Conservation spotlight on Eburru Rafiki
For the month of March, we wanted to highlight the important work of Eburru Rafiki, a community driven initiative working to protect a biologically-rich, remnant patch of highland forest located on the mountainous slopes and peaks of Mount Eburru near to Governors’ Loldia House in the Great Rift Valley. The small area was once part of a much larger forest complex (the Mau Forest) which sadly has been severely degraded over the past few decades due to logging, charcoal production and conversion to arable land. It is estimated that over 100,000 hectares of the Mau Forest has been lost since 2000.
Eburru Forest – photo credit Eburru Rafiki
The Mara River, which is such an iconic feature of the Masai Mara ecosystem, is being negatively affected by these upstream changes. Our four Mara camps are situated on the banks of this river and each year we witness the increasingly dramatic fluctuations of the water levels from heavy flooding in the rainy season to barely a trickle in the drier months. This is due to the simple fact that there are no longer the same number of trees protecting the water catchment areas as there used to be. Healthy forests soak up rainwater like giant sponges, releasing the water gradually into the water table so that rivers such as the Mara should continue to flow steadily throughout the year and not only for short periods of time during certain seasons.
The Mau-Eburru forest complex is Kenya’s largest water tower, providing life-giving water to millions of people. In order to protect our planet’s biodiversity, urgent action needs to be taken. We all rely on healthy functioning forests for our own survival. They play a vital role in regulating climate change, acting as carbon sinks and of course provide resources such as clean water, food and medicinal plants to both forest communities and the world at large.
In the Maasai Mara we have launched an novel initiative to try and help alleviate some of the effects of the rapidly eroding river banks, by distributing ‘seedballs’ from our hot-air balloons.
Charcoal covered seedballs – photo credit Seedballs Kenya
Seedballs are, as their name suggests, seeds of indigenous plant species coated in a protective layer of charcoal dust and nutritious binders which can lie dormant until climatic conditions are just right, at which point the seed which will be stimulated to germinate. If one were to disperse unprotected seeds in the same way, many would fall prey to insects and small mammals or simply rot or dry-out.
Photo credits – Seedballs Kenya
We decided to partner with Seedballs Kenya so that our passengers flying with our Governors’ Balloon Safaris hot-air balloons can purchase a packet of seedballs for just KES 500 (USD 5) that they can then drop out of the balloon whilst they float over suitable habitat. The funds generated will then go directly to Eburru Rafiki to support their active tree-planting efforts which in the long-term will directly benefit the Mara ecosystem upon which we so depend.
‘Seedballing’ with Governors’ – Photo credit Will Fortescue
Eburru Rafiki focuses on five core pillars for their work, including the forest, water and wildlife conservation, the community and ecotourism. Tree nurseries provide indigenous seedlings (Podocarpus, Prunus, Warburgia, Juniperus and Olea) for planting on farm forestry land and within the forest reserve itself. Education is fundamental to ensuring the future protection of the forest and nurturing a respect for the forest from surrounding communities. Many of the seedlings are purchased from nearby primary and secondary schools where the children themselves have tended to the plants during their conservation club activity time. During the last rains, over 8,500 indigenous tree seedlings were planted!
Tree planting efforts – photo credit Eburru Rafiki
Mount Eburru takes its name from the Maasai, ‘Ol Doinyo Opuru’, meaning the ‘Mountain of Steam’ due to its geothermal activity which is clearly visible via the numerous steam jets that spit from fissures in its flank. Forest edge communities ‘trap’ this sustainable source of water for drinking and domestic use using various contraptions that act as improvised condensers.
Trapping sustainable water sources – photo credit Eburru Rafiki
The geothermal resource is also processed on a larger scale by KenGen (the Kenya Electricity Generating Company) as a source of additional energy for the national power grid. Kenya is leading the way in geothermal power and is one of the world’s top producers of this type of sustainable energy.
Since Rhino Ark completed the 43.3km fence around Eburru Forest in 2014, conservation of this hotspot of biodiversity has really been able to take off. By clearly demarcating community land from the forest reserve, illegal forest activities have decreased greatly and wildlife populations have increased.
Over 188 species of birds have been recorded and more than 60 mammal species are known to occur in the forest including the critically endangered mountain bongo. There are thought to be fewer than 120 of these elusive antelopes left in the wild, all of which exist within just four isolated pockets of dense mountain forests in Kenya. Between 10 and 15 individuals live in the depths of Mau Eburru Forest, representing more than 10% of the world’s population. Thanks to focused conservation efforts (including plans to make Eburru Forest a bongo sanctuary), there is a glimmer of hope on the horizon for the survival of this beautiful striped antelope.
Mountain Bongo – photo credit Donna Shepperd
Some of the other interesting species that call the forest home include the black-and-white guereza colobus, giant forest hogs, leopard, bush buck and a profusion of birds and insects.
Black-and-white guereza colobus at Eburru – photo credit Alisa Karstad
White-starred robin – photo credit Alisa Karstad
Eburru is one of the few indigenous forests in Kenya where the surrounding community do not use it for cattle grazing and wood collection. However, to be successful in protecting the forest, these same communities must be able to directly benefit sustainably from it whilst at the same time reducing their pressure on the forest’s resources through alternative livelihoods.
Alternative livelihoods include training local people to become forest guides and rangers/scouts. Rangers play an important role in forest conservation by running patrol exercises every fortnight within the six forest zones. During this time they check for snares, signs of hunting, evidence of illegal logging, firewood collection and charcoal production. Other efforts include removal of invasive alien plants and bongo surveillance within the fenced forest area.
Rangers engage in a joint de-snaring program, funded by Eburru Rafiki in conjunction with Rhino Ark and Calgary Zoo
Traditional bee-hives are allowed within the forest and are tended to by the Ogiek people, a marginalised group descended from forest dwelling hunter-gatherers who still trade in honey and other items that they collect from the forest, including herbal medicines. The honey is delicious and we plan to begin purchasing it soon for our guests breakfasts at Loldia House. These alternative livelihoods generate sustainable incomes in an area which has historically degraded rather than protected the forest.
Eburru Forest honey is served with breakfast at Loldia House – photo credit Alisa Karstad
During a stay at Loldia House, we encourage our guests to pay a visit to this hidden gem. Guests can take a packed breakfast and spend the morning exploring some of the trails, soaking up the crisp mountain air and taking in the lively birdsong.
Magnificent view from Eburru’s walking trails – photo credit Eburru Rafiki
Entrance fees are very reasonable at KES 240 (citizen), KES 470 (resident) and KES 700 / USD 7 (non-resident) for adults. You can also become an Eburru Rafiki member for unlimited access to the forest for just KES2,000 a year; 100% of membership fees go towards their conservation and community projects. For more information you can visit their website or follow them on Instagram @eburru_rafiki.
Our community support continues with over 16.5 tonnes of food delivered in February!
On the 10th of February 2021, the Governors’ Camp team facilitated our largest community food drive to date! With USD 6,800 funding combined from both The Mara Rianda Charitable Trust (51%) and the Chairman’s Foundation via the Wilderness Trust (49%) we were able to provide basic but much needed food and hygiene supplies to 280 families living in the Mara Rianda and Aitong areas of the Masai Mara.
Over 8 tons of food was evenly distributed between the families so that they all received the usual monthly amounts of dried beans, maize flour, tea leaves, sugar, cooking fat, rice, salt, a cabbage and a bar of soap.
Mara food drive in February – photo credit Julius Karia
This is now our 8th month of food support in the region. We had very much hoped that by this point the knock-on effects of the coronavirus pandemic would be a memory of the past. However, as you all know, world travel is still very limited and we are therefore incredibly grateful to both of the above organisations as well as individual donors for continuing their support during these difficult times.
On the 16th of February, our Naivasha team provided their seventh month of food distributions to fifty needy families living in the nearby Kasarani village. The Assistant Chief Sarah helped to organise the families and the morning went very smoothly. Both Sarah and our Loldia House manager, Heather, made speeches explaining that the donations were 100% funded by the Chairman’s Foundation via the Wilderness Trust.
A prayer was said and then the families collected their parcels which contained 24kg of maize flour, 2L of cooking oil, 100g of tea leaves, a bar of soap, 4.5kg of dried beans, 2 cabbages, 3.4kg of tomatoes, 3kg of onions, 1 kilo of salt, 4kg of sugar and 4kg of rice. They carried them away via bicycles, motor bikes and on their backs. It gives us great pride to be able to help the communities in this way.
Loldia’s food drive in February – photo credit Heather Wallington
On the 15th and 16th of February, the Mugie Conservancy team with the help of our Governors’ Mugie House team worked tirelessly to drive over 250km into some of the most remote areas of Laikipia in order to deliver food supplies to some of the surrounding schools.
Mugie school food drive – photo credit Brian Odida
Eleven schools were visited and each received their share of the six tons of food which included 270kg of dried maize, 180kg of beans, 2kg of salt, 20kg of cooking fat, 50kg of rice, 10 to 15 cabbages, 45 to 90 kg of green grams and 2kg of onions.
If you would like to make a donation towards any of these conservation projects or food drives, you can do so via our secure online payment link. We would be forever grateful for your support!
By Alisa Karstad, Community and Conservation Manager for Governors’ Camp Collection
For over 48 years, the Governors’ Camp Collection, together with its clients and partners, have been working hand in hand with community neighbours running community support and conservation programs that have delivered real results. Find out more.