Railway shouldn’t destroy Nairobi park

Thursday January 7 2016

Giraffes graze at the Nairobi National Park. The fact that the Park is the only such entity in a city is a plus for Kenya. PHOTO | WACHIRA MWANGI | NATION MEDIA GROUP

Giraffes graze at the Nairobi National Park. The fact that the Park is the only such entity in a city is a plus for Kenya. PHOTO | WACHIRA MWANGI | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

I believe a proper environmental impact assessment was carried out prior to finalising plans to divert the standard gauge railway line to go through the Nairobi National Park.

In late July 2015, I watched on TV as both the Director of Lands and Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) representatives gave the reasons for the diversion.

They all agreed that the railway would not affect the wildlife.

Their reasoning was that the railway would be high enough to allow even tall animals such as giraffes to pass under it.

This is fine from a non-ecological point of view. However, when addressing animal ecology, there are many factors to consider.

Any new structure introduced in the ecosystem will scare away wildlife.

Therefore, animals may abandon certain sections of the park and move to certain “safe” areas.

This may lead to overcrowding in certain parts of the park, which is of particular concern for the Nairobi National Park because it is not very big.

It is to be hoped that the train will have powerful silencers so that the noise it makes will not to scare away animals.

Wild animals are sensitive to unfamiliar sounds.

COSTLY UNDERTAKING

Even if the railway line will hang in the air, its supportive structures will require the destruction of vegetation in its path.

Some of this vegetation hosts the nesting sites of some birds and the homes or hide-outs for some animals.

I hope the environmental impact assessment captured all these factors.

Restoring a damaged ecosystem is expensive in terms of both time and money, and it may never be the same again.

When a park shrinks, density-dependent factors that keep the animal population in dynamic equilibrium are affected. This affects the entire ecosystem.

The fact that the Nairobi National Park is the only such entity in a city is a plus for Kenya.

I am afraid that, at the rate we are encroaching on it, it may soon cease to exist.

We may soon be left with an amusement park or a zoo, not a natural wildlife park.

Nairobi National Park is already under pressure.

All the dispersal areas have been taken up by development projects, largely in the form of housing estates.

THE ONLY MOVE
Animal migratory corridors no longer exist.

In other words, the gene pool for the Nairobi National Park is too small. Something needs to be done urgently to rectify this.

My suggestion to KWS is that a long-time vision for Nairobi National Park be initiated.

KWS should work with professionals, even those from outside the service, to address serious issues such as this one.

I have listened to KWS Chairman Richard Leakey’s views on this matter.

He said that, considering the impact of the railway project on the economy of the country, the best option was to allow it to pass through the Nairobi National Park.

He added that it may not be the best option overall but that it was the best one for now.

He advised that such issues be brought up in the early stages so that they can be resolved in good time.

I liked this explanation better than the earlier one given by the KWS officers.