Ngare Ndare Forest: A hidden gem in Mt Kenya protected by communities

Nov 2, 2023 | News

By Gilbert Koech, The Star

Nestled at the heart of Mount Kenya, Ngare Ndare Forest is a hidden gem with 200-year-old red cedar trees.

The indigenous tree species stretch into a beautiful canopy that supports a rich variety of birds and wildlife.

Jeremiah Mwenda, Ngare Ndare Forest Community Ranger, says were it not for the six communities surrounding the resource, the blossoming trees would have been cleared.

“The forest has unique species of trees like African olive (Olea africana) and red cedar (Juniperus procera), which are the majority in the forest. Red cedar has valuable timber and fencing posts. They are resistant to termites and can last several years,” he says.

Mwenda says initially, the cutting of indigenous trees was common, with red cedar being targeted.

However, the logging has gone down as communities have realised the importance of the forest.

Mwenda says the forest has 26 forest rangers that patrol it to protect wildlife and indigenous trees.

Fourteen of them have been trained at the Kenya Wildlife Service training school-Manyani, where they have obtained Kenya Police Reservist status.

Among other roles, the rangers help to raise awareness about the need to conserve the resource, gather intelligence, manage conflict, monitor wildlife, and collect basic forest data.

Mwenda says the protection of the resource has paid off for both the community and those who rely on the forest.

“We have attractions such as water falls, rock climbing, game drives, tree canopy walks, forest camping, forest walks, and bird watching,” he says.

The Ngare Ndare Forest covers an area of 13,689 acres.

The forest has a rich diversity of indigenous tree species and wildlife, is a critical wildlife refuge, and is home to large populations of endangered wildlife species.

The forest is a critical elephant’s corridor linking northern Kenya to Mount Kenya National Park.

The construction of the elephants’ underpass through the main Nanyuki-Meru highway and the intact forest enabled Ngare Ndare forest to achieve the status of a World Heritage Site with Lewa Wildlife Conservancy in 2013 as an extension of Mt Kenya.

Some of the mammal species recorded in the forest include lions, African buffaloes, African elephants, rhinos and leopards.

Elands, bushbucks, waterbucks, bush pigs, aardvarks, stripped and spotted hyenas, olive baboons, and Colobus monkeys are also found.

Within the forest, more than 200 bird species have been recorded.

Mwenda says the proceeds go to support community projects.

“Each of the six communities has a representative on the board of trustees. Money can go to sponsor the needy children and road networks,” he says.

The proceeds are shared equally among the six communities.

Mwenda says communities also have user rights.

The communities collect firewood, graze, and collect herbs and honey.

Forest laws allow forest-adjacent communities to benefit from forest resources.

Communities adjacent to forest resources are supposed to form Community Forest Associations, register with the Kenya Forest Service, and sign the Participatory Forest Management Plan and Forest Management Agreement.

Once CFAs sign agreements with the KFS, they get user rights. Some user rights include the collection of medicinal herbs, the harvesting of honey, the collection of fuel wood, grass harvesting, and grazing.

Others are ecotourism, recreational activities, and plantation establishments, among other rights.

There are 255 registered CFAs across the country, with 163 having approved participatory forest management plans and 102 having signed forest management agreements between KFS and CFA.

Mwenda says the protection offered to the forest resource has continued to ensure that communities that depend on Ngare Ndare River get water.

The cool waters from the springs help to irrigate parched farms, quenching the thirst of thousands of villages as well as wildlife.

Mwenda says the conservation success of Ngare Ndare Forest is a result of the dedication of the communities that surround the resource.

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