East Africa’s national parks and reserves rank among the best in Africa and some of the parks like Serengeti, Masai Mara, and Mt Kilimanjaro to name just three are the stuff of travelers lore. Although some of the parks are under siege, and as much as 75% of the region’s wildlife lives outside the protected areas, the region’s national parks have ensured that East Africa remains one of the last repositories of charismatic megafauna left on the planet.
The idea of setting aside land for nature protection began during the colonial times, and in many cases, this meant forcibly evicting the local peoples from their traditional lands. Enforcement of any vague notions of conservation that lay behind the reserves was often lax, and local anger was fueled by the fact that many parks were set aside as hunting reserves for white hunters with anything but conservation on their minds. Many of these hunters, having pushed some species to the brink of extinction, later became conservationists and by the middle of the 20th century, the push was on to establish the national parks and reserves that we see today.
Africa’s oldest national park is Parc National des Virunga in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, it was set aside by the Belgian colonial authorities in 1925. It was more than 20 years later, in 1946, the Nairobi National Park became East Africa’s first such officially protected area.