KWS rallies locals to protect Nakuru ecosystems

Thursday, February 22nd, 2024 00:08 | By
A Kenya Wildlife Service officer on Lake Nakuru. PHOTO/Print
A Kenya Wildlife Service officer on Lake Nakuru. PHOTO/Print

As the countdown to World Wildlife Day celebrations enters the homestretch, the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) has rolled out an ambitious initiative to create awareness on communities’ role in conservation of lakes and rivers in Nakuru county, as more than 70 per cent of their ecosystems lie outside protected areas.

KWS has indicated that educating communities residing in water catchment areas, near the lakes’ shores and along the rivers’ courses on the value of natural resources would motivate Kenyans to act and ask national and county governments to enforce environmental laws and do their part in conservation.

Nakuru KWS County Warden Cheruiyot Chepkwony said the move was motivated by various scientific findings that have identified Lakes Nakuru, Naivasha, and Elementaita as the country’s leading wetlands currently facing major challenges.

According to Chepkwony, the three lakes which have been declared United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) World Heritage Sites are reeling under massive pollution, human encroachment, abstraction and climate change.

Other natural resources exposed to similar threats, according to the County Warden, include Rivers Njoro, Makalia, and Enderit that drain into Lake Nakuru, the rivers Malewa and Gilgil; the seasonal Karati river, which flows into Lake Naivasha; and rivers Mereroni, Mbaruk and Kariandusi, which stream into Lake Elementaita.

KWS has also identified population pressure coupled with changes in land use as perils facing nearly all the wetlands in the devolved unit.

Lake Naivasha is saddled with pollution and water abstraction from nearby farms, while effluent from River Njoro, industrial runoff and plastic waste are finding their way into Lake Nakuru.

On the other hand, Lake Elementaita is threatened by pollution and encroachment by major tourism facilities.

“Our human life is dependent on nature, and we have embarked on teaching the community, industrialists, hoteliers and learners from the primary school level that abusing it is digging a grave for ourselves,” said Chepkwony.

The County Warden added that the campaign, while incorporating clean-up exercises of the natural ecosystems around the water bodies’ basins and catchment areas, is also creating awareness among indigenous communities to at least know the economic value of nature as a motivation to consciously use natural resources sustainably.

The initiative that is being carried out through public barazas and lectures in educational institutions incorporates pollution prevention and sustainable consumption behaviour guidance, aimed at shaping community perceptions of the dangers of environmental degradation pollution and available solutions, thereby empowering more people to act responsibly.

“For instance, we are training the community members to do their part by reducing our use of single-use plastics, recycling and supporting businesses that prioritise environmental sustainability,” explained the warden.

In implementing the drive, KWS has brought on board several stakeholders.
The initiative will also rope in industrial concerns; retailers and manufacturers, as Chepkwony stated, also have a crucial role to play in this effort, adding that business operations should be cognisant of the fact that their operations contribute to this problem and take steps to reduce pollution of the Lakes’ ecosystems.

He said they were working with the county government and authorised waste management agencies to address poorly handled domestic waste and oil residues from car wash facilities that ultimately end up in the water bodies.

At public barazas, the initiative aims at promoting proper agronomical practices among both small-holder and large-scale farmers by promoting minimal use of fertilisers and pesticides in agriculture and landscaping to prevent nutrient and chemical runoff into the lakes and replace chemical fertilisers and pesticides with sustainable methods like organic farming.

It is also encouraging proper disposal of household chemicals, pharmaceuticals, and hazardous materials to prevent them from finding their way into water bodies.

Chepkwony said World Wildlife Day, which will be marked on March 3, 2024, was an opportunity to celebrate Kenya’s many beautiful and varied forms of wild fauna and flora and to raise awareness of the multitude of benefits that their conservation provides to people.

The event, whose theme will be ‘Connecting People and Planet: Exploring Digital Innovation in Wildlife Conservation’, was first celebrated in 1945.

Lake Nakuru is home to over 450 bird species, including flamingos that famously form a pink ribbon around the lake shore, attracting thousands of visitors to Nakuru County annually.

Over the years, thousands of flamingos in the lake have migrated to other lakes, including Lake Bogoria in Baringo county and Lake Natron in Tanzania.

Chepkwony affirmed that industrial pollution by the nearby Mwariki sewerage treatment plant and through the rivers that feed into the lake must be stopped to save the renowned lake.

He expressed regret that a cocktail of raw sewage and solid waste from Nakuru City industries and its suburbs, which mostly contains toxins and heavy metals, is washed down into the lake.

“The raw sewage from Nakuru City and residential areas ends up flowing into the lake. The problem is made worse by the discharge of industrial waste, mostly chemicals generated by factories within Nakuru City,” noted the county warden.

He further stated that at least 30 to 40 tonnes of single-use plastic containers find their way into Lake Nakuru National Park every rainy season, posing danger to the wildlife and being a threat to one of Kenya’s most visited parks.

The conservationist observed that the single-use plastic waste is generated from the County’s urban centres and residential estates before being swept into lakes through storm water and rivers.

“Single-use plastic bottles are now a major cause of pollution and reduce habitat. We have come across animals entangled with these bottles. If ingested by wildlife, they end up dying and pulling back our efforts on conservation,” he lamented.

Laboratory analysis sponsored by government agencies, educational institutions, and researchers have confirmed that a significant proportion of the plastic containers retrieved from waterways contained chemical traces, which in turn endanger marine life and wild animals.

The County Warden indicated that human activities in the catchment, such as quarrying, deforestation, road construction, and poor cultivation practices, among others, have contributed to increased sediments deposited into the lake.

He expresses worry that wildlife could be quenching their thirst with contaminated water.

“Wild animals may be feeding on contaminated food and water. If this pollution is not stopped, we risk losing the heritage site. There is a need for an upscale of waste water management as well as industrial discharge to ensure only quality water enters the lake.”

In April 2021, dozens of the flamingos that inhabit the Rift Valley saltwater lake died of a disease believed to be caused by industrial pollution.

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