If one went into the Baawa part of Kirisia forest in Samburu, on would be tempted to think they are in paradise. Hardly five minutes into the forest, we encountered a herd of elephants (one is barely visible in the photo below). We were told that had we stayed longer into the evening and waited for the herders to leave with their animals, the elephants would have moved closer. We would also have seen buffaloes, and, if we were lucky, leopards. Earlier on a member of the community group we had been meeting with excitedly described the forest as paradise. I could see he had not exaggerated.
But we could see that this paradise might not last.
As we left, hundreds of domestic animals (sheep, goats and cattle) were leaving the forest. The Samburu have traditionally depended on the forest for grazing. But the herds have multiplied and the population has grown exerting a lot of pressure on the forest. The Kenya Forest Service is currently not charging any fee for grazing, unlike in other forests in Kenya, for instance in the Aberdares where communities there have been forced to reduce their cattle and collect grass for zero grazing instead of letting the animals into the forest.
Nevertheless, Baawa seems to be one of the most intact parts of Kirisia forest. In other areas such as Ngari and Tamioi the forest is very degraded. In the 1980’s, a forest fire destroyed large parts of the Kirisia. The area was not closed to grazing and was not allowed to regenerate. There has also been illegal poaching of the African Pencil Cedar, the dominant species in this forest, for charcoal. The KFS reported spending a lot of time and resources to contain the destruction.
Now, communities surrounding this forest have organised themselves and are in the process of forming a CFA to help in management and conservation of the forest. Hopefully this will go some way in keeping this paradise alive.