Thursday, 04 July 2019 06:16

Elephant Maternity: Nyakweri Forest, a unique sub-ecosystem.

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Forests regulate ecosystems, protect biodiversity, and play an integral part in the carbon cycle, support livelihoods, and supply goods and services that can drive sustainable growth. Forests' role in climate change is two-fold. They act as both a cause and a solution for greenhouse gas emissions.
The forest that acted before as their haven has been depleted as a result of increasing human activities.
“This forest was once elephant maternity,” Kenya Forest Service Narok County Ecosystem Conservator Mwai Muraguri said. Muraguri said increased human activities within the forest have dealt the forest a major blow.
In early 1980s, indigenous trees within the forest provided an earthy scent that drifted towards the nostrils of nature lovers as its beauty heart-warmed the souls of many.
This has however been depleted, thanks to human greed. The depletion seen forests past glory fade over time even though its wonder is still nourishing souls. The Forest roads are now thronged with Lorries while empty as they race into the green foliage. The Lorries within minutes maneuver out of the forest sagging and swaying precariously under the weight of its illegal cargo: charcoal.
Here, charcoal business is booming. The once sap sweet fragrance from the forest is gone as the forest that was once covered with indigenous forest covering approximately 500 square kilometers is gone. The Nyakweri forest which was once a clearest way into the Universe has now been replaced by iron thatched roofs and grass thatched roofs.
Motor cycles lumbers down a deeply rutted dirt road every now and then. Locals and those eking out a living from the forest have cleared the once heart haunting melody from the trees at peril. The massive indigenous trees provided a classic home to some of the world’s iconic flora and fauna.
According to the locals, mother elephants with their new calves in tow frequented the area to give their young ones a glimpse of what life portends for them. The young calves would be welcomed to the world with the creeping plant with succulent tubers that are full of energy. After getting the much needed energy, their mothers would trek with them for about 14 kilometers to the world famous Maasai Mara National Park.
The forest today is however a pale shadow of its past, as witnessed during a recent fly over of the forest. Houses have grown like mushrooms. This is despite the fact that the forest formed a wonderful habitat for various wildlife such as Buffaloes, Waterbucks, Impalas, Leopards, among others. More than 200 species of birds including Turacos, Trogons, Eagles, Wood-hoopoes, Hornbills, among others can be spotted in the canopy of the forest.
Huge tree species such as East African Olive, Dispyros, Wild Olive, Kenya Greenheart and Manikara Butugi dominated it. Mwai said Nyakweri forest used to be one of the remaining forest with massive indigenous trees.
Over time, however, massive swathes have been cleared to pave way for farming as the region was considered the most fertile. After land sub-division, local landowners who are mainly from the Maasai community invited outsiders to cut down trees paving way for agriculture. In turn, these laborers receive their payment from the sale of charcoal that they make while the owner gets 25 percent of the money.
In the dry areas, farmers cut trees mainly the Acacia species for charcoal production. The charcoal producers use traditional earth kilns that are very inefficient. Illegal charcoal production is taking place in the protected forest where immigrants use power saws to cut trees.
The dense indigenous forest is of high ecological and socio-cultural importance to the traditional Maasai people and also an important feeding and breed ground for large mammals. Despite the critical role that the forest-plays, massive degradation is threatening it with the wanton destruction of the forest is now making Elephants afraid of giving birth as their maternity is no longer a fit place to give birth. The forest that is under the jurisdiction of Narok County Government falls between Kimintet and Oloirien group Ranches.
It is thus within the declared adjudication area. The total area is estimated to be 20,000 Ha of dry land mixed indigenous forest. Conservationists are now worried that the forest could soon be history as it continues to undergo sub division into individual free holds at a faster rate not seen before.
As at July last year for instance, some 52 freehold land Title deeds were issued to Olorien Group Ranch members. A close canopy area measuring 1,680Ha is said to have been set aside as an animal refuge and Narok County Government, World Wide Fund for Nature, Mara Elephant Project and Ann Tailor Elephant Project requested to ensure that it is well conserved.
Already, efforts are being put in place to conserve the Forest. Under the leadership of the Narok County government, a consultative meeting involving among others- the Transmara DCC, ACCs & Chiefs, KFS, KWS, WWF and the Group Ranch representatives met in Kilgoris CDF Hall and made a unanimous resolution to safeguard Nyakweri forest and intensify patrols using a multi-agency approach and make arrests for charcoal vendors.
Other past and ongoing efforts and initiatives to save the forest have include ban of burning and transportation of charcoal, suspension of clearing permit and arrest and prosecution of person transporting charcoal. Awareness has also been created to the community on the need of forest conservation.
However, the actual boundary of the forest is not well known. Mwai said KFS and the County government is exploring the possibility of settling the remaining members of the group ranch by buying them land elsewhere and settling them.
The National and County Governments are also taking the leading roles in support it with the resource base support (including all round protection) and technical backstopping to ensure a win –win situation. Road patrols, road blocks, enhance intelligence gathering and awareness creation has also been intensified as one way of protecting the forest.
Mwai said efforts were being put in place to confirm the boundaries between the Nyakweri forest and the neighbouring titled farms The move will clearly demarcate the forest area for the Narok County Government to gazette it.
Already, proposals have been made to erect an electric fence all-round the forest. Authorities are also exploring the possibility of employing community scouts and guides and probably convert it into a nature conservancy with clearly spelt out benefit sharing mechanism to the neighbouring communities.
Proper boundary survey will also be established before beacons are erected. Those with land ownership documents are set to be authenticated to weed out fake ones.
Nyakweri forest is a unique sub-ecosystem which is famously known as the elephant's maternity and supports the Maasai Mara ecosystem and beyond the Country into Tanzania and no effort should be spared to manage it on a sustainable basis.

Read 387 times Last modified on Thursday, 04 July 2019 06:22

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