#Kenya’s Rhino Ark turns 30


(Posted 24th November 2018)

Today, Saturday, 24th of November 2018, the Rhino Ark Kenya Charitable Trust, and its funding engine, the Rhino Charge, celebrate their 30th Anniversaries.
The Rhino Ark, often described as Kenya’s most important conservation project, was conceived three decades ago by Ken Kuhle, an engineer living in Kenya.
It started with a 38-kilometre electrified fence around the spur of the Aberdare National Park, partly to combat the rampant poaching of black rhino but also to protect hardworking farmers at the forest edge from the ravages of wildlife – particularly elephant which regularly broke out of the park destroying ‘shambas’ and livelihoods in a single night.
Today, the 400-kilometre fence surrounds the entire Aberdare mountain range – 2,000 square kilometres of prime forest and water catchment. The electric fence, rising seven feet above the ground was completed in 2009 and wired down to three feet below ground.
It was formally commissioned by President Mwai Kibaki in March 2010. Since then, a further fence has been completed with private sector support, around Mount Eburu, overlooking Lake Naivasha in the Mau Forest Complex.
This 43.3-kilometre fence protects a forest of nearly 9,000 hectares.
With pressure from human settlements, the forest cover had been seriously degraded and its wildlife decimated by bush meat hunting. The forest of Mount Eburu is now recovering through natural regeneration and intensive tree planting made possible thanks to the protective function of the fence completed in 2014.
Now the largest fence of all – 450 kilometres – is being built to encompass the entire Mount Kenya area, designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1997. Forty percent of the fence has been built.
The need for this project was no less great.
Mount Kenya’s forests are rich in biodiversity, not only in terms of ecosystems but for its wide variety of species. It also plays a critical role in water catchment for the entire country – including the Ewaso Nyiro and the Tana River, Kenya’s largest. Further plans are being advanced for a fence to protect from further degradation the largest forest block in the Mau Forest Complex – the South Western Mau Ecosystem.
In Western Kenya, together with the counties of Kakamega and Vihiga, Kenya Forest Service, Kenya Wildlife Service and private partners, Rhino Ark is preparing to implement a major conservation project to restore and protect Kakamega Forest. This is the only tropical rainforest found in Kenya. It has a rich biological diversity and hosts various plant and animal species found nowhere else in Kenya and in the world. The project will include the building of a 117-kilometre long electric fence.
These electric fences perform a vital task for Kenya. Essentially, they protect fragile forest ecosystems from degradation and poaching – as they protect the water resources of the nation.
A major Rhino Ark objective is protection for critically endangered species such as black rhino and the Mountain Bongo antelope of which there are less than 100 individuals remaining in the wild in the world, all in Kenya in the high mountain forests. For the farmers, the fences enable them to till their land and graze their cattle in peace while providing security for their families. The children can go to school without fear – to learn about the values of conservation from curricula specially prepared by Rhino Ark and the Ministry of Education for primary and secondary schools. Farmers have seen the value of their land rise three-fold since the construction of the Aberdare fence. Over 80,000 households are benefiting from the protective functions of the 620 kilometres of electric fence built by Rhino Ark so far.
For local communities, the fences also create employment – building, protecting and maintaining them. Kenya recognizes that the protection of her forested areas is a national necessity. A great emphasis is put in particular on the mountain forests, also known as the water towers, which provide critical ecological services supporting all key economic sectors, human well-being and ecological stability in the country.
The rehabilitation of Kenya’s water towers has, therefore, been identified as a flagship project in Vision 2030. Recent studies have highlighted the huge contributions of the ecological services provided by the mountain forests to the national economy. For example, the present value of the contribution of the fenced area in the Aberdares is over KES 95 billion annually, whilst the contribution of the Mau Forests Complex is KES 184 billion every year.
The Kenya Forest Service, the Kenya Wildlife Service, the National Treasury and the local communities are all essential partners in this unique venture of protecting Kenya’s water towers. Indeed, without community support, the fences would soon be brought down and illegal logging, charcoal burning and poaching would flare up again.
As it is, Rhino Ark and its partners must always remain vigilant – on the ground with community patrols and in the air with joint surveillance flights over the fenced areas.
Management – not least replacing damaged or aging fencing – is a continuous process. Much of the wildlife needs to migrate – so wildlife corridors between these great fenced areas have to be opened up and secured: such as between Mount Kenya and the Aberdares, the Aberdares and Mount Kipipiri and Mount Eburu and Lake Naivasha.
The Rhino Ark owes its existence to many benefactors – but none more so than the participants and supporters of the Rhino Charge, a unique one-day off-road event held annually in a remote part of the country. Such is the popularity of the Charge that it generates record revenues above $1 million each year.
Since its inception 30 years ago, the Rhino Charge has raised over KES 1.5 billion, demonstrating the true commitment of Kenyans for Kenya in supporting the country’s conservation agenda. “Rhino Ark owes a huge debt to our dedicated Rhino Chargers”, says Christian Lambrechts, Executive Director of Rhino Ark. “The Charge also brings benefits to local communities in remote locations where the Charge is held. Indeed, thousands of Kenyans across the entire social spectrum take part and follow this event with extraordinary enthusiasm.”
Innovation and ambition have driven Rhino Ark forward since its inception, 30 years ago. It has grown to become an integral part of Kenya’s conservation and environmental policy – and provides a way forward for other African countries wrestling with problems of increasing population and diminishing wildlife and ecological resources.
There is no doubt that, over the next 30 years, threats and pressures on the mountain forests and other critical ecosystems will continue to rise and demand for conservation interventions will continue to increase. As such Rhino Ark’s work of protecting mountain forests and other threatened ecosystems will be more relevant than ever before.

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