Assessment of the effects of habitat transformation on the Nairobi National Park and Kitengela ecosystem
Kuria, Anne Wanja
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Nairobi National Park's wildlife migratory and dispersal area (Kitengela) has over the last three decades undergone numerous changes from an open, communally owned wet season grazing area to heavily fragmented private property. New immigrants have introduced land uses that are incompatible with wildlife management. These include urban residential, industrial and commercial premises; and agricultural land uses. This research aimed at evaluating the drivers, trends and effects of habitat transformation on the Nairobi National Park and Kitengela ecosystem. The ultimate aim was to isolate policy and action entry points towards the ecosystem's effective management (use, care and improvement) for the common good. The research was based on the assumption that if the current trend of habitat transformation in Kitengela continues; Nairobi National Park will be reduced to an ecological island and will eventually "collapse". The park will thus lose its value as a major tourist destination. Although various interventions are being employed in the area, the problem still persists. Primary data were collected using seasonal calendars, historical timelines, maps, direct observations, photography, questionnaires, Focus Group Discussions and Key Informant Interviews. Secondary data sources included journals, books, and other published reports. Stratified random sampling and Purposive sampling was used for sample selection. Both qualitative and quantitative data analysis methods were used. More specifically, descriptive statistics were used to summarise and interpret findings. Pearson Correlation Coefficient was applied to assess the relationship between selected variables under study. The study findings indicate that approximately 68% of Kitengela wildlife habitat has been transformed from communally to individually owned land. The main causes of habitat transformation were the rapid increase in human population in Kitengela, estimated to be growing at a rate of 3.8% per annum. There were also high rates of industrialization in the area. This has resulted to loss of Nairobi National Park's wildlife dispersal and migratory habitat and restricted movement of wildlife. This is because as human population increases in Kitengela, the land sizes have become smaller (r=-0.81, n=127, p=0.01). Decline in wildlife numbers was strongly related to decline in tourist visitation in Nairobi National Park from 1996 to 2006 (r=0.86, n=11, p=0.01). As a result, there were reduced national and community benefits accruing from wildlife tourism. About 60% of the entire Kitengela population felt that they had received some benefits accruing from Nairobi National Park's management, This study therefore recommends that wildlife conservation within the NNP and Kitengela ecosystem should be guided by a national land policy that designates zoned land use activities and recognizes biodiversity conservation as critical in sustainable environmental management and development. The success of this approach would require among others changes in institutional and environmental governance frameworks, promoting the use of economics and incentives, dealing with social and behavioural responses, and integrating indigenous systems into conventional scientific knowledge systems.