Will pastoralists and wildlife survive?

Friends of Nairobi Park,

One of the promises of the current board is to base our conservation strategy on science. However in Kenya, the public rarely has access to scientific information. This is the text from an interesting policy paper that is based on scientific work done in the Nairobi Park and surrrounding areas. Many of you contributed to the game counts that are illustrated in graphs below. The article reveals the critical situation facing wildlife and pastoral livelihoods in the Kitengela area. We would like to explore your thoughts on the findings of this project. For more details you can find this article for down load here and it is also available at the website of the reto-o-reto Project

Kitengela transforming

Will pastoralists and wildlife survive?

In brief

The semi-arid Kitengela plains south of Nairobi National Park (NNP) have been the longtime home of the Kaputiei Maasai community. Together with NNP these plains form the Athi-Kaputiei ecosystem. The plains host rich populations of wildlife and are vital to the health of NNP, since 70 to 80 percent of the Park’s animals roam outside it’s boundaries at any one time.   But the rangeland that once seemed endless is now splintering. Close to the ever expanding Nairobi, the Kitengela plains are experiencing a population boom, rising land prices and speculation, commercial and subsistence farming, and unregulated urbanisation. Maasai who once tended large cattle herds on communal land now often have a few animals on individual plots, and are selling off their own land for the cash to survive. Wildlife populations have dropped by more than 70 percent over 25 years.   If present trends continue, the future may find – the Maasai dispossessed, a mere remnant of wildlife remaining in Nairobi National Park, severe water scarcity, and large areas of degraded land. Urgent planning and action involving all stakeholders is the best  hope for giving Kitengela’s human, livestock and wildlife residents a healthy future.

Some history

In 1911, the Kenyan Maasai lost about 60% of their best land and pastures when they were moved from the northern reserve to a single extended southern reserve. Within the Athi-Kaputiei ecosystem, Nairobi National Park was created in 1946 which excluded the Maasai and their livestock from traditional dry season pastures.

Since 1911 several policies progressively led to land tenure changes in Maasailand. These changes often meant less land available for the
Maasai livestock and wildlife. In 1968, Kajiado District was subdivided into 50
group ranches.

Since 1911 several policies progressively led to land tenure changes in Maasailand. These changes often meant less land available for the Maasai livestock and wildlife. In 1968, Kajiado District was subdivided into 50 group ranches. In 1986, Kitengela, Maasailand’s first group ranch, was further subdivided into private land parcels.
This triggered land sales, the fragmentation of land, and saw the introduction of new and competing land uses. These changes represent a serious loss of pastures and space for the Maasai, their livestock and wildlife.

Critical condition Recent immigrants to the area have brought about a population explosion as well as new economic activities and land uses. These changes are not only transforming the Kitengela plains but also threatening the integrity of the ecosystem of which it is part. Today the human residents, the land, vegetation, wildlife, and water are all at risk. Rangeland for livestock and

Precipitous wildlife declines

Effects on water
Extensive catchment destruction and overexploitation of water resources in the Athi-Kaputiei ecosystem have led to progressively less water available for the human, livestock and wildlife residents. The Empakasi River remains the only all year-round river that flows through the plains. The watershed for the Empakasi River, vital for Nairobi National Park and neighbouring Machakos, lies in Ngong Forest. But the Ngong Forest has been truncated and is still suffering encroachment, imperiling the last dry-season water course.

Thirty years ago, the Kitengela River and swamp had water all year round. Today, this river flows only when it rains, and the swamp area is drying up. Pollutants from agriculture, industry, and towns up stream also
contaminate surface water.

Irrigation and other water sources in the Athi-Kaputiei ecosystem lack adequate oversight. For instance, although regulations require boreholes to be sited at least 800 metres apart, a 2004 survey shows that some lie as close as 200 metres apart, while some wells were within 15 metres of each other along the seasonal river courses.

Consequences of population growth and land fragmentation
Effects on pastoral livelihoods
In the clash of cultures and livelihoods that is present day Kitengela, Maasai are increasingly marginalized.

Many find the cash offered for land too tempting to pass up. But, new to the market economy and lacking financial literacy, they all too often squander what they receive, only to sell off more land for more cash. Soon they find themselves squeezed into spaces too small to support pastoralism, with few other options.
While some may argue that selling land is a personal choice, real choice is only possible when the decisionmaker has options and information about relative risks and rewards. Heavily pressured by potential buyers, Maasai landowners have not had the information to foresee what land sales would do to their families, livelihoods, and community.

In the absence of swift action: a scenario for 2026 If present trends continue, this may be the picture of the Kitengela plains within 20 years:

1.     Human population will more than double, making the plains an essentially urban expanse, interrupted only by farms and greenhouses.

2.     The Maasai will be dispossessed of land, livelihood, and culture. Most will have joined the ranks of landless slum dwellers.

3.     Large areas of land will be degraded by unsustainable uses. It will no longer be fit for agriculture or livestock, let alone wildlife.

4.     Water tables will be lower because of unsustainable pumping of groundwater.

5.     Conflicts over land and water use will intensify between settlements, industry, pastoralists and farmers.

6.     Wildlife will become extinct on the plains outside Nairobi National Park.

7.     At less than 5 percent of the original Athi-Kaputiei ecosystem, NNP will be an island, too small for most species to survive even if protected.

Effects on Nairobi National Park (NNP)

Popular and lucrative, NNP is a unique national asset. It is the world’s only national park bordering a capital city with the northern fence only 6km from Nairobi’s city centre. It is also Kenya’s first national park, and the only one within easy reach of urban dwellers. Home to the Animal Orphanage and the Safari Walk, NNP combines a wilderness experience with recreational and educational services.   In addition to local visitors, one out of three international guests who stop in Nairobi tour the park. The park’s popularity makes it the fourth largest revenue earner for Kenya Wildlife Service. Nairobi National Park also serves as a breeding ground for the endangered black rhinoceros. Rhino’s from the park are sent nationwide to restock other parks.   But like the rhino, NNP is in danger. At the northern border of the Kitengela plains, NNP represents a mere one twentieth of the original Athi-Kaputiei ecosystem. City developers already have their sights on the park, and some advocate for its closure arguing all is already lost. With rangeland to the north blocked by the city, the Kitengela plains are literally the park’s lifeline. If unplanned development makes the plains hostile to wildlife, NNP will become an island, too small and isolated to host a large or diverse population of animals. The nation would lose a valuable economic asset and a unique heritage.

Effects on wildlife
Counts show that wildlife populations on the Kitengela plains plunged by 72 percent from 1977-2002 . The wildebeest population plunged on the Kitengela plains (left graph) and crashed inside Nairobi National Park after the 2000 drought (right graph) and has not recovered . More than 90 percent of eland and giraffe also vanished during these 25 years.

Wildebeest migrations are almost ended after the 2000 drought

Ecologists calculate that 60,000 acres is the minimum area that migratory animals need to sustain themselves in the Athi-Kaputiei ecosystem. By December 2004, 18 percent of the Athi-Kaputiei ecosystem, excluding the
National Park was fenced.

Community Action Now that subdivision has reached such an advanced stage, pastoral residents of the Kitengela plains realize they must take swift action if they are to retain enough pasture to herd livestock and shelter wildlife. Community members with a consortium of government, private and other organizations are pioneering ways to help both pastoralism and wildlife survive. Under the Wildlife Conservation Lease Programme, The Wildlife Foundation pays pastoral families to lease their land. Families who participate may continue to graze livestock but agree not to fence, develop, or sell their acreage. Strictly voluntary, the programme now leases 8,500 acres from 117 families; another 118 community members are waiting to join. The programme aims to lease and conserve 60,000 acres, enough to allow the seasonal migration of wildlife to and from Nairobi National Park (see Reto-o-Reto Policy Brief 1 for more information).   The popularity of the Wildlife Conservation Lease Programme provides evidence of community preference when given a real choice.

More Effort is Needed In the absence of land-use planning, the Kitengela plains have reached a critical stage. Now may be the last available time to shape a sustainable economy and society. Wise policy initiatives are vital if the area is to see a future brighter than the scenario presented above.   Conversely, if managed with the interests of all stakeholders, the plains represent an opportunity to model land-use planning for other regions set to experience similar tensions. Additional support is needed to sustain this effort from all stakeholders.

References: Gichohi, H. 2000. Functional relationships between parks and agricultural areas in East Africa: The case of Nairobi National Park. in H. H. T. Prins, J. G. Grootenhuis, and T. T. Dolan, editors. Wildlife Conservation and Sustainable Use. Kluwer Academic Publishers, Drodrecht. Norton-Griffiths, M., Said, M.Y., Serneels, S., Kaelo, D.S., Coughenour, M., Lamprey, R.H., Thompson, D.M., and Reid, R.S. 2007. Land use economics in the Mara Area of the Serengeti Ecosystem: In: Sinclair, ARE & Fryxell JF (eds). Serengeti III: The future of an ecosystem. University of Chicago Press. Reid, R.S., Gichohi, H., Said, M.Y., Nkedianye, D., Ogutu, J.O., Kshatriya, M., Kristjanson, P., Kifugo, S., Agatsiva, J.L., Adanje, S.A., and Bagine, R. 2007. Fragmentation of peri-urban savanna, Athi-Kaputiei Plains, Kenya.


7 responses to “Will pastoralists and wildlife survive?

  1. Thank you for the interesting information..I come from Kitengela/kaputiei plains and have a passion for wildlife. The situation on the ground is very wanting. Roaming wildlife with no space/cover are killed carelessly and this is due to the fact that the community see no value in them. I urge you FONNAP/KWS get to the ground and teach the community about wildlife and look for ways to have them see direct benefits of conserving wildlife. Take them for gamedrives in the park..some have never seen a lion. Initiate/Support programmes for the communities in exchange for them to take care of the wildlife. People are selling land due to poverty. So creating an alternative source of income for them will stop that…just maybe. The compensation plan and paying for grass are really not sustainable ways of involving the community. What if you lack funds? Will the wildlife survive? Iam working with a group of women doing beadwork and most of them who are still the main landowners didnt see any value/knowledge of wildlife untill I started talking to them. Initiate programmes that will educate the maasai about reducing the number of cattle or changing the breed to saiwal which can resist drought and produce more milk. This are among many of my observations..Hope to share more.

  2. Thanks for a good analysis well communicated. This is just what one would expect with uncontrolled population growth, and it wont be fixed until someone deals with it. Clearly bad institutions and bad “development” and bad historical decisions are key. One wonders how much of this is due to “development aid” and how much is simply bad government. Though all that matters is what to do about it, and how to get there…

  3. Excellent analysis, solid science and date, leading to an incredibly sad and depressing outlook. Helen Gichohi was working on these studies while I was in Kenya, and even in 1996 the future was grim. The only solution will come from smart, activist Kenyans like Simaton Nkamasiai. His ideas are right on the mark, and Kenya needs hundreds more like him. Simaton: do you have any contacts with KWS? Do they listen to you and others like you? Does your Maasai group have any formal ties with Kenya government agencies, and do they listen and support you? Have you attended FONNAP meetings? Does FONNAP have any formal links to government development authorities other than KWS? Do any FONNAP members belong to international aid agencies that have such contacts? More to the point, do international aid agencies have any leverage on the Kenyan government? When I was there, the director of USAID once told me that the dollar amount of US aid had been reduced so much over the years that it was dwarfed by private money and influence. In the poker game of development planning, he didn’t have enough money to sit at the table and chip in the ante, let alone make any bets, and his influence on things like land use decisions was laughable. What about game ranching along the limes of the concept promoted by David Hopcraft in the dryland ranches extending down the Mombasa road that divided the Maasai from the Kamba? The idea was that carefully and scientifically harvested game meat could provide a small but significant source of income for these landowners that would induce them to allow wildlife on their lands and protect it. As with all things, this runs into control and regulation issues, and can be abused. But it might give the Maasai in the Kitengela additional income that would help them avoid selling their land. In addition, keeping wildlife on the land protected the indigenous vegetation on that land, and thus the land itself. Combine that with Simaton’s recommendation for adopting Saiwal cattle that use less water, and you have a chance. Admittedly, even with this additional source of income, it would be hard to compete with prices paid by developers for land. Still, if you are going to have any hope of keeping range land open for wildlife migrations as well as for cattle, you need some way to make wildlife a paying proposition in addition to tourism.

  4. Very good article indeed & also Simaton’s comment. I fear it is too late for that part of the ‘Kapiti’ plains north of the Namanga road which is the true dispersal area for the wildlife of NNP: surely Kitengela township & the rapid subdivision of property between Athi River & Twala already precludes dispersal by most species save zebra (all 4000 est.) & the gazelles.
    Wildebeest, zebra, gazelles & cheetah (of which sp. only 1 male remains in the park) are all found in numbers SOUTH of the Namanga highway.
    It seems impossible, now, to link the park to this wider dispersal areadaily burgeoning Kitengela town is in the way.
    We still have 60,000 acres available for wildlife in park, buffer zones & leased land in the (northern) dispersal area.
    Let’s keep it that way.
    On the positive side there are numbers of giraffe (150) & eland in the park despite the precipitous decline cited in this report. ALL other sp. bar cheetah are doing OK in the Park (ie not declining or increasing.)
    It will be interesting to see the results of last sunday’s game count………

  5. Please note that this article was published in year 2007 with data largely from 2006 and before. A lot of good has happend to the greater National Park ecosystem since then. For one, instead of having 8,500 acres under protection of the Wildlife Conservation Lease Programme involving 117 families, there are now 42,000 acres enrolled in the Lease Programme with the co-operation of 365 Maasai pastoral families. Second, and perhaps most importantly, the Kajiado County Council has recently passed a law requiring that the sub-division of land into parcels less than 60 acres in size is prohibited in the Nairobi National Park wildlife dispersal area of the Kitengela. Like all laws on the books, enforcement will be key to helping to end land sub-division into parcels of less than 60 acres, but with an active pastoral community monitoring this new zoning law, the land-use situation in the Nairobi NP dispersal area is much brighter than it was in 2007. This is the first land-use zoning law to be enacted in Kenya outside of a city and this can be replicated in other wildlife/livestock areas of Kenya.
    Ed Loosli – Chairman, The Wildlife Foundation

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