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In Kenya, Nairobi National Park Faces Development Encroachment

Nairobi National Park consists of 117 km2 (approximately 45 square miles) of wild flora and fauna within the city boundaries. Established in 1947, it has over a hundred mammal species including lions, leopards, hyenas and cheetahs, plus over four hundred migratory birds. The park also has various picnic sites, restaurants, and facilities for family and corporate events. Like the Mokolodi Nature Reserve in Gaborone, Botswana, it offers a rare opportunity to see the wild, only a few minutes away from the busy urban centre.

Hippos bathe at Mokolodi Nature Reserve in Gaborone, Botswana, Africa

The park is located on the south side of the city that forms the Kapiti Plains. Due to altitude differences, much of Nairobi's run-off to drains towards the park. It is also surrounded by open fields of pastoral land that extend towards the south of Kenya.

It was in this park that over 12 tons of Ivory worth over $1 million were burned in 1989, by President Daniel Arap Moi, as a symbol of unity in the fight against poaching and ivory trade.

Signage inside the park, Nairobi National Park, Kenya, Africa

However, the existence of the park is under threat. This started with the selling of the pastoral land bordering the park by nomadic communities. This traditionally offered animals open migratory space. New landowners continue to put up residential and commercial properties on the land in search of economic gains. A good example is the area called Isinya, a region that lies along a migratory route and close to the Nairobi-Arusha Highway. This area has seen increased human settlement over the last five years.

Studies completed by at the University of Nairobi's Department of Urban and Regional Planning have recommended certain strategies to control encroachment:

  • Ceasing land subdivision;
  • Encouraging a conservation lease program;
  • Development of Nairobi Metropolitan Open Space System (NMOSS); and,
  • Compulsory corridor land acquisition by the government on behalf of KWS.

Buffaloes and calves, notice the human settlements in the background, Nairobi National Park, Kenya, Africa

Another threat has been the construction of a road projects like the "Southern By-Pass" and the "Greater Southern By-Pass," which run along the eastern and the southern boundaries of the park. Acquisition of land for road construction led to protests from environmentalists to have the roads redesigned away from the National Park.

The move towards more road construction tends to be based on the consensus by many that it is the most efficient means of urban decongestion. Consequently, there is little effort to reduce urban sprawl and this has a direct impact on the park. In addition to the destruction of migratory routes, experts fear the increased degradation of the vegetation and wetlands.

Map of Nairobi, Kenya and its environs. The National Park is marked in green

There are mixed feelings about the survival or need of the park, with some people believing that the country has more pressing economic and social problems. Add that to the perception that the lowest income residents do not benefit from the park. What is clear, however, are the economic benefits through tourism and the ecological benefits as it acts as a carbon sink.

How should the City of Nairobi deal with the challenge facing the famous National Park? How have other cities dealt with such ecological challenges? Does you community make open space and parks a priority? Share your stories below. 

Credits: Images by Constant Cap, Peris Alela Mukoko and Africa Wildlife Foundation. Data linked to sources.