Haller Park, ‘Terraforming’ A Quarry Wasteland (Part 1)

Haller Park, located in Mombasa, Kenya, is one of those places with a fascinating back story.  You wouldn’t know from the pedestrian reviews on Google or TripAdvisor what a triumph in human ingenuity this place actually is.  I love the story behind this place, as it represents the epitome of engineering to me.  Perhaps some day the lessons learned here can be applied to Terraforming an even more inhospitable place, like Mars!

The Story

Bamburi Cement company began operations in the early 1950s near the Mombasa coast.  By 1970, they were extracting 25 million tons per year of rock from the ground.  By the time they had ceased operations, Bamburi cement had transformed hundreds of acres to a wasteland devoid of life, and with brackish water. [src] To accelerate the natural process of restoring life to the site, one that could take centuries without engineering, Bamburi recruited Dr. Rene Haller.

The Mind Behind The Park

Dr. Rene Haller as described on the Haller Foundation website:

Dr. Rene Haller is a Swiss naturalist. He trained in horticulture, landscaping and tropical agronomy and first came to Africa in 1956 to manage a coffee plantation in Tanzania. Three years later he joined Bamburi Cement Company to establish a garden department capable of producing enough food for the factory employees. In the early 1970’s the Bamburi Cement Company gave Rene Haller the mandate to try to restore the scarred landscapes left by the limestone quarrying used in the manufacture of cement.

From here let’s examine some features of the park.

1. Haller park is thick with plant life, you wouldn’t know that everything around you was created in less than a generation in human terms. This was once an inhospitable wasteland.

2: Dr. Haller studied many candidate trees for the site. Conocarpus lancifollus pine trees originating from coastal Somalia, were capable of thriving in the brackish water. They were brought to the quarry as a ‘pioneer species’. Holes were bored into the rock for each tree to be planted.

Zvonko Z. Springer describes these trees critical to the success of the project: [src]

“Conocarpus outgrew their original holes and penetrated into porous coral rock with carpet like root system few centimeters below surface down to the undisturbed rock bed deeper below. The best trees grew to a 9-m height and to a trunk circumference of 65 cm above ground in just three years time.”

The new trees created pine needles that could fall to the ground and decompose to create soil. To accelerate this process, a millipede (pictured) was brought in called Mombasa trains (Epibolus pulchripes). These millipedes could better break down the pine needles and help create soil more hospitable to other plant species.

3: One of the many ponds within the park. Many were dug out with bulldozers and placed with intention throughout the park. This includes a large crocodile pond, where waste from a nearby fish farm are fed to the crocodiles.

4-5: Waterbuck were brought to the park, and are free to roam around. They are used to seeing humans, so I was able to get very close. A pair of females (without horns) are depicted in the first photo, while a lone male eyes me in the second. Mammals such as these help ensure the health of the entire ecosystem. A representative of the Bamburi cement company was quoted in Landscape News as saying:

“Thirty species of mammals and 180 species of birds resided in the reclaimed quarry. The majority of the animals brought here were either orphans or rescued animals.” [src]

6-7: Haller park is home to a tower (herd) of giraffes, consisting of a few different species as well as some hybrids. I had never actually seen a giraffe drink water prior to shooting the second photo. It’s a comical thing to behold.

8-9: Haller Park is home to some large tortoises, including 11 critically endangered Angonoka that were seized by authorities at the international airport in Nairobi. [src] You can get a good idea of the scale of these massive creatures, pictured next to a not-so-small human (yours truly).

10: Haller park has a dedicated area home to dozens of Nile crocodiles. Every evening, the crocodiles are fed to the delight of onlookers. For more information about viewing crocodiles in Mombasa, refer to my previous post titled: Mombasa Kenya Is A Great Place To See The Nile Crocodile.

If you’re interested, NTV Kenya aired a fascinating 45-minute documentary on the park.

Thanks for dropping by! I hope that you enjoyed my travel photos and commentary, and will return for more travel content in the future.  In Part 2, we will continue to explore Haller Park.

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