• Crops flourish in parts of the once dense forest of indigenous trees
• 12,000 acres recovered last year following evictions have regenerated
The magnitude of encroachment on the Maasai Mau forest is massive, the Star can now reveal.
A flight over the forest on March 21 revealed the extent of the damage on the forest which was once Kenya's largest closed‐canopy forest ecosystem. The damage has already rendered most rivers dry, affecting millions who rely on the water catchment area. The forest is now a pale shadow of its former self.
Narok county commissioner George Natembeya said his administration will do everything to reverse the destruction. “We will do all it takes to protect it for the sake of future generations. We will not drop the ball,” the county commissioner vowed.
He warned those encroaching on the key water catchment, saying legal action will be taken against them.
Natembeya said the 12,000 acres recovered last year following evictions has regenerated on its own, adding that once all encroachers have been kicked out, the forest will be fenced off.
The massive destruction which has seen water levels in rivers decline has increased human-wildlife conflict, he said.
The forest, especially at Kass FM and Sierra Leone areas, is virtually gone. Sierra Leone is the area where a prominent Narok family sold about 9,000 acres to returning soldiers in 2002.
Crops are flourishing in the some parts of the once dense forest made of indigenous trees.
Forests provide critical ecological services including water storage, river flow regulation, flood mitigation, recharge of groundwater, reduced soil erosion and siltation. The forest also purifies water apart from conserving biodiversity, and micro‐climate regulation.
Through these ecological services, the forest supports key economic sectors in Rift Valley, Western and Nyanza provinces including energy, tourism, agriculture and industries. In addition, the Mau Forests Complex is the source.
Natembeya said people must be in a position to correlate the consequences of encroachment and human health. “The public good supersedes private interests, we will ensure that the Ogiek are doing what they told the court,” he said.
At some point, the Ogiek community could be seen tending to their crops unperturbed. In May 2017, the African Court of Human and Peoples Rights in Arusha ruled in favour of the Ogiek community, following an eight-year legal battle.
The court found that the Kenyan government violated seven separate articles of the African Charter in a land rights case that dates back to colonial times. The community convinced the court that their actions inside the forest were not destructive. Natembeya, however, thinks otherwise.
Most rivers emanating from the catchment area are now dry, with the Mara River headed for the same fate.
Maasai Mau secures ecological balances of regional importance, including the extensive Mara and Serengeti wildlife sanctuaries; a crucial trans‐boundary heritage of both Kenya and Tanzania.
Kenya Wildlife Service Narok senior warden Dickson Ritan told the Star that wildlife has been affected by the ever changing weather patterns. “Dry spell precipitates conflicts because both human and wildlife are competing for the limited resources,” Ritan said.
He said several rangers have been deployed near Maasai Mara Game Reserve to contain conflicts, adding that addressing conflicts requires many resources.
The destruction comes even as more than 150 hectares have been destroyed by wildfires that started last Monday.
Narok ecosystem conservator Mwai Muraguri said three out of five fires had been contained by Thursday last week. He said the fires might have been caused by arsonists.
A lot of destruction has also been caused to Nyakweri forest, which was once the largest remaining forest in Trans Mara and forms part of Masai Mara. Charcoal burning has however depleted the forest that once served as 'an elephant maternity'.