Last week, over 35,000 acres of prime biodiversity, home to myriad rare and endangered species, was scorched by a series of deliberately set fires. The destruction included Eng'elecha Forest, the only remaining forest in the Laikipia region of Kenya. The fires took place at the 100,000 acre Ol ari Nyiro Conservancy where author and conservationist, Kuki Gallmann, founded the Gallmann Africa Conservancy and Gallmann Memorial Foundation. The forest, a unique indigenous habitat, flourished as an unspoiled paradise for some of the rarest of flora and fauna, not only in Kenya, but in the world. It was a 40 year labor of love, hard work, and dedication by Gallmann who has long advocated the peaceful coexistence of people and nature in Africa. This singular habitat loss and staggering demise of all living things that made this oasis home, is immeasurable.
For me, this article is not only newsworthy; it's personal. Some years back, before the one year anniversary of my husband's death, Kuki wrote to me and said, "Come to Ol ari Nyiro; it is a healing place." I spent weeks at Ol ari Nyiro's science and research camp, trekking the bush, the forest, traversing the lush Mukutan Gorge, all part of this unique paradise on earth. It was not only a place to heal, but to rejuvenate and regain a sense of hope. I did. It was, and will forever be, one of the most cherished times of my life.
But this isn't about my loss; I have my memories. This tragedy is everyone's, not only Gallmann's and Africa's, but the world's and, even fewer now, the last precious remaining habitats that offer refuge, security, and a home for all things wild -- where they belong. Ol ari Nyiro will survive. Its education and research projects, food programs, the endangered Black Rhino Sanctuary, archeological sites, all will continue and, with time, the land reduced to ash will begin to breathe again. But, there is not always a silver lining. This land will never be the same, or at least, take years if not a generation to fully recover.
Kuki has fought to protect this land, its wildlife and its people; she has survived arson and been brutally attacked and injured by poachers and yet, she goes on. With her daughter Sveva and the dedicated staff, they are the stewards of this great land; and will continue to be.
Update from the Kuki Gallmann Facebook page:
0ver 35,000 acres of prime biodiversity were destroyed in the Ol ari Nyiro Conservancy arsons in Laikipia West that lasted five days and five nights. Arsons were systematically set at regular intervals, to cause the maximum damage. From initial investigations it appears that certain parties were trying to prevent the Conservancy Management from establishing a friendly grazing policy in specific designated areas to help immediate neighbor pastoralists in this time of severe drought. The Management has a list of suspects and has engaged professionals to positively identify the culprits. Ol ari Nyiro has been the target of regular arsons yearly by the same suspects since 2009. In March 2014 it lost all the buildings and staff houses in arsons that lasted for two weeks. Ol ari Nyiro is known worldwide for its extraordinary natural diversity, and boasts endemic species of plants and insects. It was declared an Important Bird Area (IBA), and was eventually recognized as a Key Biodiversity Area (KBA) by Nature Kenya and Birdlife international in 2014- after two species new to science were discovered a few months made world news in environment circles. The loss to Kenya and the World is incalculable.
Partial information excerpted from AllAfrica and GMF:
Some 40,000 acres of forest at Laikipia Nature Conservancy at Ol ari Nyiro were destroyed by fire last week this coming just days after the government had proposed Ol ari Nyiro as a dedicated World Heritage Site. The Eng'elecha Forest, which was reduced to ashes, was the only remaining forest in the Laikipia region. "It will take a generation to grow these trees again and restore biodiversity. Sadly, it will never be the same again and what will occur is secondary vegetation. The area is likely to move towards desertification," said Conservancy director Kuki Gallmann. The forest is an extension of the Great Rift Valley and serves as the water table for Lake Baringo, which is sustained by the vegetation.
Kuki went on to say that it taken her and the Gallmann Memorial Foundation 40 years to protect Ol ari Nyiro and create this biodiversity, but only 48 hours for arsonists to destroy them. Last year, Ol ari Nyiro was identified as a key biodiversity area by Nature Kenya and Birdlife International. "The Conservancy has been a jewel for Laikipia and Kenya and an invaluable place of the world," Kuki said. And, "biodiversity in many places has been destroyed by human greed and encroachment on wild habitats." Animal migratory routes are interrupted by development. "The conservancy has been a target of illegal grazers as they move in because of the grass and water reserved for wild animals. Illegal herders come in with guns and spears and arrogantly walk onto people's farms, helping themselves""