The African Wildlife Foundation has collaborated with key partners in Kenya to plant 25,000 trees for restoration of the critically important Mau Forest. You might not be fully aware of the Mau Forest’s significance, but after reading this you will. Firstly, it isn’t just the largest mountain forest in Kenya–it is the largest in all of Eastern Africa. In Kenya, it is also the largest water catchment area, meaning it is the habit that collects the most rainwater. The 675,000 acre forest catches so much rainwater it is the origin of a number of important Kenyan rivers. One of the rivers, the Mara, runs through the Maasai Mara National Reserve, which is Kenya’s most celebrated wildlife conservation area. This area is world famous, and its fame is well-deserved due to the concentration of wild animals such as lions, rhinos, leopards, cheetahs, giraffes, zebras, elephants, antelope, and wildebeests.
The Maasai Mara National Reserve covers over 500-square miles, and yet it is just the northernmost part of the Mara-Serengeti ecosystem, which covers nearly 10,000 square miles. Without rainwater collected first in the habitats of the Mau Forest, and then fed into the watershed, rivers such as the Mara would not get the water that is the lifeline for wild animals and people alike. It isn’t just the Mara, however, that is fed by the Mau Forest. Eleven other rivers also get their water from this critically important mountain habitat. Countless animals and millions of people depend upon water sources that originate in the Mau Forest. In fact, the United Nations Environment Program has called the Mau Forest, “the single most important watershed in the Rift Valley and western Kenya.” (Source: UNEP)
Rivers that flow from the Mau Forest water collection are very important for biodiversity on their own, but they also feed three lakes in Kenya, and one of them, Lake Victoria, is the largest lake in Africa by area. This single lake supports a tremendous amount of wildlife, and is home to Africa’s largest inland fishery. Lake Nakuru and Lake Natron are no less important. For example, Lake Nakuru National Park is the most visited park in Kenya, and generates fifteen percent of all tourism dollars in the country, due in large part to the huge populations of flamingos that feed there.
You might be wondering at this point, what all this information has to do with tree planting–but it is indeed very relevant. Due to various human activities, the size of the Mau Forest has been reduced by about a quarter of what it once was. This loss of trees and natural habitat could prove disastrous at some point, because when there are fewer trees, there is less rain, and therefore less water to drain into the rivers and lakes that feed all the animals and people who have no other water supply. Already some of Mau’s rivers have shifted from a perennial status to seasonal, due to decreased rainfall. Also a very severe drought there in recent years, is believed to be related to deforestation in the Mau Forest. Additionally, tropical soils are vulnerable to erosion and nutrient depletion – two effects which only degrade habitat even more, and are caused by deforestation.
Planting trees is an excellent way to restore the Mau Forest to its’ full ecological health, and capacity for supporting life. The African Wildlife Foundation partnered with the Interim Coordinating Secretariat, Kenya Wildlife Service, and Kenya Forest Service for the tree restoration project.
Image Credit: Land Coalition