By Jeremiah Chamakany
Baringo County is witnessing one of her most severe environmental disasters wrought by nature; and both humans and animals are at the receiving end. Ever since the onset of the long rains hitting the country at the first quarter of the year, Marigat in Baringo South constituency is turning into a real theatre in the climaxing duel of man verses Nature, registering massive losses in crop and disrupted social lives .
Several permanent and semi-permanent rivers feeding the Lake Baringo and Bogoria have continued witnessing an increase in the annual discharge, the result of frequent precipitation in the Tugen hills ;the Laikipia and the Aberdare ranges. Locals living around the Lake Baringo and Bogoria are bowing to the dictates of the water bodies claiming; and conquering new territories at each rising sun. Together with the surging shorelines, mosquitos bristle and breed in Billions while crocodiles and Hippos roam villages; declaring to all who is the master in the duel of man verses Nature.
Salabani Location in Baringo South and Loruk trading center in Baringo North have both been treated very harshly by the unwelcome acts of mother nature; and apart from human homes; many public amenities notably schools, cattle dips, dispensaries and trading centers are fast disappearing into the history of the Lake sediments where they will remain in total darkness; waiting to be discovered by the next generation of marine Archeologists.
Human beings in the affected regions have the ready option of fleeing to higher grounds, a vivid reminder of the Biblical Flood only that in the case of the Baringo floods, man is only trying to save himself and his Livestock; but not the Wildlife. The Ostrich, scientifically known as struthio camelus is believed to have roamed the plains of Baringo South when it was still the Morning of Life. For over a century or more; the flightless bird has lived and thrived among the people in the region; but that is not the case anymore.
The Largest bird on earth is possibly the biggest loser in the catastrophe that the mother nature is visiting to the region around the large water bodies .For the first time in the unfolding history of floods and the surging Lake within Baringo, the ostrich which is mainly a bird of the plains has been forced to live in the marshlands, and wade into the waters in search for food where it is frequently attacked; and eaten by the crocodiles.
‘’We have lost two ostriches to the crocodiles in the last two months’’ said Mr. Chelimo Kiplagat, the Principal of the submerged Salabani Secondary school where ten ostriches have been hosted for the last five years or more .The birds fled the Mathenge bushes .
The fast spreading Prosopis Julisflora could not allow the ostrich anymore free movement in their former natural habitats within Meisori,Loropil and Ildepe Villages. Mr.Chelimo reveals to this Magazine that the ostrich gate crashed into the Salabani secondary school compound, and was the unwelcome guest because students and teachers could easily skid over their dung and at the same time; the six male ostriches engage in frequent fights over the only two surviving females.
It later emerged that upon sighting the open school playing ground; the bird could not help coveting the field to turn it into her habitat. The bird eventually succeeded in claiming the school compound and has since remained part and parcel of the school community. To supplement their daily foraging activities before the closure of the school following the outbreak of COVID 19;the family of ostriches always look forward to feeding on food crumbs that remain from the students dining Hall but now; her tale of sorrows is not showing any sign of slowing down.
The Ostrich is now a Fugitive in her homeland. The surging lake has claimed more than half of the Salabani school compound; and the bird is now more than depressed, her beautiful wings drenched in water all day through.
‘’We have asked Kenya Wildlife services to step forward and find a home for this birds because Salabani Secondary school which provided a home for them; is fast disappearing into the Lake, possibly never again to host terrestrial life’’Mr. Limo told World Water while rescuing some files and other school records from his office now surrounded by water.
Ilchamus Ward Member of the County Assembly Joseph Ole Parsalach agreed to an Interview on the subject of the future of the Ostrich in Baringo South.Parsalach is overcome by emotion while discussing the suffering the bird is going through at present. The Member of the Baringo County Assembly cites Mathenge Tree as the original culprit; spelling doom to the bird which is not only mentioned in the Bible; but one which has also inspired songs and oral narratives among the Ilchamus people of Marigat since time immemorial.
‘’Destroy the Mathenge Tree and you save the Ostrich’’ Parsalach is very categorical, while stating that floods in Marigat and the surging Lakes are only lending a final blow to the Ostrich existence in the region, by claiming the last vestiges of survival within the frontiers of the now diminished ostrich habitat.
Parsalach dismisses as non -effective the much touted program to destroy the Mathenge Tree through charcoal burning. Instead; Parsalach is demanding a massive land reclamation exercise in the affected regions.
‘’Charcoal burners do not uproot the Mathenge tree as required. They leave the problem intact and the tree stump regenerates again; and the cycle of evil goes on and on..’’ Parsalach claims that through partnership with the Kerio Valley Development Authority, Hay farming within his Ilchamus Ward will put so much land into frequent use, and therefore deny room for the Mathenge Tree to flourish.
‘’Twenty acres of Hay grass translates to Twenty Acres of land Free of Prosopis Julis Flora’’ Parsalach observes.
William Kimosop, Tourism and Wildlife Sector Coordinator in the Northern Rift [Noreb] reveals that apart from the floods, the Baringo Ostrich has been forced out of her natural home by the spread of the Mathenge Tree,the Prosopis Julisflora ;and that it is too early to declare that the bird is facing a crisis of a monumental proportion within Baringo.
‘’Because of the Mathenge Tree within Marigat,the Ostrich has fled the Ilchamus Flats and moved to as far as Mugurin and Kamar in Mogotio Constituency,Loruk in Baringo North and even Kapkon within Kimalel of Baringo South’ Kimosop reveals to World Water during an interview. Kimosop explains that the ostrich is basically a bird of the plains, thriving more in the open fields where it can play and unleash her ground breaking speeds any moment the urge strikes.
Kimosop states that the ostrich breeding grounds in Baringo has been destroyed by Mathenge and the frequent floods; a fact collaborated by the Salabani village headman Joseph Parkolwa who intimated to this Magazine that one of the Ostriches hosted at Salabani secondary school had eighteen eggs in total, but only managed to hatch two chicks.
Kimosop adds that in the new habitats the ostrich has fled to; the largest bird on earth cannot be guaranteed of safety due to possible poaching, as in the case of Loyamorok Location in Tiaty Constituency where so many ostriches have met a brutal end even after fleeing the Mathenge Tree; and the annual floods.Area Senior Chief Robert Kanyekera has been forced to hold public barazas,and sensitize the locals on the importance of the Ostrich conservation; being a very important foreign exchange earner under the Tourism sector.
The Local administrator is using his barazas to tell his subjects not to harm or kill the ostrich mainly for feathers ;used in traditional dances; or the meat which is rumored to be an upcoming delicacy among the once conservative natives of Baringo.
They once revered the bird as sacred but now; globalization through the internet has informed many that the ostrich can be speared for food. Kimosop is however optimistic that the Baringo ostrich can be helped to revert back to her former glory ;only if the authorities concerned can eradicate, or minimize the spread of the Mathenge Tree within the Ilchamus Flats. Kimosop cites the bird’s significance to the prosperity of pastoral communities since the beginning of time..
‘’Ostrich and pastoral communities have lived together in harmony since time immemorial. The fastest bird on earth is a good watch dog against hyenas and the feral dogs preying on livestock’’ Kimosop reveals.
In a nutshell; human civilization in Baringo verses the uncompromising acts of nature leaves much to be desired about the fate of the Baringo ostrich ,pointing out that the bird is facing two big enemies ;the Mathenge Tree and too much water through the annual floods; and now the surging shore lines. The two phenomenon’s do occasion a change of habitat for the bird ;and may possibly spell doom and deal a final blow to the mighty Ostrich of Baringo.
The bird is a natural attraction that forces both local and foreign tourists to stop; and snap photo graphs while enroute to many other tourist attraction sites in the Northern Rift.
According to one Richard Chepchome from Baringo North,the Mathenge Tree was introduced to Baringo through the Food and Agriculture Program FAO, purposely to curb sheet erosion and provide forest cover through the Ilchamus Flats and Tugen Hills Program.
‘’I worked for Food and Agriculture Organization between 1983-1988,and had a chance to visit Australia and bench mark on how best the Mathenge Tree or Prosospis Julisflora ;could be utilized to stop sheet erosion and provide cover for the bare lands.
We introduced about thirteen Prosopis Julisflora Nurseries in Baringo North alone but now, I regret that the Mathenge Tree has done more harm than benefit especially to the people of Baringo South, where the tree flourished more than Baringo North where it was also introduced ‘’ Chepchome reveals adding that the tree has achieved the opposite of what was intended ,adversely affecting community lives; destroyed pasturelands and change the course of the rivers.
Chepchome is very supportive of any efforts to destroy Mathenge tree, an observation equally supported by Mr.Simon Choge, Assistant Regional Director ,RIFT Valley Eco-Region and Principal Research Scientist,KEFRI.
Speaking to World Water at his Marigat offices within Baringo South Constituency; Choge is in agreement that the Mathenge Tree has done more harm than good to the communities within Baringo South, and upset the way of life that run smooth before the introduction of the Mathenge tree. According to Choge, the Judicial order in one Kenyan Court to destroy Mathenge Tree through charcoal burning has proved unsuccessful due to the fact that Charcoal burning is a very sensitive undertaking; especially in a world where every policy is geared towards forest conservation; and not destruction .
‘’ We imported an insect from Latin America purposely to attack the Mathenge seeds. In the year 2007,KEFRI was ready to introduce the insect to Marigat in a mission to upset the Mathenge tree reproduction process, a very effective Biological Mechanism; but encountered resistance from the locals who feared that the insect may also eat up their crops‘ Choge reveals to World water adding that there is an urgent need to roll out a sensitization program; to help the affected communities understand why the tree must be eradicated in Marigat through Biological means.
He points out that the Mathenge weed is spreading at an alarming rate, and that the end result will be catastrophic to the environment. Choge however refuses to accuse Mathenge tree for being the culprit behind the flooding and the surging lakes within Marigat,an view he coincidentally shares with Walter Tanui,Water Resource Authority Manager in charge of Baringo Sub-Region.
‘’ No one exactly knows why there is so much flooding or rise in water levels in Baringo Lakes. Many unproven scientific theories are going round; one of them being siltation. Somewhere also in Loruk;an old man claims that the Lake Baringo is just out to reclaim the boundaries she ceded to the dry lands back in the year 1962,but that is not a fact. No researcher has conducted a study to reach to that conclusion. We still do not have any scientific explanation behind the increase in the volume of water in Lake Baringo or Bogoria. Global climatic changes have been advanced to explain the phenomenon, but we are still looking forward to getting factual information from the experts’’ Walter Tanui,WRA Manager in Baringo Sub region told the World Water in an interview.
In the face of this natural catastrophe, Baringo Deputy Governor Jacob Chepkwony who is also the Chairman of the County Disaster and Emergency Management Plan has send out an appeal to the National Government; and the International Community, appealing for a long lasting partnership in the effort to find a lasting solution to the problem of floods in Baringo ,and the new entrant in the list of the Natural disasters calling for urgent attention-to understand why the rise in water volumes in Lakes Baringo and Bogoria.
In this noble discussion, every effort and resource is geared towards saving human lives and livelihoods; but now emerges that the Baringo Ostrich has no Advocate in the case to demand justice against Forces that threaten her very survival. According to the University of Michigan Museum of Zoology, Ostrich once roamed all over Asia ,Africa and the Arabian Peninsula but have been poached extensively with only a few wild Ostriches remaining in Sub-Saharan Africa. Maybe it’s time to think seriously on how to conserve the Baringo Ostrich,Marigat Sub County is the only remaining Vestige of survival for the ostrich.