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Wildfires wipe out millions of acres of vegetation of vast Tsavo National Park

By Weldon Kipkemoi | August 3rd 2020

A fire outbreak in a section of Tsavo National Park. Frequent wildfires have cleared the vegetation at the iconic park.  [Renson Nyamwezi, Standard]

Millions of acres of vegetation have been cleared after a fierce fire swept across vast ranches and Tsavo National Park in Taita-Taveta County.

The incident comes as concerns are being raised over the reoccurrence of fire outbreaks which continue to ravage the largest ecosystem in the country.

Last month, another fire destroyed thousands of acres of vegetation in the vast park as the wildlife conservation body remains mum over the issue that is going out of hand.

Wildlife and environmental conservationists are still battling the fire that is reported to have wiped out huge vegetation besides killing wildlife and livestock in the Tsavo ecosystem that is rich in ranching and tourism activities.

Tsavo Conservation Area (TCA) bore the brunt of the latest inferno that has destroyed vegetation in Tsavo West and Chyulu Hills National Parks in the region.

Chyulu Hills is the main source of water for the spectacular Mzima Springs that supplies water to thousands of residents in Coast and Eastern counties. The fire will impact negatively on the water supplies, noted environmentalists.

According to wildlife conservationists, the devastating and ecological effect caused by the fire whose police are still investigating is huge and unbearable.

The county security committee is still baffled with the fire incident that is spreading very fast.

Conservationists and tourism players told The Standard that the fire first started at Maungu and spread towards Lwalenyi Ranch and then to Maktau and Tsavo West National Park along the Mwatate-Taveta international road.

County Security Committee remained mum over the fire incident when contacted for comment. Mwatate Deputy County Commissioner Damaris Kimondo confirmed the fire incident but referred The Standard to the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) officials whose mobile phones went unanswered for the better part of the day.

“It is true that there is a huge fire that is sweeping across the park. KWS is better placed to comment over the fire incident which has not touched human settlement areas,” said the administrator.

County Conservator of Forests (KFS) Christopher Maina said the fire outbreak occurred at the Park.

“The park is not within our mandate. Contact KWS for details,” said the KFS boss.

Residents of Taita-Taveta trying to extinguish the fire at the Tsavo National Park. The park has been left in ruins following recent mysterious fire outbreaks. [Courtesy, Standard]

KWS Tsavo West Senior Warden Captain Ochieng’s mobile phone went unanswered for the better part of the day when reached for comment.

The chairman of the Kenya Association of Hotel Keepers and Caterers in Tsavo and Amboseli Willy Mwadilo said the fire started at Maungu areas along the Nairobi-Mombasa highway and spread to other parts of the county.

“The fire started along the busy highway and it could have been caused by cigarette smokers. It then spread from Maungu to Maktau about 60 kilometres away,” stated the official.

Mwadilo noted efforts by the ranch and conservationists to contain the huge blaze were thwarted by strong winds from Taita Hills and Mount Kilimanjaro region that spread flames rapidly to dry vegetation.

By Monday, the bush fire continued to rage across huge tracts of land within the park and local ranches bordering the Tsavo ecosystem.

“We are still battling out the fire that has consumed millions of acres in the Tsavo ecosystem that is rich in biodiversity conservation. Our efforts to put out the fire have been complicated by shortages of water,” said Mr Mwadilo who is also the Sarova Taita Hills and Salt Lick Lodges General Manager.

Possible causes

Speaking to The Standard at the scene, the hotel manager noted the fire is now spreading towards Salaita area in Taveta Sub County.

“The damage caused by the fire is huge and is threatening the survival of wildlife in Tsavo. Wildlife is now moving to human settlement areas for safety hence escalating the already persistent human-wildlife conflict,” noted Mwadilo.

At the same time, the official disclosed that another huge fire has occurred at Chyulu Hills National Park which has also consumed huge vegetation. Mwadilo said the fire outbreak could have been caused by honey gatherers.

A livestock farmer Mwandawiro Mbela said he has lost dozens of livestock as a result of the fire that occurred at Maktau location in Mwatate Sub County and spared to Kishushe Location in Taita Sub County.

He noted the fire could have been caused by unscrupulous people who have no business in ranching. “There are people who are resentful and they do not want to see others rear livestock in the existing ranches. I have relocated my livestock to safer areas in Kishushe ranch after the fire outbreak that killed my animals,” said Mbela.

The latest fire incident comes at a time when the county and national governments are still grappling with the frequent outbreaks in the region in the recent past.

Mwadilo noted the recurrent fires have impacted negatively on the environment and wildlife conservation efforts in the region and must stop.

On May this year, another inferno destroyed more than 4,000 acres of vegetation in Tsavo East National Park. A month later another fire wiped out more than 200 acres of vegetation at the vast conservation area.

Meanwhile, the Standard has established that the KWS and KFS have no equipment like MODIS Fire Information System at RCMRD to help detect and track fire outbreak in the vast Park.

With the ongoing dry spell season more fire is expected and therefore the KWS and KFS must use all the available resources to quickly detect and issue alerts n fire occurrence within the county, added conservationists.

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