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National park in danger of becoming a zoo

REAL ESTATE
By | September 24th 2009

Ferdinand Mwongela

The Friends of Nairobi National Park (Fonnap) are decrying the increasing human activities within the boundaries of the National Park. What worries the conservationists most is the speedy development of Nairobi and its environs and its adverse effects on the park, billed as the wildlife capital of the world due to its proximity to a major city.

Increasing human encroachment and settlement to wildlife areas is the cause of many conflicts between man and animal. If current developments and trends continue unchecked, Fonnap warns the park could very soon turn into a zoo.

Fonnap director Inge Burchard says the proposed metropolitan plan could kill the park. The development blueprint suggests several economic and educational hubs will be constructed in various areas, which is what is worrying the conservationists who claim the park will be boxed in.

Elsewhere, a planned extension of Wilson Airport will also eat into the park. A highway that would have gone along the fence of the park has been rerouted to go through it to give room for the extension of a runway. This is occasioned by upcoming developments right along the park’s fence in an area supposed to be a road reserve.

The southernmost reaches of the park in Kisaju and Kitengela have not been spared either following the development of the controversial Kaputiei town by Jamii Bora Trust, which conservationists argue will block the migratory paths of the animals.

In a previous interview, the housing scheme’s chairman, Joseph ole Kepiro, said the scheme does not lie on the animal migration corridor and that the land had been legally acquired, a position supported by Jamii Bora’s founder and director, Ingrid Munro. According to Munro, all processes were followed in the acquisition of the land including securing approval for change of user.

Animal migration corridor

Burchard, however, argues it would be inappropriate to refer to the animals’ migration routes as a corridor saying the developments, which include Kaputiei and Orly airport, lie in the animal dispersal areas south of the park.

Officials from the Ministry of Nairobi Metropolitan Development did not want to be drawn into the Orly airport controversy. However, the ministry’s Secretary, engineer John Ndirangu, clarified that all individual plans and maps by different bodies targeting the metropolitan area will have to marry with the blueprint that was unveiled last year by the President.

"Different institutions have their own master plans but they must integrate with the overall plan, which will inform all development in the metropolis," Ndirangu says.

A master plan is being developed and is expected to be ready by the end of November. The Nairobi Metropolitan Area Bill is yet to be passed by Parliament.

"No one really knows what the plan is going to be," explains Ndirangu. "A lot of factors will be looked at, including whether we have enough land. The existing blueprint will guide what happens where. Everything will be done to ensure parks are protected and conserved as they are part of our heritage and a huge plus for the metropolis."

The planned metropolis will encompass several parks including Nairobi National Park, Amboseli and Ol Donyo Sabuk.

The development explosion around Nairobi National Park is competing with the limited water supply the park gets.

Sewerage has in the past found its way into the park thus wrecking havoc to its ecosystem. A good example is the continued ‘grabbing’ of Hyena Dam by weeds as a result of raw sewage flowing into the park allegedly through its fence with the Kenya Army’s Langata Barracks.

Contamination

The incidence was first noted in December 2005 but despite spirited efforts by Fonnap to draw the attention of concerned authorities to the issue, nothing much has been done.

In a letter written to Fonnap earlier in February, the base command absolved itself of blame.

"The sewerage flow across our camp originates from Customs estate across Langata Road," it states in part. "This could be occasioned by blockage which, if unblocked, would solve the problem."

Military Spokesman Bogita Ongeri agrees, adding that the removal of the blockage should be overseen by the Nairobi City Council and Nairobi Water and Sewerage Company.

"Are we as a military going to deal with effluence in the national park or matters of national security?" he posed. "If Fonnap is genuine, then they should direct their complaints to the correct authorities. However, if both the City Council and the sewerage company are unable to do the work then, if requested properly, we in the military will be happy to come in and clear the dam. We, too, care about our ecosystem."

Other petitions to both the National Environmental Management Authority (Nema) and Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) have gone unheeded. Given the terrain of the land, Fonnap claims contamination of the Hyena Dam could affect several other small dams that lie below it and are crucial to the survival of the park.

Raw sewage

The Ngong Hills is the park’s water catchment area. Continued settlement around the park especially in Nairobi, Ongata Rongai, Ngong, Athi River, Kitengela and Isinya form the biggest threat to wildlife as it is exhausting the available water supply.

More than ever, man, livestock and wildlife are competing daily for space, food and water. The balance between all parties concerned is yet to be achieved.

Additional reporting by Tony Mochama.

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