A $13.8 bn railway project funded by China linking Nairobi to Mombasa will pass right through the Nairobi National Park. Although the park hosts a huge amount of tourism and boasts a very sensitive wildlife, authorities are adamant in seeing the railway built.

Image via Nairobi Camp.

The Nairobi National Park is very close to civilisation and relatively small for an African park, but it’s one of the more important ones. Migrating herbivores gather in the park during the dry season, and it is one of Kenya’s most successful rhinoceros sanctuaries.

The rail line will not change the boundaries of the park – it will pass straight through the middle instead of going around it; it will use a series of raised bridges about 1 km high and 20 meters tall.

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So won’t building a railway straight through it harm or threaten this wildlife? Well, to be honest, I’m not sure. I couldn’t find any public study or risk estimate of the railway – it’s obviously less than ideal though.

Richard Leakey, who is board chairman of the Kenyan Wildlife Service said:

“Ideally, there should be no transportation in a national park.” But in his opinion, this sacrifice had to be made. “We have to find a solution to it,” he said. “We cannot say to the people of Kenya ‘Oh the railway can’t come through Nairobi Park so you won’t have a railway for five years.’”

But it’s not all bad; lots of money will be saved by pushing the line through the park, and some of them (an undisclosed amount) will be set aside in a fund dedicated to the upkeep of the park, officials said. Some say that this outweighs the risks.

“In a perverse way, because that bridge … is an example [of] an African nation that cares for wildlife and has gone out of its way to consider the interests of wildlife, it will actually attract people who want to see it,” said Leakey.

Personally, I’m not convinced – I’d like to read a study about this. But either way, this is how things are, and hopefully, officials will find a way to properly manage the park.