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Mt. Kenya National Park

More fences for more parks in Kenya

Wolfgang H. Thome, eTN  Jun 05, 2011

(eTN) - Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) has recently announced that they have raised and secured enough funds to commence the fencing of the Mt. Kenya National Park, due to start later in the year. The cost for the project is estimated to be over US$12 million, with a tendency to rise considering present inflationary pressures and the decline in value of the Kenyan currency over the past months.

Mt. Kenya, like all other forested areas prone to encroachment beyond the national park boundaries will hence follow the example of the Aberdare National Park, where a private initiative started last year by Rhino Ark led to the completion of fencing. This initiative was aimed at protecting the animals inside from poaching, the park from encroachment, and the farms around the park from being raided by hungry animals in search of pasture.

However, criticism is never far off when talking "fence" in conservation circles, as crucially fencing cuts off the ancient migratory routes for elephant in particular and other game used to follow when they traversed a then sparsely-populated Kenya. Game often traveled between the Aberdares and Mt. Kenya, across the Laikipia plains and as far as Marsabit to the north and reportedly also way into the Great African Rift Valley. The exchange of genes, of crucial importance for the maintenance of a sound DNA base for future animal generations, is also being cut off leaving the wildlife managers with a different set of problems to resolve.

The Nairobi National Park is often cited as an example, where fencing was considered of crucial importance to protect the game and the territorial integrity of the park against land pressures by developers, but with the migration routes in and out of the park increasingly cut off towards and beyond the Athi plains, DNA exchange is set to become an issue here, too.
While making the announcement, KWS also released information that they intend to fence the Marsabit National Park, setting off a clear trend towards confining wildlife from their erstwhile ranges to defined and fenced habitats, which while often large in size, nevertheless keep game from migrating.

Only recently was it reported that as a result of the fencing, game needed to be fed and watered at substantial cost by KWS, as they were unable to leave their fenced spaces in search of water and pastures beyond their mandated new habitat. This clearly shows the range of difficulties the wildlife managers are faced with after opting to put up fences in the first place.

A source close to KWS in Nairobi rejected suggestions by this correspondent recently that fencing would eventually create open air safari parks found in Europe and elsewhere, although substantially larger, of course, insisting that a fence served to protect game, the parks integrity, and the property of people who live close to the national parks and game reserves. Yet conservation sources from Nairobi had issues with this school of thought when again insisting that the habits of migration, carried in the genes of game since times immemorial, could not be changed and that the impact of being cut off from migrations could irreversibly impact on the social behavior and breeding patterns of game in the future. Said one source: "Your reporting about the Serengeti highway tells the story. If the Serengeti is cut apart by the highway, it is almost like a fence, and the migration of the wildebeest to the Masai Mara could be totally disrupted."

"Where are wildebeest finding food then? They migrate a long distance to follow the rains and pastures. When the Serengeti has dried up, they come to the Masai Mara to feed and then return to Serengeti and almost to Ngorongoro before turning full circle back once more. KWS maybe does not always see too far into the future. How will they feed animals, bring water to them when drought strikes? I think we need a national dialogue on such future looking issues, not just in Kenya but in all of East Africa, even in Southern Africa, before mankind swallows all the wildlife habitat up for what tycoons tell us is development but it really is for their own benefits only. They, too, will suffer when the planet has lost its rich diversity and smoke stacks rise where big herds once grazed."

Not an easy question to answer and surely the stuff of more articles, more controversy, and more heated arguments in coming days.

More fences for more parks in Kenya
Mt. Kenya National Park / Image via

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