Deep inside Mau Forest is a small swamp with a long name.
The Enapuiyapui swamp, it is believed, hides a large snake whose lithe body emerges after several days' swim in Lake Victoria.
The 13-acre swamp is the source of two major streams: Nyangorese and Amara, which eventually join and form the Mara River.
It is also the source of Molo River that flows up to Lake Baringo and Njoro River, which flows into Lake Nakuru.
That swamp has now fallen ill.
The snake tale belongs to the surrounding Maasai and the Ogiek community, who fear it will rear its ugly head soon and wreak havoc as the swamp dries up.
In the past decade, Enapuiyapui has been exposed to uncontrolled human activities, which now threaten its very existence.
It’s growing smaller and could dry up if nothing is done to protect it.
This could definitely affect the wildebeest migration in the Mara River downstream.
Vanishing tree cover
The swamp used to be surrounded by a fence of indigenous forest but many of those trees have been cut down.
Hundreds of livestock now graze all over the swamp every day.
“The swamp is currently almost dry but people are still bringing cows for grazing,” says Jackson Kasaro, the Enapuiyapui swamp conservation committee chairman.
The neighbouring Ogiek community has more than 11,000 people who depend on this swamp for water.
The community is now racing against time to save their only source of water.
Kasaro says between 1961 and 1980, the swamp, which is in Kiptunga block of the Mau forest, had a lot of water but that started reducing due to the illegal human activities.
He says the swamp is drying up mainly because indigenous trees have been cut and replaced with exotic trees, which consume a lot of water.
Livestock grazing and the pollution of waters have also contributed to the destruction of the swamp.
Call for fencing
Kasaro suggests that the swamp be fenced round to prevent livestock and people from getting inside the swamp but also have a secured place for the animals to graze and get water.
Sammy Kaimati, the assistant forester of Kiptunga Forest Complex, supports the idea of a fence.
“The swamp is a government gazetted ecosystem land and we need to acquire a cultural fence to control livestock,” Kaimati says.
But experts say the most effective “fence” would be to change of attitudes of people to understand the importance of conservation.
Kennedy Bwire, a fresh water project expert with Worldwide Fund for Nature Kenya, says a swamp is a continuing ecological system and fencing it would create boundaries, which would be overrun by water during heavy rainfall seasons.
“It can just be used as a temporarily measure to curb the situation,” he says.
WWF-Kenya helped the community form the Kiptunga community forest association and Enapuiyapui swamp conservation committee to jointly work to restore and conserve the Kiptunga Forest and the swamp.
Bwire says they have also brought together the Ogiek, Maasai and Kipsigis communities and other stakeholders like the Kenya Forest Service to co-manage the forest.
“The first step as WWF-Ke is bringing these people to the table, which is a great challenge that can take up to more than six years,” he says.
"Then we need to help them prepare a document know as Participatory Forest Management Plan, which outlines the issues affecting the forest and the swamp, the need for conservation and the benefits to be incurred thereafter."
The PMFP document guides the management of critical swamps for five years.
It also explains the rate at which locals can graze within the swamp without degrading it.
Bwire says Enapuiyapui swamp is the future of Mara-Serengeti ecosystems, because it collects huge amounts of water during rainy seasons.
“Environmental conservation is important as it provides ecological services, such as forest carbon seeds, which can control climate change," he says.
"It also provides habitat for the wildlife that bring about income to the country through tourism, and also improves the livelihood of people.”
Pollution, Soil Erosion
The community has also formed a Water Resource Users Association to help conserve the water body.
Such an association mostly deals with control of pollution in rivers and water catchment areas.
Paul Rono, the Nyangoresi WRUA chairman, says they teach farmers how to control soil erosion in their farms by digging terraces and planting cover crops to ensure the water in the rivers remains clean.
“In the upper stream of Nyangoresi River there was rampant soil erosion that led us to start soil conservation programmes,” says Rono.
He adds that farmers not only benefit from controlling erosion in their farms but also from the fertilisers they use because it is not swept into the rivers.
The farmers are given seedlings for Napier grass, tissue culture bananas, grafted avocado trees and sweet potatoes, which they plant as cover crops in their farms.
Rono says more than 500 farmers take part in conservation.
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