Fire devours Kenya's ancient forests

Week-long blaze destroys thousands of hectares of forest crucial for water catchment and threatens wildlife.

    A week-long fire raging on Kenya's highest mountain has devoured thousands of hectares of Mount Kenya's ancient forests, a crucial water catchment for the country.

    Described as a potential ecological disaster, the fire on Mount Kenya is now threatening the wildlife in the area as well.

    In addition to being a UNESCO world heritage site, the second-highest peak in Africa at 5,199 metres plays a crucial role in a country fighting against drought. The green canopy retains water in the wet season, releasing it in the dry months.

    "This region - I would call it the lifeline or the backbone of the country. The Kenyan people and the Kenyan economy rely on the ecosystem serviced by the water towers which provide rainfall and hydro-electricity," Susie Weeks of Mount Kenya Trust said.

    Al Jazeera’s Naznine Moshiri, reporting from Mount Kenya, said it was believed the spark came from people clearing bamboo to plant illegal crops.

    Poachers also target the elephants that roam the forested slopes of Mount Kenya for their ivory tusks.

    "The smoke and the heat from the fire is just incredible. We are very high up and that is part of the problem for the Kenyan Wildlife Service. The fire is spreading up the mountain, which is difficult to deal with," our correspondent said.

    Simon Gitau, the deputy warden of Mt Kenya National Park, worked to get 100 men to the bamboo forest, saying it could be a challenge to put the blaze out if it spreads. Firefighters could be seen cutting down burning trees and dousing flames on branches.

    The flames have sent elephants crashing down the mountain in search of safe forest.

    Fire had not killed any big game but had led to the deaths of smaller animals, said Robert Njue, the assistant director in charge of the mountain conservation area.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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