Electric Fence to Encircle Kenyan Forest Reserve

By Jennifer Wanjiru

NAIROBI, Kenya, January 16, 2003 (ENS) - A multi-shilling fund has been launched in Kenya to put an electric fence around one of the east African nation's largest forest reserves to protect it from illegal loggers, poachers and general human encroachment.

When complete, tentatively by 2005, the ambitious electric fence will seal the more than 1,000 square kilometer (386 square mile) Aberdare Forest Reserve and secure its water catchment sources.


The Aberdare Fence (Photo courtesy Aberdare Fence Project)
Already, farmers living near the forest have pledged to contribute 2.3 million shillings (US$1.8 million) towards the 140 million shilling project, while the Kenya Wildlife Service and Forestry Department have pledged to offer technical support for the project.

A new government with a fresh approach to environmental protection makes the Aberdare project possible. Kenyans went to the polls last December 27 and elected a new government led by President Mwai Kibaki, a 72 year old reformist. He replaced longtime leader Daniel arap Moi, who was first elected President of the Republic of Kenya on October 12, 1978.

Soaring to peaks of 13,000 feet, the Aberdare Mountain Ranges are famous for the deep V shaped valleys with streams and rivers cascading over spectacular waterfalls, including Kenya's longest fall of some 1,000 feet.

"The endangered black rhino and the elephants roaming the indigenous forest will be secured once the project comes to completion," said Wilfred Kiboro, the chief executive of Nation Media Group. "We want all Kenyans, big or small, to come forward and support this project," he said.

Donations for the project are being solicited through regular radio and television ads and in local newspapers.


Crowned eagle (Photo courtesy Pete)
With a mixture of montane grasslands, forest and moorland, the Aberdare Forest is full of birds not seen in other parts of Kenya. The birds common here include the crowned eagle and the rufous-breasted sparrowhawk; there are also birds such as the African black duck, golden-winged sunbird, silvery-cheeked hornbill, Hartlaub's turaco and the white-eyed slaty flycatcher.

Environmentalists here have expressed hope that the new electric fence will control illegal logging and reduce the human wildlife conflict.

"This will allow farmers to grow crops up to the boundary of the Aberdare Forest without worrying about destruction by wild animals," said Charles Njonjo, chairman of the Kenya Wildlife Service.

Kenya's new Environment Minister Dr. Newton Kulundu has said that the government will reforest all land that had been cleared in Kenya forests by illegal loggers and "politically-correct" companies. He was referring to friends of the previous government who are known to have benefited from their association when it came to the distribution of the right to log forested lands.

Local corporations have shown interest in supporting the Aberdare initiative as a way of practicing social responsibility and preserving the tourist potential of the mountains.


Buffalo in Aberdare National Park (Photo courtesy Dave Roberts)
The outlying Aberdare National Park, which rings the mountain, is a tourist attraction site and has earned 26 million shillings in revenue every year for the past two decades. Approximately 62,000 tourists visit the park each year.

"The Aberdare National Park is spectacular and its vegetation in the forest belt contains some of Kenya's most ancient trees - cedar and hagenia," says Professor Wangari Maathai, the reknowned Kenyan environmentalist who is now assistant environment minister in the new government.

The Aberdares are an isolated volcanic mountain range that forms the eastern wall of the rift valley, running roughly 100 kilometers (62 miles) north-south between Nairobi and Thomsons Falls.

The park has spectacular falls like the Gura Falls - the deepest in Kenya - which plummets more than 300 meters into an impenetrable ravine opposite the Karura Falls, which drops 275 meters. These waterfalls were filmed for the famous "Out of Africa" movie.

"This is a great initiative that touches not only on the lives of the more than nine million people who depend on the forest, but also on the future of our children," Kiboro said.


Gura Falls is the deepest in Kenya. (Photo credit unknown)
The Aberdare mountains, also known as the Nyandarua mountains, are a volcanic range, which include a national park and a number of forest reserves. It is an important water catchment area, and throughout most of the year it gets rain and mist.

The Aberdare National Park is mostly at a higher altitude than the forest reserves, and between them they provide a habitat for a number of globally and regionally threatened species. Some of these, such as the African green ibis, Ayres's hawk eagle, crowned eagle, African grass owl, Cape eagle owl and long-tailed widowbird, it has in common with Mount Kenya, but unique to this region are the Aberdare cisticola, Baillon's crake and the striped fluff-tail.

The idea to fence the Aberdare Forest was started some 14 years ago by the management of Rhino Ark, a tourist hotel at the Aberdares.

The Rhino Ark Management Committee has been organizing an annual motor event, The Rhino Charge, to raise funds for the fencing of Aberdares. So far, the charity event, started with a meagre 200,000 shillings, has raised 160 million.

"The money has been used to construct half of the 320 kilometer fence around the forest," says Colin Church, the chair of Rhino Ark Management Committee.

Local environmentalists say that the Aberdare Forest Reserve is important to the residents of Nairobi and Nakuru, who depend on it for its water resources.

For instance, the Kinangop Grasslands located on a plateau to the west of the Aberdares used to be an area of tussock bogs and swampy valleys, but these are dwindling fast in the face of small-scale crop cultivations.

"Let us all join hands in building this fence so that the forest and the national park are preserved for posterity," says Njonjo of the Kenya Wildlife Service.


Cheetahs in Aberdare National Park (Photo courtesy Special Interest Travel)
In terms of wildlife, some 200 recorded species of birds can be found in the park. The moorlands are inhabited by some rare melanistic leopards, serval cats and genets, their coats blackened by the high altitude and closeness to the Equator.

The wildlife in the Aberdares is very human shy, and the lions have a reputation for ferocity.

The Aberdares forest is rich with wildlife: elephant, rhino, warthog, bush pig, giant forest hog, waterbuck, duiker, suni, dikdik, bongo and reedbuck. One also finds black and white colobus monkeys, Sykes' monkeys and black-faced vervets in the forest canopy.

"We have to protect all these species," says Kiboro.

A protected area since 1950, the Aberdare Range National Park covers 767 square kilometres and contains the country's two highest peaks - Lesatima at 13,120 feet and Kinangop at 12,816 feet.