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
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.
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.
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
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.