Kenya Wildlife Service Suspends Fees to Heal Post-Election Crisis
NAIROBI, Kenya, March 16, 2008 (ENS) - To thank Kenyans for leaving wildlife safe through recent post-election violence that resulted in the death of more than 1,000 people and the displacement of 600,000 others, the Kenya Wildlife Service is allowing children under 18 free entry into Kenya's national parks and reserves during the Easter holidays from March 21 to April 30.

"This is our way of thanking Kenyans for keeping wildlife safe and as our contribution to the ongoing national healing and reconciliation efforts," said Kenya Wildlife Service Director Julius Kipng'etich Friday at Lake Nakuru National Park, where he commissioned a newly upgraded airstrip.

The function was attended by local councillors led by the Nakuru Mayor David Gikaria, Kenya Tourism Federation Chairman Peter Karanja, hoteliers, Kenya Wildlife Service staff and other government officials.

Players in Kenya's election crisis. From left: Special mediator Kofi Annan, ODM leader Raila Odinga, President Mwai Kibaki, who shakes hands with mediator Dame Graça Machel-Mandela. January 24, 2008 Nairobi. (Photo by Joseph Mathenge/ Pan African Newswire)

The historic pact that ended two months of violence after the national election December 27, 2007 is expected to be enacted into law on Tuesday, setting the stage for a coalition government.

The National Accord Bill will legitimize the power-sharing agreement signed by President Mwai Kibaki and ODM leader Raila Odinga on February 28, while a constitutional amendment will entrench the agreement in the Kenyan Constitution.

During the two months of post-election violence, tourist visits to Kenya dropped by 90 percent, according to a February report by the Tourism Crisis Committee, an economic disaster for this East African country where tourism is a foundation of the economy.

To allow the tourism industry get back on its feet, the Kenya Wildlife Service is pushing back the date for raising fees for park entry and camping six months from July 1, 2008 to January 1, 2009, Kipngetich announced.

In addition, the Service is undertaking a program of airstrip upgrades to make access to wildlife viewing areas more convenient for visitors.

The 1.2 kilometer airstrip at Lake Nakuru National Park commissioned on Friday was upgraded from murram to tarmac status upon a request from the tourism industry.

The new airstrip aims to enhance direct flights between Maasai Mara, Amboseli, Samburu and the coastal region. The new airstrip will be used by the general public, tour operators, and the Kenya Army.

Lake Nakuru's abundance of algae attracts the vast number of pink flamingos that attract most tourists to the park. Visitors can also look for about 450 species of other birds, and 56 species of mammals, including black and white rhinos.

Kipng'etich accepted a request from Mayor Gikaria for lighting of a street in the town that runs towards the Lake Nakuru National Park. In turn, Kipng'etich challenged Nakuru leaders to restore the lost glory of the town as the cleanest in East and Central Africa.

Flamingos at Kenya's Lake Nakuru National Park draw visitors from around the world. (Photo by Thath)

The Kenya Wildlife Service has set up an Emergency Management Unit and ordered five specially designed firefighting vehicles with one for Lake Nakuru National Park. The town's only fire engine was recently burned by the public after firefighters arrived late to a distress call.

As part of its airstrip upgrade program, the Service has improved the Mulika and Kinna airstrips in Meru National Park to tarmac status and they will be ready for use in the next two weeks.

Construction of two more airstrips in Ruma and Mt. Elgon national parks is scheduled before the end of the year to open up the Western Tourist Circuit, says Kenya Wildlife Service spokesman Paul Udoto.

In the next financial year, more airstrips will be upgraded at Voi in Tsavo East National Park, Kamboyo in Tsavo West National Park and Mweiga in the Aberdare National Park. Each region will have an aircraft for patrols and other conservation activities.

Conservation services and access to Kenya's famous wildlife will be updated, but visitors will likely pay more to see the birds and animals. The Service is to conduct a comprehensive pricing study for all national parks and reserves to determine the appropriate entry charges in relation to other tourist destinations in the region and beyond.

Kipng'etich noted that Kenya has underpriced its wildlife compared to other countries like Rwanda.

"This resource should make us rich; it's gold but we sell it at the price of water. Rwanda charges US$500 for tourists to see a gorilla for one hour yet we charge US$40 for a tourist to see the Big Five and scenic features for 24 hours," he said.

A new electronic ticketing system called Safaricard is being tested and is to be launched in July. County councils will be approached to link their revenue collection to the system to allow tourists enter all parks easily.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2008. All rights reserved.