'Wall of trees' to protect Nairobi wildlife

Story highlights

  • Nairobi National Park is threatened by human encroachment
  • Lack of planning means park has become compromised, say experts
  • Nairobi Greenline Project will plant 300,000 trees to form 30-kilometer fence

Nairobi National Park is that rarest of things -- a conservation park in a city -- and it is now a physical manifestation of the front lines in Kenya's human-wildlife conflict.

Like the nearby residents of slum housing, the wildlife of the park has become victim of the city's uncontrollable growth. A lack of planning in the capital has led to human encroachment onto the protected area, compromising the well-being of wildlife through an invasion of industrial waste and domestic pollution.

To secure its future the M-Pesa Foundation, a charitable trust, and private investors have launched the Nairobi Greenline Project. It involves the planting of 300,000 indigenous trees in a 30-kilometer long, 50-meter wide forest boundary around the park, reinforced by a 32-kilometer electric fence.

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Dorothee Von Brentano, the Senior Human Settlements Officer at U.N. Habitat Kenya, says: "The fence is a symbol and a sign, to draw attention to an issue that needs to be much more properly addressed." This issue is what she calls an "ill hunger for land," the driving force behind the intrusion of urban development onto the park.

"They (locals) see land as a commodity, rather than a resource," says George Onyiro, the Habitat Program Manager at U.N Habitat.

Public space

Onyiro and his colleagues categorize the park as public space which is an essential component in healthy social and urban development.

"Public space is a really important part of any urban expansion," says Jeanette Elsworth, Public Information Officer at U.N. Habitat. "In fact, cities like Manhattan that we think of as really dense actually dedicate 30% of the land to public space. Nairobi is operating at 10-15% which is far too low."

Not incorporating public space into city planning has created the inevitable challenge of urban growth that does not embrace and accommodate conservation areas. Elijah Ndegwa, professor of Urban Planning at the University of Nairobi, believes that "infiltration into the national park reflects a society that has not accepted wildlife as part of the stakeholders in the development of the city."

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He adds: "When we plan Nairobi we should view the park as part and parcel of the city, not as an appendage that must be gotten rid of."

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The value of the National Park has yet to charm local residents like Angelina, a Kenyan grandmother whose makeshift home is only a few miles away from the park. She recently received an eviction letter from the town council -- unrelated to the Greenline project -- and can do nothing but count down the days until she watches her home bulldozed away.

'I've been living here since 1972 and my home will soon be demolished but the home of animals is continuously protected', she says.

Local support

Experts believe that this mentality needs to change for Nairobi to move forward.

Axemite Gebre-Egziabher, the director of the Global Division at U.N. Habitat, says more participation from locals is crucial for the future.

"If the city is going to move into a sustainable, healthy, competitive arena then it is important to have urban planning enforcement, but together with all the stakeholders. Then you don't need a fence -- they are the fence, they are the ones who would protect it (the park)," she says.

Involving people like Angelina in planning decisions could help strengthen the sense of public ownership for areas like Nairobi National Park. And instilling in the minds of locals the importance of preserving the National Park could help it be appreciated as an integral component of Nairobi's future development.