Lake Nakuru National Park, Kenya: A Glorified Zoo

4 Nov

I have just returned from a camping trip to Lake Nakuru National Park in Kenya/ Lake Nakuru is a protected region that covers an area of 140 km2 land and 40 km2 water. The entire park is surrounded by a fence that was built in the 1970s, making it unlike many of the other national parks found East Africa. It is literally like a free ranging zoo atmosphere. My experience at Lake Nakuru have allowed me to compare its wildlife management techniques to other national parks I’ve visited and has also brought to my attention the different challenges it faces.

A common challenge that wildlife conservationists must tackle is human-wildlife conflict. The most pressing of these conflicts is poaching; another being crop or property destruction. Lake Nakuru presents a unique ecosystem that is not affected by these practices.  The fence successfully keeps poachers out of the park while keeping the animals inside and away out of harm’s way. The animals cannot disperse into the growing suburban cities thus keeping alleviating the damage normally experienced in other parks of East Africa.

Lake Nakuru was the first white rhino sanctuary in East Africa. The imported rhino have become successful breeders and allow for exportation to other national parks throughout Africa. Also, the park holds the largest population of Rothchild’s giraffe. I actually witnessed a herd of over 25 giraffe walking across the landscape. In other parks I’ve been to, such as Serengeti National Park, I’ve only been lucky enough to see family groups of 3-4 giraffe at a time. Also, this was my first time seeing that specific species of giraffe. Likewise, LN provided me my first sighting of a leopard. The animal was probably less than 100 ft away in a tree. We watched it climb higher before it decided to lounge on a branch. It was truly breathtaking to see such an elusive creature so close up.

In some cases, the fence provides positive impacts on wildlife populations but it can be detrimental to the biodiversity found there. Animals that normally disperse throughout the East African landscape, such as the cape buffalo, zebra and gazelle species, are confined to the park. This has lead to instances of inbreeding within populations. Without the varied gene pool, natural selection is impeded. Species such as the common warthog and waterbuck have all but disappeared from the region.

Because LN is such a unique protected area, it is a heavily trafficked tourist attraction. This constant flow of visitors has changed the behavior of some of its wild inhabitants. For example, two baboon troops were our constant companions at our camp site. These baboons have adapted to raiding the trash pic located inside the compound fence. These animals can become highly aggressive and have been known to bite and attack humans that they see holding food. They’re normal foraging patterns have decreased and they have become dependent on human foods for nourishment. Although their presence was kind of scary, we made a game out of it. The rest of the student and I had fun chasing the baboons out of camp. This helps to reenforce that they should be scared of humans and encourages them to find food elsewhere.

Lake Nakuru has lush vegetation that is ideal for herbivore species. Unfortunately, the herbivore populations are growing too rapidly and they are starting to overgraze the land. If these populations were able to disperse, the land would be able to recover in its natural cycle. How long can the ecosystem of LN last under the pressure of constant animal populations?

This program in East Africa has given me opportunity to compare the management strategies of many national parks, such as Serengeti, Lake Manyara, Ngorongoro and Lake Nakuru. Each ecosystem has its strengths and weaknesses. The key to wildlife conservation is finding the best balance between biodiversity preservation and human development. I feel like I have been given the necessary tools and knowledge to lead conservation approaches with the goal of bettering the future of wildlife and the humans they coexist with.

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