Case Study: The Greater Southern Bypass

Case Study: The Greater Southern Bypass

Learn how the Greater Southern Bypass might affect big cats in the area around Nairobi National Park with the support of National Geographic Explorer Dr. Paula Kahumbu.


9 - 12+


Physical Geography, Ecology, Geography, Human Geography, Engineering, Conservation, Economics

NGS Resource Carousel Loading Logo
Loading ...
Big Cats Initiative


Kenya is 582.6 square kilometers (225 square miles), more than twice the size of the U.S. state of Nevada. It is on the east coast of Africa and bordered by the Indian Ocean, Somalia, and Tanzania. Machinery, electronics, food, and mineral fuels are shipped through the ports of Kenya, especially the port of Mombasa. Kenya is very important to the economic health of central-eastern Africa.

Nairobi is the capital of Kenya and has 3.38 million people. It reaches across 673.4 square kilometers (260 square miles) and is about twice the size of Las Vegas, Nevada, with about 400,000 fewer people than the U.S. city of Los Angeles, California.

In the southeast edge of Nairobi sits the Nairobi National Park (NNP). The park is 117 square kilometers and is only seven kilometers from the city center. NNP is not like that other famous park within a city, New York City's Central Park, where people play softball and explore the lake in rowboats. Instead, this park is home to a great variety of African wildlife including wildebeest, zebra, giraffe, Coke's hartebeest, eland, Grant's gazelles, Thompson's gazelles, and lions.

Buildings and fences border three sides of the park, but the Mbagathi River forms the southern edge. Animals cross it every day as they look for food and water.


While Kenya has protected 12.3 percent of its land, only 30 percent of wildlife in Kenya lives in these protected areas. Tourists tend to go to these protected areas to see the wildlife, where their money supports businesses. In the rest of the country, wildlife has little financial support, and conservation is an expensive business because of the costs of buying land to protect it, educating people and governments about conservation, and buying supplies to help wildlife.

Landowners live throughout the areas where the wildlife lives and moves, and they must coexist with the animals on a daily basis. Protecting these animals and providing them with essential habitat means working with the landowners as well as governments. In order for conservation efforts to be successful in and around NNP, Kenyans must find solutions to living with nature. This expands beyond the scope of roads that ease human traffic congestion and interrupt wildlife traffic patterns. The migratory nature of the wildlife in Kenya means that conservation must happen on a countrywide scale for it to be successful, and landowners must be involved.


The Port of Mombasa is very important to the health of Kenya's economy. The top imports handled at Mombasa include oil and petroleum, food, and construction materials. Many of these goods are shipped to other parts of Kenya and other eastern African countries by a highway that runs through Nairobi.

Partly because of this reason, Nairobi is one of Africa's fastest growing cities. However, as more goods are shipped through Nairobi to other parts of Africa, the people who transport them want faster routes than the current heavily trafficked roads. In 2011, the Kenyan government proposed building a highway around Nairobi called the Greater Southern Bypass. While the bypass would help ease traffic congestion in Nairobi, it would also cut off migration routes for many of the wild animals in the NNP. Thousands of animals move out of the NNP through the southern edge of the park.

Traffic is not the only problem wildlife would face with the construction of the Greater Southern Bypass. As Nairobi grows and people need more room to live, housing and factories are expanding into the once-wild areas south of the NNP. This growth is known as urban development, and it is happening in the areas that animals use to travel to seasonal grounds where they give birth to their young. The road construction itself would be loud and would frighten wildlife, disrupting their normal behavior. It would also likely take a long time, meaning the disruption would continue for years. Without migration routes and breeding grounds, wildlife would decrease, and species that are already at risk would suffer more.

The people and animals that would be most affected by the Greater Southern Bypass are called stakeholders. They all have a stake in what happens if the road is built and migration patterns are interrupted.

Pastoralists: Many of the people who currently live outside the city of Nairobi make their living by keeping cattle. They are called pastoralists, and they move their herds from pasture to pasture as food and water sources change. Their lives depend on the ability to move through open spaces. Traditionally, pastoralists have not been landowners, but today, some own land and graze their cattle on nearby fields. As Nairobi grows and its people build houses and factories outside the existing city, the amount of land pastoralists can use to graze their cattle is shrinking. Their herds have to be smaller, and they are less able to afford losing cattle to predators. Sometimes, pastoralists will kill lions that they believe have attacked their livestock by spearing them or poisoning them with pesticides.

Conservationists: Dr. Paula Kahumbu is the executive director of the Kenya Land Conservation Trust and WildlifeDirect, and she is chairperson of the Friends of Nairobi National Park. She tries to keep the growth of Nairobi from harming the wildlife of the NNP and to protect the open spaces around the city and park so that the wildlife can continue to move freely during migration. Some local landowners west of the NNP have set aside land to preserve it for wildlife migration.

Lions: Forty lions live in NNP, as do thousands of wildebeest, zebra, and antelopes. These animals migrate south where short-grass plains offer plenty of food. The proposed road will put traffic in the way of their migration route, endangering both humans and animals as they try to travel. Lions are losing essential habitat as the city grows and as traffic increases. They have fewer wild animals to eat because there is less land for their prey to live on. Lions and the prey they rely upon for survival are losing habitat as the city grows and as traffic increases. In addition to being crowded out by human encroachment, drought also causes problems as water sources dry up, and the pastoralists sometimes kill lions that they believe have preyed upon their livestock. Twenty-nine lions were killed, leaving only six lions in this area in 2003. And it's happening elsewhere too. In 1990, the entire country of Kenya had 15,000 lions; now there are only 2,000.

Landowners: Wildlife movements affect landowners around Nairobi and in migration areas. Some of them farm, and their crops and animals are sometimes destroyed by wildlife. Others quarry the land, using dynamite that ruins the land for any other purpose and this causes loud disturbances for humans and animals. Some big landowners are developing the land around Nairobi as the city continues to grow in population.

Nairobi residents: Nairobi's outskirts are moving outward as the population grows, and people who live in the slums of the city are heading to the open spaces close to the park. Social workers are taking people out of the slums of the city and into housing projects that are being built in migration paths. This development is working against conservation.

Kenya's government: The government wants to decrease traffic through the center of Nairobi to make it easier to move goods from the coastal port of Mombasa to Nairobi. This will help Kenya make more money more easily and is part of the government's plan to make the country stronger. The Chinese government is providing the money to build the road.

Tourism industry: Many tourists come to Kenya on safari to see the wild animals in their natural habitat. The people who work with tourists are split on the effects of the bypass. Some feel that the growth of the city is a natural progression as more people move in and visit it. Easing the traffic congestion that comes with that growth will help them get tourists into the wilder parts of Kenya more quickly. Others believe that NNP and the wildlife migration patterns should be protected so that wildlife populations stay high enough to attract tourists.


Dr. Kahumbu says that protecting Kenya's wild areas does not mean that Kenyans have to choose between houses and businesses for people and conservation of land and wildlife. Instead, decisions need to be made with both goals in mind. For example, the Canadian government built a highway through Banff National Park of Canada and put high fences along it to keep wildlife away. The government then built special bridges and tunnels across and under it for wildlife migration.

Every two months since 1960, volunteers count animals in the NNP. The volunteers come into the park, go off the road, and count every animal they can see in the park. These counts let researchers and conservationists track migration patterns of wildlife and link them to rainfall and other factors. America's Colorado State University also has a program in Kenya in which researchers tag animals with radio transmitters so that they can track animal movements. Information from both sources can be used to help the government make decisions that will help conservation.


When political leaders in Kenya were considering the Greater Southern Bypass, Dr. Kahumbu talked to them about the effects the road would have on wildlife. She emphasized that considering the welfare of the animals would give Kenya an international status for leading conservation efforts.

Dr. Kahumbu talks with people in communities all over Kenya about how lions and other wildlife are behaving and about their communities' needs. She talked to urban poor residents in Nairobi who can have a better life if they move to the more open spaces close to NNP. She spent days walking a trail that connects villages in Kenya to learn about the importance of medicinal plants found along it. Kahumbu educates pastoralists about how wildlife tourism can help support them and about how to protect their animals from predatory attacks by lions.

To reach people outside Kenya, Dr. Kahumbu runs a website blog, that lets conservationists working in more than 120 projects worldwide, exchange ideas, connect with one another, find donors, and update interested readers about their projects. She updates people about conservation efforts with a steady stream of Tweets.


Dr. Kahumbu is involved in environmental education efforts around Tanzania and the world. She communicates through Twitter, Facebook, and other social-media tools with people worldwide who are interested in conservation. Dr. Kahumbu is also involved with school environmental-conservation clubs. In addition, she works with several groups to bring schoolchildren from Nairobi to visit NNP, where they participate in activities and watch movies that teach them about the animals and their habits. Friends of Nairobi National Park, a group that works to preserve the park, has helped to create these activities and programs for school children to help them understand how important lions and other animals are to the world.


Dr. Kahumbu's efforts to educate the public and the government have paid off. Dr. Kahumbu and a group of concerned citizens met with members of the Kenyan government in the late summer of 2011 to talk about the dangers of the Greater Southern Bypass to the wildlife of NNP. The officials assured them that the proposed road would run far south of the NNP. They agreed that the park was very important to the wildlife and animal migration patterns and told Dr. Kahumbu's group that they would consult with the group on plans about where to put future roads. There is a possibility that when the bypass is built it will include overpasses and underpasses for wildlife movement.

Media Credits

The audio, illustrations, photos, and videos are credited beneath the media asset, except for promotional images, which generally link to another page that contains the media credit. The Rights Holder for media is the person or group credited.

Elizabeth Wolzak, National Geographic Society
Cathlyn Matracia
Cathlyn Matracia
Expert Reviewer
Dr. Luke Dollar, Conservation Scientist
Page Producer
Andy Hess
Last Updated

October 19, 2023

For information on user permissions, please read our Terms of Service. If you have questions about how to cite anything on our website in your project or classroom presentation, please contact your teacher. They will best know the preferred format. When you reach out to them, you will need the page title, URL, and the date you accessed the resource.


If a media asset is downloadable, a download button appears in the corner of the media viewer. If no button appears, you cannot download or save the media.


Text on this page is printable and can be used according to our Terms of Service.


Any interactives on this page can only be played while you are visiting our website. You cannot download interactives.

Related Resources