FOREST FIRES ON MOUNT KENYA

May 2012

Mount Kenya National Park/Natural Forest natural World Heritage site contains Africa’s second highest mountain, an ancient extinct volcano now with glacier-clad summits and forested middle slopes. The site possesses a unique afro-alpine ecology. Kenya has less than 2.5% of its land under forest cover, and the forests around Mount Kenya represent a significant percentage of this remaining figure. The vegetation on Mount Kenya is unique; savannah grasslands and acacia woodlands give way to afro-alpine flora, East African bamboo and eventually to moorland vegetation such as heather species.

The Mount Kenya forest is the largest remaining forest bloc in Kenya and has global relevance because of the biodiversity that it holds, which includes mountain bongo, colobus monkey and giant forest hog as well as other species of global interest. Its elephant population of between 2,000 and 3,000 individuals is the third largest in Kenya and the site is an important water catchment area, draining to some of Kenya’s most important rivers.

As of 15 March 2012, unusually fierce fires on Mount Kenya had burnt at least 58 sq km of high-altitude vegetation; a figure which was increasing but which was hard to quantity as fires were burning in largely inaccessible remote locations. Most areas affected were at relatively high altitude.

A combination of drought and deliberate fire-raising (by honey collectors and poachers) are suggested to have contributed to the problem. Deliberate fire-starting is a distraction technique as poachers know that Kenya Wildlife Service personnel will be deployed to fight fires, leaving areas of the Park unguarded. There was a separate spate of forest fires in January 2012, and these were not fully doused before flaring up again in March, which compounded their negative impact.

The RRF received an application from the Mount Kenya Trust (MKT) for support for fire-fighting, which had become a multi-stakeholder activity involving local NGOs, Kenya Wildlife Service, Park-edge communities and even the British RAF, who have a base nearby. The RRF awarded $6,238 to contribute towards MKT’s efforts.

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Forest fires spread across Mount Kenya. Credit: Mount Kenya Trust
Forest fires spread across Mount Kenya. Credit: Mount Kenya Trust
British Army personnel helping gather equipment. Credit: Mount Kenya Trust
Forest fires spread across Mount Kenya. Credit: Mount Kenya Trust