The Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) has unveiled an ambitious strategy aimed at reversing dwindling fortunes of Lake Nakuru National Park.
The strategy targets to increase the park’s current Shs.480 million annual revenue collection to Shs.1 billion by next year.
The move has been prompted by expert findings that point to a worrying decline in a wide range of plant and animal life that threatens to take away the once highly acclaimed wildlife habitat tag, as an international tourism site.
The KWS Director General, Brig.(Rtd) John Waweru said the park that is also home to lions, rhinos and buffaloes among other animals was reeling under pressure of heavy pollution.
Towards restoring the park’s luster, Waweru said the service was working closely with the County government of Nakuru in addressing pollution, human encroachment, depletion of the Lake’s catchment area and disease outbreaks which threaten plant, animal and marine life in the park.
While launching a 100 day Rapid Response Initiative (RRI) park recovery strategy, the director general said a team of research scientists was already conducting situation analysis of the park.
The scientists, Waweru said, seek to establish the reason for the dwindling numbers of flamingoes and wild animals particularly lions that have in the past given the park international fame.
“The Lake Nakuru National Park recovery strategy incorporates Nakuru Water and Sewerage Services Company (NAWASSCO), Water Resources Management Authority (WRMA), the County Government of Nakuru and National Environmental Management Authority (NEMA).
The core of our strategy is to increase tourist numbers through environmental conservation measures aimed at restoring rapidly falling numbers of mammals, birds and plant species,” said Waweru.
Due to its rich diversity of rare and endangered birds, the park has been accorded the Important Bird Areas (IBA) and World Heritage Site status by CITES Convention.
It is also designated as a Ramsar site and a centre of biodiversity for many mammals and reptiles classified as most threatened species in the IUCN red list including the black and white rhino.
“We are setting up a water quality monitoring system within the park that will help us check pollution levels. The service is collaborating with the county administration towards lowering levels of toxic wastes that have found their way into the water body including agrochemicals from farms and heavy metal from industries in the densely populated populated Nakuru town and Njoro sub-basin,” said Brig.(Rtd) Waweru.
The Nakuru Governor, Lee Kinyanjui said Lake Nakuru National Park which recorded 200, 000 visitors last year was one of the main economic life lines of the devolved unit and conceded that poor refuse disposal and increased heavy metal content from solid waste was degrading the lake.
“There has been an increase in organic pollution due to urbanisation. Degradation of the lake has adversely affected water quality, productivity and biodiversity. This is affecting its abilities to support life.
Towards resuscitating the park, my administration has received a Shs.3.5 billion grant from the German Development Bank to revamp storm water drainage systems.
We will use part of the funds to refurbish its two major sewerage treatment works at Mwariki and Njoro that have been culprits in polluting the water body. We need to separate sewerage from storm water to cut down on pollution levels,” said Kinyanjui.
In shoring up the number of tourists visiting the park as part of the Rapid Results Initiative, the governor indicated that his administration had set aside Shs.400 million towards upgrading the Lanet Military Airstrip into a commercial 1.7 kilometre runaway airstrip.
“We are partnering with the national government to ensure that public air travel to Nakuru is made easier. Works on the airstrip are expected to be completed within two years. We are also improving and expanding both the main highways and feeder roads within the devolved unit,” said the governor.
Waweru said KWS had developed a spatial plan for infrastructure upgrade within the park including restoration of damaged roads, wireless internet connectivity throughout the facility, installation of an automatic weather station, upgrade of staff quarters and reclamation of several picnic sites that have been walloped by rising lake water levels.
He regretted that rising water levels had also affected large swathes of the habitat, including the acacia woodland, which is now submerged in water forcing buffaloes and other animals to migrate to higher grounds. However, he said, this will not dampen the initiative to restore the park to its former glory.
Experts have warned that flamingoes, the main attraction at the National Park, had fled due to increased water levels.
Increased amount of water inflows dilutes the lake’s alkaline level, which supports growth of algae that flamingoes feed on.
“Low salinity of the water has reduced the growth of the blue-green algae, the flamingos’ main food. Flamingo recovery is central to our strategy. There is optimism as our researchers are working with teams of experts to work out a solution for diminishing salinity,” said Brig. (Rtd) Waweru.
The County government and the Kenya WildLife Service have also put in place joint animal disease surveillance and control programme to mitigate outbreaks in the park and adjoining areas that have in the past claimed scores of wild animals.
“We have been having sporadic outbreaks of wildlife diseases, including anthrax which has so far claimed 145 buffaloes. The disease has been successfully contained as both KWS veterinary officers and County Public Health Officers continue to monitor the situation,” stated the director general.
The partnership will come up with long term strategies to avert outbreaks, including translocation of some of the wild animals to other areas. Though the park can only hold 500 buffaloes, the director general observed that their numbers had snowballed to 4100 animals.
Kinyanjui said the County administration had spent over Shs.50 million in vaccinating domestic animals from communities living around the park against anthrax.
He called for restoration of the wild animal migration corridor stretching from Lake Naivasha through Marura Farm into Lake Nakuru which had been encroached onto by human settlements.
“This will not only reduce constant disease outbreaks but will also diminish human animal conflicts,” Waweru noted.
The governor indicated that as part of the park recovery plan the county government was partnering with an international investor to recycle and add value to waste.
“We will continue working with KWS to effectively manage garbage so that it does not find its way in this ecosystem. The County government is collaborating with communities living within the Lake’s catchment in working against pollution, bad agricultural practices and deforestation,” said the Kinyanjui.
As part of public private partnership, the Rapid Results Initiative provides that hotels and camping sites within the park will have to upgrade quality of their services to international standards and offer a diversified range of products that cuts across all market segments.
“Hoteliers will be required to offer high quality services that are both ecofriendly and affordable within the park. We need a paradigm shift in the way we have been marketing products offered by Lake Nakuru National Park,” said Waweru.
By Anne Mwale