Drive to restore degraded elephant maternity caves

There is a Drive to restore degraded elephant maternity caves in Mt Elgon, whereby environmentalists and security teams in Mt Elgon team have embarked on the rehabilitation of degraded elephant maternity caves in the region. Deep in Mt Elgon Forest are caves where elephants have turned into maternity wards. Elephants consider the caves a safe place to bring forth new ones because they are secure, have salt for them to lick and there is plenty of food in their neighbourhood. However, the sites are facing serious threats due to encroachment by illegal settlers for agricultural purposes and grazing, wanton harvesting of logs and poaching activities.

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“What we are witnessing is massive destruction, especially on riparian lands inside the forest where there are salt licks and soft food for the young elephants. The destruction of the ecosystem fuels climate change, threatening the survival of the forest, wildlife and maternity homes for the jumbos,” said Bungoma Gender Executive Moses Chebonyo.

Moses Chebonyo has teamed up with environmentalists and security teams in the region to restore the maternity homes through afforestation programmes with the aim of protecting the salt licks and providing a conducive environment for the elephants to breed. “Most streams and rivers originating from Mt Elgon Forest are drying up due to the destruction of water catchment areas. Uncontrolled grazing of livestock in the forest land and cultivation of riparian areas resulting in human-wildlife conflict, is evident. All the activities mentioned result in the disturbance of the elephants’ maternity homes and generally sustainability of wildlife.

Mt Elgon, is one of the country’s five water towers and is shared by Bungoma and Trans Nzoia counties, extending to neighbouring Uganda. “The five water towers — Cherangani, Mt Kenya, Mt Elgon, Mau Complex and the Aberdares — that are a lifeline for Kenyans are experiencing declining water volumes because of the prolonged drought and destruction of water catchments by human activities,” said Mr Richard Yabei, a Mt Elgon-based environmental expert.

Trans Nzoia has much bigger caves where elephants go to lick the minerals but wildlife freely crosses to the three regions in search of food and water. “Riparian areas have plenty of sticky-clay-swamp mud, which is essential for smearing over the bodies of the young ones to protect them from bites by insects such as tsetse flies, bees and safari ants. But these areas are being destroyed by illegal settlers who have encroached to cultivate food and graze livestock,” added Mr Chebonyo.

The degraded areas include Kaberwa, Labot, Kapkatany, Kaboiwao and parts of Chepkitale. According to Bungoma County police boss Francis Kooli, poachers from neighbouring Uganda invade parts of the forest to hunt wildlife along the common borders. “Poaching remains a challenge but we are working with other government departments including Kenya Wildlife Service and Kenya Forest Service to conserve the forest and maternity caves,” said Mr Kooli. “Human-wildlife conflict is still rampant. Encroachment of the forest poses a big threat to the survival of planted trees,” he added.

He disclosed plans to fence off the forest to protect it against encroachment and poaching activities. “There are several activities including sporting events and support from volunteers to raise funds to fence off the forest and embark on aggressive afforestation programmes,” added Mr. Kooli. Environmentalists have petitioned the government to enforce measures to save the forest from further destruction by illegal settlers, saw millers and poachers.

“We are alarmed by the high levels of degradation especially on the Mt Elgon and Cherang’any water towers,” said Joshua Kipyego from Kaptama. The European Union (EU) and the national government have launched a Sh42 million project to rehabilitate Mt Elgon and Cherangany water towers to mitigate climate change.

Timber merchants and corrupt KFS officers are part of a syndicate plundering the Mau Forest. The Mt Elgon forest cover in Bungoma and Trans Nzoia counties has been depleted by deforestation. Bodies were discovered piled up at a security gate that was closed preventing people from escaping the blaze. He had challenged his brother and business rival Sarbjit Singh Rai’s bid to manage the collapsed miller. Deposed, powerless and under house arrest, Bongo, 64, is now at the mercy of the military.

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