Like Nairobi City County which prides itself as the only city with a national park, Meru Municipality, the county headquarters, also has a wildlife sanctuary within its borders.
The Imenti forest, a 10-minute drive from the municipality’s central business district, is a breeding site for elephants and a conducive environment for a variety of natural flora including indigenous trees, ferns, orchids, mosses and lichens.
The Imenti forest also teems with other small game including antelopes and has other nature attractions, including the revered Nkunga Scared Lake and a breathtaking waterfall on Kathita River.
Elephants roam the forest freely but there is a fence that protects residents against invasions.
Residents are appealing to the county government to consider building recreation and tourist facilities in the Lower Imenti and Upper Imenti forests to take advantage of the wildlife attractions in the area.
James Murithi, a hotelier, says that one way of fighting the human-wildlife conflict in the area would be to turn the opportunity presented by the presence of elephants in the forest into benefits for the community.
Not long ago motorists driving into town from the Nanyuki side sometimes encountered the jumbos roaming the forest and crossing the roads, but that threat has since been eliminated by the erection of the fence.
“We have seen residents of Nairobi City spend weekends at Nairobi National Park and generate a lot of money for the government. The same can happen in Meru Municipality which has thousands of residents who lack enough recreational areas,” says Murithi.
“Now that the elephants and other game are safely inside the Imenti forest the government can construct access routes to enable local tourists to drive through and see the animals and other scenic features,” he said.
Some investors have expressed interest in taking advantage of wildlife sanctuary to benefit the community through tourism opportunities.
Granton Mbijjiwe who runs a hotel in Nairobi said he would love to take advantage of the tourism potential in Meru Municipality.
“I have in the past expressed interest in setting up a recreation facility in Imenti Forest near Nkunga sacred lake. The forest not only has the elephants but also an elephant maternity where the jumbos raise their calves and is very good for nature walks,” Mbijjiwe said.
Charity Karimi, a business owner said Meru was blessed with a tourist attraction near the town but the government must take the initiative and set up tourism facilities.
“We want the elephants in the Meru Municipality protected but we also want opportunities to generate income through tourism activities,” Ms Kairimi said.
The forest also hosts a famous giant Oak tree known as ‘King Muuru’, or ‘King of Meru oaks’, which is estimated to be more than three centuries old. The tree is 2.7 metres in diameter and not less than six adults can hold hands around its trunk.
Other tourist attractions in Meru are Meru National Park, Njuri Ncheke shrines, Lewa Conservancy, and Ngarendare Nature trail.