Team seeks help to uproot harsh weed at Nairobi National Park

Friends of the Nairobi National Park uproot a dangerous weed commonly known as parthenium, that has invaded the park. [Peterson Githaiga, Standard]

The invasion of the Nairobi National Park and its environs by the ‘famine weed’ is threatening the lives of wildlife.

Scientifically known as Parthenium Hysterophorus, the weed has the ability to spread over several life cycles and displace indigenous plants, as it can reproduce by seeds.

The weed has short flowering periods and can colonise sites.

The ‘famine weed’ does well in semi-arid areas and those with warmer temperatures, besides spreading faster in degraded landscapes.

The invasive ‘famine weed’, native to Mexico and South America, was declared a noxious weed in Kenya in 2010, but has since spread to Uganda and Ethiopia. Though wild animals do not eat it, they may accidentally browse on it when it grows between spreads of grass. It also has negative implications for human health, as it causes allergies, skin irritation and asthma.

Besides wildlife in the Park, experts fear losing livestock to hunger if the weed spreads to surrounding areas where livestock graze. Besides having near zero economic value, the ‘famine weed’ not only shortens grazing land, but is unpalatable to livestock and it also taints meat and milk.

While some quarters claim ‘the famine weed’ has medicinal value, it cannot be equated to its negative effects, as it limits grazing area for wildlife, causes shortage of fodder and grass. The weed also produces substances that don’t allow other plants to grow. 

Elphas Bitok, a research scientist at the Kenya Wildlife Service told The Standard the ‘famine weed’ was a “big challenge, as it spreads faster during the rainy season.” “We are determined to eradicate the weed. However, our efforts would not be complete without our neighbours and friends,” he says, asking those who live next to the park to help eradicate the weed.

Some  ‘Friends of Nairobi National Park’ have started manual uprooting of the weed. They include Enviro Wild Initiative, where Caroline Kibii is an Environment Scientist and researcher. 

Ms Kibii says manual uprooting is the only way to eliminating the weed. “The weed is dispersed by wind, water, animals, vehicles, tools machinery and clothing,” she said. The activity is also aimed at creating learning opportunity for young people interested in environment issues.

Even though chemical control using herbicides is used in many parts of the world, Kibii says they are hardly ideal in parks “because they are natural habitats for wildlife, people and livestock.”

Kibii said ecosystem restoration addresses poverty and hunger besides reinstating biodiversity, and is one of the activities building up to the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration from 2021 to 2030.

“When it comes to landscape/ecosystem restoration it is vital to restore areas surrounding the target ecosystem,” says Kibii.  

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