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Warmest greetings and best wishes for the New Year 2021!
Pressures of COVID-19
Last year was a year like no other with COVID-19 posing a unique challenge. The hope now – for Kenya and other countries of the world – lies in a vaccine and the time it will take to reach us. The recent news on a number of vaccines has been encouraging but in the meantime the virus continues to expand its reach and put further strains on Kenya’s economy and the infrastructure and medical support required to protect the population.
This is the environment in which Rhino Ark must survive – and progress. The cancellation of the 2020 Rhino Charge, the first cancellation of the event in its 31-year history, was a severe blow.
As Executive Director, Christian Lambrechts said in August:
“The Rhino Chargers have been remarkable benefactors for Rhino Ark over the years. They have raised and invested over KES 1.6 billion (US$ 14.5 million) in conservation and have helped build 650 kms of game-proof electric fence.
“Keeping our fences well maintained and fully operational is critical for the safety and livelihoods of well over 80,000 households farming at the forest edge. The fences also protect the mountain forests that are the water towers of Kenya. They are the source of major rivers that are the lifeblood of the country.”
During the long April rains this year, extreme rainfall was experienced in the mountain areas where Rhino Ark, supported by its partners the Kenya Forest Service (KFS) and the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) operates. Numerous landslides were the result – the worst in Murang’a County and in Nyandarua and Nyeri Counties. In total, in the Aberdares, 15 landslides destroyed 2,195 metres of fence – all of which have now been repaired. In Eburu, landslides and a burst dam inside the forest severely damaged different sections of the fence – highlighting again the vital need for funds for Rhino Ark to replace the missing sums normally raised by the cancelled Rhino Charge.
For the 400km Aberdare fence, a minimum of KES 2,250,000 (US$ 20,400) a month is required for fence maintenance. For building the 450km Mount Kenya electric fence, KES 600,000 (US$ 5,450) a month is needed for labour alone. It is significant that Rhino Ark has just secured co-funding for fence materials to build 60km, three energizer houses, four elephant grids and 20 gates for the next two years, worth KES 249 million (US$ 2.2 million).
“Rhino Ark has demonstrated its resilience,” says Christian Lambrechts. “We are tapping into new sources of finance and secured funding from Upper Tana Natural Resources Management Project, Elephant Cooperation, Tusk Trust, Wildlife Conservation Society, Rare Species Conservatory Foundation, Climate Care, Mount Kenya Trust and the African Elephant Fund. And we are sustained by the support of our colleagues in KFS and KWS, despite the serious financial problems they are also facing due to the drastic reduction in tourism revenue caused by the pandemic.”
Fence Maintenance Team rebuilding a fence section affected by landslides at Ichichi, Aberdares.
Fence Maintenance Team straining fence wires as part of the rebuilding of fence sections affected by landslides.
Illegal activities in the Aberdares
The outputs of monthly foot patrols by the Aberdare Joint Surveillance Unit (AJSU) emphasise the need for constant vigilance as criminal elements seek to take advantage of any damage done to the fence. In the Southern and Northern sectors, over a number of months, patrols found snares, logging of podo and cedar trees, charcoal kilns and bamboo harvesting as well as the growing of marijuana. In the Southern Sector, 25 snares were removed, mainly in the area of Mundoro. 116 cedar posts were discovered in a homestead next to the forest in the Central Moorlands Sector. Arrests have been made on the ground and illegal activities curtailed.
Proposed Aberdares road
Last December, Rhino Ark raised concerns about a proposed road project across the Aberdares planned by the Kenya National Highways Authority (KeNHA) and the adverse environmental consequences that would result. The proposed road would cut through the Aberdare forest and the National Park, bisecting the moorlands via the Murubio and Kiandongoro gates. Rhino Ark received no response to its concerns (also expressed by KFS and KWS) about this project from appropriate Kenya government ministries. Proactively, we engaged Peter Tyrrell from the Wildlife Conservation Research Unit at the Department of Zoology of Oxford University, as well as the Department of Geography and Environmental Studies at Nairobi University, to study the socio-economic impact of this and other proposed roads around and across the Aberdare ecosystem.
The report, entitled, ‘Evaluating the socio-economic potential of road development projects around the Aberdare range’ concluded that “there is almost no socio-economic benefit to building a road over the Aberdare mountains through the Aberdare National Park. There is no evidence that it brings people closer to main roads, or reduces travel time to markets. The only benefit is a slightly reduced travel time, and potentially lower fuel costs, between Nyeri-Naivasha and Nyeri-Gilgil, but this is conditional on the road being upgraded to a secondary road built to allow an average speed of greater than 50 kph.”
The report went on to “caution that, in reality, an average speed higher than 50 kph across the Aberdare range is likely unfeasible. Vehicles must climb to an altitude of 3,200 metres where there is extra pressure due to the cold, fog and isolation … it would be expected that due to the steep, tight nature of this road that the majority of freight would continue to use current routes outside the Aberdare National Park, rendering this road even less beneficial than modelled here.”
A meeting has since taken place between KeNHA and the relevant government institutions, including KFS and KWS, to discuss the report in the light of this new evidence.
Community scouts and rangers from the Aberdare Joint Surveillance Unit destroying a charcoal kiln in the Northern Sector of the Aberdare ecosystem.
Desnaring operation by the Aberdare Joint Surveillance Unit in Mundoro area, Southern Sector of the Aberdare ecosystem.
To help finance the operations of the Trust, Rhino Ark has engaged with Powering Africa-Recharging Conservation (PARC), which creates technologically innovative and economically viable solutions to open up access to clean energy. This involves the building and operation of mini hydro-power plants, with the revenue raised helping to finance the maintenance of the Aberdare and Mount Kenya electric fences. While the project is in an advanced state of development, a dispute has arisen among the contracted parties, and the Meru County Governor, Hon. Kiraitu Murungi, has been asked to mediate. Two meetings, chaired by the Governor, have helped the parties to find a common ground.
Mount Kenya ecosystem
Fence construction has continued, despite the impacts of COVID-19, with an additional four kilometres of comprehensive fence being built In Meru County, while major efforts has been made to strengthen the Imenti fence by adding short fences in front of the comprehensive fence where elephant breakages are too frequent, as well as by adding outriggers on the main fence. The installation and branding of 31 gates on Phase II has been completed. A further 2.4 kms of fence will be built to join the Mount Kenya electric fence to the Mount Kenya-Ngare Ndare corridor fence. However, constructing this fence section has been delayed due to a disagreement on the fence alignment with eight concerned neighbouring communities. In the meantime, the fence build team has moved to Nyeri County to construct to a 10km fence between the Mount Kenya Wildlife Conservancy and Mount Kenya Forest Reserve.
Meanwhile, in the 720 acres of degraded forest land earmarked for rehabilitation, work has since continued with Rhino Ark, the Mount Kenya Conservation Forum, KFS and the Gathiuru Community Forest Association, planting a further 10,000 tree seedlings in November. Julius Kamau, KFS Chief Conservator of Forests, was the key guest.
Fencing posts arriving at KWS Laikipia Station, Nanyuki.
Branding the Mt. Kenya Fence gates.
Julius Kamau, KFS Chief Conservator of Forests and Hon. Kanini Kega, Member of Parliament and Chair of the Parliamentary Committee on Budget and Appropriation inspecting young trees planted six month earlier In Gathiuru Forest Station.
Community members, youth, KFS staff and guests planting 5,000 tree seedling in a degraded area in Gathiuru Forest Station, Mt. Kenya.
The sixty-member strong firefighting team established by Rhino Ark and the Mount Kenya Trust, following the devastating fires in Mount Kenya and the Aberdares last year, was brought together for training purposes by the Mount Kenya Trust in October. Training the team coincided with the fires that broke out on Kilimanjaro in October. In a spirit of regional cooperation, and to assist Tanzania’s firefighting efforts, a proposal was prepared by Rhino Ark and the Mount Kenya Trust to secure funding to cover the costs of a ten-day firefighting operation on Kilimanjaro which was subsequently submitted to the World Bank.
Mau Eburu Ecosystem
Forest security at Eburu is expected to be increased through a forest conservation programme that includes funding support for ground patrols, intelligence gathering and regular meetings held with concerned parties. This is being organised in partnership with Rhino Ark, KFS, the Bongo Surveillance Programme, Calgary Zoo and Eburru Rafiki.
Forest security and forest conservation will also benefit from an initiative taken by Rhino Ark to strengthen the relationship between the judiciary and the law enforcement arms of government. This follows a meeting at Eburu forest for officers from the judiciary and the police from Naivasha, Gilgil and Elementaita sub-counties. Officers were briefed on the importance of the forest, conservation programmes and the challenges faced by illegal activities. It is expected that the meeting – which was well received – will lead to improved follow-up of cases of illegal activities and stiffer sentences for transgressors.
Fire-fighting drill held in the premises on the Mount Kenya Trust.
Forest security team supported by Rhino Ark removing snares in Eburu Forest.
Posts from illegally logged cedar trees found and impounded by the Rhino Ark supported forest security team.
Forest security team supported by Rhino Ark destroying a charcoal kiln in Eburu Forest.
One of the most successful Rhino Ark projects in support of the local community is the KENBRO poultry pilot project supported by KENCHIC Ltd. The project began last year with the training of over 30 farmers in five groups, and the provision of a starter kit of 100 chicks with feed, supplements and equipment. Three of the groups are now purchasing stock and growing their businesses. Rhino Ark continues to work with these farmers to help them enhance their capacity for marketing their products.
The biogas programme is also progressing well. By December, 55 biogas units had been installed by farmers with continued logistical support from Rhino Ark.
Rhino Ark’s farm improvement programme continues to link farmers to agricultural experts for on-farm training.
The MPESA Foundation funded Schools Model Tree Nurseries Programme is expanding. Adding to the 9 tree nurseries established in primary schools around Eburu forest, the programme will now target selected secondary schools. The second phase of the programme kicked off following receipt of the final tranche of funds from MPESA Foundation. St Andrew’s Secondary School is the first secondary school to establish a model tree nursery under this programme.
Rhino Ark continues to be involved in forest conservation work, participating in forest patrol and de-snaring activities. Aerial surveillance flights conducted in August and December 2020 revealed an increase in illegal activities including logging, charcoal burning and farming, most likely triggered by reduced livelihoods opportunities in the neighbouring areas. Forty hectares of Rhino Ark replanted forest sites at Kipkoris outpost, along forest cut-line boundary, continue to be maintained.
Local churches in the region have been an important stakeholder group in Rhino Ark’s conservation outreach work, with 8 churches fully integrated into the programme. They have established their own tree nurseries with technical support from Rhino Ark and KFS. “Their engagement with these churches is proving to be a highly effective platform for advancing the conservation agenda in local communities”, comments Christian Lambrechts. There is similar support in the community for the volunteer Community Conservation Champion’s programme – with 9 conservation champions now in place.
A further area of local community interest is in the potential of herbal products. The Ogiek community, in particular, has made use of herbal products from the forest for generations. In October, an introductory presentation was made to members of the community by an expert on herbal products – which was well received. Field work will now be done to assess its potential and viability.
New seedbeds built at St Andrew Secondary School near Eburu Forest.
KENBRO poultry farmers receiving training on digital marketing.
Team participating in the surveillance flight above South Western Mau Forest in December.
Herbalists’ meeting near Kaptembu, South Western Mau Forest.
Following the submission of the ESIA (Environmental and Social Impact Assessment) report to NEMA (National Environment Management Authority) in January, we received the licence to build the perimeter fence around Kakamega Forest in October. In the meantime, the draft partnership agreement for the Kakamega Conservation Fencing Project and the draft agreement for the fence have been finalised.
The 2021 Rhino Charge will be held on Sunday 30 May in the expectation that the country will have returned to something approaching normal by then. The entry process is well underway with 62 of the 65 entries already taken. Chargers who had entered for the cancelled 2020 event were able to enter for 2021 by re-confirming their participation by the end of September. “So far, the preparations for the 2021 event are proceeding well”, says Christian Lambrechts.
When announcing the cancellation of the 2020 Charge, Christian Lambrechts said: “Our challenge today is to ensure that the cancellation of Rhino Ark’s core funding event does not jeopardise the conservation gains made over the past 31 years.”
The de-restriction element of Rhino Charge funding for Rhino Ark makes it particularly valuable, and no doubt these funds will become available again in the future. However, Rhino Ark has launched a fundraising programme which, even in this difficult environment, is yielding results. Trusts, Foundations, international organisations and the private sector have been approached and “of the first 15 applications made, eight were approved” says Christian Lambrechts. “There is still a long way to go but no-one should doubt our determination to succeed and to continue our work which is so vital for the future of Kenya and its conservation challenges.”
Changes in Rhino Ark
Following the announcement he made during the last AGM held on 3rd December 2019 that 2020 will be his final year on the Board of Rhino Ark, Isaac Awuondo stepped down as the Chair of the Board and resigned as a Director. Subsequently, the Directors elected Peter Kinyua as the new Chair of the Board.
Since Isaac Awuondo joined the Board in 1998, Rhino Ark has seen spectacular growth. The Trust’s budget increased from KES 13.2 million to KES 227.2 million (excluding in-kind contributions), the geographical scope broadened from one to five ecosystems, the number of staff increased from 2 to 15, and the number of kilometres of fence built went up from less than 100 to 650. His departure from the Board will undoubtedly be felt.
Jonathan Somen joined the Board of Rhino Ark in December 2020. Jonathan has been in the technology field for the last 25 years. He is passionate about conservation and has been a Rhino Charge competitor for the last 17 years. He is also a member of the Board of the Gertrude’s Children Hospital and a member on the Board of the NCBA Bank. He will undoubtedly add great value to Rhino Ark.
National Policy engagement
In April, Christian Lambrechts was appointed by the Cabinet Secretary, Ministry of Environment and Forestry, as chairperson of a multi-agency team to look into the status and the management of the commercial forest plantations in the country and to make recommendations to improve their management and optimize revenue collection. In November, Christian submitted the report of the multi-agency team to the Cabinet Secretary, providing detailed findings based on the inspection of 2,091 forest plantation sub-compartments and the measurements of over 56,000 trees.
The Cabinet Secretary commended the “quality of the report and the very practicable findings and recommendations made”. He thanked the chair and the team for their “high level of professionalism, dedication to duty, resilience and confidentiality”.
Christian Lambrechts, Rhino Ark Executive Director, presenting to Hon. Keriako Tobiko, Cabinet Secretary, Ministry of Environment and Forestry, the report of the multi-agency team on 16 November 2020.
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.