KWS blames arsonists as rampant Tsavo park fires cause worry

Fire at Tsavo West National Park
Photo credit: File | Nationmedia Group

What you need to know:

  • Fresh incidents at Tsavo National Park have pushed stakeholders to launch initiatives in a bid to deploy more resources to save the park.
  • Tsavo Conservation Area Assistant Director Robert Njue said investigations were launched to determine the cause of the fires but ruled out natural causes, saying they suspected illegal herders were responsible since some of the fires start inside protected areas.
  • On Sunday, wildlife organisations in the country began an online Sh20 million funds drive for resources to be sued to contain the fire.

The government is in a race to end national park fires following several cases that have put wildlife and vegetation at risk of being wiped out.

Fresh incidents at Tsavo National Park have pushed stakeholders to launch initiatives in a bid to deploy more resources to save the park.

Fires broke out at Tsavo West National Park, Mgeno and Lumo conservancies on Saturday afternoon. In a statement, the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) said a fire started at Sheikdam at about 2pm.

It said it was working with teams from the Kenya Defence Forces, National Youth Service, Kenya Forest Service, Taita Taveta County, conservation partners and the community to put it out and that ground and aerial teams had been deployed.

Teams from government agencies and non-governmental wildlife organisations as well as residents joined KWS firefighters in putting out the fires.

More than 400 people from Taita Taveta County were transported to the scenes in buses to help.

Speaking at Mwaktau, Tsavo Conservation Area Assistant Director Robert Njue said firefighters from the Kenya Air Force were also deployed to help contain the inferno.

Coast Regional Coordinator John Elungata visited the area to access the situation.

HERDERS

Several cases of fires are threatening to destroy thousands of acres in the largest conservation area in the country, with the KWS launching investigations to find the causes.

Six incidents have been reported in August alone, a situation that has overwhelmed the KWS and its partners.

Following this latest incident, KWS said arsonists were to blame and that it was pursuing them.

"Police are tracking down these suspected arsonists as we work to extinguish the fire," the service said.

Tsavo Conservation Area Assistant Director Robert Njue said investigations were launched to determine the cause of the fires but ruled out natural causes, saying they suspected illegal herders were responsible since some of the fires start inside protected areas.

"We have leads. They will soon be brought to book. We cannot allow this to continue. Let them be warned that their days are numbers," he said.

"We cannot say how many acres have been destroyed but we will do so immediately after we contain the situation. So far, we have not lost any big animals but we have definitely lost small invertebrates," he added.

Tsavo West has been a grazing ground for illegal herders who sneak in their livestock in search of water and pasture.

Recently, KWS said the fires were caused by locals living adjacent to the park.

FUNDS DRIVE

On Sunday, wildlife organisations in the country began an online Sh20 million funds drive for resources to be sued to contain the fire.

Mr Njue said KWS was unable to manage the situation since it required plenty of resources.

"We have called on all wildlife partners because we cannot do this alone. They are helping us in fundraising for more resources to save the parks," he said.

Tsavo Heritage Foundation chair Jacob Kipong'oso is leading wildlife partners in the collection of resources.

Another stakeholder, Willie Mwadilo, said a lot of vegetation had been wiped out and efforts by KWS and local wildlife conservation partners to manage the situation had been futile.

"We need resources to feed the firefighters and fuel choppers and vehicles," he said.

Meanwhile, KWS noted that it had not sanctioned any NGO, independent groups or individuals to raise funds on its behalf to support firefighting.

"The public should be wary of such requests. A clear and transparent process is being established to fundraise and support firefighting efforts," it said.

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