Managing tourism at Nairobi National Park while conserving its biodiversity

Monday June 08 2020

Rhinos graze at a park. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP


The first draft of the management plan for Nairobi National Park 2020-2030 presented by the Kenya Wildlife Service raises questions about how to manage tourism and biodiversity.

In the NNP management plan, it’s hard to tell where KWS places its priorities.

“Is it in biodiversity conservation or is it tourism,” said Akshay Vishwanath an environmentalist who has been actively involved in issues on the park’s management for a decade adding, “Ideally it should be about linking tourism and conservation.” If it’s tourism, the debate is then about how much tourism development is viable inside the park or even the number of tourists the park can support?

“Tourists to the park expect to see lions, leopards and more. Yet there are other places with spectacular biodiversity but are not ‘tourism spectacles’,” said Mr Vishwanath.

Examples are the Taita Hills which are part of the Eastern Arc Mountains and one of the world’s biodiversity hotspots or the 420-square-kilometre Arabuko Sokoke Forest, which is the largest remaining section of dry coastal forest found in Eastern and Southern Africa, and many more.

The management plan places emphasis on increasing visitors to the park. “This should be done but without putting pressure on the wildlife. Activities can be diverse such as constructing observation towers at the dams where people can watch the water birds without disturbing them. And upgrading picnic sites which may include eateries. We have to remember that urbanites are also stakeholders of the park,” he added.


From an ecological standpoint, the draft lists upgrading the roads to sealed roads, which would see the end of the murram pits which are environmentally damaging. “The sealed roads need maintenance once every four or five years,” said Mr Vishwanath.

“This cuts down on expense, heavy machinery and introduction of invasive species in the park.”


Reinhard Bonke, one of many Nairobi city residents who agitate for the preservation of the park through the Friends of Nairobi National Park feels the management plan leans on development activities rather than solving the park’s ecological conditions.

It’s further biased with intentions of fencing Nairobi National Park which would bring in issues like the animals inbreeding. “The fencing will undermine the communities’ efforts of keeping the park’s lifeline. The park’s wildebeest breed outside in the community land and comes back to the park,” he said.

The fencing goes against the National Wildlife Strategy, which was launched in 2018 and one of the main goals was on maintaining and improving the ecological integrity of Kenya’s protected areas.

“By fencing the park, does it mean that the millions spent in drafting the 2018 National Report on Wildlife Dispersal Areas and Migration Corridors with clear plans of reconnecting Nairobi National Park to the greater Athi Kapiti migration corridor was a waste?” said Mr Bonke.