In early 2009, I heard anecdotal reports that Wild Dogs had been seen around the southern end of Nairobi National Park. Naturally, I told my boss I wasn't going to work and headed straight there! We drove from Ongata Rongai along the dirt road along the outside of the Southern boundary of the park, past Masai Lodge and on towards Kitengela town at the other end. We stuck close to the park boundary, zig zagging a little along some of the small tracks. I was shocked at that time to see how much development there was along most of the length of that drive. There were patches of open land, but they most of them were already being staked out, and we could see plot boundary markers everywhere. There were roads, small-scale farms, residential houses, fenced off livestock land, and lots of open-pit rock mines, with a constant stream of lorries in and out ferrying the rocks towards Kitengela. There were people milling about, livestock, dogs, etc.
And yet, in the open areas, there was a huge density of wildlife enjoying the short grass outside the park, since the grass inside the park, where there was no livestock, was too long, hard, and unpalatable for most of the small and medium herbivores. Alas, we saw no wild dogs that day, but I was struck, and depressed by just how much development had appeared there seemingly without anyone really taking notice. If you drive a little further South, beyond Isinya (where Mohawk was shot), the land opens up again and you find huge ranches like the Hopcraft's Ranch and the expansive Athi-Kapiti Plains Ranch further south. Interspersed amongst these ranches are a few small townships and trading centres, but in general, there's a huge area of rolling black-cotton grassland South and South East of Nairobi. It's essentially an extension of the Amboseli ecosystem, which is why every once in a long while, elephants are seen not too far from Nairobi (granted this hasn't happened for about 5 or 6 years).
Concerned by all the development just outside the National Park, and being familiar with the conservancies in the Mara, Laikipia, and Ambosel (as mentioned by Jake GC above), I got in touch with a few people I knew who either live or work in that area to ask them why something similar could not be set up south of NNP. The response I got was that because there are so many different land users, land uses, economic classes, and ethnicities all mixed together in that area, getting everyone to come to a consensus about that vast area was near impossible. There are Kambas, Kikuyus, Luos, Maasai, Wahindi, Chinese, and "wazungu". There are affluent ranch-owners with tens of thousands of acres, there are poor farmers with 1/2 acre plots, there are landless Maasai who still believe they have the rights to that area despite having given it up years ago, there are open-pit mine owners/managers making a killing, there are medium income residential land-owners, there are traders, con-men, and prostitutes. It's absolutely NOT the same situation as Masai Mara, where former group-ranches were subdivided and new, all-maasai land-owners were given options immediately.
The big ranches don't want to open their fences to neighbouring areas and inadvertently allow opportunistic cattle owners onto their land. The small-holder farmers don't want to give up their only livelihoods. The mine owners won't let go of their now-completely-destroyed land until every last pebble has been removed. The home-owners won't move or take down their fences.
To be honest, I don't know what the solution is. I abhor the idea of fortress conservation, fencing off parks, keeping people out and wildlife in. Fortress conservation, and KWS's protectionist policies, excluding the surrounding communities is what got Kenya into the wildlife policy mess it's in right now. But at the same time, because we're so far gone down this road, maybe it's the ONLY way for places like Nairobi and Nakuru National Parks. If the game department and then KWS had actually thought about the surrounding communities for these parks years ago, they could have worked out a solution where both wildlife and people benefited.
My only hope for a not-completely-fenced Nairobi National Park is to create a fenced corridor, funneling the wildlife, out towards one or two of the big ranches to the South (similar to the "elephant underpass" created under the Timau-Isiolo road, connecting Mt Kenya NP to the rangelands in the North). Yet, for that to happen, there'd have to be some deal struck with said ranches. Generally, deals require money to change hands - and in the case of huge ranches like these, I doubt that money will be a small amount.
Here's where I see (unrealistic idealism here, but a guy can dream) the big animal welfare organizations (like IFAW) come in to put their money where their very loud mouths are to make "Payments For Ecosystem Services" to secure habitat for wildlife - to pay people on the ground to keep their land wildlife-friendly.
I may have said this elsewhere on ST (or maybe it was FB) - Wildlife economist Mike Norton Griffiths estimated way back in 1995 that if Kenya closed down all its National Parks, the ensuing take over by urban development, agriculture, livestock production, etc. would propel Kenya's economy (GDP) forward by 3% in a year!! That was in 1995. Now that other industries have overtaken tourism in Kenya’s economy and the government is basically subsidizing conservation operations “for posterity”, you can imagine how much the country’s economy would boom in the short term if all those hundreds of acres (in all the NP’s across the country) were suddenly converted to actually contribute to the economy. Tourism, no matter how much everyone in the industry shouts, is not a huge part of this economy anymore, and I can guarantee that Uhuru, Ruto, and their cronies are not focused on how to increase wildlife tourism in Kenya.
The ONLY thing that should be noted here is that IF someone were to pay for an economic valuation of ecosystem services of a park like Nairobi National Park, I could almost guarantee that the park’s hidden, unknown value would be placed so high that the government would have no choice but to put all measures in place to protect it.
Have a look at this economic valuation done on a particular area of rangeland in Jordan. The numbers are pretty huge when you read about the savings that the rangelands provide in terms of services (down to obscure things like “reducing run-off into dams” – meaning less money is required for cleaning those dams and putting in preventative measures, etc.).
I am convinced more than ever that habitat, and possibly wildlife (but that’s a touchy subject) needs to be viewed in economic terms. Most government policy is not based on sound scientific knowledge or understanding. It still hasn’t sunk in with some of our politicians that if you chop down a forest, the people living down the hill will have no water most of the year and then will be buried alive by landslides when it does rain. Recent developments in the Mau forest are a good example of that. You’d think that in 2016, we’d understand those basic concepts.
So rather than trying to explain ecology, the water cycle, carbon cycle, etc. to our money-minded politicians, the only way to get it across to them is to explain how much a piece of land is worth in its natural state (this, of course, requires them to think in the long term, which is not their strong suit, sadly).
If they can be convinced that Nairobi National Park is saving them vast amounts of money by providing certain services to the city and its surrounding areas, perhaps then – and only then- they might see what value it holds. Otherwise, it’s just a nice big flat place to build more city! MORE CITY! More development!!
I may have gone slightly off topic here….
Edited by armchair bushman, 04 April 2016 - 12:39 PM.