Tsavo National Park, home to thousands of animals and a prime tourist attraction, is on the verge of ecosystem collapse, experts have warned. Water sources are drying up, habitat is being lost, human-wildlife is increasing, biodiversity is declining and the marine ecosystem is degraded.
Yesterday, Tsavo Heritage Foundation co-founder and executive chairman Jacob Kipongoso said the park environment is at the tipping point. The park is bounded by 12 counties and can be rehabilitated through landscaping large lands for humans and wildlife, he said.
“If we are not careful, in the next five, six to seven years things will be worse. Voi River dead, Bura River runs for a month during the rains, Lake Jipe, which used to be permanent, is seasonal it has lost 10 metres of water height in the last 10 years,” he warned.
Kipongoso said some rivers, which are sources of water to the Tsavo West National Park, will dry up in 10-15 years.
“The moment we start losing animals and biodiversity to drought it takes five, 10, 15 to 20 years to reverse that process. If we start losing 20 elephants a week due to drought, you cannot stop it tomorrow, but rehabilitating national parks is the solution,” he said.
Kipongoso said the billions of shillings used to build the standard gauge railway could rehabilitate Tsavo West National Park. The park is more valuable to the country than the train line, he said.
“I’m yet to hear one Presidential candidate who has spent an hour speaking about environment. They only speak about the six-way highway to Mombasa, the standard gauge railway. We may need it but we need life more,” he said.
Most counties have not prioritized conservation in their budgets. “If you can allocate Sh1.5 million only for environment while you have a budget of Sh4 billion, it means it is not important to have water and trees,” he said.
Conservationists want a round table meeting with governors of the counties surrounding the Tsavo to discuss how to rehabilitate it.
“We will have decision makers and the community to discuss how we can save Tsavo, we can reverse all this and get all water flowing. They did it in Ethiopia and we can do it in Kenya,” Kipongoso said.
Taita Taveta Governor John Mruttu welcomed the idea, saying it requires collaboration. His administration has encouraged residents to plant trees to increase forest cover and rehabilitate drying rivers.
But Mruttu also complained that the state is not compensating residents for attacks and destruction of farms by wild animals, despite legal requirements.
“There are people who have for the last four years harvested nothing after wildlife destroyed their crops. I doubt that the ecosystem has the capacity to carry the number of elephants we have in the parks,” he said.