Life-and-death battle to protect Enkong’u Enkare wetland in Narok


A woman herds cows in Naroosura in Narok South Sub-county in  March last year.

Photo credit: Moraa Obiria | Nation Media Group

Ever since he was a boy, he knew he had to run, and run very fast, or he would be crushed by the raging elephant bulls that constantly visit farms in search of pasture and water at the nearby spring.

For 51 years, Patrick Tolo, a resident of Naroosura in Narok County, has evaded the huge beasts. Unfortunately, many others have fallen victim to the wild animals roaming the area in search of food and water.

Enkong’u Enkare, a Maasai phrase meaning the source of water, is a crucial wetland sustaining the lives and livelihoods of thousands of residents.

Mr Sayianka Nkiminis was nearly sent to an early grave when he attempted to chase away a male buffalo that was destroying his maize. The animal charged at him. All he remembers is being airborne — having been lifted by the animal’s horns — and then dashed to the ground.

One of the horns got lodged between his legs, nearly mutilating his genitals. The angry animal pounded his ribs and legs several times with its head and left him for dead.

Luckily, his initial screams for help before he passed out saw nearby villagers rush to his side. For three days, he was in a coma at the Narok County Referral Hospital, and when he came to, he could neither speak nor move his head. He is lucky to have made it out alive, he admits.

Seven gaping holes

His case is almost similar to that of Mr Daniel Togo, 65, who was attacked by a leopard that went after his goats at his homestead. He confronted the big cat, intending to wrestle it to the ground.

The animal just kicked him with its two hind legs, but its claws dug deep into his flesh, leaving seven gaping holes on his left shoulder and chest, then disappeared into the thicket.

“I did not even know it had injured me, until I felt a warm trickle on my chest and realised that I was bleeding profusely. I was rushed to hospital. I am lucky because the Kenya Wildlife Service compensated me,” he says.

Heavy siltation at Enkong’u Enkare has not only lowered the water level at the dam but has also wilted crops.

Preserved by the Ministry of Irrigation in 1982 to provide water for domestic use, Enkong’u Enkare spring remains a critical wetland supplying more than 15,000 people with the precious liquid. So important is the spring that  most of the indigenous Maasai, known globally for their lifestyle as nomadic pastoralists, are embracing irrigation farming.

“I do not understand why we even leased our farms to outsiders yet they would make almost a hundredfold compared to what we charged them for leasing our land. Farming is now the new money-making machine for the Maasai,” says Mr Erick Setek, a farmer at Oloibirongoni Irrigation Scheme located a few kilometres from the spring.

They began growing tomatoes and maize in early December last year on one acre. They have already harvested and sold their first batch of produce making some Sh120,000.

“We will use this money to expand into other areas. We will then sit down together as a group and decide on how best to share this money amongst ourselves after deducting all production expenses,” says Mr John Takona, the chairperson of Oloibirongoni Irrigation Scheme Group.

To ensure the natural resource is protected, Naroosura Water Resource Users Association (Wrua) was created to train the community on sustainable farming, come up with a schedule to avoid conflicts resolve all water-related disputes in the area.

Sadly, as at two years ago, this crucial resource was being threatened by siltation and other pollutants flowing into the water pan built to collect the spring’s water. The erratic weather patterns, a perennial drought and sporadic flooding saw the mini dam’s bed filled with harmful waste and silt.

Schools and public institutions depending on the water had to be shut down for periods of time due to lack of water.

However, the World-Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Kenya, began a rehabilitation project on the dam, removing the silt that had clogged it. Several canals were built to supply water directly from the spring to several farms and projects, including Oloibirongoni and Naroosura irrigation schemes founded by WWF.

Rehabilitate spring

“Enkong’u Enkare needs all the protection it can get. That is why we looked for donors to help us rehabilitate this spring, Wrua reinforced the fence and now there is enough water for everyone,” Mr Samson Salantoi, the former  Wrua chairperson, says.

Mr Kevin Gichangi, the WWF programmes coordinator for the Mau-Mara-Loita region, expressed concern on the alarming levels at which wetlands are being degraded, warning that the impact will harm the country and includes endangering aquatic species.

“Globally, 90 per cent of the wetlands present in the 1700s have been degraded and this is not different in Kenya. Other than supporting aquatic species, this wetland is a source of streams that flow towards other major rivers and these rivers are sustaining wildlife,” he says.

“The rate at which we are losing wetlands is even three times faster than we are losing forests and keep in mind that the rate of deforestation is very high,” he adds.

Luckily, the Enkong’u Enkare wetland will soon be gazetted as a protected area, Cabinet secretary for Environment and Forestry Soipan Tuya announced while marking this year’s World Wetlands Day at Enkong’u Enkare last Thursday. More than 7,000 trees were planted around the spring.

Narok County, which has 14.1 per cent forest cover and 20 per cent tree cover, still has 300,000 hectares available for rehabilitation and the government plans to significantly increase these numbers in its plans to plant at least 15 billion trees over the next decade.

Governor Patrick Ole Ntutu has also vowed to work with the national government to ensure the natural springs found in Narok are reserved for the betterment of its people. He pledged to establish a “green army” to sustain the trees planted in Naroosura.