Conservationists are putting demands on Kenya Wildlife Service to disclose all details on ongoing infrastructure developments inside parks.

Separately Friends of National Parks Coalition, Conservation Alliance of Kenya, Kenya United Against Poaching (KUAPO), Friends of Nairobi National Park (Fonnap) and communities living with wildlife in Kajiado county have accused the service for being used by the national government to endorse destruction of the parks that they should be protecting.

Past events where infrastructure projects like roads, rails, pipeline and power has been allowed through parks without public consultation nor following the law and the environment guidelines has put all protected lands at risk.

In particular Fonnap said events of a few weeks ago where Chinese contractors of the Standard Gauge Railway Phase 2 planted flags right across the middle of the park and flew helicopters over them, in an obvious survey of a railway route across the park, was a deeply worrying development and put the future of Nairobi National Park in uncertainty.

“The recent events caught us off-guard, we admit, and this new route is a whole lot worse than the route proposed in December 2015. It appears it will proceed from Syokimau through radio beacon, Mbuni picnic site, no.18 and on to Ongata Rongai – effectively slicing the park in half,” Reinhard Bonke from Fonnap said in an email to their members.

“Efforts by ourselves and the Conservation Alliance of Kenya to get information from relevant authorities have borne no fruit,” the mail added.

In December last year a proposed designed had shown the line running along the Southern Bypass near the Carnivore restaurant then pass through Hyena Dam, the Ivory Burning site, Narogomon dam and down to the Kingfisher picnic site.

From there, the line was to run to the Central Workshop opposite Multimedia University on Magadi road, skirt the tented Camp and forest area near Banda school, pass the KWS HQ before exiting at the Langata gate to Bomas through Karen to Lenana.

The Karen route was later dropped by Kenya Railway at a meeting with Karen Residents Association at the Karen Country Club in mid January 2016 on grounds that would require “unaffordable’ compensation.

Even though the Karen route was viable KR MD Atanus Maina said it was improbable to pursue that option because of th enormous amount of disruption to human settlements, public facilities and commercial activities.

“At that time there was immense public pressure as every thing was in public domain, forcing the proponents of these project (KWS and KR) to adopt a more secretive approach, where only the chairmens and director generals are involved,” a source involved in the previous designing said adding that it had become easier for government to have projects through conservation areas as those who earlier were vocal against such projects in the protected areas are now behind endorsing and rolling out the projects.

“What they plan to do is perhaps keep everything under wraps and only shock the public by rolling out the project through the park. This tactics is aimed to get conservationists unawares with no room even to move to court to challenge,” the source added.

This comes as a source intimated to the Star that already a deal to have the phase 2 of the SGR cut through the park had been sealed and KWS had accepted Sh4 billion as compensation, despite earliest assurances by the KWS chairman that they would not have the line cut through the conservation areas.

“KWS leadership has become a let down and embarrassment to all Kenyans by abdicating their duty to care for our resources which they are supposed to hold in trust. Their silence in the face of these developments is therefore unacceptable,” Mordecai Ogada from Friends of National Park Coalition said adding that if there is any agreement with the developers that allows for constructions in the parks, then KWS is bound by the constitution to disclose the contents.

This is not the first time the park is facing such assaults, in July Kenya Wildlife Service agreed that the SGR could route through around 250 acres of the Nairobi National Park near Mlolongo to protect Alan Donovan’s African Heritage House, later the Ministry of Transport and the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) struck a deal allowing 89 acres of the park land hived off to pave way for completion of the Nairobi Southern Bypass, in exchange of cash compensation.

Recently the Kenya Electricity Transmission Company (KETRACO) erected gigantic electricity pylons inside the park, now shining across 8 kilometers along the eastern boundary as well The Kenya Pipeline Company (KPC) has installed its main transmission pipeline across the park from the southern tip to the northern boundary of the protected area – alongside the shiny electricity towers; with claims that claims that plans are in top gear to construct a major sewage pipeline from Ongata Rongai and its environs to Kitengela through the park.

“The projects contravene the Wildlife Conservation and Management Act of 2013 and the primary objective of protecting and preserving the unique wilderness, plans and animals found in the Park.They are clear indicators of careless development, insensitive to a special natural heritage of global repute,” Kahindi Lekalhaile from The “Friends of National Parks” Coalition said.

“We advocate for restoration of environmental integrity of all wildlife-protected areas under government custody, and, also, condemn the government for encroaching Nairobi National Park with impunity in the pretext of fostering economic development. Nairobi National Park is an indispensible natural heritage that deserves to be spared all such vagaries of irresponsible and insensitive development,” he added explaining that for KWS to condone such projects is a dereliction of its duty to hold wildlife and parks in trust for the Kenyan people terming it a betrayal and a contravention of national wildlife conservation ethics for Kenya.

“Government bodies such as KeNHA, KETRACO, KPLC, KPC etc., are fulfilling their mandate and achieving their stated goals. KWS has lost focus on its mandate and goals to protect the park, the wildlife and ensure the security of biodiversity in protected areas. It seems helpless to do its job!,” he said.

In a petition president Uhuru Kenyatta Olosirkon and other communities neighboring the park cautioned the president against being misled by KWS and KR officials on routing the line through the park.

“We the communities living with the wildlife would like to state very categorically that we are not opposed to the government infrastructure development projects such as SGR but we are opposed to such projects not being environmental sound—to protect our wildlife and natural resources as well as people’s properties ,” the petition dated August 8 reads in part.

“We propose the SGR to be rerouted away from the populated areas of Kajiado East such as Olosirkon, Tual, Ongata Rongai and other developed areas but be passed through any other sparsely populated areas of Kajiado County,” it adds.

Conservation Alliance insists that from their technical perspective the proposed structures will effectively isolate a significant portion of the park to the West of the proposed line, diminishing an already severely limited wildlife habitat.

Steve Itela from Africa Network for Animal Welfare proposed that instead of having the line pass through the park it should be build on an elevated track over the Southern Bypass and follow existing line, or it should detour from Konza, to Isinya, to Ongata Rongai, to Gataka, Ngong before joining in the Naivasha line, or the old railway should be uprooted to pave way for the new line.

However when reached for comment KWS chairman Richard Leakey said the Government is yet to make a ruling on the route of the SGR adding that when it does we will be a part of an open forum to review whatever was decided. He said the decision on the actual route will be made probably before the end of this August.

Leakey denied that a Sh4billion deal has been sealed for SGR phase 2, explaining that the Sh4billion was tied to compensation for the SGR Phase 1 and that money will be paid into a Wildlife Endowment Fund where the funds rules will stipulate that only a part of any interest earned can be spent.

He further said the principal sum is to be set aside in perpetuity for the benefit of wildlife.

“For the moment I have nothing to add except I hope you will not fall into the trap of reporting rumour and sensationalist views of the ill informed. There are no secret deals at KWS that I am privy to,” he said.

At a glance

-Nairobi National Park was established 1946 as a seasonal park making it the oldest in East Africa.

-The park’s acreage remained intact with the animals confined in 117.21 square kilometres (28,963 acres) until year 2014 when the bypass and the SGR projects started eating into the park.

-The Park is the only true wilderness area in a capital city in the world with the most visited wildlife protected area in Kenya and the fourth largest income earner amongst all wildlife national parks and reserves in the country.

-Over 150,000 tourists visit annually and generate about 60 million Kenya shillings per year. Most of the income comes from park entry fees. There are no lodges or hotels within the park.

-The park is a critical breeding sanctuary for the near-extinct black rhino and white rhino populations. The sanctuary is the most important supplier of individuals to for restocking other parks and sanctuaries in Kenya and parts of East Africa.

-The park hosts over 400 species of birds and over 45 species of mammals, including the famous big five animals. Some plants and animals found within the protected area are endemic while other are rare remnants of extinct ecological systems.

-Until recently, Nairobi National Park experienced wildebeest and zebra migration similar to the Mara-Serengeti migration. The migration ceased half a decade ago due to a combination of factors including loss of habitat and obstruction of migration routes by prolific land demarcation and fencing; rampant bush-meat poaching; and human-wildlife conflicts in neighboring Kitengela region of Kajiado County.

Courtesy of the-star.co.ke

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