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Mount Kenya fence –nearing the 200km milestone
The electrified fence that will, when completed, surround the whole Mount Kenya ecosystem, will soon achieve a milestone when it reaches the 200 kilometre mark. 195km had been built with fence construction taking place in the lower part of the Upper Imenti Forest Reserve. When completed, the fence will stretch for 450km –the longest fence of its kind in the world.
Phase II of the Mount Kenya project, which includes Thunguru Hill Forest, and was extended to 74km, is nearly completed. Progress was held up for a time with the demarcation and clearing of the fence line by the Kenya Forest Service (KFS). Indeed, because of a number of privately-owned tea fields that cut across the forest boundary, some of the work is still pending. However, all gates on Phase II will be completed by the end of the year.
“It is an illustration that our fencing project is not without its challenges”, says Christian Lambrechts, Executive Director of the Rhino Ark. “We are also having to rehabilitate the damage of many years of degradation of Mount Kenya’s forests. As an UNESCO World Heritage project, Mount Kenya is an international shop window for Kenya’s environmental policies and therefore needs special attention.”
To illustrate the point, Rhino Ark, together with the Mount Kenya Conservation Forum, and partners such as the Kenya Forest Service (KFS), the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) and local communities have expanded the rehabilitation programme by planting 10,000 indigenous tree seedlings in June and another 12,000 seedlings in October in Nanyuki Forest Station to rehabilitate degraded forest areas on Mt. Kenya. Working with Rhino Ark, the Forest Managers of Nanyuki Forest Station and Gathiuru Forest Station, along with the Chief Executive of the Mount Kenya Conservation Forum, are supporting the establishment of a community-based indigenous tree nursery at the Nanyuki Forest Station, “which should reduce the cost of a purchasing the seedlings”, comments Christian Lambrechts.
KFS Forest Manager launching the tree planting exercise in June.
Community members planting trees.
KFS Chairman Peter Kinyua launching the tree planting exercise in October.
Naomi Kamau from Citizen TV planting trees with a young student.
A further challenge has been the forest fires which have ravaged areas of Mount Kenya and the Aberdares earlier this year. This has led to the establishment of a permanent fire-fighting team of 60 that will be fully equipped and trained to deal with such emergencies in future. The eight members of the Aberdare Joint Surveillance Team will be part of the fire-fighting unit. Rhino Ark, the Mount Kenya Trust, KFS and KWS have spearheaded this initiative with fire-fighting equipment and uniforms procured by the Mount Kenya Trust.
Innovating in the Aberdares
To prevent fires spreading across the northern moorlands, Rhino Ark is working with KWS and the management of the newly established Cedar Retreat Lodge to identify and clear old roads that run through the northern moorlands and act as a fire break. This should stop fire spreading further down towards the forest. Nearly 30 km of old roads have been identified.
“There is the advantage, too, that some of these roads give access to some of the most beautiful scenery in the Aberdares and will help to attract more visitors”, says Christian Lambrechts.
Rhino Ark can also report a marked reduction in illegal logging – not least of cedar trees – following an extensive aerial surveillance flight above the northern part of the Aberdare ecosystem in Nyandarua County. The flight included senior KFS and KWS officials. However, it was noted that there were some persistent illegal activities in the escarpment near Sophia and Wanjohi.
The Aberdare Joint Surveillance Unit (AJSU), which carries out patrols on the ground, had to deal with five charcoal kilns in the Wanjohi area, three cedar logging sites in Embaringo and Gakanga and further cedar logging sites in the Northern Sector – but overall there was a general reduction in illegal activities. In the Southern Sector in August, 15 snares were removed in Gacharage area and a charcoal kiln destroyed. Rhino Ark purchased a new Toyota Land Cruiser to assist AJSU in its critical work.
AJSU destroying a charcoal kiln in Wanjohi area, Northern Aberdares.
AJSU removing snares in Gacharage area, Southern Aberdares.
Rhino Ark Executive Director handing over the new Toyota Land Cruiser to AJSU.
Maintenance of the fence infrastructure is an ongoing subject with financial implications – and high level meetings have engaged the Cabinet Secretary for Tourism and Wildlife, Najib Balala, and the KWS Director General, Brigadier John Waweru, to look at various options. The idea of an ecosystem trust as an avenue for maintaining mountain fences has been mooted – and, after a further meeting with Brigadier Waweru and his senior management team, it was agreed to establish a joint committee to review various choices for fence maintenance, including the establishment of ecosystem trusts and make recommendations to the Government.
Otherwise the rehabilitation of the oldest section of the fence – Phase I – has been completed. Two new metallic gates have been built at Rhino Gate and Shamata Gate – the two main access gates to the northern Aberdares.
At Mount Eburu: Eburru Rafiki, a local initiative playing an active role in the rejuvenation of the Eburru Forest State Reserve, helps to support farming households using modern technology and agricultural practices to improve their economic situation. As Eburru Rafiki states: “by reducing pressure on forest resources, we can be more successful in protecting the Eburru ecosystem as a whole.”
This is a strategy also adopted by Rhino Ark, which completed the building of an electrified 43.3km fence around Mount Eburu in 2014. Rhino Ark continues to support community training on farming best practices. For example – Rhino Ark recently facilitated a visit for the Eburru communities to gain experience in fruit tree and livestock management.
Similarly a poultry keeping project has been started by farmers as a livelihood activity. This new project is being supported by KENCHIC, the leading producer of poultry in East and Central Africa. Five farmer groups (including a youth group), each comprising up to ten members from four locations around the Eburru Forest, have received training on the rearing of the hybrid KENBRO bird, as part of a pilot project. The farmer groups are now constructing chicken sheds, with specifications and training provided by KENCHIC – with an initial stock of KENBRO chicks and feed supplied to the farmers.
Turning to the honey production capacity in the local community, Rhino Ark engaged a specialist to carry out an assessment of the current status of community beekeeping activity while identifying training needs. This survey was carried out in August and involved 328 community members in the four forest adjacent locations. As a result further support will be given to communities to improve their honey business. This builds on the earlier work done in 2013/14 by Rhino Ark, including a baseline survey and subsequent capacity building and training for the community. In addition, an indigenous Ogiek community group received honey processing equipment. The donation has been provided by the MPESA Foundation as part of an ongoing engagement to support conservation-compatible local community livelihoods within the Eburu forest landscape.
The school’s conservation and education programmes, supported by Rhino Ark, have continued. In order to improve the curriculum, a stakeholder’s workshop was organised by Rhino Ark in August, bringing together Eburu conservation education teachers and Ministry of Education and KFS and KWS officials to review the curriculum.
In the forest itself, rehabilitation work has continued with three hectares of degraded forest at Ole Sirwa being replanted. Rhino Ark, in collaboration with KFS, coordinated the event with the work carried out by Safaricom Foundation, pupils of the MPESA Academy, soldiers from the Kenya Defence Force and local community members.
Training of Eburu communities in poultry rearing with support from KENCHIC.
Donation of honey processing equipment to an indigenous Ogiek community group provided by MPESA Foundation.
Soldiers from the Kenya Defence Forces and community members carrying tree seedlings to the replanting site.
MPESA Academy pupil planting an indigenous tree seedling.
Similarly in South Western Mau, a ten hectare plot of degraded forest has been replanted at Kipkoris, adjacent to the forest outpost along the ‘cut line’ boundary in the Kuresoi North Area. To protect the seedlings, the replanting site is micro-fenced and placed under full time observation.
Rhino Ark is also involved in a sustainability initiative with 15 large energy saving jikos and 15 large charcoal making kilns being procured for 15 selected schools under the current conservation programme. The schools are heavy users of fuel wood. Training in the use of jikos and kilns has been provided. One of the schools – Emitik Girls Secondary – has incorporated the jiko experience into its formal science class.
The South Western Mau community conservation champions’ programme is now well established. Six volunteer community members, drawn from forest adjacent communities along the forest cut line, have been fully integrated into community outreach activities. These champions receive training on Rhino Ark initiatives and activities and join the Rhino Ark team in community engagements.
Honey production in South Western Mau, building upon the experience in Eburu – is a major initiative. Phase I of a bio-enterprise project was completed earlier this year, with over 550 forest adjacent farmers trained in the basic skills for bee-keeping and honey production. Rhino Ark will continue to work with these farmers – not least with marketing support.
In the areas’ schools the development of the conservation education curriculum in primary and secondary schools was completed – with the new curriculum coming on stream in May, in 46 schools. Further building upon the theme of youth and conservation, Rhino Ark initiated a youth engagement strategy targeting the 18-35 age bracket with an initial series of special youth outreach forums in September 2019.
Faith-based institutions are also a new area of focus, with conservation outreach work being done to the leadership of local churches to build their capacity to sensitize their congregations about conservation.
The fencing project remains on hold and awaiting advice from Government. A Rhino Ark, KWS, and KFS surveillance flight, in partnership with IDH’s Initiative for Sustainable Landscape (ISLA) and Finlays, flew above the 60,000 hectare South Western Mau Forest Reserve and part of the adjacent Western Mau Forest Reserve. The results were “encouraging”, according to Christian Lambrechts. “The flight revealed a marked improvement in the number of livestock and logging activities in the forest. Illegal charcoal production is, however, still a threat, although at a lower level. There are new bomas (livestock enclosures) observed in the forest, indicating that livestock are still there”.
Participants in the surveillance flight above South Western Mau.
KFS Chief Conservator of Forest, IDH/ISLA Senior Programme Manager, Rhino Ark Executive Director and senior staff of KFS visiting the rehabilitated site in Kipkoris, South Western Mau.
For Kakamega Forest, the National Steering Committee on the Conservation of Kakamega Forest met earlier this year to review the budget for the Environmental and Social Impact Assessment Study (ESIA) while endorsing the proposal that KWS undertakes the study. This exercise that started in August should be completed by the end of November – with support being provided by Rhino Ark’s new Toyota Land Cruiser, sold at a generously discounted price by Toyota Kenya.
International funds are being provided by IFAD for constructing 60km of electric fence for Mount Kenya. Procurement has started for the initial 30km. Meanwhile a Technical Working Group for a National Programme for Payment for Ecosystem Services has been established. This followed a proposal from Rhino Ark and other partners. Members of the Group include Rhino Ark, GNIPlus, US Forest Service, USAID, KFS, KWS and the Water Resources Authority. The group met in July and August and has approached USAID Kenya to seek support.
The Rhino Charge, with much greater publicity momentum this year, raised $1.5 million in June with 56 cars participating.
And, around the Aberdares, the ninth Aberdare Fence Relay run was completed in July. The baton, carried around the 400km fence, was received by Jim Nyamu, Founder and Director of the Elephant Neighbors Center. Six hundred pupils from 60 schools located in the five counties adjacent to the fence participated: in addition, 110 schools entered for the essay competition, comprising two categories – teachers and pupils. Pupils wrote essays on the importance of protecting the Aberdare Forest Ecosystem while the teachers described the challenges faced by teachers when educating pupils and the community on environmental conservation.
Team 48 who won the 2019 Rhino Charge.
Team 44 who won the Victor Ludorum at the 2019 Rhino Charge.
ESIA team meeting with the Governor of Kakamega County.
One of the many meetings with communities surrounding Kakamega Forest, as part of the ESIA study.
Pupils who participated in the Aberdare Fence Relay Run celebrating during the ceremony concluding the run.
Jim Nyamu, Founder and Director of the Elephant Neighbors Center, addressing the pupils at the concluding ceremony of the Aberare Fence Relay Run.
The Rhino Ark, the charitable trust that supports conservation in Kenya, is building lasting benefits for the forest edge communities of the Aberdares, Mount Kenya and Mau Mount Eburu.
Following the successful completion of the 400 km Aberdare fence in 2009, Rhino Ark is expanding its conservation work to protect and preserve the forests of Mount Kenya and Mau Mount Eburu, with the construction of electrified fences around these critically important conservation areas. The Mount Eburu fence has been completed.
Rhino Ark was established in 1988 by the conservationist and engineer, the late Ken Kuhle, in response to the threat of poaching in the salient of the Aberdare National Park and to mitigate human-wildlife conflict affecting the farming communities of the area.
The Rhino Charge in Kenya and Rhino Charge UK, two unique off-road motor competitions, take place annually to raise funds for, and awareness about, Rhino Ark. Rhino Ark’s conservation work also receives support from the Kenya Government and the private sector.