The aging ‘hummingbirds’ of Embu and their role in conserving Mount Kenya (Kenya)


Joseph, Muraya, Capital News

Date Published

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News that Africa’s second tallest mountain has lost 92 percent of its ice cap in the last 100 years can be disheartening. Right?

These are the disturbing facts that scientists say could be worse since the ice cap may entirely disappear before 2050.

But why should one care about some ice cap found thousands of meters above the sea level?

Glaciers store and release fresh water seasonally, replenishing the rivers and groundwater that supply people and ecosystems and it means if there they disappear, there will be no ice to melt and as a result affecting agriculture, home supplies, hydroelectricity and industries in lowlands and cities far from the mountain.

A 2016 study found that the largest glacier on Mount Kenya, the Lewis Glacier, is melting because of decreasing atmospheric moisture rather than increasing temperatures, as is the case of other parts of the world.

The late environmental activist Wangari Maathai knew of the dangers human and wildlife are likely to face if nothing is done to rectify the current situation.

She told of the role the hummingbirds played to put out a raging fire that was consuming the jungle as the rest of the animals, the mighty lion and elephant included, watched in shock.

The hummingbird however said to itself, “I’m going to do something about the fire.”

It flew to the nearest stream and took a drop of water.

It races back to the fire, where it drops the water onto the flames. Back and forth it goes, over and over again, while the larger animals — like the elephant whose trunk could have delivered so much more water — stood watching.

In Embu elders living near Mount Kenya forest have formed a group that is playing the role of the humming bird, not because their impact will be instant, but for the future generation of the country.

It is after their effort to talk to “the younger generation” bore no fruits since they were dismissed as “analogue group whose time has ended” according to 90 years Anna Wamugo.

The group named, Wamiti women’s group was derived from the word trees, which she says keeps on inspiring them to plant more trees in the forest.

The group was provoked to action after they saw streams they grew fetching water from dry and worrying change of the weather pattern.

“It pained us a lot to see the streams dry and yet the freedom fighters fought while partaking the water from these streams while fighting for the freedom of this country,” Wamugo told Capital News.

She says the group, which is based in Kambevo village within Embu County, has planted about 2 million indigenous trees in the expansive forest over the past 5 years, an exercise they are carrying on to date.

Wamugo points out that the danger of losing the forest is not yet over despite repeatedly warning people of the impending disaster due to deforestation and the loss of tree cover.

Unplanned development, illegal logging, wildlife poaching and cannabis cultivation are scourges sweeping the slopes of the 5,199m mountain that together risks the collapse of its fragile ecosystem, despite being one of the main source of water to Nairobi and millions of other Kenyans living in the neighbouring counties.

“The young generation has been cautioned but they do not hear a word of it,” Wamugo said.

Lucy Njagi is the group chairperson and says the 130 members of the group have all agreed to plant trees within and around the forest.

“This is our God given gold, we have to protect it,” she said during an interview with Capital FM News in Kambevo village that borders the mountain.

The trees are also a source of income since Mount Kenya Trust, a local based organization involved in preservation of the mountain, buy their seedlings, which they in turn plant in the forest.

The group was also visited by UN mountain ambassador Drikung Kyabgon Thinle Lhundup, to boost their morale in planting trees where he called on Kenyans to protect the Mountains.

“Our future lies in the mountains. How we treat the mountains now will determine what our future will look like. Mountains are part of our home and they are the water towers of the world. Therefore, they are important for humanity and we are all tied to their future,” he said.

He urged the authorities to collaborate with local communities in ensuring the mountains and wildlife are protected.

“We need collaboration across race, ethnicity, religion, country, and culture to assure that our mountains remain healthy. Global warming and climate change are serious threats to all our mountain environments and communities.,” he cautioned.

“Everyone on this planet should take actions in respecting the mountains, protecting the indigenous mountain people and cherishing the culture of indigenous mountain communities. This is why we engage in and advocate for sustainable mountain development around the world.

We hope that all of you will join in this international effort to save our mountains and our mountain people and culture.”

And as Wamugo says, we must protect Mount Kenya, since it is the, “lungs and the heart of the country.”

Other than the community’s’ initiative, the Mount Kenya Trust has helped in the protecting and restoring the dignity of the mountain alongside the Kenya Wildlife Service and the Kenya Forest Service.

More than 4 million Kenyans live in the six counties ringing Mount Kenya-Meru, Laikipia, Nyeri, Kirinyaga, Embu and Tharaka Nithi-and most congregate on the mountain’s fertile slopes where rainfall is highest.

Millions of people in Nairobi, around Tana River delta, across North-Eastern Kenya and even as far away as the Somali border, rely on water from rain that originally fell on Mount Kenya.

The mountain plays a critical role for all Kenyans since it feeds the country’s largest river, the Tana, which through hydropower generates up to 50 per cent of Kenya’s electricity.

The mountain also host a third of Kenya’s elephants.