13 March 2013

Kenya: Amboseli Ecosystem Under Siege

The Amboseli ecosystem continues to attract a large number of tourists each year, more so due to its large elephant population totalling about 1,500.

This attraction is however faced with a challenge as more investors are putting up developments that if not well managed would pose a threat to the fragile ecosystem.

To save the ecosystem, the 2008-2018 Amboseli Management Plan was unanimously adapted during the consultative forum on the Amboseli Ecosystem by the National Environment Management Authority and is awaiting gazettement.

The plan was proposed in 2004 and has been going through various consultative meetings with different players including Nema, Kenya Wildlife Service, Kenya Forest Service, Ministry of Tourism, Attorney General's office and the Amboseli community.

The plan, according to Nema director general Prof Geoffrey Wahungu, seeks to have zoning of the ecosystem. Specific areas will be identified for hotel developments, horticulture, farming and grazing areas for the community which heavily relies on pastoralism.

This, Wahungu said, will ensure that developments will not interfere with the wildlife corridors and instead have sustainable development in the Amboseli ecosystem.

"There must be a legal document that will control development in this ecosystem and others. This will be the first management plan and it will set pace for other ecosystems," Wahungu said.

"Nema recognises the importance of protecting our natural capital and the management plan provides an opportunity. Only the gazettement is hindering us from arresting unplanned developments that are threatening our ecosystems."

Before gazettement, a plan must go through a consultative process where all key players are actively involved. If all the parties are in agreement with the specifications or requirements, it is then adapted and gazetted.

"Everybody can be accommodated in Amboseli ecosystem but it is about where to put what that we need to think about. The plan will also help in reducing unfair competition and in securing the interest of the community," Wahungu said.

The management plan has five programmes including community partnership, wildlife and human security within the ecosystem, tourism development to better utilise the ecosystem for tourism, ecological management and operation programme that looks at who will influence or co-ordinate the various programmes.

Loitoktok DC Harsama Akello said for the last two years, the Amboseli ecosystem has been under siege.

"Many people have put legal structures or hazardous developments in this areas such as airstrips, boreholes and recent structure are horticulture farms in the centre of the wildlife routes. This is a serious issue that needs to be addressed so that we can come out of this mess soonest," Akello said.

He appealed to Nema to use its mandate to secure the Amboseli ecosystem and save it for future generations.

Part of the problem in this ecosystem, the DC noted, is mismanagement.

"We have to wake up to the reality that if we don't provide leadership there will be dire consequences in this ecosystem that we so much take pride in. Let us understand that the responsibility of ensuring the survival of the ecosystem lies within us," Akello said.

Anne Kahihia, KWS assistant director, Southern Conservation Area, said killing our biodiversity in the name of development will not do the country any good.

"While we are not against development, we must think about our wildlife and their existence. We should have businesses that co-exist with wildlife management. Zoning will be good in ensuring sustainable development especially to the Amboseli National Park which is a premium park, second to Lake Nakuru National Park," Kahihia said.

David Western from the African Conservation Centre said way back in 1974, Amboseli National Park was a highly migratory park but it is now a fragile ecosystem with the additional pressures of human-wildlife conflict which have gone up tremendously.

He notes that the wildlife numbers have not recovered since 2008/2009 drought due to predator pressure and there is a lot of migration outside the park which was not common.

However, according to KWS, the elephant population is slowly increasing as there has been enormous reproduction since 2011 with about 220 elephant calves recorded.

"Unregulated growth in the Amboseli ecosystem will bring a catastrophe two to three years from now," Western said. "If this is not salvaged, we are going to see the number of wildlife continue to go down."

KFS forest conservation and management deputy director Essau Omollo said, "The developments will negatively impact on the ecosystem that will reach its ultimate breakdown and it will be nearly impossible to recover."

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