Eburu Forest is a treasure of the Great Rift Valley and that is why the Rhino Ark Charitable Trust stepped in and is engaged in a major long-term conservation exercise to preserve and sustainably manage it, writes Diane McLeish.
Eburu Forest was gazetted in 1936 and falls under the Mau Forests Complex which is fully managed by the Kenya Forestry Services (KFS). Compared to other forests, Eburu is a small forest of 8,700 hectares on the rolling foothills, deep valleys and steep slopes of little known Mount Eburu. This prime indigenous forest nestles within the folds of a geologically active volcanic mountain which overlooks Lake Naivasha, Lake Elementaita and Lake Nakuru, and is the source of the Ndabibi River, numerous streams and ground springs.
Most motorists zoom past on the Nakuru highway not realising that travelling along the North Lake Road towards the Rift Valley Lodge, on the northern side of Lake Naivasha, it is easy to get to the Eburu Forest. Those of us who have visited have been delighted to find this tranquil forest and have spent a relaxed day either exploring, bird watching, hiking or picnicking in the glade.
Leaving the tarmac close to the Rift Valley Lodge you head continually uphill for 12km on a reasonable dirt road, following the KenGen Eburu Geothermal Power Station signs, passing through farmlands growing a wide range of food-crops. The countryside is dotted with dwellings, village shops and rural schools. It comes as a surprise to see the steam bellowing from the geothermal plant just inside the Eburu Gate, making you realise just how active this mountain really is.
Entering the calm, green forest the track narrows considerably and you drive down fern-lined tracks and through tree tunnels into the heart of the reserve. Stepping into the forest is like entering another world. You leave all the fuss and stresses of a busy life behind, to be greeted with the tranquillity and fragrance of nature. Branches covered in lichen hang over ferns and vines tangle themselves around the majestic trees towering above. The earthy smell of damp ground combined with fallen leaves has an instant calming effect.
Continuing along the track it leads you into thick upland forest and down scenic valleys until you reach the forest glade. Pack a picnic, bring binoculars, a book or simply doze off for an afternoon nap in the dappled light of the forest canopy. While a day trip is wonderful, a weekend is better as you can camp overnight. There are no facilities so everything needs to be brought in, including water. For those who don’t want to camp, there are plenty of accommodation options around Lake Naivasha.
The forest is a paradise for bird watchers as it has a rich variety of upland birds. The delightful walking trails plus the opportunity of having knowledgeable birding guides makes this forest an appealing destination. It is also the home to an extraordinary diversity of butterflies, moths and insects as well as over 40 species of mammals.
As rich and diverse as this ecosystem is, the forest hasn’t always been so blessed. Deforestation had been ruthless especially in the 90s. It was heavily damaged due to 50% deforestation from unauthorised logging, charcoal production and fires and by bushmeat poaching and livestock invasion.
Eburu Forest is a treasure of the Great Rift Valley and that is why the Rhino Ark Charitable Trust stepped in and is engaged in a major long-term conservation exercise to preserve and sustainably manage it. Forests are the water towers of Kenya and since the 43.3 km electric fence was completed in 2014 there have been significant improvements in natural forest regeneration in Eburu. The partners of KFS: Rhino Ark Charitable Trust, Kenya Wildlife Services, M-PESA Foundation and Flamingo Horticulture have been instrumental in fundraising and promoting conservation of Eburu Forest.
Local communities have benefitted from the success of the fence through activities such as eco-tourism, honey production from the 1,000 beehives within the forest and other conservation-related activities. Farmers have reported less human-wildlife conflict as crop raiding animals like the buffaloes and bush pigs are confined to the forest. This has resulted in safer living conditions and improved crops. A wildlife corridor and dispersal area has been opened up through Loldia farm to the shores of Lake Naivasha. There are no more cattle in the forest and no dead wood is allowed out.
What you will now see is commitment, not just from the conservationists and donors but from the local Eburu communities who are proud of its revival and growing reputation. Communities who were once seen as opposing conservation are now important partners and see themselves to be custodians of the forest.
And there is more good news……
The habitat of undisturbed mountain forest, steep valleys, springs and waterfalls make this precious ecosystem the ideal home for about 12 mountain bongo thought to be surviving here. This represents 10% of global wild population of the critically endangered bongo. While still far from secure, the bongo is being given every chance to bounce back from the brink of extinction.
Patrols have removed hundreds of snares and traps. Remote camera “traps” and GPS devices have been placed and are being monitored by the Bongo Surveillance Project. They patrol the forest checking the 40 cameras and give feedback on their findings. Translocation into the forest of other mountain bongo may be the only way to preserve this species.
Eburu Rafiki, the forest community group, supports the rejuvenation of the forest reserve. During May 2019, they planted 11000 seedlings on the lower slopes of the denuded mountain. They don’t just plant seedlings but husband the plants by weeding, watering, inspecting and replacing any damaged ones.
The attraction of this forest is to walk in it while taking in the remarkable natural scenery. There are six trails, all of special interest, which take in some of the most beautiful scenery within the forest. The trails vary in distance covered and steepness as well as difficulty. The two longest trails are the summit routes which are about 6km long taking between four to six hours to complete. There are four other trails taking from two to four hours to complete as well as shorter walks to the crater and around the glade.
TIP: Get The Mau Eburu Forest Guide, which can be purchased at the entrance as well as other locations, to help you navigate this forest.