Taita Taveta County government will next year intensify its campaign to convert Tsavo National Park into a game reserve.
Speaking in Wundanyi, Governor Granton Samboja said, together with members of the County Assembly (MCAs), they will subject the matter to public participation to get the residents’ opinion on the issue.
The matter has also elicited debate among conservationists across the country.
Taita Taveta leaders and residents claim they have never benefited from the expansive park.
The leaders will move across the 20 wards to collect more than 250,000 signatures from residents to petition the national government and the Senate.
“We have been having this conversation with the MCAs. We will hold public meetings with residents to ask them to support us,” he said.
The governor also appealed for support from leaders in the Coast region.
He said Taita Taveta will not be able to achieve its objective of managing the park if they don’t get support from the other five coastal counties.
“As a region we have so many problems that need to be tackled through a joint approach,” he said.
Mr Samboja said he will lobby for support from Jumuiya ya Kaunti za Pwani, an economic bloc bringing together the six counties — Taita Taveta, Kwale, Mombasa, Kilifi, Lamu and Tana River.
He said through the regional bloc, coastal residents would be able to solve a myriad of challenges facing them.
Tsavo National Park also borders Kilifi, Kwale, Makueni, Kajiado, Kitui and Tana River counties.
The park occupies almost 62 percent of Taita Taveta County land.
Residents from these counties have been experiencing frequent human-wildlife conflicts that have led to loss of lives and property damage.
They have on numerous occasions lodged complaints to the national government through the Kenya Wildlife Service over the matter but little has been done.
They argue that the compensation they receive is very little and want the issue addressed comprehensively.
The government through the Wildlife Conservation and Compensation committee has only compensated 10 deaths to the tune of Sh35.6 million since 2013, with over 1,500 cases pending.
As one of the largest parks in the world, Tsavo has attracted conservationists from different organisations that have been running various projects meant to conserve the wildlife found in and outside the protected area.
The push to convert the park into a game reserve has elicited mixed reactions among stakeholders.
African Wildlife Foundation Lumo project manager George Okwaro said the quest will be tedious.
He said county governments do not have the capacity to manage such a big conservation area.
“It is not as easy as they think. Tsavo being among the largest parks in the world requires a lot of resources to run it,” he said.
When contacted, KWS officials remained tight-lipped, saying Tourism and Wildlife Cabinet Secretary Najib Balala is the one mandated to speak on such issues.
“That is political. The county government has never engaged us on the matter, we only see it in the media.
“The revenue we generate goes to the national government to manage other protected areas that do not generate revenue,” a KWS official who sought anonymity said.