Small Grants Fund project on ecotourism potential at Kenya's Lake Nakuru


Kenya. "Ecotourism development for Lake Nakuru National Park with integration of wetland wise use into sustainable development / participation of local communities / private sector involvement". SGF 2003.

Moving towards wetland wise use: exploring ecotourism potential in Lake Nakuru

In recent years, a shift in the approach to wetland conservation has been increasingly evident, and necessary especially in developing countries where governments' main priorities relate to strengthening the economy and where resources are progressively scarcer. As we move away from wetland protection per se, today we increasingly seek ways to bridge the objectives of conservation and socio-economic development. Ecotourism is in line with wetland wise use, and has the potential to bring tangible benefits to the communities living around wetland areas, thus contributing to the objectives of biodiversity protection, poverty alleviation and economic growth.

The Ramsar Secretariat is pleased to report on the results of a Ramsar Small Grants Fund (SGF) project that was carried out by the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) and co-funded by Australia's Banrock Station, which donated its Evian Special Prize of $10,000 from the Ramsar Wetland Conservation Award in 2002. The purpose of the project was to study the ecotourism potential for Lake Nakuru, a Ramsar site in Kenya, within the framework of the Lake Nakuru Integrated Management Plan and the Nakuru Strategic Structure Plan developed under Agenda 21.

As the final report on the SGF report explains, the area covered by the project consists of the catchment of Lake Nakuru National Park (LNNP) (approx. 1,800 km2), a region rich in culture and important for biodiversity conservation, both at a national and international level, located in Kenya's Rift Valley Province. It includes a gazetted wildlife protected area, gazetted government forests (Mau, Eburru, Dondori), and private and public land.

According to KWS, the Park currently receives about 200,000 visitors per year, but most tourists stay for a maximum of two days in a limited, sometimes overcrowded area due to lack of facilities, little diversification and poor promotion of the area's attractions. This type of mass tourism has the potential to cause serious negative impacts on the Park, but, until this project was started, minimal efforts were made to promote ecotourism in order to reduce these impacts. Also, although significant revenue has been generated from the Park, very little has trickled down to local communities, not providing any incentive for protection of the resources. Sustainable ecotourism with adequate benefit-sharing would also provide a deterrent to damaging activities and land-use types in the catchment area.

All of these factors called for a framework to develop ecotourism, with stakeholder involvement. Through both desktop studies and fieldwork with interviews to a wide range of actors, the project achieved the following aims

- To assess ecotourism potentials and products in Lake Nakuru National Park

The Park and its catchment area have a variety of ecosystems. The project identified six ecotourism zones:

1. LNNP. The alkaline Lake Nakuru is an attraction in itself, supporting millions of flamingoes and 400 other bird species, but by promoting new areas within the park, the pressure on the existing ones can be reduced. Potential attractions include different viewpoints onto the lake, where telescopes can be built and brochures on some of the area's history distributed; the Olea forest, Makalia waterfalls and the largest Euphorbia forest stand in East Africa; and an education and cultural centre at the "Presidential Pavilion", which used to be a resting and recreational site for Kenya's first president.

2. Nakuru Town, the fourth largest town in Kenya, where one could visit the market, the town centre, Kenyatta shopping centre, railway station and restaurant, curio centre, Hyrax Hill Prehistoric Site museum, and other historical and cultural sites.

3. Menengai Crater, a more than 2,000m-high scenic area suited to nature trails from which visitors can appreciate the panoramic view of the geographical and topographic structural beauty of the region. It would also be possible to organise visits to the crater bottom with local guides.

4. Bahati/Dondori -Lake Solai, where birdwatching can be carried out in the forest and in the extensive grasslands, papyrus stands and marshes which surround the lake. Boat and hiking excursions can be organised, as well as scenic drives along the basaltic cliffs and volcanic cones which dot the landscape towards Lake Bogoria. A Catholic shrine can also be visited.

5. Soysambu/Eburru - Lake Elementeita, a relatively pristine area with a variety of wildlife, landforms and rare vegetation assemblages. The area is ideal for hiking and nature based walks and prides fantastic views of the undulating plains, dotted with volcanic plugs, caves and cliffs. Lake Elmenteita manifests geothermal activity in the form of warm springs at the southern end, which provide opportunities for swimming; and hosts several waterbird species.

6. Bagaria-Mau Narok-Njoro-Rongai. The Eastern Mau forest has various indigenous tree species, bamboo stands and a rich bird, butterfly and primate fauna, which make for good hiking. The area is also interesting for its colonial history, an old church, the Lord Egerton castle and university, and large farms.

- To identify the stakeholders involved (or to be involved) in ecotourism development

These include policy-makers, tourists, the local population, commercial stakeholders, international and national organizations, researchers and academics. Key stakeholders such as the local communities must participate in all stages of the project, from the identification of problems and their appropriate solutions, to implementation and benefit-sharing.

- To assess some of the major problems/constraints in management and promotion of ecotourism in the LNNP and its catchment and suggest how to overcome the constraints

The ecosystem of LNNP is faced with many problems at different levels, which have the potential to threaten the environmental health and sustainable development of the area.

Some areas show environmental degradation, caused by vegetation clearing for charcoal production; quarrying; trampling and overgrazing by livestock; illegal harvesting of forest products; water pollution by agriculture and domestic activities; erosion due to deforestation; and presence of invasive aquatic species due to eutrophication. Urban sprawl from Nakuru town is also affecting its surroundings.

Poor infrastructure was also recognized as a problem, with poor road conditions or inexistence of road networks; lack of structures to display handicrafts; lack of freshwater in some areas; no public transport; lack of eating places, toilet facilities or picnic spots etc.

Poor promotion and marketing of the area; unclear land tenure status; poor governance and political will also hinder tourism development.

- To develop an ecotourism development plan for LNNP

According to KWS, the vision of the ecotourism plan is to nurture, extend and consolidate ecotourism development in the region for sustainable environmental conservation and management and provide a unique wildlife experience without upsetting the integrity of the ecosystem's resources, especially the bird life, in line with the Kenya National Tourism Master Plan of 1995 and the Mission of the Kenya Tourism Board (KTB).

The expected outcomes of the plan are

  • Increased tourism revenue for the local community and KWS through diversification of the tourism base;
  • Reduced pressure on natural resources as a result of anthropogenic pressures associated with mass tourism;
  • Increased community participation and involvement in tourism and conservation;
  • Promotion of nature business plans that support development of tourism infrastructure and markets; and
  • Improved management and conservation of bird-life and other natural resources.

Activities to be undertaken include, among others

  • development of observation viewpoints, nature trails, improved signage and other lacking infrastructure/ facilities;
  • good marketing and information dissemination strategy;
  • promotion of partnerships with local communities and training of guides and staff on ecotourism matters;
  • awareness creation;
  • improved law enforcement for environmentally harmful activities;
  • gazettement of the Menengai Crater zone as a conservation area;
  • reintroduction of some wildlife species;
  • registration of ecotourism associations;
  • development of geysers and steam spring harvesting.

Coordination among all stakeholders operating in Lake Nakuru and its catchment, and other interested and affected parties will be essential for success, but the next step will be to first secure funding for the business plan.

The SGF final report has clearly indicated that the area has a high potential for ecotourism development and for bringing tangible benefits to the local people. With this study in place, it will now be easier to attract funding to move forward in the implementation of this plan, and we are confident that this will contribute to the protection of this magnificent, still relatively unspoilt wetland. We congratulate KWS for the work they have managed to achieve so far, and strongly encourage them to move forward from here to deliver the outcomes that they have foreseen! We similarly hope that wetland managers in other countries will consider ecotourism as a one of the potentially promising ways to translate the wise use concept into reality!

-- Lucia Scodanibbio, based on the project final report

Lake Nakuru

Settlement around the Park



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