10
Apr

Elite mountain firefighting team join forces to protect key mountain wildlife habitats.

The Joint Wildlife Protection Team is part of the mountain fire-fighting rapid response team that took part in the recent Lolldaiga fires, burning roughly 8,000 acres of grassland and cedar forest.

The fire burnt for several days, with over 500 people helping to beat out the fire and widen the fire breaks. There are three helicopters and a crop sprayer, as well as four water tanker trucks pouring water to wet the ground.

Fire is now one of the biggest threats to the mountain landscape and wildlife habitat.

Between February and April 2019, devastating fires raged on Mount Kenya National Park and over USD 400,000 was spent on firefighting efforts, alongside a nationwide campaign for donations, vehicles, aircraft and a network of volunteers.

Over 20,000 hectares of land was burnt, along with destruction of biodiversity including wildlife. Ecological effects continue to be felt with increased erosion and water runoff. Mount Kenya is home to approximately 2,500 African elephants, along with countless more that migrate annually to the green lush slopes of the mountain in the drier seasons, using the Mt Kenya Elephant Corridor. Numbers within the elephant populations in the Mountain Conservation Area consist of the Mt Kenya sub-population, estimated at 2,500 elephants by Vanleeuwe, in 2020, the Aberdares sub-population estimated at approx. 3,570 elephants by Vanleeuwe 2017 and a total of 8,021 elephants in the Laikipia-Samburu-Meru-Marsabit ecosystem.

With more unpredictable rains, the size, number, and severity of fires are becoming more regular and the current reactive fire-fighting is not enough. Only after the rains arrived did the situation downgrade.

Illegal activity on the mountain that leads to fires often includes clearing bamboo or forest for cannabis cultivation and honey harvesting. Local folk law around the mountain also suggests that the smoke from fires bring rain to the region. Intruders on the mountain making daily incursions up the mountain to graze livestock, lay water pipes, collect forest products or hunt for and cook bush meat often leaving fires unattended. Weather conditions, with longer drier and unpredictable rainfall patterns mean even the smallest of fires will rapidly turn into long lines of fire.
 
The Elite Firefighting teams (six teams of ten people) have been trained to cover both Mt Kenya and the Aberdares and are comprised of MKT, KWS, KFS, Rhino Ark and community members and employees of Kisima Farm who have helped a great deal in the past. 

Training by an organisation known as ‘Working on Fire’ was conducted in December 2019. Working on Fire provides management and firefighting training courses that enable governments, forestry operators and commercial landowners to protect, prevent and manage wild land and structural fires. Courses focus on instilling operational principles through theoretical and practical integration during the training.

The team were praised for their work by local partners:

“I wanted to write and thank you for your support fighting the fire on Lolldaiga last week.  First, I would like to say how wonderful the Mt Kenya trust team were on the ground, so calm and experienced, we learned a lot from them.” @batuk

This year, with support from the IUCN Save our Species, cofounded by the European Union the Joint Wildlife Protection Team, which has patrolled Mt Kenya since 2008.

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