• Scientists have warned over the declining number of wildebeest migration, which is likely to deal the tourism sector a major blow the migration was in 2006 declared one of the new Seven Wonders of the World.
• Land use — from former grazing areas to farmland — is changing and there’s also more human-wildlife conflict as more animals come into contact with people.
Lost in thoughts, Kiprotich Telo, 73, gazes into the open skies.
He never imagined that during his lifetime, greed and selfishness in today’s humanity would one day see their source of livelihood, the Kiptunga swamp, die a natural death.
“We used to get quality honey from this place. Today, there is none due to the greed and selfishness that has destroyed the Mau Forest,” he said with a lot bitterness.
Telo, who lives adjacent to the Mau Forest, said meat from antelope was plenty and of good quality. However, the massive destruction of swathes of precious trees continues to threaten what was once a swamp.
“The exotic trees dotting the swamp have continued drawing water from the swamp. These trees must be removed as a matter of urgency,” Telo said.
He said the swamp was a no go zone in previous years.
“It once swallowed an elephant and a tractor belonging to a White man,” Telo said.
So dangerous was the swamp that cows were not allowed to grace near it.
During our tour, we found hundreds of cattle grazing deep inside the swamp unattended. On the upper part of the Mara River, water abstraction is low as compared to the lower part. At the lower part, for instance, there are numerous farms that depend on the once mighty river.
Households, urban centres and farms all depend on the river for water.
Nyangores River, for instance, provides water to Tenwek Hospital, Silibwet and Bomet towns.
Stephen Nabiki, 35, echoed Telo’s sentiments citing massive destruction as the main reason behind the death of the swamp.
“Getting water nowadays is tough. We have to cover over two kilometres to get water deep inside the forest,” Nabiki said.
The death of the swamp comes at a time when scientists have warned over the declining number of wildebeest migration. This will most likely deal the tourism sector a major blow as wildebeest migration was in 2006 declared one of the new Seven Wonders of the World.
The scientists found extreme declines in the numbers of migrating wildebeest and loss of most migration routes in Kenya and Tanzania. Using aerial survey monitoring data collected for over almost 60 years from 1957 to 2016 in Kenya and Tanzania, we found that four migrations have virtually collapsed.
The threats facing the various populations differ in each area. Among the leading causes of decline include poorly planned agricultural expansions, fences, settlements, urban centres, roads and other infrastructure, poaching and competition with livestock for food, space and drinking water.
Government policy in Kenya also encourages private over communal land tenure. This promotes land subdivision. Fences, for example, are expanding fast in the Mara-Loita ecosystem. This is driven by the splitting up of former group ranches — communally owned land — and the formation of some wildlife conservancies.
Ultimately, increasing human and livestock numbers drives these threats.
Land use — from former grazing areas to farmland — is changing and there’s also more human-wildlife conflict as more animals come into contact with people.
Kiptunga Community Forest Association chairman Joseph Lesinko said the Kiptunga swamp had a lot of water in 1960s.
“There were a lot of indigenous trees providing a buffer zone for the swamp,” Lesinko said.
He added that the exotic trees have since been cleared.
“The exotic trees are partly to be blamed for the mess,” he said.
Lesinko said the drying of the swamp is a big issue that the government must urgently address.
“The history of injustice should be revisited,” Lesinko said in reference to settlers who are still destroying the Mau Forest complex.
Adjacent to the swamp is the site where former Prime Minister Raila Odinga planted a tree, ushering the evictions of Mau settlers.
Raila then chaired inter-ministerial team on the conservation of the Mau complex.
Lesinko said the protection of forests must be prioritised. He said politics should be divorced from conservation, as the impacts of forest destruction have no borders.
“People who politicise conservation are the ones who benefit,” he said.
The association chairman said they do not have enough resources to help rehabilitate the forest.
“We have, however, partnered with Ewaso Ng'iro North Development Authority and planted 250 bamboo trees,” he said.
But even as farmers upstream lament about water shortage, those downstream have realised the impending challenge and are now jealously opting for new ways to protect the little water still flowing in the rivers.
One such farmer is Richard Ngetich, 43.
Ngetich, a father of three, has planted sweet potato vines in his farm, in latest efforts aimed at preventing soils from his two-acre farm from being eroded into the river.
World Wide Fund for Nature Kenya freshwater project officer in the Mau-Mara Kennedy Bwire said his organisation had to step in and educate farmers on how to prevent soils from being washed into the river.
“Land has been subdivided in this area hence the need for farmers to practice smart agriculture,” Bwire said.
Through WWF’s support, over 400 farmers will be trained in smart agriculture.
Ngetich said his farm suffered serious soil erosion that often washed the top fertile soil. This affected the quality and quantity of water.
He was introduced to smart farming in 2009.
Ngetich, who started farming in 2006, now uses fines from potatoes to feed his three dairy cattle, a move that has increased milk production from 20 litres to 50 litres per day.
“I also use manure from my dairy cattle to improve soil fertility. This means that I do not use chemicals,” he said.
Ngetich said the manure is also used to produce biogas for cooking and lighting his house.
He thus no longer relies on fuel to cook, hence saving trees.
Ngetich also has passion fruits on his farm that fetch him Sh30,000 per month.
He harvests about 350 kilograms of passion fruits per week.
Nyangores Water Resources Users Association (WRUA) chairperson Paul Rono said the idea behind the introduction of smart agriculture is to improve livelihood, water quantity and quality.
“We wanted to arrest siltation to avoid soil from being washed into Nyangores River which will, in turn, flow into Mara River,” Rono said.
He said the Nyangores Water Resources Users Association normally does the bio-health of Nyangores River every two to three months.
“We do the bio-health using three methods to find out the status of the river,” Rono said.
Rono said one method is whereby microorganisms living in the river are sampled.
“Whenever we get some that are hard to find, we know that the status of the river is good,” he said adding that such a move scores highly in the scorecard they use.
Rono said the other method is using a turbidity tube to see impurities in water.
The tube is carefully filled with water until a mark at the bottom of the tube is invisible.
Once the mark is invisible, the turbidity of water is established by seeing the level of water in the calibrated tube.
Rono said community perception using guided questions is also used to establish pollution levels.
“We ask community members, for instance, if there are some activities along the river such as car washing, the level of vegetation among others before finding the scoring,” he said.
Bwire said pollution in water may be as a result of dissolved iron, which is common in the sand.
“We also have chemical compounds from rocks,” Bwire said.
Rono said farmers such as Paul Sang are more aware of riparian land.
Sang uprooted all blue gum trees in his riparian land before replacing them with indigenous ones.
“The trees used all water leaving the river dry. I took action following the advice from WWF,” Sang said, noting that the river is now yielding water for livestock and for domestic use.
Sang, whose farm is in Injerian, challenged the government to ruthlessly implement laws on riparian land.
He said the move will go a long way in protecting rivers from drying up.