African Urbanism, a Case Study: Nairobi National Park

Featured Image Source: Ninara, Under Creative Commons,

Nairobi is the only city in the world with a national park within the city boundaries. This gives Nairobi some of the most exceptional skylines in the world. The juxtaposition between the hustle and bustle of the city and the calm of the park is unlike what you find in any other city on earth. The CBD is just 5km away from the park bounder and Wilson airport’s (Nairobi’s second airport) main runway is just 500 meters away from the park. The park also houses the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) headquarters, Nairobi Animal Orphanage and the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust (DSWT). The park forms one of the most important nodes for the well being of Kenya’s wildlife. The park is partly fenced off, mainly on the north side of the park where Nairobi city is. The south side is not fenced to allow for migration. The park is the second most visited park in Kenya with 100,000 annual visitors (source & source).

The park was officially opened in 1946 on Christmas day (source). It was the first protected park in Kenya and was established by British settlers and the colonial government. It was established in part due to the efforts of Mervyn Cowie who, after returning to Kenya after almost a decade absence, was alarmed at dwindling animal populations around Nairobi. He campaigned to have the park gazetted and for stricter laws on what was permitted within parks in Kenya (source).

The park has also been an important place for conservation efforts, many studies are done on the park and it’s animals to gain a better understanding of how to mitigate the human-animal conflicts. It is also of historical importance to international efforts to protect wildlife. Former President Daniel Arap Moi burned 12 tones of ivory that had been confiscated from poachers in 1989 (source). This put Kenya on the world stage and showed its seriousness to protect its wildlife.

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Source: Third World Architecture, Under Creative Commons. [Giraffe] Source: Andrew Shalansky, Under Creative Commons, [Rhino] Source: Visual Glow, Under Creative Commons, [Lion] Yu Luck, Under Creative Commons,
Most animals in Africa, especially large fauna have migratory route because of Kenya’s climate. The animals follow the rain. Most people have heard the great migration across Maasai Mara and the Serengeti but animals often move from one park to the next as the weather changes. Although Nairobi is a relatively wet part of Kenya with an average rainfall of 925mm per year, many animals do still migrate from the park down south to other protected or non-protected area (source & source). There is some evidence that animals have migrated as far as Tanzania from Nairobi National park but many large herbivores migrate from the park in the dry season to the surrounding unprotected savanna during the rainy season (source). This is the heart of the problem of Nairobi National Park. The city keeps expanding, the number of human-animal conflicts keeps increase and it becomes difficult to allow these animals to migrate south without putting people in harm’s way.

The population of Nairobi has grown rapidly since the park was first established. From a population 119,000 in 1948 to a population of more than 3,000,000 in 2009, (source). The city now threatens to engulf the park. The southern edge of the park used to empty savanna with pastoral people herding their cattle but more and more buildings, roads and permanent residents are starting to live on the park’s southern edge. This means that animals have a harder and harder time finding their way without coming into contact with people. This increases the amount of human-animal conflicts and the animosity towards the park and its wildlife.

Migration is important for large herbivore for a number of reasons. The first one is that as seasons change so does the amount of rain. Many animals follow these rain patterns to have enough food to survive. Another reason is that because of their size they often eat all suitable food within the area they are inhabiting and need to move to new areas with more abundant food. Furthermore, many large solitary herbivores and carnivores do not stay in the same area as their parents and need to move to find their own territory. A similar behaviour can be found when animals wish to mate, they may trek hundreds of kilometres in search of a suitable mate. These all hold true for the large animal, like Black and White Rhino, Giraffe and Lion that live in the Park

Whereas in the 1960’s 100,000 wildebeest made the migration from Nairobi to the south, in 2013 only 70 made the trip (source). The south side of the park’s border continues to become more and more crowded with more houses and farms, many of them illegal, all fenced. This means that the trip has become almost impossible for animals to navigate and it is expected that this will only become worse as Nairobi continues to grow.

Since former president Moi Kibaki started to implement vision 2030 Kenya has been working to update its colonial infrastructure with many new large projects that will hopefully transform Kenya into a middle-income country in 2030 and bring prosperity to its people. These project will likely have large and lasting effects on Kenya’s wildlife, many will effect Nairobi National Park. The first project that has already had an effect on Nairobi National Park is the Southern Bypass. The Southern bypass connects the A104 in Gitaru to Mombasa road close to JKIA. This new road has allowed heavy traffic that does not need to go to the CBD of Nairobi to bypass the worst traffic in the city. For the construction of the road 150,000m² of the park was degazetted to allow the road to pass around Nairobi and Wilson Airport (source). Although more land was acquired by the Park on the South edge this did still have a large effect on the Park. Most notably many animals have become scared and disorientated by the new road. The road produces a lot of noise pollution and this has caused many problems for the animals in the park. The KWS has said that the two lions that have escaped the park and attacked citizens may have been due to the disturbances from the park and the rail (source & source). The second project will be the Standard Gauge Railway phase 2A. The SGR phase 2A goes from Nairobi Terminus, close to the airport, towards Naivasha via Ngong. The first phase has already been completed travelling from Mombasa to Nairobi in about 4 hours. The hope is that the railway will go from Mombasa all the way towards Uganda. For the rail to get from Nairobi Terminus to Ngong it needs to pass through the park. Other options were considered but these were too expensive. The railway will be elevated as it passes through the park and noise barriers will be added to decrease the amount of noise pollution. About 7km of the rail will pass through the park. There has been a long and lively discussion between conservationists, the public and the national government about this project. It is difficult to know what effects this project will have on the wildlife in the park but it is very unlikely that there will be no negative effects what so ever. The three main problems that conservationists have brought up are the sound pollution, the construction and the vibrations. Sound barriers will obviously do a lot to reduce sound pollution but there will still be substantial sound pollution. Especially when you factor in that animal have much better hearing that humans do. The second is construction, although a bridge does have a much smaller footprint than a ground level railway, never the less the park will lose area because of the railway. The third is that as the train speeds over the bridge the columns under will vibrate. This could have adverse effects on the wildlife.

As Nairobi continues to grow how can the park continue to be a bastion for wildlife and nature the main question is how can NGO’S, the KWS, surrounding communities and other government organizations help to reduce Human-Animal Conflicts in the region and continue to allow animals to migrate to the south. Last year (2017) a comprehensive report (Wildlife Migratory Corridors and Dispersal Areas) was published by the KWS and its partners. The report looks at the migratory routes and dispersal areas both inside and outside protected areas of virtually all large animals in almost all of the country. It included Nairobi National Park looking at how urbanization is affecting wildlife migrating to and away from the park. The KWS proposed to create Wildlife Migratory Routes that would allow animals to move in and out of the park. It also calls for much stricter zoning laws and laws on fencing (source). These changes would mean that Nairobi National Park remains connected to other areas where large animals migrate too and help to mitigate human-animal conflicts.

There are also some conservationists who think the only way to safe keep the park is to completely fence it off on all sides and to create a park that is self-sufficient. A healthy breeding population could be kept by transporting animals from this park to others and moving overpopulated species from the park to others. The positives of this proposal are that it will hugely decrease the amount of human-animal conflicts as these two groups will be clearly separated. It would also make it much harder for poachers to kill animals when they stray out of the park boundaries. The negatives are that Nairobi National Park will become a large zoo, instead of a park. Furthermore, there are considerable negatives of transporting animals to keep a healthy breeding population, the most critical negative effect could be the death of an animal due do stress from transportation.

Whatever decision is made on Nairobi National Park it would be a shame to lose such a unique national treasure. Nairobi National Park is a testament to Kenya’s will to save its wildlife and protect its natural beauty even as it continues to grow and modernise. Hopefully, Kenya will show the way on how human and animals can live together in harmony and create a lasting legacy in conservation history.

Source: The GuardianSmart Cities DiveEJ AtlasThe Nature of CitiesNext CityNRDCNational GeographicSafari BookingsQuestiaWikipedia (Nairobi National Park)New World EncyclopediaBritannicaClimatemps (Nairobi)Bioecon-Network (Private farmers compensation and viability of protected areas: The case of Nairobi National Park and Kitengela dispersal corridor)SwaraBBCKWS (WILDLIFE MIGRATORY CORRIDORS Kenya Rangelands and Coastal Terrestrial Ecosystems and Dispersal Areas)Wikipedia (Nairobi)


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