In a long-awaited move, the Kenya government has finally decided to declare a moratorium on the development of more lodges and safari camps in the Masai Mara area. In the past, the Kenya Tourism Federation blamed the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) to almost collude with developers and ignore management plans, carrying capacity concerns and the clear impact on wildlife’s breeding and feeding habits by ever-new properties being put up. One lodge in particular has been blamed for displacing a group of eastern Black Rhinos, which have disappeared from the area where the developers put up a new lodge, angering conservationists and NGOs concerned with the survival of rhinos and funding relevant programs for breeding, relocation, and veterinary care. Meanwhile, though, all further new projects will be halted and ongoing construction stopped until their respective Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs) have been reviewed and likely until a new management plan for the greater Masai Mara area has been prepared, with all stakeholders having the opportunity to provide input and discuss findings and recommendations before it is being implemented.
The latest wave of attempts to build in the area has been largely driven by politicians or politically well-connected individuals and appears to be motivated by greed rather than looking at the bigger picture of the impact some of those new properties would have on the ecosystem and the distinct possibility that it may not just impact on it but actually destroy it.
The Narok and Trans Mara councils have been accused by some sections of the conservation fraternity to aid and abet the destruction by lacking competence, monitoring capacity and updated management plans, and are driven purely by revenue aims and objectives rather than taking conservation and the protection of fragile ecosystems into account when granting new licenses.
In a related development, these excesses have been used across the border in Tanzania by proponents to advocate for keeping the Bologonja border post closed, with one regular contact in Arusha saying last week to this correspondent: “If the Kenyan government cannot get this under control, cannot regulate it and put a stop for building in place, we are not ready to face the fall out. Our Kenyan brothers and sisters are very good in promoting tourism, but when a park is full, is in fact overflowing, and there is a border between them and the other part of the ecosystem in our country, they are tempted to use this for overflow. So if we open that border between Masai Mara and Serengeti, you tell me what will happen.
We have restricted the number of lodges and camps inside Serengeti, and this is very strict. We want to keep it that way, it sets us apart from the Masai Mara, and that is how we market ourselves, with such arguments like ‘more game, less cars.’ The moment this border opens, even here will be unscrupulous people immediately rushing to build more camps and lodges just outside the border of the park and then what – are we to get the same problems here as they have there? Transboundary ecosystems must be discussed and agreed between both countries, and we have our interests to look after, to protect. So please, be fair and write this the way I tell you that people outside can understand what the issues really are. We need to agree under EAC [East African Community] on limits, put caps on entry numbers; even here in Ngorongoro we have this debate now in full swing. We are not anti Kenyan, not at all, but we have seen their mistakes and want to learn from it, not make the same mistakes here also. Then, one day, the border can open again but under very clear and strict rules, nothing like in in the morning and out in the evening the same way – that I think should never be allowed. If they come in at Bologonja, they have to leave towards the other end, other exits, not back into the Mara.”