Assessment of the environmental impacts of wildlife based tourism in Kenya’s protected areas: a case study of Maasai Mara national reserve
In Kenya, wildlife based tourism accounts greatly towards the growth of Gross Domestic Product. Tourism is part of a broad conceptual framework formed by a complex relationship between the nature of tourism development, the consequences of development in the destination areas, the nature of local development and the environment external to tourism development. Uncontrolled wildlife based tourism in the Maasai Mara National Reserve has posed potential threats to its natural areas. It has lead to enormous pressure on critical natural resource which has lead to impacts such as soil erosion, increased pollution, discharges into the Mara River, natural habitat loss, increased pressure on endangered species and heightened vulnerability to biodiversity. The specific objectives of the study are; to identify the benefits of wildlife based tourism in Maasai Mara National Reserve, to explore the land use land cover change of Maasai Mara National Reserve over the last four decades, to examine various negative impacts of wildlife based tourism in Maasai Mara National Reserve and to discuss the roles of different stakeholders in mitigating and controlling of impacts of wildlife based tourism in Maasai Mara National Reserve. This study was conducted in Maasai Mara National Reserve which is located about 300 Km Northwest of the Kenyan capital, Nairobi in Narok South District, South Rift Valley, North of Tanzania. The study adopted an exploratory approach using descriptive survey design to assess the relationship between environmental impacts and wildlife based tourism activities. Both primary data using respondents’ questionnaires, interview schedules, observation and photography; and secondary data using study of secondary information using document analysis and literature review were used for data acquisition. Also, both qualitative and quantitative data collection and analysis methods like descriptive of frequencies, percentages, means, and inferential statistics of regression analysis and chi-square using SPSS version 20 were used to determine the direction of the respondents’ answers and association between variables. Remotely sensed data of land use/cover obtained from GLOVIS was analyzed using ArcGis 10. The findings were presented in Graphs, tables, plates and text. Findings indicated that Wildlife Based Tourism (WBT) in Maasai Mara National Reserve (MMNR) has both benefits (including cultural interactions, employment opportunities, infrastructural development, market for local products and development of tourism facilities) and negative environmental impacts (human wildlife conflict, loss of vegetation cover, death and migration of some wildlife animals, destruction of wildlife habitat and disruption of wildlife’s feeding and breeding patterns). The analysis of remotely sensed maps obtained from GLOVIS indicates a continuous decrease in vegetation cover between 1975 and 2011. The obtained land-use thematic map illustrates a decreasing forest cover and increasing grasslands and agricultural land. This reduction in vegetation cover directly affects biodiversity distribution within the Mara ecosystem which in turn affects WBT. Key stakeholders were identified as local community, the county government, hospitality facilities, tourists, tour operators and the government of Kenya through the KWS. These are the key to causes of negative impacts as they play unique roles in the MMNR. The major roles include: creating awareness, waste management, offering incentives, infrastructural developments and implementation of laws governing WBT. The study recommends increased funding for conservation purposes, regular stakeholder needs assessment and involvement in conservation programmes implementation and monitoring through policy formulation. Stakeholders’ participation can also be enhanced through incentives and education campaigns.