There was a notable ‘first’ for the Rhino Ark when, during his visit to Kenya in November, Pope Francis blessed three fencing posts – each to be placed in the electrified fences that now protect Kenya’s great forested areas and water towers around the Aberdares, Mount Kenya and Mount Mau Eburu. The inspiration for the request for the Pope’s blessing, made by the Governor of the County of Nyeri, KWS, KFS and Rhino Ark, was the Pope’s encyclical Laudato Si: “on care for our common home”.
The recycled poles, ten foot high and six inches in diameter, are made from recycled plastic waste, mainly worn out greenhouse plastic sheets, as well as broken plastic buckets. These materials are gathered from horticultural farms in Naivasha, thereby cleaning the environment of plastic litter which is not biodegradable. The poles are produced at Kingfisher Farm in Naivasha under a partnership agreement between Finlays Horticulture and the Rhino Ark Charitable Trust.
Reception of the three poles by the Apostolic Nuncio
One of the poles blessed by Pope Francis
“Apart from helping to clean the environment, the poles are flexible and not break when pushed by wildlife, such an elephant. Nor are they conductors of electricity. They also save the cutting down of trees to make fences”, comments Christian Lambrechts, Executive Director of the Rhino Ark.
In the proposal for the Papal blessing – endorsed by the Vatican – it was stated that “the pontifical blessings will invoke a sense of great respect, change perceptions on the environment and rekindle the spirit of conservation and protection of the environment in the country, and in particular among those three main water towers of Kenya… it will initiate a renewed thinking in the models and practices of development inspired by the Pope’s encyclical at the grassroots level”.
One of the poles will be placed at Gathiuru Forest Station on Mount Kenya. Two other sites – for the Aberdares and Mount Eburu – are still to be chosen.
Mount Kenya Fence Progresses
By December, a further ten kilometres of the Mount Kenya fence has been completed – with 94 kilometres built, as well as three kilometres of the two-strand fence. Eventually the fence will stretch for 450 kilometres, encircling 2,700 square kilometres, much of it dense forest adjacent to some of the most densely populated areas of the country. These forests have a huge range of biological diversity - not least plant species of which 872 have been recorded to date. Mount Kenya – like the Aberdares – plays a critical role as sources of water supply for the entire country, including the mighty Ewaso Nyiro and Tana rivers.
Areas of Mount Kenya are under constant threat from human encroachment and degradation of the forest. To identify and address these problems, Rhino Ark has initiated an aerial surveillance programme for Mount Kenya, similar to the one launched for the Aberdares. The purpose of the September flight, for example, was to monitor illegal activities, in particular the growing of marijuana and the logging of indigenous trees. The flight detected and localised three marijuana growing sites as well as two illegal logging sites – and KWS and KFS ground operations to destroy these sites rapidly followed.
Destruction of marijuana fields by KWS and KFS rangers following their detection during an aerial surveillance conducted on 17 September 2015
Progress, too, is being made with the development of the wildlife corridors for Mount Kenya and the Aberdares – enabling elephant to follow their traditional migration routes. Engagement with county leaders, such as the Committee on Environment of the Country Assembly of Nyeri and members of the county assembly from the wards affected by the proposed corridor, is particularly important.
Maintaining the Aberdare Fence
“Vigilance is just as important when the fence is completed as when it is being built”, says Executive Director, Christian Lambrechts. The Aberdare Joint Surveillance Unit, for example, identified illegal activities in Northern Aberdare in October and November with its patrols working on the ground to deal with the problems.
The Rhino Ark contributes around $7,000 a month to the Aberdare National Park for the maintenance of the fence. Rehabilitation of older sections of the fence must take place too – with 16 kilometres of Phase 1 being rehabilitated and a further five kilometres currently being reconstructed. Meanwhile the Board of Trustees of the Aberdare Trust, which has been established to protect the fence and the Aberdares in perpetuity, had its first meeting in October. Ongoing plans for the Trust have been accepted and management structures agreed. The Director of KFS was elected as chairperson for two years.
Supporting Local Communities
Rhino Ark has formed a partnership with the UK-based charity ChallengeAid to establish “schools of hope” which will provide educational opportunities for students outside normal school hours. The first School of Hope will be stet up at Bondeni Primary School in Nyeri, which is already actively involved in conservation issues through the annual Aberdare Fence Relay Run, in which all schools take part near the fence perimeter and Bongo Wildlife Clubs – which raise awareness for the gravely endangered Eastern Mountain Bongo in the Aberdares, Mount Kenya and Mount Eburu.
Mount Eburu on the Move
With the construction of the 43 kilometre fence, Mount Eburu is following the successful path established by Rhino Ark activities in the Aberdares. However, there are technical difficulties and differences on Eburu – with very steep slopes and loose soil which impact on the fence and create soil erosion. A special technical team has been set up to assist fence attendants in sorting out these difficulties.
Community support has included four one-day workshops for teachers from Eburu schools in September. The 72 participants included teachers and officers from the Ministry of Education, KWS and Nakuru County government. The workshops provided them with a forum to share their experiences and challenges in the implementation of the school conservation curricula.
Participants in one of the four workshops for teachers from Eburu schools
Apart from its multi-million shilling commitment to the Eburu Fence Project, the MPESA Foundation is supporting the establishment of tree nurseries in 15 schools close to the Eburu forest. Three nurseries for two schools have already been completed. These have included the building of perimeter fences, water tanks and plumbing, and the provision of tree seedlings and training.
Support has also been given for rehabilitation of the water pipelines from Ole Sirwa springs in Eburu forest – the primary source of water for the local community. This was completed in October.
Meanwhile, there are encouraging signs that the Eburu Endowment Fund will be the beneficiary of funds from license fees collected by KFS from KENGEN in Eburu and the Geothermal Development Company in Menegai – following a proposal from Rhino Ark.
Wildlife Corridor – Eburu Forest and Lake Naivasha
With the signing of a letter of agreement between Loldia Eburu and Rhino Ark, the upgrading of the 3.5 kilometre fence between Eburu Forest and Green Park, along the boundary between Loldia Eburu and Eburu settlement, can now be progressed. Work actually started in November. A steam-fed water point, inside the forest near the Fire Tower, is being built. It will help provide water for wildlife – encouraging wildlife such as buffalo to stay in the forest rather than putting pressure on the lake shore.
The completion of the Joint Naitola Outpost, comprising four unihuts for two scouts from Loldia, two rangers from KFS, and two fence attendants, will deter and curb illegal activities in the eastern part of the Eburu Forest and the upper part of Loldia.
And in the South Western Mau…
Rhino Ark is looking to extend its outreach into the South Western Mau, initially with an aerial surveillance programme to monitor illegal activities in the 60,000 hectares of the South Western Mau Forest Reserve. The first surveillance flight in November identified charcoal making and livestock grazing as serious threats to the forest.
Other Rhino Ark proposals to the Sustainable Trade Initiative’s Initiative for Sustainable South Western Mau Landscape include a study on the drivers of deforestation; a bongo surveillance programme; and a fencing feasibility study.