World famous Kamnarok lake reserve on its deathbed (Kenya)


Florah Koech & Wycliff Kipsang, The Daily Nation

Date Published

See link for photo. 

With a population of more than 10,000 crocodiles, 400 elephants, 13 species of other mammals and a wide variety of birds, the world-famous Lake Kamnarok Game Reserve in Kerio Valley was Baringo County’s major revenue earner.

Local and foreign tourists would flock to the 87.7 square kilometres reserve to view wildlife.

But rampant human activities such as wanton felling of trees for charcoal burning and farming are posing a major threat to the reserve. The ox-bow lake was gazetted as a reserve in 1983. But it is now a shell of its former self. 

The lake is said to be the second largest in Africa after Lake Chad with the largest concentration of crocodiles and elephants in one ecosystem.


When the Nation team toured the park last week, we found thousands of livestock, including cattle, goats and sheep, grazing on a fertile field that used to be part of the lake. 

The situation is made worse by the water hyacinth, which is chocking the shoreline and blocking tributary rivers.

But the Baringo County government led by Governor Stanley Kiptis is now trying to revive the world famous lake.

Residents who used to depend on the lake for fishing and domestic use are now a disappointed lot.


Continued land tussle between locals bordering the reserve and Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) has not helped issues here either which has derailed efforts by the Baringo County government to revive its lost glory.

Seven sub-locations in Baringo North Sub-County including Muchukwo, Katibel, Keturwo, Konoo, Barwessa, Kaptilomwo and Kuikui fall inside the reserve.

The defunct Baringo County Council had also for many years locked horns with more than 3,000 residents bordering the reserve with the locals vowing not to move out of the reserve until they are given alternative land.

Baringo County government has since embarked on reviving the lost glory of the lake with the devolved unit setting aside Sh1.2 million in a pilot project aimed at removing the invasive water hyacinth from the world-famous lake.


Governor Stanley Kiptis said that the only solution to deter the weed from spreading is harvesting and getting it out of the lake completely.

“We should be reaping big from revenue generated from this game reserve, a resource of its own kind. We should work together in eliminating this weed from the lake. We even fear for the lives of the people living here because the crocodiles inside this lake will soon come out to the land,” said Mr Kiptis, adding that the devolved unit will involve residents in all revival efforts.

County executive in charge of Tourism Ms Scola Kimeli said that the county government was projecting that the reserve will be back on its feet to be able to generate revenue to the county with the road network to the reserve to be refurbished with 10 percent of the revenue to be generated to go to the community.

“We have hired several boats from Lake Baringo so as to help eliminate the weed. We are calling on the locals to help us because we are doing it manually and it will need a lot of man power. We call on the residents to support these initiatives,” said Ms Kimeli.


She said the next process will involve removing of soils from the lake which is responsible for silting to ensure that no more water gets out of the lake until it refills.

“We will soon embark on a massive tree planting exercise especially on the Tugen hills to prevent more soils being washed downstream which is one of the reasons for the silting and disappearance of the lake,” added Ms Kimeli.

According to Baringo County Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) warden Dickson Too, following scramble for limited resources with human beings and receding water level at the lake, wildlife at the reserve either perished or fled to the nearby Rimoi Game Reserve in Elgeyo-Marakwet County while others migrated to South Turkana.

“The lake is almost drying up due to destruction of the environment in Baringo and the neighbouring Elgeyo-Marakwet County. Tree felling and charcoal burning at the reserve has led to erosion,” said Mr Too.

According to the warden, siltation is also threatening the existence of the lake which is a home to the rare white crocodile species and other wildlife.


“If felling of trees and cultivation upstream is not stopped, then we may end up losing the lake completely. Kerio River which was permanent in the past is now seasonal due to human activities which has led to degradation of land which when rains come, it washes away the top soils,” added the warden.

Residents who come under the umbrella Kamnarok Land Rights Association who have complained of being harassed by KWS personnel yet they have co-existed well for generations with wild animals despite destruction of their crops and killing of their livestock.

“Our people have over the years been harassed in the pretext that they are destroying wildlife habitats. KWS should also restrain wild animals which have been straying into our farms damaging our crops and endangering lives,” said the group’s chairman Joseph Kiptala.


The residents are now demanding that the county government and KWS spells out clearly how they will be resettled to pave way for the revival of the lake.

The locals also complain that KWS and the county government have not involved them in the revival efforts.

A Task Force which brought together representatives from each of the seven sub locations bordering the reserve. KWS,Barwessa Member of the County Assembly (MCA),KFS, and representatives from the Ministry of Tourism and Lands was formed by the county government in 2014 to look into the boundary issue.


It also emerged that some politicians have been reluctant to support removal of residents from the fragile ecosystem for fear of losing political support.

This comes as the neighbouring Elgeyo-Marakwet County fenced off a section of Rimoi National Game Reserve and banned livestock grazing inside the reserve.

The grant re-opening was recently presided over by Tourism Cabinet Secretary Najib Balala.

The highlight of the launch was the release of wildlife which had been transported by the KWS to the reserve in a restocking programme.