Author: Caroline Kibii
Fire incidences constantly ravaging forests, parks, conservancies, and other protected areas is not a new phenomenon. It is a challenge experienced far and wide, in developing and developed countries, caused by both human-actions and natural aspects.
Forest fires, depending on the intensity, can be difficult to contain. However, the chances of fire occurring can be reduced if proper structures are in place if rules and regulations governing access to and utilization of protected areas are well-enforced.
Tsavo National Park is the latest victim of raging fires this year. Two times already. Tsavo National Park is vast and mainly characterized by short grasses, thorn bushes, and baobab trees. It is home to several animal species including the big-five.
In 2019, humongous fires destroyed parts of Mt. Kenya National Park, a key water catchment area. According to a news article by the Daily Nation in February 2019, approximately 80,000 hectares of moorland was destroyed as per the Kenya Forest Service Conservator.
Mt. Kenya National Park hosts the highest mountain in Kenya, an exceptional feature that boosts the country’s natural richness. The park is home to many animal species, including the tree hyrax and elephants.
Fires not only destroy trees and vegetation but risk rendering indigenous flora and fauna extinct. They destroy animal habitats, occasion displacement, invoke fear, and disrupt normal reproduction among wildlife.
As a result, it is prudent to establish the root cause of fires to develop strategies to avert their occurrences and lower the magnitude of damage.
A press release on August 9th by the Kenya Wildlife Service regarding the fire outbreak in Tsavo early August 2020, suspected arsonists lit the fire.
If arsonists are the culprits, then that should be the entry point to establishing their motives to destroy such a vital resource.
Therefore, knowing who or what caused the fires is an opportunity to fix the problem from the ground. This requires a bottom-up approach; otherwise, it would be a waste of time, tax-payers’ money, and well-wishers’ resources. Such amount to a temporary, ineffective solution.
Having witnessed the massive devastation of the intense bushfires in Australia in 2019-20, no individual or country that values nature would want to encounter the same.
Dozens of animals were killed. Vegetation was brought to zero. The images were graphic! Australia alone could not put out the fires prompting other countries to send their firefighters and offer machinery support.
Fixing the primary causes
Hence, fixing forest fires in Kenya calls for a multi-stakeholder taskforce to establish the leading causes where natural causes are ruled out.
The communities living around the parks, for example, should be a primary target to understand whether their activities trigger the fires or not. Herders involved in illegal herding could be responsible for fires inside the parks. Slash-and-burn agriculture could spread fires into protected areas.
Often, campers have been accused of recklessness while dealing with fires leading to massive damages.
Therefore, it is vital to dutifully implement the existing and new policies governing protected areas without fear or favour. If the defined fines and arrests are enforced without leniency, chances of illegal herding in the park will reduce.
Restriction of camping areas and activities close to and inside forests and parks should be one of the main strategies to reduce human-made fires.
Establishing buffer zones around the protected areas will keep away illegal herders, loggers, and fires from slash-and-burn agriculture.
The community around the protected zones is crucial. Their needs, involvement, and empowerment in conservation issues should be highly regarded.
Corruption and political pressures that are usually overlooked in the conservation spectrum should be addressed for the actions mentioned earlier to function effectively.
Forest fires are regular events; they will not stop if nothing is done. Thus, fixing the primary agents is essential.
The article was also published in the Star Newspaper Fix the root cause of wildfires