Bleak future for tourism as destruction of Mau continues
The soothing sound of water flowing from a natural spring by the roadside welcomes us to the eastern Mau forest.
It is a cool and quiet day. Indigenous and exotic trees line the road. Further down, cows are grazing at the point where mixed vegetation and the forest cover starts.
A drive deep into the complex brings us to Enapuyiapui swamp in Kiptunga forest. It has long green grass and reeds. Eucalyptus, pine, cypress and cedar trees ring it.
This is the source of River Mara and many others that give life to many parts of Kenya and beyond.
River Mara is one of the main tourism drivers in Kenya, not just through the wildlife it supports but also the spectacular wildebeest migration, which started last week.
However, human activities are adversely affecting the Mara and its tributary Amalo.
With the rainy season on and green pasture all around, livestock are grazing in the swamp.
Mr Joseph Lesingo, who grew up in Kiptunga forest, says grazing remains a contested issue. But that is not the only problem. He says exotic trees brought in by colonialists pose a threat to the water tower.
But there are some positives too. The ban on logging seems to have slowed down degradation of Mau forest. Sawmillers, including companies like Timsales, in the nearby Elburgon, Molo and Nakuru towns, closed shop.
A heap of burning charcoal in Sonki Forest in Mau on July 27, 2018. PHOTO | JEFF ANGOTE | NATION MEDIA GROUP
Even with that, threats to the forest remain. On the edge of the enormous wetland is a small structure which once housed a water pump.
It has been vandalised but the stains of the oil that used to power it are evident on the floor.
It pumped fresh water from the swamp to tanks, which supplied hundreds of squatters in Kiptunga forest.
The squatters were flushed out in 1992 on the eve of the multiparty era. Many others remain in the forest.
Up the slope, trees have been cleared while a plaque erected by Prime Minister Raila Odinga in January 2010 has been destroyed.
Enapuiyapui swamp is the source of life for more than 160 million people and livestock in Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Sudan and Egypt.
Livelihoods that are threatened by the mindless destruction of the forest. The Mau is the biggest of Kenya’s five water towers. It is double the size of the Aberdares and Mt Kenya combined.
The Mau complex was made up of 22 forests until one was hived off by the Kanu administration. It is the source of all but one of the main rivers cutting through the western side of the Rift Valley.
According to the United Nations Environmental Programme, it is the main fountain for 12 rivers.
Five end up in Lake Victoria, which is the source of River Nile, the lifeline for South Sudan, Sudan and Egypt.
The other rivers are Yala, Nyando and Sondu. The source of River Ewaso Ng’iro is the Mau. It flows all the way to Lake Natron in Tanzania, feeding crops, people, livestock, forests and wild animals.
Lake Nakuru, famous for its flamingoes, is fed by Mau through rivers Njoro, Makalia, Naishi and Nderit.
River Kerio also originates in the Mau and meanders to Lake Turkana. Like those that feed lakes Victoria and Natron, it is a transboundary river.
Logs of indigenous tress lie at Kipchoge area of Maasai Mau Forest in Narok County on July 26, 2018. PHOTO | JEFF ANGOTE | NATION MEDIA GROUP
Lake Baringo and the communities between it and the Mau, when considered in linear formation, thrive on River Molo, whose level, especially on the Nakuru-Koibatek-Baringo phase, has dropped considerably.
Rivers flowing from the Mau are the lifeline of major tourism destinations, including Maasai Mara Game Reserve and Lake Nakuru National Park.
These two recorded revenues of Sh3 billion and Sh1 billion respectively from entry fees alone in 2017.
POOR FLOW OF WATER
Mau has the potential to produce 535MW of hydroelectric power, representing 47 per cent of Kenya’s installed electricity generation capacity.
The poor flow of water from this tower has led to reduced inflow into the Sondu Miriu hydroelectric power plant that is now operating below capacity.
The forest acts as a natural tower for Kenya, storing water during the rainy season and releasing it during dry periods.
The Nation sought to establish the level of destruction of the complex and went to five counties — Nakuru, Kericho, Baringo, Narok and Bomet.
Agriculture, logging, charcoal burning, settlement and other human activities have destroyed the complex and disrupted its role of storing and distributing water.
The complex is 273,300 hectares but a large chunk in the Maasai Mau, eastern and south western Mau has been destroyed.
Trees have been cleared to pave way for farms and other developments as people continue encroaching upon the forest.
The undulating landscape with unending hills and valleys is punctuated by red (soil) and green (crops) colours with only patched canopies.
While some areas are heavily cultivated, others are just but bare soil. They stretch as far as the eye can see. The most affected is the Maasai Mau forest and the eastern Mau where there is a high population density.
A hippo rests inside the Maasai Mara River on July 26, 2018. PHOTO | JEFF ANGOTE | NATION MEDIA GROUP
“We will not sit back and watch as the forest is destroyed. The international community should intervene because this issue does not affect Kenya only,” Mr Kelena ole Nchoe, a resident, said.
The story is the same from Marioshoni, Molo, Njoro and Mau Summit where tree stumps and crops have replaced what used to be a dense forest.
It is common to come across women with bundles of firewood and children carrying charcoal on roads in Keringet, Marioshoni, Elburgon and Molo.
In 2008, the area of Maasai Mau, which had been destroyed through encroachment, was 42,000 acres. It has increased to around 115,000 acres, according to Narok North MP Moitalel ole Kenta.
Trans Mara and Olepusimoru forests are still intact though they may not remain so for long.
“We support the evictions from the forest. Without the Mau, Kenya will perish,” Mr Joseph ole Karia, an elder in Narok, told journalists.
A crocodile rests in Maasai Mara River on July 31, 2018. Low water level in the river has affected the annual wildebeest migration from Serengeti in Tanzania to the Maasai Mara National Reserve in Kenya. PHOTO | JEFF ANGOTE | NATION MEDIA GROUP
The Nation team followed rivers Amalo, Mara and Ewaso Ng’iro. Despite the recent heavy rains, they have little water and are heavily silted.
The water is brown and gets murkier as it flows into the plains of Narok.
DESTRUCTION OF FORESTS
“In the next few weeks, there will be no water in the river,” Mrs Mary Kantai said of Ewaso Ng’iro.
In the Maasai Mara Reserve, where hundreds of thousands of wildlife depend on the Mara River, the volume is little. One can even see the backs of hippos and crocodiles.
Mr Nchoe said the death of Mau would be the end of most aquatic life, wildlife, livestock, plants and even humans.
“Despite the recent heavy rains and flooding, the water level has gone down very fast. The reservoir is no longer holding it, probably because of the destruction of the forest. It has become like a carcass,” said Mr James Pere, the manager of Keekorok Lodge.