Local tourists flood parks, trash and block migratory routes
With many Kenyans desperate to get outside and explore, national parks are seeing a surge in holidaymakers. However, while this is good for the economy, revellers are making headlines for paying less attention if any, to reserve rules and regulations.
Harriet James @harriet86jim
Although many restrictions are still in place, travel is slowly, but steadily picking up again in the country.
People locked down for months are going out in droves wanting to stretch their legs and see something other than a screen, and well, national parks seem to be the ideal and safest destinations for outdoor enjoyment, and allowing for physical distancing.
However, while there is a spirit of positivity in the industry, some tourists have been exhibiting inappropriate, insensitive and outright outrageous behaviours while on the trips.
National park rangers have reported seeing a rise in masks and other trash lying along roadways, destruction of rare plants in protected areas and visitors generally behaving poorly.
Even more common are tourists who get too close to the animals in an effort to snag the perfect Instagram photo, causing the animals to scamper away or even put themselves in danger. “Most of the tourists are overexcited.
I guess it’s the relief of getting out of their busy daily life schedules or being stuck indoors for too long,” observes Eliud Ndung’u, a tour operator and CEO of Safiri Nasi.
Eliud who organises trips to Kereita forest, coffee tours, Tigoni Tea Trails, Ng’ong Hills hikes, go-karting, the Nairobi National Park among others, says it all comes down to education.
“Park staff need to be clear about park policies, while visitors should do their homework before they go to any park.
Some clients throw litter because it hasn’t been communicated to them that they shouldn’t do so and why,” he says, adding, “The policy has always been simple, ‘leave a place better than you found it’ and ‘leave nothing behind apart from footprints’,” he notes.
Michael Muriithi, a tour operator notes that guides need to be patient and have great customer care skills if they desire to handle clients correctly.
He points out that there are two categories of tourists. “We have the fun, the crazy and all manner of transgressive behaviour among our clients.
They are noisy, excited and might even sneak in bottles of beer and spirits in their bags.
This group is uncontrollable and they will not listen to whatever you tell them,” he says.
They are mostly youngsters aged between 18 and 28 years old and some will go to the extent of harassing a resting animal.
The second category of Kenyan travellers are the well mannered ones, who act according to the tour guides direction.
“They are mostly families or older people above 35 years old. But generally, Kenyans will litter and be noisy,” Michael discloses.
Samuel Mwai, a tour operator and CEO of Natural World Kenya Safaris has also noted the same behaviour among his guests.
Though he is thankful of the support that Kenyans have given during this pandemic, he agrees that some of their behaviour is wanting.
“They make noise, play loud music, litter after having their food and drinks, get out of vehicles while at the park, obstruct wildlife right of way and crowd, which today is a concern for Covid-19, but I always ensure that I brief them on park rules before the beginning of the game drive,” he explains.
Samuel has created policies, which he briefs his clients and expects strict adherence just before they start any safari.
Some of the park regulations include no loud music, to always leave a clean park and daring wild animals.
He also educates them on why they should keep the ecosystem clean.
Daring wild animals
Rangers say the down side of the surge in tourism activities in the parks is that the increased numbers of exhaust-fuming 4X4 vehicles, which drive the animals away.
At the Masai Mara wildebeest migration for example, he says excited tourists flock the Mara River on both sides of the riverbanks, some of them disembarking from the vehicles.
“It is prohibited to get off vehicles in the Mara, except for very few designate locations.
Alighting from the vehicles is not only against park rules, but it’s also dangerous as predators are always lurking around wildebeests,” cautions Muriithi.
In other instances, travellers surround animals, such as a family of cheetahs as they hunt or a herd of wildebeest grazing thus scaring the animals away.
He advises tourists to keep calm and quite while enjoying their game drives and not to crowd animals while on safaris.
“Listen and follow your guides instructions. Don’t light fire or throw cigarettes butts outside.
Don’t seat on top of the vehicle or get out. Respect yourself and other travelers. Basically what we call the code of conduct,” he offers.
Misconduct at wildebeest crossing sites in Masai Mara has led to reserve authorities banning several companies from the park.
The increasing prevalance of the badly behaved tourist, either in reality or simply as cultural meme, presents a serious issue for the tourism industry.
Muriithi says tourism stakeholders should master all possible itineraries in a destination and be aware of guidelines for responsible behaviour and communicate these effectively to tourists.
Ban of single use plastic
Increasing prevalance of badly behaved tourists presents a serious issue for the tourism industry.
In an effort to reduce littering in public parks, this year, Kenya took a bold step in banning single use plastic in protected natural areas during World Environment Day.
Following a presidential directive on June 5, 2020 travellers are no longer allowed to carry plastic water bottles, cups, disposable plates, cutlery or straws into protected areas, such as national parks, beaches, forests as well as conservation areas.
On May 28, Tourism Cabinet Secretary Najib Balala wrote to tourism stakeholders to support the ban indicating that the government is mandated to provide a clean and healthy environment for all Kenyans.
“The Forest Conservation and Management Act, 2016 provides for the development and sustainable management, including conservation and rational utilisation of all forest resources for socio-economic development of the country and other connected purposes,” he said.