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Vision behind branding Kenya's parks

By Peter Muiruri | October 17th 2021

Tourism and wildlife CS Najib Balala, Kajiado Governor Ole Lenku (blue checked shirt) witness the collaring of elephants before the start of the Tembo Naming Festival held on Oct 10 at Amboseli National Park.

Last week, Tourism and Wildlife Cabinet Secretary Najib Balala officiated over the elephant-naming ceremony at the Amboseli National Park. The exercise is meant to draw attention to the country’s conservation success. Balala was also quoted to have said that for Sh2 million, you can have personal branding rights to a hyena.

While animals in the country revel in the branding, not many people know that Kenya’s wildlife protected areas, especially the national and marine parks have also been branded. These parks are treated like any other business product that needs proper packaging to appeal to customers. Here are some key parks and the vision behind the branding.

Nairobi National Park: Nairobi National Park was gazetted on December 16, 1946, by the then Governor, Sir Phillip Mitchell. Even before the arrival of Europeans, wild animals roamed unhindered over much of the area where the city currently stands. However, the arrival of the “Lunatic Express” opened the way for more human settlements and thus restricted animal movement. Interestingly, the White administrators were not keen on hiving off a portion of the fledgling city for wildlife conservation. It took some budding conservationists such as Mervyn Cowie (who once wrote a scathing article asking the government to kill off all wildlife in East Africa and convert those areas to farmlands) to force the government into action. 

Lake Nakuru National Park: The park gained global recognition due to the pink flamingoes that prompted American author Roger Peterson to term it as “the world’s greatest ornithological spectacle.” Unfortunately, loss of salinity due to rising lake waters has made the birds flee in search of the blue-green algae, their main diet. Situated about 140 kilometres from Nairobi, the park, gazetted in 1968 was the first one to have birds as its primary attraction. 

Amboseli National Park: The park is situated on the plains overlooking one of the world’s most recognisable landmarks, Mount Kilimanjaro though it is common knowledge that the mountain from which the park is so famous is actually in Tanzania. The jury is still out there as to whether Queen Victoria gave the mountain to the German Kaiser as a birthday present. Amboseli is known for its tranquil beauty and easy access to elephants. The jumbos have been immortalised by Cynthia Moss through her book Elephant Memories, a study of individual elephants and family groups. 

Tsavo West National Park:In 1898 the “Lunatic Express” approached mile 121 at the Tsavo River where a pair of lions that earned the tag “man-eaters of Tsavo” began mauling the Indian workers as the rest threatened to abandon the railway project. Apart from the usual wildlife species, other attractions here include Mzima Springs that gushes over 50 million gallons of water daily and is the primary source of drinking water for Mombasa City. 

Meru National Park: Though it may not be on your regular travel circuit, Meru, and its sister park, Kora, gained world recognition through Joy Adamson’s Born Free, a story of Elsa the lioness that was rehabilitated to the world. Meru is home to large herds of buffalo and elephants. It also supports the Grevy’s zebra that is only found in the parks north of the equator.

Aberdares National Park: I recently hiked the Aberdares and had no doubt as to the reasons behind the branding. It is beautiful. Besides the obvious attractions, Aberdares is the only park in Kenya with a royal history. It was while holidaying in the park in February 1952 that Princess Elizabeth Alexandra Mary learnt that her father, King George VI had died. She was crowned Queen Elizabeth II upon her return to England shortly thereafter. The park was also used by agents of Field Marshal Dedan Kimathi as a “post office” for dropping messages meant for other freedom fighters.

Marsabit National Park and Reserve:Did you know that 63-year-old Ahmed was the only elephant to have received 24-hour security surveillance through a presidential decree in the 1970s? The then President, Jomo Kenyatta gave the orders to show Kenya’s commitment to wildlife conservation at a time when poaching was at an all-time high. Ahmed was a resident of Marsabit National Park, gazetted in 1962.

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