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French agency sets sights on Marsabit National Park

Date Published: 16 May, 2011
French agency sets sights on Marsabit National Park

Meru National Park Community Warden Nelson Cheruiyot explains to the French Ambassador H.E Etienne de Poncins (left) and AFD Regional Director Yves Terracol how the 44 km electric fence around the park has reduced human wildlife conflict. Picture by Patrick Muthuri

The French development agency that funded the rehabilitation of Meru National Park has set sights on replicating a similar project in Marsabit National Park.
The French Ambassador to Kenya H.E. Etienne de Poncins announced the new plan for Marsabit over the weekend during a two-day tour of Meru National Park projects.
The French delegation toured various projects sponsored by the French development agency ---Agence Francaise de Developpement--- (AFD) in the park and neighbouring community. 

The delegation visited a 16-strand 44-km electric fence erected around the park at the cost of Ksh35 million, the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) mechanical workshop, staff houses, Bibi Moliti borehole in Duse, community radio operator’s base at Kinna, all of which benefited from the 16.27 million Euros project.
The delegation wanted to assess the continued sustainability of the project,whose funding ended two years ago.
The Ambassador was accompanied by Mr Yves Terracol, the AFD Regional Director, and other officials from France and Kenya Wildlife Service.

However, unlike Meru which lost its glory as a prime tourist destination in the 1980s and 90s due to poaching and banditry, Marsabit National Park’s problem lies in the fact that besides hosting critical wildlife, it  has an endangered forest which the neighbouring people rely on for their livelihoods, water, woodfuel and timber, among others. 
With the completion of the Isiolo Moyale highway, the forest is likely to face enormous pressure. Preliminary studies are being conducted to determine funding needs of the Marsabit project. 
The Meru National Park has undergone a major face-lift meant revive its lost glory and to re-position it as a high-end tourist destination.
The park has registered remarkable improvements in tourism facilities, staff welfare, wildlife protection, visitor experience and infrastructural
development as a result of the funding from the French Development Agency  and other partners.
A total of 71 elephants, 1376 Burchells zebra, 24 Grevy’s zebra, 64 reticulated giraffe, 15 leopards, 54 rhinos and 1427 impalas have been brought into the park to improve biodiversity and enhance visitor experience. The rhino population has shown impressive growth necessitating the expansion of the rhino sanctuary from 48 square km to 84 square km.
The investment has also seen improved park management relations with the local community, reduced wildlife conflict incidents and better cooperation with the public and other law enforcement agencies in curbing poaching.
The four-year collaboration was started in 2002 to re-establish effective management of the park as well as develop integrated planning with other stakeholders with regard to wildlife protection, tourism and conservation. This resulted in a management plan and investment prospectus for accommodation facilities in the park. A number of investors have been awarded tenders to build hotels and eco-lodges in the park. 

The project involved  construction of roads, upgrading of airstrips, erection of a 44-km of electric fence with 16 strands to prevent animals getting out of the park on the western side and water pans for the local community. It also involved community awareness and mobilisation, purchase of vehicles and other equipment, development of tourism, training, and funding of studies. Out of the 26 vehicles bought in the project, two have been grounded.
Investors who won the tenders for building ecolodges anf luxury tented camps for tourists are expected at the various designated sites in the park. At the same time, more tourism investments have been made in and around the park. These include Murera Springs Ecolodge, Rhino River Camp, Ameru Cultural Centre, Malka Cultural Centre and Kambi ya Simba Ecolodge have been completed while luxury tented camps are planned in Ekime and Fig Tree and eco-lodges in Kenmare and Mulika.
However, the park still faces challenges of human wildlife conflict, illegal grazing, invasive plant species, bush meat trade, destruction of water catchment areas for the park’s 14 rivers, habitat loss and degradation,commercial poaching targeting rhinos and elephants as well as blocking of wildlife corridors and dispersal areas. Problems of pollution and over-extraction of water from rivers for irrigation which exacerbates human wildlife conflict are also experienced.

Meru National Park in northern Kenya, 348 kilometers (216 miles) from the capital Nairobi, lost its position as a premier destination for visitors seeking untamed wilderness when it suffered a downturn in the 1970s and early 80s due to rampant banditry and poaching.
During this period, poachers slaughtered 90 percent of the park's 3,000 elephants. Rhinos were completely wiped out. Lawlessness and land use conflicts between humans and wildlife devastated the park and tourism plummeted.
However, this is all history. Since 2000, international donors led by Agence Francaise de Developement, AFD and the Kenyan government have successfully revived the park’s lost glory.   
Various species of animals  including Rhinos, Elephants and Zebras have been brought into the park through translocation from other areas.   New infrastructure developments including four airstrips, visitor accommodation facilities, roads, gates, staff housing and community projects have been developed. 
Meru National Park is best known as the setting for George and Joy Adamson's book and Oscar-winning 1966 film "Born Free", about an orphaned lioness cub they raised and named Elsa.
Joy Adamson acquired the lioness after George shot its mother in self-defense. The film depicts the dilemma the Adamsons faced when their time in Kenya came to an end, forcing them to decide whether to place Elsa in a zoo, or to attempt to teach the domesticated lioness to hunt and fend for herself. Else was successfully released back into the wild.
Gazetted as a protected area in 1966, Meru National Park straddles the equator at the foot of the Nyambene Hills. It is inhabited by rare and unique animal species characteristic of semi-arid areas and is dominated by tall grass, lush swamps, thorny acacia, bush lands, and 14 permanent rivers.
The rivers support swamps and river forests with such diverse trees as figs, tamarinds and doum palms. There are 400 recorded species of birds, including such rare species as Peter's finfoot and Pel's fishing owl.  


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