Fire Engulfs Mount Kenya as Animals Flee : The World We Share

A fire has engulfed much of Mount Kenya with many wild animals including elephants fleeing for their lives. British troops and wildlife officials were trying hard to curb the fire till late Monday night.

Paul Udoto, a spokesman for the Kenya Wildlife Service said the fire had already wiped out much of Mount Kenya’s forests and a haze of smoke has covered the peak totally.

Udoto also added that while tourists living in the nearby lodges are safe, it is elephants that have been fleeing in large numbers and are under extreme threat.

“The elephants fled the area but they are still within the protected areas of the mountain,” Udoto said.

Mount Kenya is the second-highest peak in Africa, at 5,199 meters (17,057 feet) and fires are also burning in the nearby Aberdare National Park. Firefighters say that till now they have not found any animals burnt in the fire.

“There’s fires all over the place,” said Iain Douglas-Hamilton, the founder of the group Save the Elephants. “It’s because of the dryness. But I bet people are setting the fires … accidental but human-generated.”

He also added that the fire was depriving animals of food.

Mount Kenya is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The U.N. organization describes the region as “one of the most impressive landscapes of Eastern Africa, with its rugged glacier-clad summits, Afro-alpine moorlands and diverse forests.”

Susie Weeks, the executive officer of the Mount Kenya Trust said that at least three separate fires were burning in the region but British military and the Kenya Wildlife Service were coordinating well to curb the blaze.

“Today is a much better day! Less chaos, more help, low winds and a bit of cloud. However we need to sustain this level of attack on the fires for a couple of days to succeed,” she wrote in an email.

Gitau, the deputy warden of Mount Kenya National Park said that the greater worry was that fire was destroying the green cover and a potential water catchment area. It could affect the regions hydroelectric dams and water supply.

He also warned that though 4 of the 6 burning sites had been curbed, the conditions of wind and dryness could re-engulf the fire. The warden added that 90 percent of the fires in Mount Kenya are caused by human activity, either poachers or honey gatherers.

“Sometimes it’s accidental like a cigarette butt that hasn’t been completely extinguished,” he said.

Patrick Wanjohi, the director of the Mountain Rock Lodge, a holiday resort on the lower slopes says that wild animals are fleeing to lower levels of the peak and this could result in more human-animals conflict.

Capt. Maz Kingston, a spokeswoman for the British Army Training Unit Kenya  said,

“Fires have been going on for last couple months with varying degrees of intensity. It’s very intense and it’s quite extensive across the mountain. … We had a little bit of rain last night which tamped it down a little bit.”

He said that the army had carried out an aerial assessment of the fire, and was now providing command and control for the firefighting response.