It is for pictures like this one that many tourists come to Kenya and in particular visit the Nairobi National Park, where, if lucky enough, one can see the lion king against the silhouette of Nairobi’s Central Business District in the background.
Of late however are more and more questions are being asked about the future of the world’s only national park just a few kilometres outside a capital city’s CBD.
With the precedent set, something repeatedly featured here in the past, when national park land was excised to complete the Southern Bypass Highway came the next assault on the park when a route for the new Standard Gauge Railway was mapped out running directly across a key section of the national park.
Some of Kenya’s most respected conservationists have now concluded that all the added construction activities have in the more recent past led to repeated cases where lions strayed out of the park, as their habitat gets encroached and their daily life rhythm disturbed. Perimeter fences in less than good repair added to the problem as does the encroachment by human settlements right to the park boundaries, where in the past open buffer zones existed.
The number of lions in Kenya, and in fact across Africa, has fallen by alarming proportions over the past decades, soon said to reach such lows that the species must be put on the endangered list of CITES.
One of Nairobi national park’s most iconic lions ever, Mohawk, was a few days ago shot in cold blood by rangers who displayed their incompetence in front of running TV cameras and mobile phone recordings, when instead of chasing away the agitated crowds hemming in the lion’s escape route, they turned on Mohawk, with a deadly outcome for a lion who in Kenya had a similar status as Cedric did in Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park.
The new management of KWS under recently installed Director General Kitili Mbathi has subsequently failed to impress Kenya’s conservation fraternity and the upcoming ivory burning event at the end of April, when celebrities from around the world will assemble in Nairobi to witness the destruction of over 100 tons of ivory, has taken a major hit.
‘The KWS chairman Dr. Leakey has remained out of sight and failed to comment. Anyway, it is obvious that he has to back the DG and the actions of the service. Were he not chairman everyone knows how outspoken he would be. Kitili himself has to learn a lot, in particular how to get ahead of such a crisis and not as a by the way turn up days later and offer such a lamentable performance. I for once feel pity for the KWS PR man Paul Udoto because he has to defend the indefensible of what his bosses are responsible for. Poor Paul has to tell us how two and two adds up to five. No wonder he is a wanted man right now and his personal reputation in tatters while his bosses parade like peacocks. This is a gigantic failure by KWS and not the first, but the first under Kitili. For him the honeymoon with the conservation fraternity and media is clearly over’ ranted a regular conservation source from Nairobi. Social media comments tore into the defense put up by KWS and hot anger showed vis a vis the language used against the supposed protectors of wildlife turned wildlife killers.
Notably has no statement been made from the Minister responsible for Environment and Natural Resources either, who like the KWS chair has remained silent, probably hoping that the storm clouds will pass before the ivory burning event, when the Kenyan government needs the goodwill of the media and the conservation fraternity to make it a success.
The big question now is, for how long can the Nairobi National Park survive, both the loss of wildlife and the constant assault on its boundaries and integrity by developers? First a highway, then a major new railway line and what will come next? A millionaire resort estate which would make a few people insanely rich? Given Kenya’s present political and economic climate, recently described as a ‘Bandit Economy’ will questions of this kind simply not go away and be asked time and again and again.
The Kenya Wildlife Service is now under intense pressure to review their operating procedures and in particular limit what the Director General called ‘discretion’ by staff deployed to return stray lions, and other wildlife, back to the parks. His term of office, at such an early stage already overshadowed by such negative incidents, will be subject to constant scrutiny from now and the first questions about his suitability for the job are already being asked, given that his background is not in conservation but in banking. Watch this space!