Music festival in Kenyan national park ruffles feathers

Conservation organization WildlifeDirect argues a music festival planned for Hells’ Gate National Park will further disturb vulnerable raptors and other wildlife.
The Kenya Wildlife Service defends this and similar events, saying the park is an “activity-based conservation and recreation facility” and some of the revenue raised will go towards supporting conservation.
Hell’s Gate, a breeding site for the endangered Rüppell’s vulture, has also been heavily impacted by geothermal power generation.
Kenyan conservationists are challenging plans to host a music festival at Hell’s Gate National Park, 100 km outside the capital, Nairobi, on Feb. 14. They say it will negatively impact wildlife in the park, including endangered vulture species.

Organizers expect the festival will attract an estimated 20,000 people. The Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), the government agency charged with conservation and management of wildlife, also plans to host the East African leg of the World Rally Championship in Hell’s Gate in July.

Conservation organization Wildlife Direct has applied for a court injunction against KWS and the festival organizers, arguing that no proper assessment of the environmental impact of the music festival has been done. The organization wants the festival moved elsewhere, and disturbance of wildlife in the park to be minimised, allowing already-declining raptor breeding colonies in the park’s cliff habitat to recover.

“This decision to go to court over Koroga Festival was a last resort,” said WildlifeDirect CEO Paula Kahumbu in a statement, “after efforts to persuade the private and state partners to move the festival, a 2-day music concert to an audience of 15,000 or more customers. The Hell’s Gate is the only protected colony of breeding Rüppell’s vultures, which is critically endangered.”

The NGO also launched an online campaign calling for the relocation of the festival to a site elsewhere, attracting support from the Conservation Alliance of Kenya, local and international NGOs and the tourism Industry.

This is the first time the Koroga Festival, an annual event celebrating African music, food, and fashion organized by Nairobi-based media company Capital FM, is taking place outside of Nairobi. Besides performances by popular musicians on a main stage, the festival will also include activities such as a cycling race, a clean-up effort at nearby Lake Naivasha, and a hike on Mount Longonot, an adjacent protected area.

According to a project summary produced by Nakuru County’s ministry responsible for trade, tourism and cooperatives, the site of the festival will be in front of the Main Wall, some 7 kilometers from the Rüppell’s vulture (Gyps rueppelli) nesting site. The summary says disturbance will be minimised by a temporary fence around the festival site and KWS patrols; speakers set up to face the park’s admin buildings rather than into the park; and restricting vehicle access to emergency services only.

KWS did not respond to Mongabay’s request for an interview before publication, but the service released a statement defending the event, describing Hell’s Gate as an “activity based conservation and recreation facility”. The park has hosted similar events in the past, including a jazz festival in 2018, and an annual wheelbarrow race to raise funds. KWS also argues that some of the revenue raised by events like this is used for conservation and community development. A Jan. 16 letter from KWS to the festival organizers sets out total fees of 700,000 Ksh (7,000 dollars) to cover security and conservation fees for this event.

“But these are not the primary purposes of a national park,” Kahumbu told Mongabay in an interview, “they are supposed to be used for conservation of wildlife. We understand that the government has to generate revenue but we are not convinced because such activities degrade the environment.”


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