Plentiful elephant and the attraction of night-time game viewing from The Ark and Treetops Lodge make the Aberdares a regular stopover on the northern tourist circuit. Yet the same abundant wildlife that is a major tourist attraction is often a menace to local farmers. The need to maintain a delicate balance in the Aberdares, plus a conservation issue of vital importance, have driven park management and community relations during the last year. The coniferous rain forest of the Aberdares is a strategic rainfall catchment area. It supplies the water requirements of the local area, an intensively farmed region, as well as those of metropolitan Nairobi. If the rain forest goes, the water will go-and the forest is already threatened by tree felling, accidental fires and encroachment by farmers, especially those whose irrigation systems draw on the reserve’s rivers.
Even though it faces various threats, the northern forest area, with generally better weather than the surrounding area, is underutilized in some ways. Studies undertaken in 1994-95 identified a suitable area for rhino sanctuary. Black rhino translocated from the densely populated Solio Ranch sanctuary will form the nucleus of the forest sanctuary, complementing the sixty rhino already living in the Aberdare Rhino Sanctuary.
A special research project as its focus the growing incidence of accidental fire in the forested areas, mostly caused by honey gatherers smoking their beehives. Together with the Community Wildlife Service officer, the research team developed a community-education programme on the hazards of fire and introduced the beekeepers to safer practises.
To address community and conservation issues, KWS rehabilitated four dams for local villages to safeguard their water supply and maintain it outside the park. KWS also improved access roads to villages in Gakanga, Mgundu, Bellevue and Gatarakwa. In a cost-sharing project, KWS excavated and transported materials and
the local communities provided the labour needed to construct a pipeline to feed storage tanks outside the park. Villagers will now benefit from an irrigation system that utilizes the natural pressure of water flowing from rivers inside the park.
Research to define and guide future wildlife management and park development in the Aberdares was another major project of 1994-95. KWS collected ecological survey data on vegetation species, trends, densities and frequencies. Once the fence around the rain forest has been completed, the effects of large herbivores such as elephant, rhino and buffalo on the grassland biomass of the central moorland and lower salient areas will be studied. In addition, a herbarium set op at park headquarters will have the task of preserving and identifying all vegetation species within the park and reserve.
To increase ans spread tourist numbers, KWS is encouraging visitors to view the breathtaking scenery on the Aberdares moorland, home to rare flower species and Kenya’s most spectacular waterfalls. The emphasis is on ecofriendly activities such as camping, walking and fishing the park’s trout-filled rivers.
Access to the moorland from the salient has been secured with construction of a 55-km link road. In addition, all 400 km of the park and forest reserve’s roads have been improved for better communication and comfort.
Rhino Ark Fencing Project
The Rhino Ark, a charitable trust set up to establish the Aberdare Rhino Sanctuary, is in part responsible for the
thriving population of sixty black rhino that inhabits the park today. The trust is known for its well-publicized
fundraising events, particularly the annual Rhino Charge, an off-road car endurance event. In 1995, the Rhino Ark raised Kshs 9 million (US$ 163,000) for use on conservation projects. The Rhino Ark has contributed money to build a 370-km electric fence of KWS design around the Aberdare’s threatened rain forest. The fence will serve the dual purpose of protecting wildlife, especially rhino, and preventing crop raiding in the many firms bordering the park and forest reserve. About one-fifth of the fence has been completed so far.