The construction of Kenya’s multi-billion dollar Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) project will cut through 2 major national parks in Nairobi and Tsavo. In the largest infrastructure project since Kenya became independent in 1963, the railway will replace the old Ugandan Railway, which contributed significantly to Kenya’s development and its position as a major regional hub today. There’s a lot resting on the success of the SGR, which is anticipated to result in a massive boost in economic development and regional integration by improving trade routes from Mombasa to Nairobi and through to neighbouring countries.
The Kenya-Uganda Railway. Photo: US Army Africa from Vicenza, Italy.
Now in Phase 2 and set to be completed by 2017, construction is reportedly driving wildlife out of Nairobi NP, which has resulted in escaped lions and the tragic and public death of 13-year old Mohawk last year.
Lions escaping Nairobi NP has not happened like this before with such frequency and in such numbers. The park, gazetted in 1946 by British settlers, is the oldest national park in Kenya, but sadly one that is under threat due to the need to manage the rapid development of this fast-growing nation. The noisy construction work is assumed to be driving lions out through an open migratory corridor in the south. The livestock that they find in the villages also draws them out of the park, spurring fatal retaliatory attacks by the hands of pastoralists. It may only be a matter of time before another lion escapes, which could ultimately lead to its unnecessary death.
As Phase 2 of the Standard Gauge Railway construction begins, the issue of how wildlife can coexist with a train line running through the core of the park remains at large. Perhaps it may only be a matter of time before more lions are driven out of the park, or a matter of time for them to adjust to the bustling city's rapid development. Either way, their space is becoming smaller and smaller, and in a country with only 2500 lions left- a number that is fast decreasing- there has to be a better way to creating the space they need for this extremely vulnerable species.
The railway will run through Tsavo NP, which is home to about 12,000 elephants.
The balance between economic development and wildlife and environmental conservation appears increasingly difficult to strike with time. Species are fast becoming critically endangered, and some rest dangerously on the precipice of extinction, like the African elephant. If things continue the way they are, their kind is expected to be extinct within one generation.
While consultation between key wildlife management authorities, the planning ministries of the government and CBRC, the building contractor, are ongoing- the stark truth must be realised that habitat loss and the displacement of wildlife will catalyse the decreasing populations and anticipated extinction of key species.
At that point, the damage will be final. Irreversible, and no turning back. Something that no economic gain will ever be able to help, and will, in fact, represent a reversal of a nation's development.