News 2008


The facts about Mau forest



By Patrick Wachira

The Mau ranges form one side of nature’s architectural marvel, the Great Rift Valley.

It is on these ranges that the Mau Forest nests, cuddled by a rare mix of animals, birds and flora to constitute one of the largest water towers in the country.

The forest nestles in a complex ecosystem that is the source of at least 12 rivers, which drain in either direction — westwards towards Lake Victoria and eastwards to Nakuru through Mau Narok, Lake Nakuru and the Mara-Serengeti tourism circuits.

The Mau complex is Kenya’s biggest forest block and East Africa’s largest block of closed canopy indigenous forest.

Viewed from the air, it resembles a lush, green carpet, with some brown patches where illegal logging and charcoal burning takes place, deep in the forest, away from the prying eyes of forest guards and conservationists.

Sh20 billion loss

More than 45 bird species and 2,000 families live here. The latter, including logging and charcoal burning, has put to risk an asset base worth more than $300 million (more than Sh20 billion).

That is if the current rate of forest destruction goes on. Tea bushes, tourism and the water catchment are in acute danger.

According to the United Nations Environment Programme, Mau is an asset of national importance that supports crucial sectors such as energy, tourism, agriculture and water supply. It is also the single most important water catchment area in the Rift Valley and Western Kenya.

Estimates indicate that up to a quarter of the complex has been destroyed through encroachment, excisions, illegal logging and other human activities.

Since some rivers drain into the Lake Victoria, there is likely to be implications beyond Kenya’s borders all the way into the River Nile basin if they dry up.

Domestic water supply will also be severely aggravated, spelling doom for thousands of people who depend on it. The largest inhabitants of the forest are the Ogiek or Dorobo, who have traditionally been hunter-gatherers and keepers of bees. The activities are now unregulated, thereby directly contradicting forestry and conservation policies.

Rainfall levels

Some individuals were awarded huge chunks of land as the forest was excised and cleared to pave way for human settlement. Pressure from settling human population added to the problem. Lots of tea was planted, to extend the area under this crop beyond traditional locations such as Molo South, Olenguruone, Chepakundi, Temuyotta, Kenjoketty, Kiptagich and Nyota.

There are five main forest reserves: Eastern, Western and South-western Mau covering 66,000, 22,700 and 84,000 hectares, Trans-Mara (34,400ha) and Ol Pusimoru (17,200ha).

A sixth large block, the Maasai Mau, covering 46,000 hectares, is not a gazetted forest. The Mau has deep, fertile, volcanic soils, and enjoys one of the highest rainfall levels in Kenya. Annual rainfall ranges between 1,000mm to a high of 2,000 as you move towards the west.

Numerous streams drain the forests west of the sharp crest, forming part of the Sondu and Mara river systems, which flow into Lake Victoria, and the Southern Ewaso Nyiro system, which flows into Lake Natron.

Human population

The Eastern Mau is the main watershed for Lake Nakuru, through the Njoro, Makalia and Enderit rivers. The surrounding areas are intensively farmed, with human population about twice as high on the western side of the forest compared to the East. Vegetation patterns are complex with lower montane forest below 2,300m and westwards to thickets of bamboo, which consists of forest and grassland. The southwestern zone is the most affected by illegal logging.

The forest is under trust land, managed by the County Council of Narok, one of the richest local authorities in the country.

Most of the problems may have begun in 1999 when the local authority allowed group ranches, owned by the locals, to be subdivided and sold to members.

And to address real issues, a fence is to be erected around the forest, just as in sections of the Aberdare Forest, which have been electric-fenced to stem human-wildlife conflict.