“Shifting Landscapes: Exploring the Impact of Land Use Changes on Nairobi National Park”

Formally known as Nairobi Royal National Park, the park in the city has once again been a trending topic on Kenya twitter trends. Over the weekend twitter was fire! A year ago comments via a tweet questioned the worth of retaining the park. The appointment of the comments bearer to the tourism board was a trigger moment for the Kenyans on Twitter(KOT ). I thought why not do a piece on the Nairobi National park. Also, since I learnt making time-lapse GIFs with Google Earth Engine, I can’t stop. So I made one for you.

Nairobi National park was gazetted in December 1946. By 1955 it was fenced on the Northern side bordering Lang’ata and Karen.

Nairobi National park and Athi Kaputie ecosystem

The park covers an area of 117.21 km² of the Nairobi National park and Athi Kaputie ecosystem which is a sub of the southern rangelands ecosystem. Athi Kapiti plains and the Kitengela migration corridors are important wildlife dispersal areas during the wet seasons. The ecosystem supports more than 20 species, including the migratory wildebeest and zebras. Wildlife migratory corridors are crucial in connecting core habitats for Kenya’s wildlife and ensuring the long-term survival of many species.

Nairobi National Park ECOSYSTEM

Tourism (domestic and international) is a major source of revenue for Kenya and rationalizes wildlife conservation. COVID-19 has really hit hard the hospitality and tourism industry. However, local tourism is ongoing. Hundreds of Nairobi residents are visiting the national park, with routine trips upcountry and to other popular destinations over the weekends restricted. A good trend for local tourism cushioning the industry.

Drivers of Land Use Change

Time-lapse series of Nairobi National Park

There are growing concerns about the decline population of wildlife. Migratory routes are significantly affected by the changing land use. The Nairobi National Park ecosystem is facing external pressures which are affecting the wildlife habitats and dispersal areas. Increasing human population around the Nairobi has put pressure in the ecosystem especially in the need space for residential housing.

Kapiti plains have been home for the Maasai community who held land in ranches. Mismanagement of the ranches led to tenure insecurity which forced the community to subdivided the land. Privatization of land has led to intense fragmentation and developments and fencing of plots. Apart from the residential developments, the area is a growing industrial hub, steel, cement, horticulture and the export processing zone in Athi River.

Highways, including the Nairobi-Mombasa and Kitengela-Namanga road networks, the southern bypass (Mlolongo-Mbagathi), as well as the standard gauge railway (SGR) criss-cross the ecosystem. Climate change has had negative impacts on the water supply in the park. There has been a decreased amount of rainfall and frequent droughts. Therefore, water spots are few.

Ostrich walking in the wild with the standard gauge railway in the background

The intensity of land subdivision and fencing has blocked of the major migratory route: Mlolongo, Athi-River, Kitengela and Kisaju. High-density settlement on these routes (Syokimau, Embakasi) also create physical barriers for wildlife movement. Pollution of rivers by the industries around threats the natural Athi-Kapiti plains ecosystem. Routes further south have been blocked by the expansion of Kisaju and Isinya towns. Gypsum mining also poses a threat to the routes.

Other than poaching Nairobi national park is facing greater challenges of infrastructure and human development interference. The above-listed challenges have reduced the range of wildlife species and the animals general population. There is a risk of isolation of the park consequently restricting animal movement. The wildlife report of 2017 indicated that wildlife dispersal areas and pastoralist grazing areas. This is linked to the blockage of rangelands and intense privatization of land. Diminishing pasture and water resources is a challenge to the pastoralists. The latter has a risk of creating human and wildlife conflicts.

Land grabbing in the park’s surrounding pose danger to its existence. However, there is good news as the government announced the plans of repossessing illegally acquired land.

The park remains the city’s treasure and needs more protection. Responsive land use planning with community engagement can provide plans which control development based on the zoning regulations. Also, capacity building on the importance of sustainable resource management and land use planning. Community and stakeholder partnership in developing conservancies can be ideal in promoting sustainable tourism.

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