Sitting at the base of Kerio Valley in Baringo County is the Lake Kamnarok Game Reserve, which once put Kenya on the world map due to its wide variety of animal and bird species.
Unknown to many, the reserve once renowned for having the largest animal concentration in Africa after Lake Chad — with more than 10,000 crocodiles, 400 elephants, 13 species of other mammals and a variety of rare birds — is on its deathbed.
Area residents say elephants converge annually at the breathtaking reserve, which also serves as their maternity ward.
The lake derives its name from the water lily, which is locally known as Norok. “Elephants are very intelligent animals.
“They even hold ceremonies to welcome newborns into their society just like humans,” Mr Joseph Kiptala, a Tugen elder, told the Nation during a tour of the lake last week.
The reserve used to be a major revenue earner for the defunct Baringo County Council, fetching more than Sh10 million per year from thousands of local and foreign visitors. But the continued encroachment by communities living in the reserve threatens to kill the fragile lake.
Wanton felling of trees for charcoal burning, farming and grazing have seen the lake almost dry up.
Most wild animals have either died or fled to the nearby Rimoi National Reserve in Elgeyo-Marakwet County, dealing a blow to the local tourism sector. The defunct Baringo County Council tried to evict the more than 3,000 people living in the park but they refused to move out, demanding alternative land.
Seven sub-locations in Baringo North Sub-county, namely, Muchukwo, Katibel, Keturwo, Konoo, Barwessa, Kaptilomwo and Kuikui fall inside the reserve.
There is some hope for the revival of the reserve after eight counties that form the North Rift Economic Bloc (Noreb) signed a climate change mitigation pact, which will lead to the conservation of the Kerio River ecosystem.
The Noreb project, dubbed Community Resilience in Kerio River Ecosystem, seeks to mitigate the increasing vulnerability of herders and farmers in Baringo, Elgeyo Marakwet and West Pokot counties to climate change through environmental conservation.
The UKAid-funded project will ensure member counties harmonise their laws and work on projects jointly to reverse climate change effects.
Noreb chief executive Dominic Biwott said the pact will ensure the region reverses the ravages of climate change and communities live harmoniously.
Dr Biwott said that drought severely affected the region this year, a phenomenon he linked to environmental degradation.
“Ploughing along rivers, destroying wetlands, charcoal burning and wanton cutting of trees along Kerio Valley has led to adverse effects on the environment. The agreement is the beginning of counties and communities taking care of their environment,” said Dr Biwott.
He told residents to avoid encroaching on water bodies like Lake Kamnarok, and cultivating along rivers, which is harmful to the area’s water sources.
“If we have to prosper as Noreb, we have no option but to conserve the environment. The pact calls for community involvement to make sure that the agreement becomes successful.
“We’ve to engage every community living along Kerio Valley to realise that it’s important to conserve the rich resources we have in the region,” he said.
The Baringo County government has partnered with Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) and allocated Sh10 million towards desilting Lake Kamnarok.
KWS warden Dickson Too said once revival efforts are complete, they will stock the 87.7 km2 park — which was gazetted in 1983 as a game reserve — with wildlife including elephants, rhinos, lions, and crocodiles.
“We will no longer negotiate with illegal settlers. Our officers will be there to restore order and ensure no further encroachment on the reserve,” Mr Too said.
Residents, on the other hand, want the county government and KWS to tell them how they will be resettled to pave way the for the lake’s revival.
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