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Explosive Digs May Cut Off Kenya Wildlife Migration

Ochieng' Ogodo in Nairobi, Kenya
for National Geographic News
June 2, 2009
 
A new rock quarry being excavated with explosives in Kenya's Amboseli National Park may endanger migration corridors of elephants and other wildlife, conservationists say.

The operation has temporarily stopped due to an order issued in May by Kenya's high court, they add.

The quarry, which will provide materials for the new Emali-Oloitoktok Road, is located in the 3,000-acre (1,214-hectare) Osupuku Conservancy.

The conservancy was created in 2008 as a result of an agreement between landowners from the Kimana community and the nonprofit African Wildlife Foundation (AWF). The conservancy protects a corridor linking Amboseli to Kenya's Chyullu Hills and Tsavo National Parks.

"We are not against the building of the road, but [we are against] the area from which the material for the road construction is to be gotten from," said AWF's Fiesta Warinwa.

Sinohydro, the Chinese-owned corporation running the operation, said earlier this year that the project may be relocated.

Since "so many [conservation] organizations [and] the media are concerned, we are now shopping for an alternative site," said Michael Zhang, assistant project manager for the corporation.

But conservationists said that was an empty promise.

"We went to court because we knew the company was not going to move to another site. Any assertions by them to that effect was mere talk, just buying time," Warinwa said.

"We are now using all avenues possible to stop them from excavating the area. … " she said.

Permanent Transformation

If the site does remain, the company will use explosives and heavy machinery to make huge burrow pits, which conservationists say will pose a danger not only to animals but also to people living in the area.

"With burrow pits all over, certainly there will be no more flow of wildlife to and from the sanctuary," Warinwa said.

For example, the animals could fall into the pits, or the construction hubbub could make them avoid entering the sanctuary at all.

"In ecosystem terms, the connectivity between the national parks would cease to exist."

(Related: "Kenya Plans for Huge Sugar Factory Spark Bitter Dispute.")

After the work is completed, the abandoned quarry and remains of the worker campsites will cause a "permanent transformation" of elephant migration, said Soila Sayialel of the nonprofit Amboseli Trust for Elephants.

"The inevitable daily and seasonal passage of elephants on this route may [force] a technical shift that [might] run through peoples' settlements," Sayialel said.

(See elephant photos from northern Kenya.)

"Human intolerance is bound to increase, and conflict will occur, with both humans and elephants suffering."

What's more, the quarry could kill tourism revenues generated from the wildlife sanctuary, AWF's Warinwa added.

"The sanctuary has tourism facilities which would be closed, and that would translate into staff being laid off or retrenched," she said. "Youth who got employed as [sanctuary] scouts would certainly be victims, because there would be nothing to protect or monitor."

No Interference?

Sinohydro's Zhang said that the Amboseli site offers the best stones to build a strong road, which he said would not need repairs for many years.

He said that his company intends to use legal explosives and detonators that are approved by the Kenyan Ministry of Environment and Mines.

The government had also assigned an explosives-monitoring official to the site, Zhang said.

"We also knew that that explosives will affect the animals, and therefore intended to use them in the day, as the animals use the corridor at night and early in the morning," he said.

He added that he doesn't believe the quarry and campsite will extensively interfere with wildlife movement.
 

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