WWF, ranches partner to prevent wildfires in Tsavo area


The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) is helping ranches in the Tsavo conservation area prevent fires.

The region has in the past two years seen frequent wildfires in conservancies, with over 6,000 acres of vegetation affected on 12 ranches.

WWF has donated firefighting equipment to the Mgeno conservancy on Mwatate, as well as a tractor and a grader to help set up firebreaks and motorbikes for patrols.

The ranches previously relied on firefighters from the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), the Kenya Defense Forces (KDF), community volunteers and other groups to extinguish the blazes.

Speaking at the Mgeno ranch when the firefighting equipment was handed over, WWF southern Kenya landscape manager Dr Martin Mulama cited fires as a great threat in the region.

"Wildfires are one of the biggest threats within the Tsavo ecosystem. To mitigate this, we must ensure that there are firebreaks to (prevent fires spreading)," he said.

He said local communities need to be involved in preventing fires.

Under the partnership, rangers and nature-based self-help groups have been trained and provided with firefighting equipment. Apiaries have also been established and their honey producers linked to markets.

"For us to be able to achieve our conservation objectives we must involve people more. We want people to do what they do but in a way that is sustainable to the environment," Dr Mulama said.

The impact of climate change, he said, has put the ranches at risk of frequent wildfires hence the need for preventive measures.

Climate change and land-use change are projected to make wildfires more frequent and intense, the United Nations Environment Programme (Unep) and GRID-Arendal say in the report “Spreading like Wildfire”.

The report projects a global increase in extreme fires of up to 14 per cent by 2030, 30 per cent by the end of 2050 and 50 per cent by the end of the century.

More effective wildfire risk reduction strategies are being developed in critical ecosystems in the Tsavo conservation area, said Taita Taveta Wildlife Conservancies Association coordinator Alfred Mwanake.

He said the focus was shifting from responsive to preventive measures.

"We are investing more in prevention measures by partnering with stakeholders like WWF to help in essential investments in prevention, preparedness and recovery," he said.

More than 120km of firebreaks had been created in five conservancies, he said, with over 25 rangers trained and equipped as fire marshals.

The group is also focusing on restoring vegetation lost to bushfires in 2020.

The motorbikes donated by WWF will help rangers beef up security by carrying out frequent patrols in the vast area, said the association’s chairperson, Mcharo Bong’osa, who is also the chairperson of the Mgeno Conservancy.

"We are looking for such partnerships to help us build the capacities of our conservancies and the local community," he said.

WWF also donated uniforms for the rangers and beehives for the nature-based enterprises in the ranches and the community.

Six water pans have also been set up for use by wildlife and livestock in Kasigau, Mgeno, Mbulia (Mbololo), Lumo, Bura and Kasigau in the Tsavo area Amboseli.

The partners have also dug water pans in the Mara for community use in the Olderkesi, Ol Kinyei and Lemek conservancies in Narok County.