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Kerio Valley’s ‘crocodile lake’ on verge of extinction

By Yvonne Chepkwony | May 8th 2021
Three elephants got stuck at Lake Kamnarok National Game reserve in Baringo North on April 1, 2019. [Kipsang Joseph, Standard]

A lake in Kerio Valley that had been a major tourist attraction could soon be extinct.

Lake Kamnarok Game Reserve in Baringo County that was once home to more than 10,000 crocodiles, 400 elephants and 13 species of other mammals has shrunk, and is now a pale shadow of its former self.

The 247-acre reserve that comprises the lake has drastically reduced and part of it is now a human settlement.

A visit to the reserve showed there were no crocodiles, elephants or zebras but only livestock grazing in the field that used to be part of the lake.

The lake has diminished due to siltation. Human activities such as illegal logging have had a major impact on the reserve.

During the visit, smoke billowed from the reserve, signifying a booming charcoal burning business.

From a distance, one can hardly notice the lake, which is now covered with acres of hyacinth. One can easily mistake it for a farm.

The new occupants of the land have constructed structures on the shores of the remaining part of the lake.

Some sections of the lake have been fenced off by land speculators who now claim it is their land. Kiprop Cheptur, a resident who has seen the seasonal lake recede and later increase, said this time around “it is gone”.

“We have lost one of the key resources in our homeland. There are no more crocodiles,” said Cheptur, 53, who noted he didn’t understand why people had encroached on the lake.

Lake Kamnarok, which was once the home to over 10, 000 crocodiles, is choked by hyacinth. [Courtesy]

“I remember there was a time this place was a forest. Now there are houses everywhere. We have lost the pride we once owned. Where will my grand- and great children see elephants, crocodiles and other wild animals, which were found within the reserve?” he asked as he wiped sweat dripping from his forehead.

He said the county government had a big role to play and should intervene.

Wild animals

Cheptur recalled way back in the 1980s when the lake was full of wild animals. He used to graze his father’s livestock but was cautious of wild animals.

A few kilometres away, we came across Richard, who only gave one name for fear of being victimised by fellow residents.

He was busy gathering goat droppings from his kraal, which he said he would use as fertiliser on his farm.

Richard said as much as the local chief and the wildlife officers try to prevent people from encroaching on the reserve land, sometimes it is difficult because of hostility among residents.

He said most people from Chemoe, Kolowa, and Ny’ingach were displaced by bandits and decided to settle in an area that is now considered “no man’s land”.

They own guns, which according to Richard, is a threat to local administrators and security agencies who would have wanted to enforce the law.

He said cartels had benefited by extorting money from the settlers who believe that they have genuinely acquired land for settlement.

“Poachers have also taken advantage of the situation and are killing wildlife for trophies. The poachers are armed, and no one would wish to approach them,” he says.

The situation has been made worse by the emergence of sand harvesters targeting river banks.

Farmer tilling land near Lake Kamnarok Game Reserve. [Courtesy]

Richard Chepkonga, the secretary of Kamnarok Farmers Association, said disputes on some of the issues about Kamnarok reserve were yet to be resolved.

Mr Chepkonga said he had advised the people to keep off the reserve and continue with their farming activities on their legal parcels of land.

He, however, questioned the reasoning behind the decision by the national and county governments to build four schools within the area that is believed to be part of the reserve.

Cool vegetation

Kamnarok reserve is on one side of River Kerio. On the other side is Rimoi reserve which is green, with fresh air, a variety of trees, and cool vegetation with wild animals roaming around.

We met Andrew Kiplagat, who was watching warthogs and baboons, but said other animals like zebras, giraffes, gazelles and elephants were deep inside the reserve.

Peter Lekeren, Baringo County Kenya Wildlife Service senior warden, said there were about 800 families in Kamnarok reserve by 1983, according to a task force report of 2014. But currently, the number had shot to 3,000 settlers.

Mr Lekeren said the ecosystem, which covers South Turkana, Rimoi and Kamnarok, had a population of about 600 elephants during the last census done in 2014. He said the number of wildlife might have declined due to human activities taking place within the reserve.

He said the reserve could only be saved by evicting illegal settlers.

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