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Transferring Amboseli to Kajiado County a blow to conservation efforts

 Tourists get a closer look at a lion that had made its kill at the Amboseli National Park. [Jayne Rose Gacheri, Standard]

A proposal to transfer Amboseli National Park to the County Government of Kajiado is not just misguided; it is a blatant assault on Kenya's natural heritage and conservation efforts. If allowed to proceed, this move will unleash a cascade of detrimental consequences that will threaten the existence of Amboseli as a globally recognised biodiversity hotspot. 

Handing over Amboseli National Park will set a dangerous precedent. What will prevent Tsavo East, Tsavo West, Meru, Ruma and others from following suit? This will not just lead to the demise of Amboseli; it will sound a death knell for Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) and severely damage our country's reputation as a global wildlife conservator.

Amboseli National Park is a crucial hub for ecosystem services. Its diverse habitats support rich wildlife, contributing to ecological balance and biodiversity. Amboseli also contributes significantly to the economy through tourism and provides employment opportunities for local communities. The park currently faces many threats, including the subdivision of surrounding lands. Handing Amboseli to Kajiado County Government will only exacerbate these threats by turning it into a livestock-rearing area. Consequently, this will increase the cost of handling human-wildlife conflicts, lead to genetic diversity loss, population decline, disease susceptibility, and ecological function preservation, burdening the national and county governments. 

Many legal hurdles plague this transfer. The Fourth Schedule of the Constitution provides for distribution of functions between the two levels of government. The protection of animals and wildlife is solely vested in the national government. This mandate is not transferable to county governments without a constitutional amendment. Nothing to this effect has been pursued. 

Furthermore, national parks are public land held in trust by the national government for Kenyans. Handing Amboseli to the Kajiado County Government implies downgrading the national park to a national reserve in contravention of the Wildlife Conservation and Management Act 2013. Section 2 of the Act defines a national reserve as an area of community land declared a national reserve under the Act or any other applicable written law. In my understanding, national reserves are community land. Converting Amboseli National Park to a National Reserve will imply that the land will revert to community land from public land. The Land Act 2012 prohibits the allocation of land within wildlife reserves. Under existing laws, Amboseli National Park cannot revert to a national reserve. This misinterpretation of statutes undermines the national park's legal safeguards crucial for its survival as a key biodiversity area.

Wildlife management requires specialised expertise. Endowed with ample resources, extensive technical expertise, robust manpower, and comprehensive support systems, KWS is well-suited to safeguard Kenya's biodiversity, ensuring the protection of iconic species and vital ecosystems across Kenya's varied landscapes. Transferring KWS’ mandate to oversee wildlife protection to counties with limited capacities risks mismanagement and endangers wildlife populations. 

While Kajiado County boasts significant potential for wildlife conservation outside protected areas through group ranches and conservancies, the ongoing large-scale subdivision of these group ranches poses a major threat. The short-sighted approach of transferring Amboseli’s management will have irreversible negative consequences for wildlife and the livelihoods of local communities’ dependent on livestock grazing and tourism revenue generated by healthy wildlife. The decision will also not solve livestock pasture demand issues. Amboseli’s available forage and graze resources are inadequate to support wildlife and livestock long-term. 

To salvage Kenya's conservation legacy and protect Amboseli's future, we must reject this ill-conceived proposal. Ineffective benefit-sharing mechanisms are the core issue, not the park's management structure.

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