By John Muchangi
Kenya Wildlife Service is expanding the popular Nairobi animal orphanage by fencing off an adjacent section of the national park.
KWS said the move has been necessitated by increased number of visitors and more animals being orphaned, injured, abandoned by their families.
The orphanage is now being extended about 15 acres into the Nairobi National Park.
The move has however being challenged by different parties who say it did not follow the right procedures.
"It's a good intention, but it can't override the law because it requires and environmental impact assessment, which was not done," says Tanvir Ali, chairman of the Friends of Nairobi National Park (FONNAP).
Tanvir says the extension affects an area with important biodiversity at the national park. "It's an area the lions really like, and a lot of endangered tree species are there," he says.
Head of local environment group Wildlife Direct Dr Paula Kahumbu adds that the development may destroy endangered tropical highland forest including habitats for endangered species.
"The area for expansion will require the destruction of a sizeable piece of Nairobi Park. We are not aware of any EIA having been conducted, nor are we aware of any stakeholder consultation having taken place," she says.
The expansion is funded by Dutch children through the World Wildlife Fund, the Rockefellers and different firms within Nairobi, KWS said.
The 15 acres have already been fenced off on the spacious western side of Nairobi National Park's main gate.
When contacted, National Environment Management Authority (Nema) said they are yet to receive an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report of the development.
KWS deputy director Patrick Omondi last month said they did an environmental audit instead. "We won't cut down any tree. It will be a special kind of an orphanage. We'll however want to do some structures later and for this we shall need a Nema EIA," he said.
Omondi spoke during a press conference at the service headquarters before he was recently sent on compulsory leave over unrelated management issues.
The East Africa Wildlife Society (EAWLS) says the current development needs an EIA undertaken, in line with the Environment Management and Co-ordination Act.
"This is followed by a notice in the national press alerting the public to the EIA report and giving them 30 days to comment. Nema then considers whether to issue an environment licence or not," said an officer for the organisation.
"The director general, Nema, has informed us that this process was not followed and that he has therefore issued a stop order. He then sent his director of compliance on Thursday 27th February to check and apparently KWS confirmed that the stop order was being respected. However your visit to the site on Monday 3rd March showed construction was ongoing," said the official.
EAWLS cites Article 26 and Article 44 of the Wildlife Conservation and Management Act 2013 which says every national park shall be managed in accordance with a management plan.
"The cabinet secretary shall, by notice in the gazette, publish the approved management plans in respect of national parks, marine protected areas, wildlife conservancies and sanctuaries," the Act says.
The service is also required to consult neighbouring communities before any developments.
FONNAP believes they are a key stakeholder who should have been consulted before the park was hived off.
"Each park should have a management plan. Does NNP have one?" asks Ali. "The extension affects boundaries of the park and this requires approval."
An official at KWS defended the service saying wildlife has attracted so much interest from "conservationists" and "stakeholders" who believe the service should seek their permission even before planting a tree.
Dr Kahumbu claims the planned orphanage may end up as a zoo. Animals in zoos are often confined in cages or tiny spaces for the public to watch them after paying a fee.
"The orphanage was never intended as a zoo which is what it seems KWS wants to create. The Safari Walk on the other hand was created as a zoo - there is no need for two zoos in the same place in Nairobi. Moreover, wilderness in the national park should not be sacrificed for the creation of or expansion of a zoo, instead a wholesome education experience through visitation to the park should be promoted as it is far more valuable," she says in an article on her organisation's website.
KWS says the Nairobi orphanage is definitely not a zoo. "We encourage animals to be in the wild as much as possible. In fact, once they get of age we release them. It is in the interest of animals that we're expanding the orphanage so that they can live as freely as possible," Omondi said.
Ali suggests the orphanage should have been built away to spare the national park.
"It's a business motive, because Vision 2030 suggests other places the orphanage could have been built. Majority of the animals at the orphanage do not even come from NNP," he said.
The Nairobi Animal Orphanage was opened to the public in 1963 to host orphaned, hurt and abandoned wild animals from all over the country.
It was the brain child of the first director of Kenya National Parks, Marvyn Cowie and was as a result of the increasing presence of wild animals that were orphaned, injured, abandoned or strayed from their families.
The orphanage is a money spinner and last year attracted 407,206 visitors, who brought in Sh66 million, according to KWS annual financial data.
In 2012, 474,600 people visited the park, earning the country Sh59.969 million.
The orphanage is particularly popular with school children and students who prefer close views of animals not possible in the main park.
Officials say the animals received at the facility, undergo a thorough medical examination, followed by treatment if necessary, before entering into an appropriate feeding and rehabilitation programme.
It is often home to more than 20 different animals and bird species.
KWS says composition depends on the rescued animal. The most common are lions, hyena, leopard, cheetah, warthog, buffalo, different species of apes, guinea fowls, crested cranes among others. Some rare animals found within the facility are stripped hyenas, wild dog and Lesser spot-nosed monkey.
"Teachers and students at all levels can utilise the Nairobi Animal Orphanage as a learning resource center based on their school curriculum. Animal enclosures have information panels for self guided tours," KWS says on its promotional material .
The concern over the orphanage extension is mainly heightened by past encroachments into the tiny park, which prides itself as the only wild national park within a city, anywhere in the world.
NNP is expected to lose about 150 hectares to the expansion of Nairobi Southern bypass road. Different groups fought against the plan and lost, and the road is expected complete this year.
More than 20 giant electricity pylons have also been erected in the park smudging the pristine, natural environment the park is known for.
Bird watchers also say a small section of the park near Athi river has also been fenced off, yet it was always part of the park.