(The entrance of the Bamburi based Haller Park north of Mombasa)
Mombasas Haller Park has since its inception in the late 1970s, when the Bamburi Cement quarries looked like moonscapes along the Mombasa Bamburi road, extensive spaces bare of any vegetation at all, been transformed into a mini garden of Eden and a habitat for some 240 species of birds, over a dozen large mammals, reptiles and even an active Tilapia fish farm, which helps to financially sustain the growing operation of the park while catfish, lungfish and tilapia are also found in the extensive interconnected pond system which traverses the park.
What started as the Bamburi Nature Trail in the second half of the 1970s, and in 1999 renamed to specifically recognize the extraordinary conservation efforts made by Dr. Rene Haller and his relentless battle to overcome prejudice and opposition to his project, is today a site of global renown. Recognized time and again the Haller Park now is a prime example of how the visual and ecological devastation caused by surface mining can be overcome and turned into a biodiversity hotspot, given the resources and time needed to develop a strategy, carry out the necessary research and then get on with it.
The main part of the park measures more than 200 hectares while the nearby Forest Trails add a further 400 hectares to the rehabilitated area, and as the quarrying expands, eventually these green areas will grow further still.
Dr. Haller started in a small and compact way, experimenting with a number of trees attempting to replant the empty quarry sites before eventually using the unique adaptive qualities of the Casuarina tree, aka Whistling Pine, to start a process which within twenty years showed significant results and now, after nearly 35 years, is an example and text book study of what can be accomplished in the field of restoration and rehabilitation of environmental capital sins.
(Karima Nyinge, in charge on site of the Haller Park operation)
Karima Nyinge took an entire afternoon until closing time at 5 pm to explain the various stages of rehabilitation, from receiving a mere empty quarry site, as pictured above, to the final product as seen during a 3 kilometre walk about, which included the commercial fish Tilapia fish farm, the more recently established reptile park, the Baobab Pavillion meeting facility and the feeding sites for the hippos, oryx and giraffes where tourists can see these animals close up and personal. The oldest part of Haller Park now shows a mix of trees, as the non indigenous Casuarina had prepared the ground and conducive environment to plant local species of trees, a process gradually introduced to the areas more recently rehabilitated, as and when there is enough humus on the bare rock floors to actually sustain seeding, rooting and growth.
(This picture at the heart of the Haller Park shows diverse species of trees, shrubs and bushes)
The introduction of wildlife was seen as crucial to the commercial success of the Haller Park but also added on its own to the growth of the park by keeping vegetation growth controlled and through the selection of compatible species no predators were introduced nor have any been sighted which might have gained access from beyond Mombasa to the unique ecosystem was value added and the various efforts to enhance the forest setting enhanced by natural means. Adult tourists pay a mere 400 Kenya Shillings, or about 5 US Dollars for entrance, children pay less and school groups are often admitted for free to encourage and promote conservation, and with last year over 167.000 visitors entering the park, this makes for an impressive income, all plowed back into the park operation and further rehabilitative measures.
Haller Park, when staying along the north coast resorts, has become a must see attraction and the cooler climes inside the forest makes visitors the normal coastal heat and humidity almost forget, as they stroll through the well kept network of paths and tracks, on their own or accompanied by one of the parks guides to explain the history and biodiversity as it now presents itself. In fact, the nearby Forest Trails is often used for cycling across the 600 hectares of rehabilitated quarries, or for larger functions for which beach resorts have often taken advantage of the developed areas which can be used for party tents, only at Forest Trails of course as the main Haller Park is strictly for conservation and educational purposes while the Forest Trails are embracing some commercial aspects too now to raise much needed funds to carry out the ongoing work as more empty quarries are handed over to them.
Visit in person when in Mombasa, a half day or full day trip no one this correspondent spoke to ever regretted or pay them a virtual visit via www.lafarge.co.ke/wps/portal/ke/4_A_3-Haller_Park