BY PASCAL MWANDAMBO
The Government has been asked to come up with radical policy reforms to save Tsavo national park from a looming ecological disaster.
Flooding of illegal livestock both inside and outside the park, overstocking in the neighbouring ranches, poaching for trophies and bush meat and infrastructural developments inside the park have been mentioned as some of the problems that need to be addressed urgently.
Speaking on the sidelines of the Taita-Taveta Stakeholders meeting on the proposed changes in Community Land Laws in Mwatate today, Mr Mohamed Kamanya, the operational officer with Tsavo Trust, a non- profit organization, said time has come to save Tsavo from the looming disaster.
“ Taita- Taveta and Tana River counties which comprise the larger land area under the Tsavo National park have been invaded by large number of livestock from North eastern region which are competing for pastures and water with wildlife both inside and outside the park and unless quick measures are taken to reverse the trend, the damage done in the conservation area might be irreparable in the long run,” said Kamanya.
The official pointed out that Tana River and Taita-Taveta were the last grazing frontiers in Coast region and urgent measures must be taken to control the number and health status of livestock entering the area.
He pointed out that the livestock in Tsavo belonged to influential personalities from NEP who did not care about the sustainable conservation of Tsavo but only the survival of their livestock.
“Some of these livestock owners are people well connected in government and continue to flout livestock movement regulations such as confirmation of the health status of livestock prior to movement, which could transmit diseases to the area of destination,” said Kamanya.
He also pointed out that the herders were overstocking in areas where they had acquired leases to graze, forcing some of the animals to roam looking for water and pastures and aggravating human-wildlife conflicts.
Kamanya challenged county governments to keep scrupulous inventories on all livestock entering the counties so that issues of overgrazing was addressed as well as the identities of the livestock owners.
“Some of the illegal headers are believed to be armed with sophisticated weapons which they also used for poaching and generally compromising security,” he said.
He also lamented about infrastructural developments inside and outside the parks which he said could have far-reaching impact within the Tsavo conservation area, singling out the ambitious Standard Gauge Railway line which he said could adversely affect wildlife migration patterns in Tsavo.
“The large amounts of dust produced, that eventually settle on plants in the park, the noise of heavy machinery and human disturbance occasioned by the SGR project inside the Tsavo national park might have long term effects on wildlife behaviour patterns especially around their migration routes,” he said; adding that there were fears of increased accidents in the parks involving wild animals once the SGR trains begin operating.
“Currently, at least 2 jumbos are killed by trains in the park every week and we fear that this might become more pronounced when the SGR trains begin to cross the Tsavo,” revealed Kamanya.
The official called for concerted and “all-inclusive” efforts to curb poaching in Tsavo, pointing out the poachers had in the recent past shown disturbing impunity in their quest for ivory, citing the case of the killing of Satao, one of the elephant patriarchs in Tsavo, who was always under heavy guard.
“Over the years, the numbers of the famous and spectacular Tsavo tuskers have reduced from 100 to about half that number currently, the main reason being poachers craving for their heavy tusks which can weigh up to 100 pounds,” he said.
Talking during the event, the chairman of the Taita-Taveta Ranchers Association(TTRA) Mr Bong’osa Mcharo, also called on the county government to keep tabs on the livestock being introduced into the county to ensure that the ranches were not ruined through overgrazing as well as ensuring that illegal herders are identified and flushed out.
“Some of the herders have overrun their grazing areas and now their livestock are roaming everywhere, intruding into peoples’ farms, settlements and other conservation areas,” said Mcharo.
He cited an example of the Sarova Hotels in Mwatate sub-county where illegal livestock alleged to belong to an MP from NEP had been moving into the tourist facility, irritating and repelling tourists away from the sanctuary.
Sometime back, the construction of the Voi-Taveta road was halted for two weeks over concerns touching on the destruction of wildlife habitat in Tsavo West, mainly by heavy earth moving machinery and borrow pits which were being excavated in the park by the Chinese company constructing the road. This put the Government in an awkward position on how to balance between wildlife conservation and infrastructural development.
The construction of the Standard Gauge Railway line has also been cited as another infrastructural development likely to have long term environmental impact in the Tsavo.
The wild animals which have not been used to the increased disturbances in their environment, including machine noise, human activities and billows of dust are said to be moving further away into the vast park. There are concerns that their movement patterns might be forced to change, especially for migratory species.
Another case in point is a tourist facility at Ndara area near Voi where the investor has erected an electric fence, which has turned out to be a barrier to elephants in the migration corridor from Tsavo East to West. The jumbos, upon realising that their migration route has been blocked, camp in the area, causing human-wildlife conflicts, while some have been killed by trains.
Mining in the parks especially in Tsavo West, which is done by prominent politicians and business people, has also been cited as contributing to the destruction of the park ecosystem.
1 and 2:Girraffes and elephants in Tsavo: Calls have been made by conservationists for radical policy reforms to save the park from imminent disaster.
3:Lions in a hunting drama
4:Taita-Taveta Ranchers Association chairman Bong’osa Mcharo.