At the foot of the famous Aberdare Ranges lies Lake Ol Bolossat, which was discovered and named in 1883 by Scottish explorer Joseph Thompson.
The fresh water lake is home to hippos and more than 300 bird species. It has also been a source of water for River Ewaso Nyiro, which forms the Thompson Falls in Nyahururu, and for thousands of families in the northern part of Kenya.
Celebrations to mark World Wetlands Day, slated for February 2, are expected to be held at the lake.
However, massive shrinking of the water body has become evident over the years - mainly due to human activity.
And as the only lake in Mt Kenya region, the unwelcome threat of extinction is causing jitters among residents as well as tourism and environment stakeholders.
Lake Ol Bolossat’s problems have been blamed on the destruction of the Aberdare Forest and encroachment of land around the lake by local residents.
In the last one decade, Ol Bolossat has been losing water surface area - from about 10,000 hectares to 3,000 hectares.
The falling levels of the 43.3 square kilometres lake has worsened human-wildlife conflict as the hippos lose their habitat.
The lake, which is classified as an Important Bird Area, attracts tourists and researchers interested in migratory birds from as far as the Middle East and Europe.
But as it deteriorates, curio traders and hotels in the region have lost business as the number of visitors shrinks.
“Tourist numbers have reduced by half in the last three years,” says Joseph Kinyua, a hotel owner in Nyahururu town. “It is now risky to invest in tourism in this area.”
Forest destruction and encroachment have also led to the drying up of smaller rivers supplying it with water.
A report titled State of Water Catchments released by the National Environment Complaints Committee says the lake is battling challenges that include water abstraction, livestock overgrazing , human encroachment and siltation.
County Water and Environment Executive Simon Nganga has raised concerns over rate at which the forest cover is being lost. He said the forest had lost its indigenous trees as a result of human settlement.
“Unless we take the measures, the only lake in this region will dry up,” said Mr Nganga.
The executive has banned all human activity around the lake and wants the national government to gazette it to help the county’s efforts to conserve it. He ordered those who had planted eucalyptus trees near the lake to cut them down and settlers evicted.
“We are concerned no action has been taken to save the lake from drying up. We want it gazetted and the first thing we will do is start planting trees on the shores. We will also fence it,” he said.
Kenya Wildlife Service Senior Warden for Nyahururu Jacob Orahle said hippos had so far killed two people this month.
“However, we are working with the county government and other stakeholders to end the threat. We want to protect residents as well as the lake and wild animals. This lake is a major resource and we will work with all stakeholders to protect it,” he said.