A stray lion that caused a scare in Nairobi on Friday morning best exemplifies the fragile human-wildlife relationship. The lion broke out of the Nairobi National Park and traversed parts of the city, attacking and injuring an elderly person and leaving devastation on its trail.
This was the fourth time in a row that lions and lionesses escaped from the park and terrorised city residents signalling a far bigger problem even as the Kenya Wildlife Service called for calm and assured the public that the animals were under control.
Evidently, there is a fundamental problem that causes the lions to frequently seek out. The gradual and systematic encroachment of human beings on the park has constricted the movements of the animals. No longer can the animals roam freely in search of food and water or for their sessional migratory routines.
In particular, Nairobi National Park is threatened by chains of buildings that encroach on it from all directions. Large residential estates and commercial buildings have been put up right at the edge of the park in total disregard of by-laws.
Also, the big infrastructure projects like the southern bypass have forced the government to hive off some chunks of the park’s land to create room for the construction. Worse, parts of the park have not been fenced, which allow the animals to walk out at will, especially at times of food scarcity.
This problem is not confined to Nairobi. In many parts of the country, citizens neighbouring parks have complained of invasion by wild animals, which destroy crops, properties and even injure people. Managing the conflict between human beings and the animals is vexed, more so with the astronomical population growth.
But the challenge must be confronted. In Nairobi, KWS, the city government and security agencies must seek ways of securing the national park and safeguarding lives of the residents. The fundamental question is how to keep off property developers from the national park. Nairobi prides itself as the only city in the world that hosts a national park but that may go sooner rather than later.
KWS must start with the basic things, namely reinforcing the perimeter fence around the park and intensifying patrols to prevent the animals from escape. But broadly, a national land tenure system that demarcates land for public use and that for animals must be enforced to mitigate the human-wildlife conflict.