Leaders in Tana River County have called on the State Department of Tourism to save a local primate reserve and research centre.
The Tana River Primate Reserve and Research Centre, locally known as Muchelelo, is losing its value for research and potential for revenue, they said.
“The whole place looks deserted, sad and desolate, yet this is a place that used to experience an influx of researchers from foreign countries 30 years ago,” said former Garsen MP Danson Mungatana.
He accused the Kenya Wildlife Services (KWS) of deliberately abandoning the reserve, turning a national heritage site into an eyesore.
As a result, human-wildlife conflict is on the rise, with locals invading the wildlife centre and clearing it for planting crops.
Mr Mungatana noted that the 170-square-kilometre reserve is becoming inhabitable for the rare monkeys owing to environmental degradation and the primates’ numbers are declining.
“The ficus tree is being cut for boat making. Others are harvesting indigenous trees for timber and charcoal at night. Even the officers are living in some sharks I can’t call houses,” he said.
Galole MP Said Hiribae appealed to the Judiciary to clear the case filed at the High Court by residents against KWS to pave the way for developing the reserve.
He noted that the case had dragged on in the courts without a clear reason, exposing the primate reserve to further damage.
“It’s nearly a decade since this case was lodged in court, and the files are gathering dust while the reserve is dying. We can always arrive at a solution and the court should guide that process,” he said.
Mr Hiribae noted that Tana River County had a lot of potential in tourism yet to be harnessed and urged the government to take a firm stand in protecting local reserves.
He noted that whereas locals have demanded to settle in reserves, KWS ought to ensure wildlife corridors are defined and protected at whatever cost.
“It is not a matter of pleading with people or enforcing ideas, but about making them understand the value of wildlife to their economic growth as a community, pointing out the value of their stake in restoration and preservation,” he said.
The lawmaker also appealed to locals to broaden their understanding of tourism and its gains, urging them to support it by providing alternative camping villages rather than fighting the animals.
The leaders urged Tourism Cabinet Secretary Najib Balala to visit the reserve so he could understand better its state.
They also advised him to pull the county government into action to help revive and market the reserve.
The Tana River Primate Reserve is known for its rare and endangered red colobus and crested mangabey monkeys used for medical research, as well as a variety of birds such as the pygmy falcon.
In its heyday tourists and researchers visited nature trails, watching animals like elephants, lions, leopards, rhinos and crocodiles.
Also left to decay is the Kora National Reserve, also known for Adamson Falls and the Kora Rocks in the north of the county.