Tour guides, porters combine efforts to reverse endangered Mt Kenya ecosystem
By Caroline Chebet
| August 9th 2021
A pair of damselflies flirtatiously drifts between a blade of grass and the flowing water from River Burguret in Mt Kenya, creating a magnificent synchronised dance.
However, the sight of the ‘river dance’ performed by these damselflies, known as Kenya Jewel, is becoming rare.
The damselflies are listed as Critically Endangered by the International Union of Conservation and Nature.
But porters and tour guides, who were helping the visitors to climb Mt Kenya in 1999, formed a conservation group targeting to reverse the trend. They named their group Mt Kenya Biodiversity Conservation Group.
“We realised that the damselflies were becoming rare. Abbott’s Sterling, a bird species only found in Mt Kenya and Aberdares, and mountain bongos were also disappearing. That is why we formed a conservation group to work with authorities to raise awareness,” said Gerald Waita, a member who doubles up as a tour guide.
The group currently operates within Mt Kenya Eco Resource Centre and Abbot’s Camping Ground in Naro-Moru, at the base of Mt Kenya and a kilometre away from River Burguret.
The expansive eco-resource centre was constructed in 2006 through funding from the Global Environment Facility by Nature Kenya and is managed by the community.
It hosts a library where learners can access materials on the conservation of Mt Kenya, a conference hall and curio shop.
The centre was established to encourage and appreciate the importance of the Mt Kenya ecosystem and offer an integrated educational programme.
“The learners visit the centre to learn about endangered species in Mt Kenya and what makes it unique. They learn about conservation and why there is need to conserve Mt Kenya,” said Alex Karuri, the secretary of Mt Kenya Biodiversity Conservation Group.
Every month, learners from four schools visit the resource centre.
Noticeable paintings on almost every part of the wall within the expansive building are part of the learning materials.
It also links communities to tourism in the Mt Kenya region and offers information about the critical ecosystem to learners, researchers and communities within the region.
The officers at the centre conduct training in schools and churches on the importance of conservation.
“The aim is to have the community learn why it is critical to conserve these forests through outreach programmes,” said Martin Kiama, a community liaison officer of Nature Kenya. He noted that the local communities also learn the kind of activities they can engage in to benefit from the forests.
At the centre, learners access information, including that of Kenya Jewel, that is only found in Aboni river in Aberdare, Burget and Thego rivers in Mt Kenya.
Kiama said apart from climate change, challenges as a result of the destruction of the forests within Mt Kenya have already been felt.
Logging, illegal charcoal burning, forest fires and the use of pesticides are a threat to the survival of damselfly. “We aim to let the learners know the challenges stemming from activities that can be avoided. Whenever these damselflies disappear, it is an indicator that all is not well,” Karuri said.
While Abbott’s Sterling, a bird species which was once common in Mt Kenya, Taita hills and Aberdare forests, is also facing extinction, the community says efforts to conserve Mt Kenya forests through raising awareness is slowly bearing fruit.
Waita said community tour guides have also been trained to identify different bird species so that they guide the birders and visitors in Mt Kenya forests.
“The campsite within the resource centre is named after the bird species as a way of raising awareness on its conservation,” Waita said.
Within the Eco-resource centre, the community is also tapping into camping through the hiring of tents for campers and showcasing their curios.
Learners and researchers can also find information about the critically endangered mountain bongos that once roamed Mt Kenya forests. Less than 100 are remaining.
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