Category Archives: Climate change

Finally, Kenyans can watch their own country’s wildlife on TV

A ground-breaking series of programmes on Kenyan TV is set to transform public attitudes toward wildlife conservation

Publicity image for NTV Wild, a series of wildlife documentaries shown on Kenyan TV in 2016
Publicity image for NTV Wild, a series of wildlife documentaries shown on Kenyan TV in 2016 Photograph: Munir Virani/Courtesy of NTV/The Peregrine Fund

Africa’s unique wildlife heritage attracts millions of tourists to the continent and contributes enormously to the economy. It is a tragic irony that this wildlife remains unknown to the majority of Africans.

Recently I have been involved in an initiative that aims to change this state of affairs. Launched in January, the TV series “NTV Wild” is a collaboration between NTV, Kenya’s leading TV channel, my NGO WildlifeDirect, and the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS).

NTV Wild will broadcast two hours of programmes on African wildlife on prime-time TV every week of this year. Screening of an hour-long documentary on NTV and its sister Kiswahili language channel QTV on Saturday night is followed on Tuesday evening at 10 pm by “NTV Wild Talk”: an extended in-depth discussion of the issues by leading film makers, conservationists, politicians and legal experts

The first eagerly awaited programmes attracted record numbers of viewers and provoked huge excitement on social media. Here are some of my favourite tweets:


My Saturday night is booked.Thanks to .

Njoki Njoroge @Njokay

, of I can take a safari while seated in front of a TV. Yaaaay

@ntvkenya Came running, literally, huh!…arrived just in time for , now glued @paulakahumbu.

I’m so loving the responses to . Nature does that to people…it brings us together

Not all reactions were positive. Following screening of ‘Mzima – Haunt of the River Horse’, an Emmy award winning film by Mark Deeble and Vicky Stone about the secret lives of hippos (click here to watch a trailer ), one blogger complained that the film was 15 years old. This was stale stuff, he wrote: “You know, a lot can happen in 15 years … in the hippo calendar. Viewers were hooked, but also hoodwinked”.

It’s true that many of the films to be shown by NTV Wild are classics, years – or even decades – old. They are familiar to and loved by hundreds of millions of viewers across the world. So why haven’t Kenyans seen them before?

Economics has a lot to do with it. The sights and sounds of our wildlife are transformed by film makers into products that are simply too expensive for African TV channels to buy – and therefore beyond the reach of most ordinary Africans.

But that’s not the whole story. On last night’s NTV Wild Talk discussion, film maker Mark Deeble revealed that he had offered ‘Haunt of the River Horse’ free to Kenyan TV channels when it first came out. But they had refused, reflecting the widespread (but profoundly mistaken) prejudice that “Kenyans aren’t interested in that sort of thing.”

Whatever the reason, it is scandalous that, for decades, TV viewers in most African countries including Kenya have been denied access to these documentaries made about our own wildlife.

Most people that I speak to about the lack of access to wildlife documentaries in Kenya are aghast and astounded – and one person was even reduced to tears – by the fact that American and European children know the names of our lions in the Masai Mara, and our elephants in Amboseli and Samburu, while ours do not.

This also goes against the avowed intentions of many distributors of wildlife films. For example, National Geographic describes itself as:

… a global nonprofit membership organization driven by a passionate belief in the power of science, exploration and storytelling to change the world. Working to inspire, illuminate and teach, National Geographic reaches more than 700 million people a month through its media platforms, products, events and experiences.

How can National Geographic fulfil this mission if its films are not seen in Africa, where they could be inspiring Africans to save their continent’s natural heritage?

In fact, I know that many producers and distributors would like to make their films available in Africa, but they are locked into a commercially-driven system that is very hard to change.

When I spoke to leading wildlife film makers when they met at last year’s Jackson Hole Film Festival, I discovered that many of them had been unhappy about this situation for years. A group of them, including Mark Deeble, Vicky Stone, Dereck and Beverly Joubert, Lisa Samford and many others got together and agreed to make a concerted appeal to major distributors to make them more widely available in Africa on a non-commercial basis.

The breakthrough came last year, when National Geographic gave permission for one free broadcast of the recently released documentary “Warlords of Ivory” on Kenyan TV. (Click here to see my article about this hard-hitting film that provides direct evidence of links between elephant poaching and terrorism in Africa.) Within five minutes the show was trending on twitter in Kenya.

The experience of that broadcast persuaded NTV to partner with WildlifeDirect for a year to bring world-class award winning wildlife documentaries to Kenyan audiences on a regular basis. We knew then we had an audience, but we didn’t know how hard it would be to get the films.

When I first floated this idea to distributors on behalf of NTV, responses were not encouraging. The following was typical of the replies we received:

Dear Paula,

I picked up this request and contacted our Africa sales team to run this request by them but they are still exploiting these titles. They are tasked with generating as much profit as possible from content in the African territory so that we can return funding to the [the company] to enable them to make these programmes in the first place.

I’m sorry not to have a more positive response for you.

This provoked the following impassioned response from one of the programme hosts:

It beggars belief that Paula’s current initiative – with its sensitizing and educational rationale – would in any substantial way detract from the [the company’s] licensing agreements. Talk of ‘profit’ at this point is insulting to the very nature of what Paula is trying to do. It sends a very clear message – money rules.

I thinks these sentiments portray [us] in a very poor light and are contrary to my long held belief that [we are] not purely driven by commercial considerations – but educational and inspirational ones too. These are things people like Paula have dedicated their life to doing. I believe we have to find a way to support these kinds of initiatives. Is that not still possible?

Thankfully arguments like these are winning the day. Disney Nature and the BBC World Wide are among major companies that have already agreed to make their films available and we are optimistic that others can be persuaded that they had nothing to lose and much to gain from supporting our proposal. We have written to Discovery and National Geographic as well as smaller production houses.

My fingers are tightly crossed and I make wishes on every shooting star in the Kenyan night sky.

Putting wildlife programs on African TV is not a “nice to have”. It’s a globally important imperative, and change cannot come too soon. The future of African wildlife hangs in the balance, under the impact of multiple threats, including poaching, climate change, habitat loss and land degradation. One of the main reasons why African governments have failed to respond to this unfolding crisis is that few Africans even know or understand what we stand to lose.

Our critic was right that a lot can happen in 15 years. Last night’s “NTV Wild Talk”, shot on location at the iconic Mzima Springs in Tasvo West National Park, revealed how all the hippos in Mzima Springs died in the drought of 2009. The ecosystem collapsed and since then recovery has been very slow, with only a handful of hippos there today.

Smriti Vidyarthi (right), host of NTV Wild, hosts a discussion with panellists Mark Deeble, Robert Obrein and Richard Leakey, filmed at Mzima Springs, Tsavo West National Park, Kenya
Smriti Vidyarthi (right), host of NTV Wild, hosts a discussion with panellists Mark Deeble, Robert Obrein and Richard Leakey, filmed at Mzima Springs, Tsavo West National Park, Kenya Photograph: Norbert Rottcher

Moderator Smriti Vidyarti engaged panellists Mark Deeble, KWS Chairman Richard Leakey, and Regional Assistant Director Robert Obrein in an informed discussion of the complex causes of this collapse. They described how drought, fires, and the encroachment of cattle into the National Park had created a ‘perfect storm’ for Mzima’s hippos, and how the loss of the hippos had affected the entire ecosystem.

The panellists also explained how Mzima was also key to Kenya’s economic development as the principal source of water for the city of Mombasa, and the importance of forest conservation in the watershed to maintain continuity of supplies. They discussed threats to the area posed by urbanization and proposed infrastructure projects.

The three panellists did not pull their punches. Richard Leakey described corruption as the biggest threat to African wildlife. Robert O’Brein talked frankly about the problems involved in administering Tsavo’s national parks.

In short, viewers were treated to an informed and intelligent, but by no means pessimistic discussion of key issues for the future of Kenya and global biodiversity conservation – that topped the ratings on prime-time TV!

This is only the start. With the support of KWS and tour operators, the programmes shown on NTV Wild are linked to promotions to boost local tourism to Kenya’s national parks. WildlifeDirect is partnering with local schools to take more students into the wilderness and national parks to do science, art and other subjects (click here to read about our visit with Nairobi school children to Amboseli National Park).

We are also planning to produce our own wildlife reality show, bringing celebrities and Kenyan scientific experts together in an informative and entertaining exploration of our country’s astounding wildlife.

I am sure that initiatives like these can have transformational effect. They will inspire more Africans to go to the parks and witness our wildlife first hand, just as they have inspired tens of millions of international tourists. They will encourage the emergence– for the first time – of a new generation of African wildlife film makers.

Above all, Africans will be motivated to demand more of their leaders, and will possess the knowledge and confidence they need to do so.

Behind fun projects like school visits and reality game shows, our aims are deadly serious, and the stakes couldn’t be higher. The wider aim is to mainstream wildlife at all level of Kenyan life and society: as headlines news and a political priority, as family entertainment, as part of the curriculum in schools and universities, in corporate social responsibility programmes, and in the worlds of sport, music and fashion.

The age-old aphorism states that “knowledge is power”. Only by giving Africans knowledge about our wildlife can we acquire the power to save it.

#NTVWild Talk on NTV Kenya

If you missed the discussion on #NTVWild about Mzima Springs, Mzima: Haunt of the Riverhorse (the film), Tsavo National Parks and conservation issues in that region of Kenya, watch it here


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Wildlife Warriors OST Report

The Wildlife Warriors event at Brookhouse School attracted nearly twice as many people as we expected. Though we
targeted young people from Nairobi, grandparents, teachers, and many grown ups from all corners of the country
including expatriates came. This revealed a surprising level of interest in citizen participation. It also confirmed that young people feel that their
views about wildlife conservation are as important as those of adults. Hundreds of recommendations about creating a
generation of Wildlife Warriors were generated which revealed some general findings.

We are pleased to finally release the report of the first ever Open Space Technology event to be held in Nairobi. We apologize for the delay in getting this report out to the public and welcome comments on it. Please find the soft copy version of the report here

brochure to mail (3) (1) (1)

The Great Zebra Count at Nairobi National Park



The Kenya Wildlife Service, The Kenya Wildlife Festival and WildlifeDirect invite you to participate in the ‘GREAT ZEBRA COUNT’- the first of its kind citizen science project at the Nairobi National Park, on 1st and 2nd March 2015.

This year, Kenya will participate in the global World Wildlife Day celebrations by hosting a national celebration of her unique wildlife heritage through a week long national Wildlife Festival from 28th February to 7th March.

The GREAT ZEBRA COUNT is one of the festival’s activities. 

This citizen science initiative will allow the public to estimate the population sizes of zebras and giraffes within the Nairobi National park.  It involves the collection of photographs of Zebras and Giraffes taken by participating teams, which will be analysed using a new software, IBEIS, which identifies individual animals by their unique stripes and patterns.


The software will determine the number of zebra’s and giraffe in the Nairobi National Park, identify specific animals and where they are found. The IBEIS software was developed by 4 American universities. For more information, visit IBEIS.ORG


You are invited to form a team, identify a vehicle to use for the team, get your cameras ready and register your team here:


After registration, you will be provided with an information pack detailing how the census shall be conducted. The Great Zebra count is done in collaboration with Friends of Nairobi National Park (FONNaP) with the support of Nairobi Tented Camp.


The Wildlife Festival is an opportunity to share the country’s vision and encourage citizens’ participation in a future where people and wildlife coexist in harmony. The festival also presents an opportunity for the public to participate in contributing to important conservation science for the Kenya Wildlife Service.


The KWS Park Entry Fees will apply.  For further information contact [email protected]


Your participation in this activity will be highly appreciated.


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Resource Use related conflicts

We have always had conflict in the world but it is worse in rural indigenous communities who in most cases are isolated and marginalized by governments. The conservation community is right is in thinking something needs be done to address this.  Recently, I was requested to take part in a resource use planning process, for enhanced development of pastoralist communities living in Northern Kenya.  So, my adventurous travels started from Nairobi, through the former central, rift valley, western, back to the rift valley again, and finally ending up in the Eastern province of Kenya.

From Lodwar, in a matatu with sheep and vegetables

From Lodwar, in a matatu with sheep and vegetables

While waiting for a boat to cross the lake Turkana to the KWS offices in Sibiloi, I remembered my episodes in Papua New Guinea. Fortunately, it took only 5 hours waiting and not a week.

Sending a message while within mobile internet coverage

Sending a message while within mobile internet coverage

I will be here for sometime trying to collect information on how best the resources of the Sibiloi National Park can be utilized by the communities to improve their livelihoods while conserving them. KWS, National Museums of Kenya and Turkana Basin Institute, three major stakeholders in the initiative want to stimulate community participation and contribution in the process so as to make it successful and sustainable.

The communities living around the lake and the park are all pastoralists. The Gabra, Turkana, Daasanach and the El Moro share the resources, which they mainly use as pastureland for their animals. Historically, there have been conflict over the access and usage of these resources often leading to fighting and loss of life. Compounded with frequent and long dry spells, this factor poses a great threat to resource conservation and development activities in the area. I was welcomed by news of the current conflict whereby one Daasanach elder was killed by Gabra people while following his lost donkeys. In retaliation, the Daasanach are said to have killed a Gabra and are demanding for the return of their donkeys or they go into war. The Daasanach, who are better warriors and have access to more sophisticated arms, have their community stretching across the Kenya-Ethiopian border.

The KWS officers and other government administrative arms are doing their best to resolve the dispute and we hope peace will prevail. Keep reading for more updates from here, the North.

Devastating drought in Amboseli

Dear all,

We are indebted to Scott Ward for this guest post who wrote from Amboseli National Park with spectacular photographs he took there. Scott raises some tough questions. Read more about Scott Ward below.

amboseli Mt kilimanjaro WildlifeDirect Scott Ward

Photo Scott Ward

As I drove into Amboseli National Park from across the long dry lakebed, I was immediately taken aback by the large number of carcasses that were dotted everywhere.  In some places it seemed as though a bomb went off and destroyed every living creation within a large area.  It seemed as though a great battle took place with no one winning.  Among the dead an inordinate amount of hyenas plundered the dead and decaying.  Of course, to me, the saddest thing was to see the giant decomposing bodies of elephants.  If elephants lived as short of lives as mice, bred like rabbits, and were abundant, I might be able to relegate their death to just a mere cycle of nature.  But I think it is more than that.  When one sees a wild elephant up close and experiences the wisdom of long years in her life and the power within her massive body one quickly realizes that we are sharing our planet with a truly wondrous creation.  The death of one of these magnificent creatures somehow diminishes our Earth.

 Amboseli drought

Amboseli drought elephants

Amboseli drought photo from

                But in the midst of the macabre dance of the hyena, there is life and green.  Rain has returned to Amboseli – maybe not in the abundance that was hoped for, but arrived nonetheless.  As I drove through the park it was wonderful to see elephants playing in the chest deep water as if celebrating themselves the return of the rains.  Cape buffalo once again have mud to wallow in.  Zebra and wildebeest are slowly returning.  Three beautiful lion cubs were feasting on a freshly caught warthog.  The Rains have returned and hope springs to life again, yet the drought has taken its toll and causes me to wonder what’s next.

 Elephants Amboseli Scott Ward WildlifeDirect

Photo Scott Ward

                As I sat around the pool at our lodge, I began to contemplate that probably this swimming pool was filled with water while animals perished just a short distance away.  The freshly manicured grass was definitely kept watered through the long drought, while on the other side of the fence the grass literally dried to dust.  Tourists enjoyed a whole host of drinks and foods while the animals struggled for a drop of water or a morsel of food.  As these thoughts rolled around in my mind, I began to ask myself, “Why can’t we help?”  According to leading scientists, global warming is our fault.  Others say that we should not interfere – that we should take a hands-off approach to wildlife conservation.  Many people just don’t care either way what happens, because they have their own life to worry about.  But they did not see the casualties.

 Elephants Amboseli Scott Ward WildlifeDirect

Photo Scott Ward

                I certainly don’t know all the answers, but it did impress upon me the necessity to continue my support of conservation efforts.  The lives of these incredible creatures are too precious to simply let them slide into eternity without a fight.

Scott Ward

 About Scott Ward:   My family and I are missionaries in Northern Tanzania near Moshi.  I am also an amateur photographer trying to take steps into a larger arena with my photography.  I currently have a number of images in the online gallery called Art for Conservation ( It is here that I have been supporting the George Adamson Wildlife Preservation Trust with sales from my photographs on this site.  We live right next to Mkomazi National Park and have visited with Tony and Lucy Fitzjohn who run the conservation effort there. My personal portfolio website is  I have my sepia-toned images for sale and on display at the web address listed above.  I also have some color photographs of African wildlife at

Swoop Net’s 5,000 Bags of Illegal Charcoal

A Kenya Forests Service (KFS) crackdown on illegal charcoal trade in Kinango, some 70 km southeast of Mombasa, Kenya, nabbed six 3-ton trucks loaded with more than 5,000 bags of charcoal in two days starting 1 December 2009. The operation, involving 15 forest rangers, one commander, two forest officers and the District Forest Officer (DFO) also fined the 6 trucks KShs 50,000 ($650) each in addition to forfeiting their charcoal load.

charcoal raid arrest

To ensure that the truck crews forfeited the charcoal, the DFO had to rush to the Kwale District Coats (under whose jurisdiction Kinango is) to obtain an order allowing the crack team to confiscate the haul. The team then started disposing the charcoal by selling it to local people at KShs 300 ($4) per bag on 3 December. This is the normal way of disposing of impounded charcoal. Buyers were however suspicious thinking that they were being trapped resulting in a slow start to the disposal process. By end of Day 1 only 1/3 of the load had been sold.

According to  Elias Kimaru of the Kwale landscape project of the WWF in the area more than 3,000 bags of charcoal are getting out of the area on daily basis to supply Mombasa and Nairobi. “It is also believed that some charcoal is being exported to Middle East.” Kimaru told WildlifeDirect.

charcoal raid

Most charcoal bags weigh 50 kgs (heavy charcoal from indigenous trees). “Taking the rate of conversion from wood to charcoal to be 10%, we are talking of more than 1500 tonnes of woods is being converted from trees to charcoal daily”, adds Kimaru

According to Kimaru, most of these trees are harvested from private ranches and county council land (unprotected public land).

The result of this wanton destruction of tree cover is accelerated micro-climatic changes in the area with the inevitable outcome of prolonged drought which Kimaru says is turning the area into a desert. The Kinango area for instance has not recieved any significant rainfall for more than four years. “An area like Kilibasi which used to be self sustaining in food production in mid 80’s can not feed itself at the moment.” says Kimaru. “Water pans have dried and most cattle have died. More than 41% of the people depend on relief food on permanent basis while the poverty levels have increased to all time high of 71% (the District is among the poorest in the country).” he adds.

Ending the charcoal menace is hampered mostly by politicians who insist that charcoal burning is a means of livelihood for the local people. But Kimaru disagrees: “If it was a livelihood we would have expected a decrease in poverty levels [not] an increase.”

There is an urgent need for politicians to show willingness to link the high rate of tree destruction with increasing poverty levels in Kwale District. This is of course not likely in the near future given that – as Kimaru suspects – “some power people are benefiting from this illegal activity and they would like the status [quo] to remain.” This is corruption which in most African countries is the key impediment to conservation of forests, wildlife and entire ecosystems. It is also driving Africans deeper and deeper into poverty.

Some organizations are however working towards providing alternative fuel methods to at lease reduce local demand for charcoal and other wasteful wood fuel uses. In my next installation, I will bring you the story of one such organization that is harnessing the power of the volunteer movement to develop more efficient methods of domestic fuel consumption for local people.

Video on climate change and poverty alleviation in Africa

We’ve been thinking about the implications of decisions (or not) at Copenhagen at the Global Climate Change Conference which starts on Monday.

To find out what  the average Kenyan thinks, I spoke to Rhoda, a domestic worker in Nairobi.

[kml_flashembed movie="" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]

You can also download and listen to this as a podcast on the Public Radio Exchange here

I was surprised with her knowledge, views, and expectations. Let me know what you think. How can the worlds leaders satisfy the Rhoda’s of the world while reducing carbon emissions?

interviewing rhoda for radio


Family on a Bicycle in Kenya

Please feel free to share widely.

Climate change talks – is it too late for action in Africa?

I am personally finding it very hard to get excited about the upcoming climate change talks in Copenhagen to agree on emissions limits – you see  Africa is already facing the brunt of climate change

Climate change Africa

Now studies show that  Climate has been a major driver of armed conflict in Africa,  and future warming is likely to increase the number of deaths from war.

Discussing the Copenhagen meeting brought me as close to a domestic dispute as I’ve ever been in. Over a bowl of oat meal I became quite angry.

I think that the Copenhagen meetings will not deliver the commitments needed. My partner says that even if it doesn’t, something is better than nothing. I disagree…look at these graphs

Atmospheric Carbon

Atmospheric Carbon

According to the European Climate Foundation analysis – and others we will not meet the targets for reduction in carbon emissions – commitments made so far are probably not enough to meet the G8 target

With all the squabbling about who is to blame for the state of the situation, and who should pay for curbing the problem we seemed to have lost sight of the fact that we need to stop emitting carbon. But who should stop?

carbon emissions

The problem we know is that the growing worlds middle class in places like China, Brazil and India are driving the rapid increase in emissions. But emissions per capita are still highest in America and Europe – regions whose growth got us to this situation in the first place.

But  which government leader will agree to reductions in standards of living? Should Americans accept a Chinese standard of living, should Chinese and other developing world people sacrifice growth towards a higher standard of living.. see the solution is obvious but yet it’s too hard a problem to solve in one meeting, and I’m not sure that what little progress we make at Copenhagen will be worth the air miles.

Am I wrong or does it feel like we are bailing out our sinking ship with a teaspoon?

In February 2007 the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change found that global warming is “unequivocal” and that human-produced carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are chiefly to blame, to a certainty of more than 90 percent.  In fact scientists had been warning about the impact of carbon emissions since the 1950’s! What if we started capping emissions back then?

The fact that we’ve known about the problem for a long time and done nothing about it makes me fear that it’s like getting gangrene  in your toe – it’s annoying, it smells and it’s getting worse slowly. By the time you actually believe your doctor about the seriousness of your situation it’s in your hip and by then cutting off your toe is a waste of time. It’s spread too far and the condition is going to kill you. Faster or slower will depend on whether you take your medication or not.

The current issue of The Economist the last page states that

According to the International Energy Agency energy demand in OECD countries is expected to all slightly by 2015. In 2007 these nations used around 5.5 billion tones of oil equivalent, compared to 6.2 billion tones in non – OECD counties. But that is widening because the annual rate of growth of non members energy use is predicted to be more than ten times that of member economies between 2007 and 2030. Chinese energy demand will overtake Americas by 2015.

 By 2030 china and India together will account for almost a third of the global energy use. By then the world will consume 16.8 billion tones of oil equivalent. Coal will fuel the bulk of China’s increased energy use”.

And this graph below tells me that there is no way in hell that the world can meet carbon emissions targets if these coal consumption trends are correct”.

Coal use

Michel Jarraud, the head of the World Meteorological Organization, warned that levels of greenhouse gases have reached a record high. They have risen every year since detailed records began in 1998, and that the pace of increase was quickening. I’m always amazed when predictions include “Treacherous floods, deadly droughts, rising sa levels and the displacement of millions of people as refugees have all been predicted if temperatures rise as expected“.  These predictions are already reality in Africa.

So you see, I wanted to tell my partner that he scoop that teaspoon as fast as he liked, it’s not going to save this sinking ship.

He stormed off refusing to admit I was right.  My ruined breakfast was irrelevant on the big scale of things. Most Kenyans have no idea that climate change is the cause  of the recurrent droughts, that the failed crops, livestock deaths, spreading diseases and deepening poverty and intensifying clashes are all interlinked with the global addiction to a carbon based fuels.

Sometimes it feels insensitive to say this but wildlife is one of the victims of these climate changes. Hundreds of hippos have died this year in the Tsavo West National Park due to the  drought.  Hundreds of elephants, thousands of waterbuck, buffalo, antelopes and other species have died or are dying across Kenya. It is tragic but there is little we can do against climate change but help pastoralists suffering from human wildlife conflict.  We know from past droughts that wildlife will rebound, but this can only happen if we strictly protect our parks and conservation areas.

Saving Africa’s wildlife and protected areas is not just for the pleasure of rich tourists, there is another fundamental reason  why we should do this. It’s self preservation. These natural areas are critically important locally as safe havens for species that we depend on for foods. As we have seen in Kenya, protected areas enable us to have cities like Nairobi – without the Aberdares and Mt Kenya National Park and forests we would not have water or electricity in our capital city Nairobi. Our water catchments are all protected and when we let them go the consequences are devastating as we have found out  in the Mau. Nobody questions that the forest must be saved – we have recently discovered that millions of people are affected by the  loss of forest cover there. It affects weather, climate, farming, water amount and quality as well as entire indusrties like fisheries in Lake Naivasha.

Our wilderness areas in Africa may be our most valuable defense against global climate change – already Africa is feeling the brunt of the impact of rising atmospheric carbon even though we contributed little to it. It’s time that resources are pumped into Africa to halt the loss of natural systems as a planet saving strategy – lose natural areas and we lose the free services of rainforest and woodland carbon mops.  Saving Africa’s wilderness will necessarily require that we address the cause of the destruction – it’s poverty. If we can focus global priorities on addressing extreme poverty we could save the forests and other important natural ecosystems, for this and future generations.

Thank you for your all your continued support

The Pain of Saving the Mau Forest Complex

Kenya just recently went through the most devastating drought in decades. It is believed that in some parts of the country, this drought was made worse by forest destruction and the resultant drying of rivers. The most dramatic case of rivers drying was experienced in the areas which source their water from the Mau Forest Complex. The Mau is the largest continuous forest area in East Africa and is the source of many rivers including the Mara River, which runs through, and is the lifeline, of Kenya’s most celebrated wildlife conservation area – the Masai Mara National Reserve.

Map of Mau in Kenya
The Mau Complex in Kenya (Map: BBC News)

For years, the Mau has suffered severe destruction as land hungry Kenyans invade the forest, sometimes with government consent and fraudulently issued legal land ownership documents. According to the BBC “During the past 15 years, more than 100,000 hectares – one quarter of the protected forest reserve – had been settled and cleared.” About 20,000 families had settled in the forest.

In the last few years, the government has been working on the removal of these illegal settlers from this forest complex which is the largest of the country’s 5 most important ‘water towers’. Now it seems that the government is succeeding, but it has not been – as usual -without its fair share of politics. Of course, where voters are concerned, the politicians will take sides depending on which block of the electorate they want to align themselves with.

That said, the first batch of illegal settlers started leaving the forest a couple of days ago. This, in environmental terms is good as the government has promissed to plant 100-million trees to replace those felled by the settlers. It is a good start but it will definitely take decades before the rivers of the Mau can once again flow as they did before the 1990s.

This eviction however introduces a sad humanitarian crisis since many of the evictees have nowhere else to go. Many have resigned to a life of squalor on the outskirts of the forest, along major roads. The government says it has plans to resettle those who are genuinely homeless in the same fashion it is assisting the IDPs who resulted from the violent fallout from the disputed 2007 presidential elections. We however know how these things work.

To really know how the government is likely to deal with this huge humanitarian burden, you just need to reflect back to the case of evictees that came from the Mount Kenya Forest. This particular group had been living in the forest when the colonial government demarcated the forest reserve in 1950. In 1989 however, they were evicted after they started encroaching further into the forest. Since then, they stayed by the roadside until July 2009 when they were allocated land in Laikipia area north of Mount Kenya. They had been on the roadside for 20 years.

Is the eviction of 20,000 humans out of the forest a good thing? I would say yes. They need to get out so that the work of rehabilitating the forest can start in earnest. But, the government should act with haste to find alternative agricultural land to settle these people so that they can once again engage in economic activities that help in building the nation.

Evictees cannot be allowed to go back to the Mau. That would make matters worse. They should not be relocated to another protected area. There are still large tracts of land owned by a few rich Kenyans. Such land is lying idle and underutilized despite the fact that it is in prime agricultural areas. The government should force these greedy landowners to sell this land and use it to settle the landless.