and that is why its government is keen to contract the management of the two parks to a reputable firm with the expertise to run them. This should shore up revenues which have declined to about Sh70 million annually, said Shunu.
“Tourism revenues have declined so we want a firm that can develop and manage the parks on our behalf,” said the CEC.
“The administration wants external help to fence the game reserves and make them secure, streamline management, improve infrastructure and market them globally for better revenue return,” noted Shunu
The completion of the 526-kilometre Isiolo-Moyale road has also boosted tourism in Isiolo. Buffalo Springs and Shaba now lie 20 metres and 70 metres away from the tarmacked highway. There is also a murram road network and two airstrips.
The construction of an international airport in Isiolo town that is nearly complete will see tourists land directly in the county to visit its attractions. “Tourists who want to visit parks in Isiolo and others in neighbouring counties like Meru, Samburu and Laikipia will not need to fly in through Jomo Kenyatta International Airport. They will land here in Isiolo,” said Tubi.
Isiolo will also host a resort city being constructed under the Government’s Vision 2030 development blueprint, although stakeholders are yet to agree on its exact location.