A project born by conservation enthusiasts some 21 years ago, when in fact this correspondent still lived in Kenya, has come full circle when the final poles were set last week to complete the fencing of the Aberdare National Park. It was Ken Kuhle’s Rhino Ark that started the project in the late 1980s, when funds were raised to begin fencing sensitive sections of the park to avoid wildlife straying into the neighboring farms, while at the same time preventing poachers from entering the park to go after their bloody business of killing animals for trophies.
In the “olden days,” elephant and other game used to migrate from the Aberdare Mountains towards Mt. Kenya and into the Rift Valley, but the population pressure of modern day Kenya has made migration all but impossible in those parts of the country, as farms and homesteads have now spread around the park, cutting it off from other areas where game is found.
The fencing project, now valued at nearly 900 million Kenya shillings, started in a humble way, with Kenya’s “rhino man,” the late Michael Werikhe, walking across the country to assist the Rhino Ark in raising funds. While pursuing the fencing of the park, the conservation group also engaged in tree-planting campaigns to restore the edges of the forest and mitigate former encroachment, a remarkable achievement compared to the sad saga of the Mau Forest, which, courtesy of politicians, suffered near irreversible damage over the past decades, causing severe water shortages due to the impact of indiscriminate tree felling in one of Kenya’s key water catchment areas. A ray of hope emerged at the formal completion ceremony when the responsible minister said that the staff involved in the Aberdare project would soon be transferred to the Mau Forest to begin re-forestation work there, too.
The Aberdare National Park is home to the globally-renowned Tree Tops, where Queen Elizabeth II spent that fateful night when her late father passed on and she became Queen while on safari in Kenya. The current Tree Tops has since changed locations and has been completely rebuilt.
Current project chairman Colin Church gave the clearest indication yet at the ceremony that the group would now turn its sight on other equally-challenging projects and continue to support wildlife and nature conservation in Kenya.
Those that are making the Aberdare project a reality, unlikely as it seemed two decades ago when the idea was born, are the board and staff of the Rhino Ark; the Kenyan, a regional and international conservation fraternity that has contributed and raised over three quarters of a billion Kenya Shillings; and the Kenyan government which availed resources (over a hundred million Kenya shillings) and provided its official support to the project, often in the face of opposition by local residents.