A construction boom risks destroying a game park on the Kenyan capital’s edge, where lions hunt in the shadows of skyscrapers, a wildlife official said.
Nairobi has a population of about three million people but that is expected to surge to eight million within two decades, fuelling demand for housing and commercial property.
Analysts say sky-high land prices in the capital are forcing Kenya’s middle class to seek affordable plots on the outskirts.
Julius Kipng’etich, managing director of the state-run Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), says human settlement expansion and growth in industries pose a threat to Kenya’s oldest national park next to the city.
Tourism is Kenya’s number two foreign exchange earner after tea, while construction was the fastest growing sector in east Africa’s biggest economy in 2010.
The economy is projected to grow by 5.7 percent this year from 5.2 percent in 2010.
“The upswing of the economy brings its own challenges, such as human settlements encroaching on protected areas. So the encroachment of the park comes from high class settlements and the slums that follow them,” Kipng’etich told Reuters in an interview at the KWS offices.
Hundreds of acres around the park are mainly owned by nomadic Maasai, who subdivide and sell land to outsiders eager to build, he said, as a family of warthogs roamed outside the KWS headquarters and the occasional spine-chilling roar from the park’s lions could be heard.
Established in 1946, the Nairobi National Park provides a chance for visitors to experience a safari game drive and view Kenya’s famed wildlife between meetings, Kipng’etich said.
Most of the animals roam on the much bigger plains and come to the park through an open southern boundary for water during the dry season, but this vital corridor is increasingly restricted by fences and human settlements, he said.
The park has about 83 rare black rhinos, which poachers drove close to extinction in the 1990s as they sought their huge horns thought to have medicinal values. There are also about 38 lions in the park.
PUTTING UP FENCES
KWS and the Wildlife Foundation, a nongovernmental organisation, have been working with communities in the area to protect the park by encouraging land practices that support conservation.
In one programme the two bodies lease the land from the Maasai at competitive prices to discourage the subdivision and sale of land.
Another — the predator programme — ensures that the owners of livestock killed or eaten by lions and other predators in the park are compensated at market price whenever possible.
“We have six kilometres of the corridor still open due to the partnership with the Wildlife Foundation,” he said.
Some conservationists say the park should be fenced to contain wild animals and minimise conflicts with human. But Kipng’etich — in his seventh year at the helm of the wildlife body — differs.
“It would be tragic to have a closed system within the city. It will just be like slowly killing the natural park so it is our wish that this ecosystem remains open,” he said.