Kenya's leading scientists are calling on the country to tap into its vast prehistoric fossils in order to boost its growing tourism industry.
Renowned conservationist Richard Leakey told Xinhua in Nairobi on Tuesday that the Lake Turkana region which is home to world famous "Turkana boy" could become a major tourist's hub in east Africa despite its remote location.
"The fossils discovered have gained enormously attention globally and could play a huge role in increasing tourism into Kenya," Leakey said.
Turkana boy which was found in 1984 is the most complete skeleton of human ancestors that has been discovered. Scientists have estimated that it may be as old as 1.6 million years. Turkana is located approximately 1,000 km northwest of Kenya's capital Nairobi.
Data from the ministry of tourism indicated that in 2011, Kenya's tourism sector earned $1.2 billion after receiving 1.2 international million tourists.
The Kenyan government has already stepped up efforts to expand its tourism revenues by increasing products. The country currently relies on wildlife and coastal beaches to allure visitors.
It has also pledged to open up the northern part of Kenya which includes Turkana region to foreign and domestic tourists.
It is therefore the oldest complete unequivocal example of human that has being discovered. These fossils together with other have cemented the Turkana region as the cradle of mankind.
"These fossils are a significant resource to Kenya and should be harnessed for the benefit of the nation Kenyans," he said.
In fact, Kenya displayed the Turkana boy in the just concluded London Olympics where it attracted a lot of attention. To date Kenya has one of the largest collections of fossils in the world.
Leakey, who is also an environmental conservationist, noted that Ethiopia, South Africa and Tanzania have fossils but Kenya is far ahead in terms of quantity and value of fossils. "It would therefore be prudent if the country develops Turkana as a major tourist destination in order to increase the number of tourists coming into Kenya."
Leakey who has been hunting for fossils in the Turkana region since 1960s is also son of famed anthropologists Dr. Louis Leakey.
"My estimation is that we still have a lot more prehistoric fossils that are buried and are yet to be discovered," the paleontologists added.
Friends of Lake Turkana (FOLT) Director Ikal Angelei said that despite the fact that the Turkana area has a lot of fossils, the local population is yet to benefit from this resource.
"Unfortunately, most of the famous fossils from Turkana are stored far away from the region which means that locals have to travel to Nairobi to see them," Angelei said.
According to Ikal, this has also diminished the interest among local population and school going children in the area. However the government has already established a national museum in the region.
"The National Museum of Kenya already has a desert museum on the shore of the Lake Turkana in Loiyangalani but the facility showcases the culture of the eight different communities that live the area," the FOLT official said.
Angelei said the authorities are yet to market the areas scientific tourism potential. She noted the fossils are part of the pride and heritage of the local community.
Currently most of the residents in the dry region depend on fishing in order to make ends meet.
"However, overfishing is depleting the salty lakes stocks due to lack of alternative sources of income," she said.
She said the recent discovery of oil deposits together with tourism could catapult the semi arid area and change the economic fortunes of the local residents.