Lamu project threat to wildlife - experts
Concerns are emerging among regional conservationists that the $70 million Lamu Port-South Sudan-Ethiopian Transport corridor (Lapsset) could be a threat to wildlife in northern Kenya.
The project involves the construction of a sea port, oil pipeline, road and a modern railway line linking the landlocked South Sudan and Ethiopia to the coastal town of Lamu.
However, conservation experts are now calling for round table inter-agency discussions to weigh the impact of the grand project on wildlife habitats.
“These developments have great impact on tourism potential but we should also bear in mind the threat of poaching and habitat loss as well as human population increases,” Dr Paul Mworia of Nature Kenya recently told a workshop in Nanyuki town, some 207km from Nairobi.
The workshop brought together wildlife experts from Kenya and Ethiopia to discuss survival strategies for the endangered Grevy’s zebra.
The rare breed is listed on Appendix I of the United Nations Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) of wild fauna and flora, meaning it is protected from any form of commercial use.
The Grevy’s zebra is well adopted to semi-arid areas and can go up to five days without water, except in the case of lactating females. It once inhabited Djibouti, Somalia, Eritrea and Sudan, but due to poaching, disease and limited access to water, the species is now found only in Kenya and Ethiopia.
Experts at the Nanyuki workshop said infrastructural development in northern Kenya will disrupt the animals’ habitat. The Grevy’s zebra population dropped from 15,000 in the late 1970s to 2,800 in 2008 when the last census was conducted. Another national census is slated for November this year.
The main fear is that the opening up of northern Kenya via the road and railway line will attract poachers as much as it will spur game drive tourism.
Additionally, a 6,000-acre area some 20 kilometres from Isiolo town, 200km from Nairobi, earmarked for the construction of a resort city, is said to be lie on a wildlife migration route from Samburu to Lewa Down conservancy.
The Kenya Wildlife Society said both the Lapsset and resort city projects would further depress the Grevy’s zebras population and other wildlife if measures are not taken early.
“It’s a critical area which needs to be handled with care. But discussions are already underway within various government agencies,” George Anyona, the KWS national Grevy’s zebra liaison officer said.
KWS head of corporate communications Paul Udoto said the inter-agency consultations will centre on the development of eco-tourism activities among communities living along the Lappset corridor.
The director of the Ethiopia Wildlife Conservation Authority, Kifle Argaw, said development of a cross-border strategy for the endangered zebra is critical for the survival of the Grevy’s zebra since both countries shared challenges of poaching.
“We need a joint strategy because if one country fails it becomes a headache to the other,” Dr Argaw told participants.
Besides enhancing Kenya’s position as a gateway and transport hub to the East African and the Great Lakes regions, the Lapsset Corridor is also aimed at creating the great equatorial land bridge that will connect the East and West coasts of Africa.