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MERU NATIONAL PARK IS REBORN

A history of the park, which collapsed, and then managed to rise; was unsafe, and currently is springing with life; which was burnt, and now is coming back to life.

We present parts of an article presented in the Kenyan journal East Standard (18.07.2008, "Meru National Park is reborn"), by Erick Wamanji.

In the 1980s and 1990s, visitors and animals fled the Meru National Park. And they had reason to: Banditry, poaching and insecurity had made the park unsafe and unmanageable. But this has changed. Today, the gunshots are quiet and the region is recovering from the ravages of poaching .expeditions.

Last week, aid agencies finally handed the park back to the Government. It took the efforts of donors to revive the park that promises to be one of Kenya’s premier holiday destinations. A sojourn in the park tells it all: Life is springing back. The Big Five now roam the jungle as they did decades ago, birds sing their souls out, impalas prance with joy and the endangered gravy zebras display dazzling stripes.

This is a far cry from the park that once had old houses and dilapidated roads. Insecurity had kept visitors away and the locals were hostile to the park management. Meru is reclaiming its lost glory.

It all began in 1997 when ?an international agency, IFAW pledged to give $250,000 a year for five years to give the park a facelift and beef up security. The organisation also gave special training and equipped personnel. It has been reliably learnt that the French government, through Agence Francaise de Development (AFD), gave Kenya Sh803 million loan to revamp the Meru dream. The French Global Environment Fund offered a grant of 1.8 million euros (Sh176.4 million). AFD has pumped in millions of francs for improvement, security and restocking in the past five years.

Last year, what was billed as the world’s largest wildlife translocation was conducted to restock Meru. Tharaka, Mwingi, Meru North, Isiolo and Tana River districts are the major beneficiaries of the facelift. The communities have formed teams and social groups, which run money-generating projects ranging from agro-forestry, water points and cultural centres, courtesy of the Meru Conservation Area(MCA) .

The park supports schools and road reconstruction. Initially, the community was hostile, but today it owns the park vicariously. Interestingly, women are driving the projects the revolutionising insecurity and economic problems. “Is it not women who suffer more in the event of insecurity?” asks Ms Malka Intalo, a women’s leader in Bisinadi.

Besides the rich history, Meru boasts unique fauna and flora. Researchers and scientists are passionate and work round the clock. But there is a missing link: Poor marketing and communication, which have failed to tell the world of the wonders of Meru.

The Meru Conservation Area comprises four parks: Bisinadi National Reserve in Isiolo, Kora National Park in Tana River, Mwingi National Reserve and Meru National Park.

The Meru park was branded last year and the theme was Complete Wilderness. Thousands of wildlife were killed during the bad days. Rangers lost their lives and visitors were threatened. ‘I was a driver then. I used to do over 120km an hour to reduce chances of attack. I almost quit my job. No one wanted Meru,” told The Standard. Njue is opposed to the construction of lodges, as is the case with Mara. His preference is a limited number of environmental friendly eco-lodges.

According to Mr Fredrick Lala, a research scientist at the park, animals that were moved to the park recently have settled. Last year alone, four white rhinos calved down. Due to its many rivers, the park sustains the animals even during the drought.

Animals are fitted with motor-transmitters mounted on the horns or ears with batteries that last two years. The animals are monitored not only for poaching, but also for research. Air and lake patrols are also conducted .

Located 350km from Nairobi, the park has three airstrips and is easily accessible. The road from Nairobi is perhaps the best in the country. Unfortunately, there are only two eco-lodges in the park, Leopard Rock and Elsa, high-cost facilities that many visitors cannot afford. While the park runs cottages, they do not serve food.

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