Inside Ngare Ndare forest where world's endangered, oldest trees flourish

Security officials inspecting a lorry impounded while ferrying over 2,000 cedar tree poles worth Sh600,000 at Rotian in Narok North in June in June 2017. [File, Standard]

He added: "Red cedar trees, scientifically known as Juniperus procera, are not merely botanical wonders. These majestic trees play a vital role in maintaining biodiversity by providing habitats for numerous wildlife species. Their preservation is paramount to safeguarding our ecosystems."

In 2017, reports indicated that 173 red cedar trees had been destroyed in Mt Kenya ecosystems, particularly in Kabaru and Gathiuru II. That number has increased despite the active moratorium against logging.

At least 433 hectares of red cedar trees at Kabaru had been destroyed and logs left on the ground to rot. The illegal activity took place right under the noses of KFS officers stationed in the forest to man the cedar plantations.

The forest station's manager said there was no record that a license had been issued to sanction the removal of the trees. A register where KFS officers were supposed to record occurrences such as the total number of felled trees was missing.

A task force headed by Green Belt was then set up to look into the forest destruction and proposed a total ban on trade in cedar products and logging of cedar trees on public, private and community land.

Red cedar is classified as indigenous and is among the trees that are illegal to cut down. Those found guilty are liable to fines in excess of Sh200,000, two years in prison, or both.

Vegetation for concealment

Another tactic being used to evade detection is cutting the trees in a random pattern and using vegetation for concealment. The only other visible sign of human activity is fresh tyre marks deep in the forest.

Questions, therefore, abounded on how the logs were finding their way out of the heavily guarded plantation.

Agriculture Director, Africa at the Nature Conservancy Michael Misiko said "Beyond their ecological significance, red cedar trees hold immense cultural and economic value. Indigenous communities have relied on them for generations, crafting essential items and preserving their heritage. Ensuring sustainable management of red cedar resources is crucial, striking a balance between human needs and nature."

He added: "In the face of climate change, red cedar trees stand resilient, adapting to shifting environmental conditions. Studying their adaptive mechanisms provides valuable insights into enhancing the resilience of other tree species."

However, Ngare Ndare forest rangers are drawn from six neighbouring communities, dedicated to ensuring the safety of both its diverse wildlife and precious red cedar trees.

Ngare Ndare forest is not merely a protected land the Communities benefit from ecotourism activities, such as guided forest walks, ensuring the forest's upkeep while providing economic opportunities.