The National Park Service (NPS) International Sister Park Initiative’s goal is to encourage communication and information sharing with other parks, worldwide. On June 27, 2014, Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument and Sibiloi National Park (Kenya) signed a sister park memorandum of understanding. This historic event marks the first sister park arrangement between the NPS and an African park. NPS sister parks can be found in at least 23 other countries, including Mexico, Chile, and China.
How did Sibiloi become a Sister Park? Why?
Officials from Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) and National Museums of Kenya and the U.S. National Park Service (NPS) signed a Sister Park Agreement between Sibiloi National Park in Northern Kenya and Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument in the United States on June 27, 2014. The alliance joined together the Kenya Wildlife Service, National Museums of Kenya, and U.S. National Park Service, and was the first of its kind between the United States and any African country.
The five year agreement between the sister parks will increase information sharing and direct park-to-park contacts to address issues the parks share in common. Both parks are known for their important terrestrial paleontological localities and have produced fossils that represent a large diversity of species.
The signing ceremony took place during the Smithsonian Folklife Festival in Washington, D.C., which highlighted Kenya. NPS Deputy Regional Director Chip Jenkins and Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument Superintendent Judy Geniac joined Kenyan Ambassador Jean Kamau, KWS Deputy Director for Strategy and Change Edwin Wanyonyi and Dr. Ahmed Yassin of from the National Museums of Kenya for the signing ceremony.
“These two sites have significant fossils, history, and current-day resources,” said Geniac. “Research in both locations is helping the world to understanding past climate fluctuations and species’ responses, something that may help us address the world’s future.”
“We are happy to be associated with U.S. National Park Service for this historic signing of the sister parks relationship between Sibiloi National and Hagerman,” Deputy Director Wanyonyi said. “The Sister Parks Agreement we are signing today will go a long way in strengthening relationships between Kenya Wildlife Service and U.S. National Parks Service and reaffirms our commitment to conserve the last great species and places for posterity.”
Part of the reason for the Sister Parks initiative is sharing paleontological research between the two countries. Hagerman and Sibiloi dig sites are around the same period in the fossil record and include some of the same species of extinct animals and plants. The parks will exchange technical and professional knowledge, collaborate, and share experiences. Shared information may include best practices and advancements in park management, customer service, conservation, data collection techniques, and tourism development.
Where is Sibiloi? What is there?
Sibiloi is located in northern Kenya near the border of Ethiopia. The park encompasses 1570 km2 of land along the beautiful and remote Lake Turkana—the worlds largest desert lake. Two smaller parks, Central Island and South Island National parks are found on the lake. Ten tribal groups live in the area, but the main group are the pastoralist Turkana people. The capital city of Nairobi, with its skyscrapers, nightclubs and museums is almost 500 miles away. Access to the park is by private planes or a rugged 3 day overland adventure.
Sibiloi National Park (est. 1973) is a UNESCO World Heritage Site internationally recognized for its fossils of early hominins (lineage of humans and our immediate ancestors) and their primitive stone tools. Sibiloi is a diverse paleontological locality. Its fossils come from the Koobi Fora Formation, a geological feature of lake and river deposits. Sibiloi’s fossils date from 4.4 million through 10,00 years ago.
Sibiloi’s paleontological record tells the story of how African animal and plant communities have changed over the last 4.4 million years. Fossils of sabre-tooth cats (Homotherium and Megantereon), equids (horses and zebras), proboscids (elephants and relatives), otters, invertebrates (clams and snails), and camels are known from both Sibiloi and Hagerman. The bone-crushing ability of East Africa’s fossil spotted hyena is mirrored in Hagerman’s fossil canid (dog) Borophagus, while the niche of fossil warthogs at Sibiloi is filled at Hagerman by peccaries.