In recent days, a dangerous bush fire has broken out in Mount Kenya Forest, located in central Kenya. According to The Nation newspaper, the fire has consumed thousands of hectares of the forest and killing unknown numbers of wildlife. In response to this unfolding tragedy, Born Free Kenya sent a team to the Mountain to assist.
“For over a week, the fire has given us sleepless nights, our men and women have had a serious battle with the ranging flames, it is not child’s play” were the welcoming words of the charismatic Simon Gitau the Deputy Warden Mt. Kenya National Park. “Kenya wildlife Service, Kenya Forest service, community members and the Mount Kenya Trust have been working hard to contain the fires, we are grateful that you have joined us” Mr. Gitau added as he directed us to the camping site.
Fire fighting has not previously been a required skill for Born Free Kenya staff, but this did not dampen our contribution to the fire-fighting efforts! Mt. Kenya Forest hosts the second highest Mountain in Africa after Mt. Kilimanjaro and is home to thousands of species of wildlife including some of Kenya’s most endangered. It forms one of the greatest water towers in Kenya and provides an important habitat to a host of wildlife species. Protection of wildlife habitat and the various ecosystems within Kenya form one of the greatest responsibilities Born Free has on its shoulders. We spend many hours each month talking to school children and various community members in different areas of Kenya about the need to conserve our environment. With the increased deforestation and general destruction of our environment, we continue to face serious conservation challenges.
Soon, we realized that fighting a fire of this magnitude at such a high attitude was not a small task. At about 3400m above sea level, oxygen is in short supply making it even more difficult for us. With the support of Kenya Wildlife Service, Kenya Forest Service and British Army, we quickly learnt the ropes. Fighting fires with human hands alone is neither easy nor is it for the faint hearted. Rubber flippers and clearing vegetation to create firebreaks were our main methods of containing the fires.
On several occasions, we had to retreat with the flames seemingly hot in our pursuit! We witnessed several bushbucks and other wildlife running for dear life. As wildlife continues to take refuge further towards the community area, we see a clear source of conflict for the few resources between humans and wildlife. Watching trees hundreds of years old burn to ashes was one of our most disturbing moments not to mention the thought of the animal lives that could have been lost.
Iregi Mwenja, Country Manager commended the efforts of those involved; “Born Free would like to thank our supporters and volunteers who responded with speed and made it possible to send our teams to Mount Kenya less than 12 hours after the fire alarm was raised by those on the ground. We are proud to have friends like these!”
As we prepared to depart for our other assignments, more support was arriving from the Kenya Police, more Kenya Wildlife Service personnel, various stakeholders in the region and more community members. As the efforts to keep the fires at bay continue, we hope the hovering clouds will bring rains to quickly end the unforgiving fires. When all is settled, a substantial afforestation effort?? needs to be initiated to help revamp the badly damaged ecosystem.
Victor Mutumah and David Manoa – Born Free Kenya.
If you would like to help fight the fires in Kenya, we are raising funds to pay for the deployment of our teams and associated volunteers. Please donate here – http://www.bornfree.org.uk/shop/acatalog/Born_Free_Kenya.html