Several national parks and reserves are reeling from water shortages as wild animals struggle to stay alive in the midst of biting drought, occasioned by four failed rainy seasons in Kenya.
However, the story is quite different for conservationists in Eburu area, Naivasha sub-county, who are tapping and condensing geysers - popular as hot springs - to provide animals with drinking water.
The innovation here is part of a long-standing tradition practised by communities living around Mt Eburu Forest for decades.
The dense Eburu Forest, which is also referred to as the ‘forest of steam’, covers 8,715 hectares and forms part of the Mau Forest Complex. Here, steam jets shoot from fissures on the ground. However, water sources in the area are very few to none.
“There is no river or well within the forest. The nearest source of water is Lake Naivasha, which is several kilometres away from the forest,” says Joseph Mutongu an official at the Rhino Ark charitable trust.
Mutongu says it is impossible to sink boreholes in the area due to high geothermal energy being emitted from the earth.
“Digging wells is not a solution here because the volcanic soils are loose and the wells collapse very quickly,” says Mutongu.
While Eburu Forest prides itself in hosting many wild animals, including the critically-endangered mountain bongo, the absence of a water source means the animals are constantly at risk of dehydration.
This, Mr Mutongu says, is what pushed them to use the geysers to generate water for animals in the forest, which include antelopes, gazelles, buffaloes and giraffes.
To exploit these steam jets, the conservationists dig the ground to a depth of five feet and then fix a pipe inside narrow vents through which the steam is tapped using a metallic pipe.
On the surface, the metallic pipe is attached to an aluminium drum which acts as a condenser by collecting hot water, which flows into a water trough which animals drink from.
“The water point is fed by a steam jet and is designed to accommodate large mammals, as well as small animals and birds,” says Mutongu.
He notes that the project is part of a strategy to secure the wildlife corridor between Eburu Forest and the Lake Naivasha ecosystem.
With the water point at a strategic location, wild animals are confined to the forest, thus reducing wildlife migration to the lake shores and the riparian ranches.
“We realised wild animals are travelling over 10 kilometres from Eburu forest to Lake Naivasha to get water, which is far and hilly, so we opted to construct this,” says Mr Mutongu.
He notes that many wild animals have been killed and others injured by speeding vehicles while crossing the Moi North Lake Road, which was recently upgraded to bitumen standards.
“This water point has helped to keep wild animals alive. Instead of them going all the way to Lake Naivasha, they can quench their thirst on this side of the ecosystem,” he says.
Adjacent to the forest is Eburu village, where residents also condense geothermal steam into clean water for drinking and domestic use.
John Mboche, a resident, says initially, they consumed water from Lake Naivasha but due to heavy pollution by neighbouring flower farms, they resorted to the age-old method of condensing steam to fresh water.
Esther Nyambura, also a resident says the condensed water is clean and safe for use.
“This is a treasure and heritage to us. Although it takes time to fill a drum, it is better than drinking contaminated water from the lake. We only use it (lake water) for watering animals and crops on the farms during the dry season,” says Nyambura.
Since only a few locations in the area have enough steam to be tapped, villagers harvest steam from a five-acre communal land near the forest. For one to be allowed to tap steam from the communal land, community leaders first have to approve. Those who do not own a steam jet are forced to part with Sh10 for a 20-litre jerry can of water.
Residents hail efforts by the Rhino Ark organisation to conserve Eburu forest, which cost over Sh100 million to secure and fence off the 43.3 kilometre-long forest reserve boundary.
Lydia Nyota, a resident, says before Rhino Ark stepped in to reclaim the area, there was a drastic decrease in the amount of steam being generated from geysers. She says the reduction was caused by the destruction of Eburu Forest as people cut down trees to burn charcoal.
Nyota says another plus of consuming the condensed water is having healthy teeth and skin, unlike residents living around Lake Naivasha who suffer from discoloured teeth and skin problems due to high fluoride levels in their water.