Last week, many were taken aback by the killing of six lions by morans in Kitengela. This should be condemned in the strongest terms possible. It should, in fact, be considered economic sabotage.
But as we condemn this wanton destruction of wildlife, it is necessary to take a long-term look at the matter.
Demographic and social changes are placing more and more people in direct contact with wildlife. As human populations grow, settlements expand into and around protected areas, as well as in urban and sub-urban areas.
In Africa, human population growth has lead to encroachment on wildlife habitats, constricting species to marginal habitat patches and leading to direct competition with local communities.
In areas with abundant wildlife such as Samburu, Trans Mara, Taita, and Kwale, conflict is intensified by land use fragmentation and the development of small-scale farming.
In fact, state and trust ranches have been subdivided and sold as smallholdings and cultivated with commercial horticultural crops. This is what is now happening in Kajiado and Kitengela, where flower and vegetable growing has gone up.
The solution to these human-wildlife problems lies in a selfless balance of planning to promote coexistence and minimise conflict.
The Nairobi National Park is left porous on the southern edge to allow unrestricted entry and exit of animals, which wander back south towards the slopes of Mt Kilimanjaro around the Amboseli area.
Unfortunately, due to increasing human encroachment, the large herds that were previously sighted grazing, hunting, and roaming to and from the Nairobi plains are no longer visible.
Saving land for animal migration corridors and containing suburban sprawl is a necessity.
We have finite resources in terms of the land that we can expand into; Nairobi should not have grown all the way to Kitengela, Rongai, or Ngong, and the pain of this sprawl is not only causing us agonising travel to work, but also severe human-wildlife conflict at the edges of the Nairobi National Park.
Humans have encroached where animals used to range freely. It is not the lions that are coming into peoples homes, it is people’s houses that are being built where the lions used to freely range and hunt.
Our city’s radial plan, where everyone converges in the CBD for work and to the periphery for sleep is mainly to blame for this. This poor planning has contributed in a big way to what is making everyone build far away from the CBD, and a huge uptake of public transport to the centre for work.
The city planning department, therefore, takes the most blame for failing to create a mixed-use scenario.
In such a scenario, people live near their places of work, ideally within a 500-metre radius. In such a city, transport is cheaper because you can move relatively larger numbers of people fairly quickly and over a short distance to their places of interest.
This way, people would live close to the main places of work, such as the CBD, Westlands, or Upper Hill, where they would be accommodated mainly in huge living tower blocks and leave the ground free for communal facilities and playing fields.
If the planning of the city was done to deliberately encourage everyone to live next to their place of work, there is no doubt that many of the problems we now face, such as human-wildlife conflict, would be reduced because people would not have to build in areas such as Kitengela and Rongai.
With the planned Konza City, this conflict is likely to worsen. This development is likely to confine our lovely wildlife to the Nairobi National Park, thus reducing the park to a zoo because ranging will no longer be possible. In essence, wild animals like lions, cheetahs, leopards, buffaloes, and rhinos will be condemned to death in a choking chamber.
Also, it is a fact that while planning a city, the planners must leave room for its expansion. But this does not mean that the city should be allowed to expand in all directions to whatever extent; controls must be put in place.
Kenya, being a country that derives revenue from tourism, must provide for a situation where animals are provided for in a manner that ensures their continued survival.
What this means is that, while the city’s expansion might be a good thing, care must be taken and restrictions imposed to ensure that it does not expand into areas that are crucial for the survival and flourishing of wildlife.
In order to make wildlife protection effective, conservation must be based on sound scientific knowledge combined with indigenous and practical local knowledge and collaboration with local communities and other stakeholders.
Integrated community development and wildlife conservation, promoted by both park managers and local populations, must become the norm.
Community-based conservation should give local residents the right to limited and sustainable use of natural resources while promoting tolerance towards wildlife, responsible interaction with their natural environment, and the recognition of the value of natural heritage.
While it is possible to halt further expansion of settlements into important wildlife territory, we must also find a way to deal with problems arising from communities that are already living next to these areas.
Protected areas and wild animal populations inflict suffering on local communities. In turn, local residents can develop a negative attitude towards these reserves and wildlife, undermining conservation efforts.
In order to end this, there is a need to protect rural lives and livelihoods. Therefore, to ensure the support of the communities, those affected by the wildlife must be adequately compensated for the losses they incur.
At the same time, they must be shown the benefits of conservation by having such amenities as schools and hospitals built from tourism or conservation proceeds.
Human population will continue to grow, and if those responsible for planning are not insightful enough to guide land use, human lives and natural heritage shall continue to be lost.
Mr Kathuli is an architect.