Proposed Fencing in Nairobi National Park Draws Anger from Maasai

Nairobi National Park. Image: Rod Waddington/Flickr

by Julia Fine, ODP Contributing Writer

The oldest national park in Kenya is “under immense pressure,” Dr. Patrick Omondi, the director of biodiversity, research, and planning at the Kenya Wildlife Service, told The Guardian. As Peter Muiruri reported, because of “dwindling wildlife and visitor numbers, and increasing industry and human settlements on all sides,” the Kenya Wildlife Services (KWS) has made a 10-year plan to build fences in the south end of the Nairobi National Park.

According to the KWS, this fencing in of the south side of the park, which is currently unfenced, would “keep dangerous animals out of [city suburbs], reducing escalating human-wildlife conflict and cut down on compensation claims.

Why This Matters: This plan has ignited a new battle between the government and conservation groups. Many conservation groups claim that the government is not paying attention to the needs of communities in the surrounding areas. Indeed, as many of these community members have argued, these fences would “separate [the] community from the animals within the Nairobi ecosystem.”  In the words of William Ole Kompe, a Maasai elder, said, “There will be no fencing on our side…We have lived together with wild animals forever. Why separate us now?”

The Decline of the Park:  The park was created in 1946, when Kenya was under British colonial rule. According to The Guardian, this 45-square mile park is the “only sanctuary in the world where wild animals roam freely next to a bustling metropolis.” However, in recent years, the park’s condition has deteriorated. Some species there have declined over 70% in the past 40 years, and the wildebeest migration has “collapsed.”

Much of the reason for the park’s deterioration is due to human activity. As Regina Manyara wrote this week, illegal hunting for game meat is contributing to the decline of the park. And, according to a 2015 report, human activities in the park are “hazardous to the preservation of wildlife in the area.” Now, as land prices are “skyrocketing” in the area, communities in the southern edge of the park are being “tempted by high prices to sell of [sic] parts of their once large and open tracts of land for housebuilding.”

As Reuters explained, “the park has been fenced in on three sides as the city mushroomed around it.”

Looking Forward: What will happen if this proposal does get put into action? Many have already suggested their commitment to protesting the measures. William Ole Kompe promised “If [fencing] happens, I will lead a street demonstration to oppose the move.” Others have raised further problems with the plan. For instance, as Nkamunu Patita, a coordinator at the Wildlife Foundation who was born and raised in the surrounding areas, has said “If the river is fenced in, the community will be unable to make use of the water, while fencing it out means the water will not be accessible to animals within the park.” As Patita emphasizes, there must be more consultations, studies, and community discussions before this plan is put into place.



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