Bordering the Borana and Lewa Wildlife Conservancies, the Ngare Ndare Forest is a unique place comprised of more than 5,500 hectares of indigenous forest in the northern foothills of Mount Kenya. Azure-blue pools ripple beneath the canopies of towering centuries-old trees, whilst candelabra plants border the tracksides, their golden buds shining like beacons through the dense fog. The familiar Big Five (lions, leopards, buffalo, rhinos and elephants) all wander this landscape, but here they are also joined by less-familiar creatures, from bushpigs and bushbucks, to colobus monkeys. It is this distinctiveness that has seen the Forest be recognised by UNESCO as part of the wider Mount Kenya World Heritage Site, a connected landscape that facilitates the movements of animals – particularly elephants – from northern Kenya to Mount Kenya itself.
Despite this formal recognition, threats still abound. Agricultural expansion on the Forest’s southern border from the 1980s onwards caused a rise in conflicts between elephants and people, whilst conflicts between humans and other species, poaching, forest fires, overgrazing, droughts and ongoing human encroachment continue to be concerns. Established in 2004, the Ngare Ndare Forest Trust (NNFT) is a public charitable trust, comprised largely of community-based organisations, with the goal of protecting the Forest and its wildlife and people.
Elephant-proof fencing erected on the southern boundary in the early 90s has largely prevented these intelligent behemoths from moving out of the Forest to take advantage of the “all-you-can-eat buffets” in neighbouring farms, whilst the construction of an underpass has enabled them to continue following their ancient migratory routes despite the Nanyuki-Meru Highway. Human-elephant-conflict issues do still occur and the NNFT employs a 28-strong team of rangers who tirelessly patrol this area to keep the Forest and its inhabitants safe, risking their lives to prevent poaching and support law-enforcement efforts.
Collecting data is an integral part of these patrols, through which trends in species population numbers, wildlife behaviour, illegal activities and Human-Wildlife Conflict (HWC) can be determined. Monitoring software known as SMART (Spatial Monitoring And Reporting Tools) can enhance the collection of these data by showing management the patrol efforts over time, the areas most susceptible to HWC, as well as locations of animal movements, mortalities, and even births.
Patrols are particularly important to protect one Critically Endangered animal that is now increasingly calling the Forest home: the Eastern black rhino. The Forest, in combination with the wider Lewa-Borana Landscape, is home to a key population of these rhinos, with frequent births of new calves.
Keeping these rhinos safe means that the team must remain fit, collaborative, comfortable and vigilant, and that is where your incredible fundraising efforts have been essential. A grant of more than US $2,500 raised through the ForRangers Ultra has gone towards the provision of sports gear for the entire team, including t-shirts, tracksuits and a pair of trainers each. This equipment has bolstered the team’s fitness and teamwork, enabling them to participate in regular physical exercise including football and volleyball. On World Ranger Day last year, the team also participated in a tree-planting and sports event together.
Another $1,850 provided the team with cozy camping gear, including bed rolls and sleeping bags - necessities during deployments in remote areas. A further investment meant the team could receive durable and reliable lighting equipment, such as spotlights and a portable solar panel. The panel has given the team members the opportunity to charge their phones and other devices, keeping them in contact with each other, with loved ones and with the outside world throughout field operations.
Such new equipment has also come in handy when dealing with elephants. The spotlights have aided the team’s efforts to ward off elephants from the southern boundary, keeping themselves and the surrounding farms safe from the eles and their stomachs.
Change will not happen overnight, but the provision of simple, yet effective, equipment like this goes a long way towards improving the lives of the rangers who work day-in-day-out to protect this remarkable place. Much progress has been made (the elephant fencing and corridors being testament to that) but the Ngare Ndare Forest continues to be threatened by human activity. It is the activities of these rangers that mean it has a future, and their work is only made possible by donors such as you. Thank you.