KE065
Hell's Gate National Park This is an IBA in Danger! 


Site description (2014 baseline):

Site location and context
It lies within the Eco-Climatic zone IV that is described as environmentally fragile and prone to land degradation. Is situated in the floor of the great Rift Valley. Its bound to the south east by Longonot Mountains.  To the east is the Kinangop Plateau, while Eburru volcanic pile flanks the western side of the lake basin. The general topography of the area is characterised by a wide range of features associated with volcanic activity. They include craters, remnants of pre-existing craters, fault scarps, fissures and stem jets.

The geology is dominated by the formation of the great rift valley when the volcanic material of pleistocene Age was extruded forming the base material. Recent lava material is still visible on the surface towards the south of Olkaria field.

The soils are of volcanic origin, mainly mixed assemblages of acid and basic lava. The soils are very porous resulting in the aridity of the land.

The site experiences a double rain shadow effect from the west and east flanking escarpments (Mau and Aberdare Range/Kinangop respectively).


Key biodiversity
There are over 100 bird species recorded inside the park. The park contains important nesting habitat for Verreaux's Eagle, Augur Buzzard, Wailing Cisticola, Lanner Falcon, Nyanza, Mottled and Horus Swifts, Speckled Pigeons, Mackinder's and Spotted Eagle Owls, White -fronted Bee-eaters,Rock Martins, Schalow's Wheatear, Anteater Chat and Red-winged Starlings.

The Park contains Kenya's only nationally protected nesting colony of the Endangered Ruppell's Vultures Gyps rueppellii that typically contains 19 nests per year. 

Other globally listed species occurring in the park include:
  • White-backed Vulture Gyps africanus, Endangered
  • Grey-crested Helmetshrike Prionops poliolophus, Near Threatened.
The Hunter's Sunbird, Purple Grenadier, Streaky Seedeater, Brown Parisoma and the Baglafecht Weaver fall under the biome restricted species.

During 1999-2002 the park was the only national release site for a project involving the reintroduction of the Bearded Vulture or Lammergeyer, which is almost extinct in Kenya. It remains the only site in the country with a Vulture feeding restaurant and adjacent viewer/photographers blind.

Large to medium sized mammals recorded in the park include:
  • Lion
  • Wild dog
  • Cheetah
  • Leopard
  • Serval
  • Bat-eared fox
  • Spotted hyena
  • Striped hyena
  • African buffalo
  • Zebra
  • Eland
  • Impala
  • Hartebeest
  • Thompson's gazelle
  • Olive baboon
  • Chanler's mountain reedbuck
  • Klipspringer


Habitat and land use
The Park lies in Kenya's Rift valley -is comprised of acacia savanna woodland. There are two extinct volcanoes within the park boundaries, Olkaria and Hobley's. The Hell's  Gate gorge is lined with red cliffs and contains two volcanic plugs, Fisher's Tower and Central Tower. There are also hot springs located in a smaller gorge near central tower.

The park and surrounding areas are major locations for geothermal activity, which is increasingly being exploited as a source of "green" energy. Until recently all geothermal development, including power stations and wells were located in the adjacent Olkaria area. However, geothermal exploration has commenced inside the park with serious threats to the park's Wildlife and habitats (see under Pressures/Threats section)


Pressure/threats to key biodiversity
Hell's Gate is a highly threatened park. Despite being a protected area, rapid geothermal development within and adjacent to the park is the most urgent threat to the park's wildlife and habitats, as well as its ability to continue to draw tourists. In particular, noise and pollution levels are high, particularly in the area immediately adjacent to the current geothermal activity. These have already severely degraded the scenic beauty of the park as a tourist attraction. To date, 32 km2 of the park land has been  taken over  for geothermal development.

Threats to flora and fauna (and tourists) emanating from geothermal developments include the following:
  1. Noise pollution and vibration at central tower limestone gorges was responsible for loss of nesting Mackinder's Eagle Owl. Vibration and noise may interfere with those animals that hunt by sound, such as Owls, Bat-eared Fox and Serval (the latter two  being formerly common, now virtually absent).
  2. Light pollution - from lights on well towers that light up sections of the park.
  3. Brine run-off- its caustic, it remains unknown what it contains, but it likely contains sulfur, and perhaps cobalt and mercury. Brine overflows at some of the wells. Apart from harming wildlife inside the park, the communities outside the park are using this water for washing clothes, and it may be contaminating their drinking water, it also kills livestock if they drink it.
  4. Open water cooling pools with sheer walls and algae (slippery) surface are lethal structures for drowning.
  5. Electrical pylons increase collision mortality. Electrical 36 KVA poles of concrete and metal arm construction are lethal to perching birds.
  6. Condensers/silencers with hydrogen sulphide emission are proven lethal structures for poisoning birds. Livestock loses have also been reported.
  7. Hydrogen sulfide pollution- This colourless poisonous gas is recognized worldwide as a very dangerous air pollutant, and KenGen do admit that levels close to certain areas of geothermal  activity can reach or even exceed acceptable levels. For them to admit this we must assume that such levels of H2S are a serious contaminant to all inhabitants in and around their activities and should be looked into by an independent body. Condensers / silencers with hydrogen sulphide emission are proven lethal structures for poisoning birds. Livestock loses have also been reported. In their Olkaria V report, KenGen recommended the re-location of all persons living within a certain area that currently borders on to their planned  expansion zone due to exposure to high H2S emissions.  H2S must surely be having a effect on the flora and fauna within the park, but no-one has really looked into this aspect. These gases do gather in low lying areas where the air and wind is unable to safely blow it away.
  8. Water off-take from the lake-drilling requires a lot of water, which is taken from Lake Naivasha. When lake levels are low it is expected the need to for this scarce resource will become a point of contention with the hotels and agricultural farms that surround the lake.
  9. Increase in human activity- there are a tremendous number of people now operating and with access to the park this poses a big problem for security especially concerning poaching of wildlife and transportation of charcoal. KenGen related vehicles are not inspected coming out of the park, yet they drive in there on regular basis.
  10. Road building- high speed vehicles are killing wildlife, including two Leopards that were recently killed by speeding vehicles. Roads and other access points have allowed an influx of charcoal burners into the park.
  11. Some visitors are expressing disgust at the developments in the park and have said they will not return.
There are at least two wells that are inside the park boundary. The most contentious of these is well number 40 because it is the one that is directly above the Ruppell's Vulture nesting cliff. It is at this well that a dam burst and led to water gushing over the cliff and washing away two vulture nests. Ken Gen has fit a silencer over the well to contain some of the noise. Since December 2012 the vultures have not nested at the colony and this is likely due to the impacts of geothermal drilling and ensuing dam burst.

Other significant threats to the park include rapid population growth and urbanization in Naivasha and surrounding areas adjacent to the park. Newly settled communities, road infrastructure, and industrial development related mostly to geothermal companies, and also settlements of former pastoral communities that now surround and infiltrate 1/2 the boundary to the west of the park have severely impacted the park and its wildlife. Another park boundary is surrounded by horticultural industries that house high human populations, and thereby have decreased nesting and foraging opportunities for wildlife  and have increased pesticide contaminants in the ecosystem. This has also led to increasing pressure on the parks limited resources, including trees for charcoal and poaching of wildlife for bushmeat or trophies. The corridor leading to Kedong and Longonot, although reduced still exists and is crucial for the survival of the parks wildlife.

Rock climbing led to the loss of the only nest site of Lammergeyers known in Kenya in the 1970s according to Leslie Brown. Rock climbing was banned on the main wall and other sites in the interests of raptor conservation.




Protected areas
The park is only one of the two parks in Kenya that is managed  by a management committee consisting of a variety of local stakeholders including Kenya Wildlife Service. 

The park has a management plan- Hell's Gate-Mt Longonot Ecosystem Management plan 2010-2015.


Land ownership
The land is owned by Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS). KWS have a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Ken Gen (Kenya Electricity Generation Company Ltd), the leading electric power generating company in Kenya, although the details of the MoU are unknown and unavailable to anyone other than the two parties involved.


Acknowledgements
  • Darcy Ogada
  • Simon Thomsett
  • Don Turner
  • Debbie Nightingale
  • Sarah Higgins



Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2024) Important Bird Area factsheet: Hell's Gate National Park. Downloaded from https://datazone.birdlife.org/site/factsheet/hells-gate-national-park-iba-kenya on 04/03/2024.