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Conspiracy theories explaining causes of Tsavo Park fires

By Renson Mnyamwezi | August 3rd 2020 at 04:00:51 GMT +0300

Fire outbreak at part of the vast Tsavo National Park. [Renson Nyamwezi, Standard]

Bongosa Mcharo is a disturbed man. The chairperson of the Taita-Taveta Wildlife Conservancies Association (TTWCA) is concerned about the frequent wildfires that continue to consume thousands of acres of vegetation and threatening the survival of wildlife and water bodies in the vast Tsavo ecosystem and local ranches.

“Malicious people have been causing the wildfires that have badly affected wildlife conservation efforts in Tsavo ecosystem especially at this time of ravaging dry spell,” says Mcharo who is a prominent rancher and a conservationist.

“We are getting concerned about the frequent fires and something must be done to rectify the situation before it gets out of hand,” the distraught official noted.

Mcharo, however, denies claims from some quarters that Kenya Wildlife Service are to blame for the fires. Contrary to the claims, he says the conservation body is seriously concerned about environmental and wildlife conservation efforts.

“It is not true that KWS is causing the fires. The fire is being caused by malicious people,” he clarified.

Another rancher, Baltazary Ngati, blames KWS and herders for the repeated fires.

 “KWS should stop blaming residents for the fires. KWS and herders are responsible for the fires to control ticks,” claims the rancher in Maktau location.

“KWS sets the fire and it thereafter overwhelms them and gets out of control hence destroying property,” alleged Ngati on Monday.

He noted the fire destroyed property in Lualenyi, Mramba ranches.

“We even lost a ranger's post at Lumo Wildlife Sanctuary in Tsavo West National park and several community bomas,” he revealed.

An overhead shot showing a trail of destruction left behind by the fire outbreak in the Tsavo National Park. [Courtesy, Standard]

Briefing The Standard on the fire incidences, Ngati also blamed charcoal burners, poachers and farmers for the recurrent fire incidences.

“The problem we have in the conservation areas is that we do not have fire barriers to control the rapid spread of the fires,” noted Ngati.

Lumo Wildlife Sanctuary Manager Fred Tuva says the fire has driven out wildlife from the sanctuary to Tsavo West.

“Wildlife has disappeared in the sanctuary because of the fire outbreak. We anticipate the fire will also increase the already persistent human-wildlife conflict in the area,” says the official.

Tuva confirmed that unaccounted reptiles, tortoise and small game were killed by the wildfires.

Theories on outbreaks

Meanwhile, conspiracy theories abound on the cause of the fire. They range from a flaming cigarette butt dropped by a motorist on the Mombasa-Nairobi highway to arson by rival ranchers to an accident by honey gatherers using fire.

A fourth theory suggested the fire went out of control in a controlled effort by park authorities to wipe out ticks.

“We had spent the better part of last week battling the fire in vain. We were later joined by the management of Wildlife Works and Teita Sisal Estate among other bodies that provided a major boost in the fight against the wildfire,” said Willy Mwadilo, who is the Taita Hills and Salt Lick Lodges General Manager.

“The fire is an ecological disaster and the damage caused is very huge and devastating too,” said the official.

Mwadilo who is also the chairman of the Kenya Association of Hotel Keepers and Caterers in Tsavo and Amboseli told The Standard that various wildlife conservation bodies and private organisations joined the efforts to contain the wildfires that have consumed hundreds of thousands of acres of vegetation at the vast Tsavo National Park and local ranches.

He said the teams battled the fires with water hoses and fire beaters but were often beaten back by strong winds originating from Taita Hills and Mount Kilimanjaro region.

 According to the conservationists, the fire has so far destroyed vegetation in Voi and Mwatate Sub Counties.

The new fires come less than two months after the last major outbreak in June within the Tsavo ecosystem as concerns are being raised over the frequent infernos the larges wildlife ecosystem in the country.

Earlier, KWS Tsavo Conservation Area (TCA) Assistant Director Robber Njue and Kenya Forest Service (KFS) County Conservator of Forests Christopher Maina claimed local villagers lit the fire.

“The fires could have been caused by local farmers who are currently preparing their farms in anticipation of the rains,” said Njue, but a conservationist who asked not to be named claimed KWS lit the fire to eliminate ticks.

 “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,” said the conservationist.

A livestock farmer Mwandawiro Mbela said he has lost dozens of livestock in Maktau location in Mwatate Sub County and noted that the fires, suspiciously spared ranches in Kishushe sparking fears of arson by jealous people.

KWS Speaks

KWS confirmed in one of its official posts on social media that there were three sets of fire that had broken out last Wednesday rendering visibility to almost nil in some areas.

 KWS went on to state that huge fireballs also broke out in an area known as Kikunduku within Chyulu National Park at around 7.30 pm last Wednesday.

 Mwadilo said he had not heard of reports of wildlife fleeing into human settlements or the destruction of heritage sites but warned the fires will threaten revival of tourism and game safaris in these parts.

''Even the World War 1 historical sites that straddle parts of Tsavo West in Taita Taveta have not been affected by the fires that were contained by joint teams from conservation groups and local community rangers,'' he said.

 The Tsavos have witnessed a number of fires in the recent past with KWS confirming that last May, fire razed down hundreds of acres of bushland before it was put out.

 Tsavo conservation area is the third-largest in the world and boasts of among others the African elephants, rhino, buffalo, lion, leopard, hippos, crocodiles, gerenuk, waterbuck, lesser kudu and thousands of birds.

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.

 In 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 conservatory.

 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.

Taita Taveta County KWS Wildfires Tsavo Conservation Area Tsavo National Park
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