Unprecedented levels of environmental degradation are threatening the existence of Central Kenya's biggest lake, which is now facing extinction.
Over grazing, pollution, illegal settlement on riparian land and quarrying are threatening Lake Ol Bolossat in Nyandarua County, with water levels falling at an alarming rate.
The lake, which is 43.3km², is classified as an important bird habitat, attracting tourists and researchers interested in migratory birds that come from as far as Europe and Asia.
Hundreds of fishermen in the area also derive their livelihoods from catfish, which is in plenty in the rainy season.
The lake, which is a source of Ewaso Nyiro River, supports a large population of humans, livestock and wildlife downstream in the arid and semi-arid areas of Northern Kenyan.
The National Environmental Complaints Committee (NECC) has now raised the red flag over the future of Lake Ol Bolossat and has now formed a multi-agency task force to spearhead the takeover of the lake’s management by the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS).
Called for gazettement
While raising concerns over the continued degradation of the lake, the environmental agency’s members Isabella Masinde and James Sapuro have called for the gazettement of the natural resource for better management by the KWS.
“Despite the beauty and economic benefits of the lake, Lake Ol Bolossat is threatened by unprecedented environmental degradation, silting, pollution and encroachment. This lake is likely to die in the next few years if necessary actions to protect it are not taken,” warned Ms Masinde.
She said degradation in the upper catchment as a result of increased agricultural activities, illegal logging, quarrying and a growing population had greatly affected water levels at the lake.
“We have gone round the lake and what we have seen is disheartening and sad. A high number of people have encroached on the riparian land, while others have fenced it off near the lake, hence affecting the aquatic life,” said Ms Masinde.
Her sentiments were echoed by Mr Sapuro, who noted that siltation was also a major concern due to human activity in the upper escarpment areas of Nyandarua County.
“Urgent action needs to be taken to protect the lake and the catchment areas, otherwise the future for the next generation will be gloomy. This is why as a watchdog we are pushing for KWS to take over the management of the lake,” he said.
Nyandarua County KWS Senior Warden Gabriel Kiio, who had accompanied the team on the tour of the lake, regretted that 12 hippos had been killed in one year at the lake.
According to Mr Kiio, five of the animals died in the waters in July this year as a result of injuries suspected to have been inflicted by rowdy people.
He noted that close examination of the five revealed that they died due to wounds inflicted using sharp objects, probably spears.
“Carcasses of other seven hippos were found on land having been killed and the meat carried away,” said Mr Kiio.
He said that investigations revealed that the animals killed on land appeared to have been chased, herded to one place, and butchered.
The warden has since called for the need to sensitise and create awareness on the importance of the lake to the community.
Nyandarua County National Environment Management Authority (Nema) director Edward Wawire said the agency early last month thwarted a project that was being carried out by the county government to dig a trench on the shores of the lake to help reduce the rising cases of Human- wildlife conflict in the region.
The 12-kilometre trench was meant to help contain the hippos, which have been on attacking people and destroying farms.
The trench was contributing to the degradation of the lake and encouraging encroachment of the lake by residents, said Mr Wawire.
At 7,600 feet above sea level, and below the spectacular Aberdare mountain ranges, Lake Ol Bolossat is the only freshwater lake in Central Kenya.
The lake supplies water to Thomson Falls in Nyahururu and the Ewaso Nyiro River, supporting a large population of people, livestock and wildlife downstream.
In June, this year thousands of flamingos migrated to the lake in a rare spectacle that astonished locals.
The birds were spotted at the freshwater lake for a couple of weeks, a move that ornithologists say was due to the overflowing of lakes Nakuru and Bogoria in the Rift Valley, where the birds are commonly found.
Residents and experts say that gazettement of the lake as a protected area will help end significant threats currently facing it and provide an institutional and legal framework that will anchor all the conservation and development initiatives around the lake.
Central Kenya also has more than 25 small lakes and tarns on Mount Kenya. The biggest of the top four, Lake Alice, is 48 acres big. The others are Lake Michaelson, Lake Ellis, Lake Rutundu and numerous other small mountain lakes, also called tarns.