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Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) has suffered a setback in its plans to build a new national park in Laikipia on a 17,000-acre land parcel it had bought from former President Moi after a court order barred it from developing the plot.
Dr Noah Wekesa, the Forestry and Wildlife minister on Tuesday told parliament that KWS has ceased all activity on the land which the ministry will not gazette as a national park until the matter is resolved by the court.
This means that KWS will have to wait longer to build the park it is banking on to boost its financial health that has been hit by high operating expenses.
“KWS will accept the court orders and will not gazette the proposed park (Laikipia National Park),” Dr Wekesa said.
KWS had bought the land for Sh400 million with the help of Nature Conservancy, a US-based organisation. But 248 residents of the area, who have locked horns with Mr Moi over the ownership of the land, successfully obtained court orders restraining the wildlife custodian from implementing its plans until the matter is determined .
The residents allege that Mr Moi has been trying to forcibly evict them from the land which they claim to have lived on for over 90 years. Last week, the US-based Centre for International Human Rights Law and Advocacy threw its weight behind the community activists, threatening to sue KWS should it go ahead with its plans.
Laikipia is a tourism circuit popular with high-end visitors keen on luxury offerings such as tented camps and is home to prominent resorts such as Ol Pejeta, Lewa and Loisaba.
It has hosted prominent visitors such as British royals Prince William and his wife Kate Middleton. KWS currently has 33 national parks and reserves spread across the country.
The state-owned corporation that relies heavily on government support this year raised its park entry fees to cope with rising staff costs, park maintenance, animal stocking and migration.
In the latest increase, the fees were raised to $80 (Sh8,000) from a minimum of $60 (Sh6,000) on premium parks. In the special gazette notice, Forestry and Wildlife minister Noah Wekesa also reviewed the fees structure by eliminating low and high season fees and introducing a flat rate charge in a bid to boost revenue.
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Foreign visitors previously paid $75 (Sh7,500) at Amboseli and Lake Nakuru parks during the peak seasons, which run from January to March and July to October.
Dr Wekesa said the review is aimed at boosting KWS coffers to allow it meet its conservation obligations, arguing that the efforts are becoming costly, causing the corporation to run a huge deficit.
The review comes less than a year after KWS increased its fees in January in what led to a 47 per cent rise in its turnover to Sh2.8 billion in the year to June 2010.
Its expenses rose to Sh4.6 billion from Sh3.7 billion –which left it with a deficit of Sh1.54 billion that was plugged by government (Sh860 million), donations (Sh170 million) and donor funding (Sh198 million).