Emergency funds to combat wildfires on Mount Kenya

At the request of the Mount Kenya Trust, Fauna & Flora International and partners from the Rapid Response Facility (RRF) have allocated emergency funds to help firefighters douse forest fires raging in Mount Kenya National Park.

Inscribed onto the World Heritage list in 1997, Mount Kenya National Park is a critical refuge for a host of iconic species, ranging from African elephants and leopards to a variety of antelopes and rare birds.

According to the Kenya Wildlife Service, the fires started on the mountain’s western slopes in mid-January and, despite some initial firefighting success, have recently reappeared with greater intensity thanks to a prolonged hot, dry spell.

With the Kenya Meteorological Office predicting at least two more weeks of dry weather, the race is on to extinguish all remaining fires to ensure that they do not flare up again.

The RRF funds will support Kenya Wildlife Service park staff on the ground as well as covering the cost of aircraft to quench the flames from above.

Kenya’s water tower

The lower slopes of Mount Kenya are home to some of the country’s most unique and endangered plant and animal life. Visitors come from around the world to see the birds and mammals that thrive here and on the arid plains (where life is sustained by rivers that originate in the mountain forests).

Forest fires on Mount Kenya (photo credit: Mount Kenya Trust).

Often referred to as ‘Kenya’s water tower’ the mountain forests capture high-altitude moisture and channel this water through river systems to communities below.

The high rainfall and sustained water-table provided by the forest ecosystems make this region one of the most productive in Kenya. Produce grown on the slopes of the mountain range helps feed the densely-populated local communities, and is also transported to towns all over the country, bringing in much-needed income.

Tourism, combined with the export of flowers and fresh vegetables from these regions is lucrative and provides high levels of employment.

The rivers from these water catchment areas also produce the bulk of Kenya’s hydroelectric power, fuelling the economy and the daily lives of millions of urban Kenyans.

Responding quickly to crisis

The Rapid Response Facility (RRF) is an emergency small grant programme that provides rapid support to sites of global biodiversity importance during times of crisis (with a particular focus on UNESCO designated natural World Heritage sites).

Jointly operated by Fauna & Flora International, UNESCO World Heritage Centre and the United Nations Foundation, RRF responds to conservation emergencies quickly, flexibly and in real time.

In the case of Mount Kenya, the team was able to reach a decision within just three days, approving the grant on 21st March – World Forest Day.