Encroaching on wildlife parks threat to tourism

Wildebeest crossing Mara river and tourists at Maasai Mara game reserve.

As many countries all over the world grapple with economic hardship triggered by the coronavirus pandemic, Kenya’s national and county governments are compelled to hastily learn to survive in the current new normal environment. Topping the list of adversely affected sectors is tourism whose earnings are currently down to a mere trickle.

Narok and Kajiado counties who host fauna and flora  rich world famous wildlife parks–Maasai Mara Game Reserve and Amboseli National Park respectively, among several conservancies operated by indigenous communities –are feeling the pinch. They are, home to the Big Five; lion, rhino, elephant, leopard and buffalo,   A global ban on air travel plunged into the deep end hospitality industry’s world class hotels and lodges.

Tourist arrivals plummeted  overnight due to Covid-19 pandemic fears as nationally, 1.7 million Kenyan workers lost jobs.Be it as it may, for two counties, the tourist industry, though at the moment at its nadir, it nevertheless holds  hope, if any, of turning around their battered economies. It is due to this realization that reports of parks encroachment is utterly shocking for residents, wildlife lovers and environmental conservationists. In Amboseli national park –a gem in the crown of game reserves and parks – commercial farming of avocados besides other activities is taking place while other areas that serve as essential wild animals’ migratory routes have been occupied. Rising human population pressure has also spawned illegal human settlements and illegal fencing of the routes.

This is fuelling human-wildlife conflict leading to loss of lives. In Maasai Mara, a hotel was ordered closed after it emerged it was built smack in the middle of wildebeests migratory route. For Arid and semi Arid areas counties whose huge rangelands are unsuitable for crop farming, the parks form the best use of land and must be protected at all costs. Like they say a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. For them tourism is the goose that lays the golden egg and must be protected for the benefit of present and future generations.

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