NWNL in Kenya – February 2018

JAMBO! FROM KENYA, where I’m studying Mara and Omo River issues related to water supply and dams, while also following water issues beyond Kenya.

USA DROUGHT Weather patterns continue to stun us. See Daniel Swain’s recent Blog on California Weather that mentions Santa Barbara, CA. The last map shows California as N. America’s “donut-hole of drought!

In Sept. 2016 Lake Casitas Reservoir – main water supply for Santa Barbara CA – was at 7.5% capacity.

S AFRICA While the US West lacks rainfall, 4 million Cape Town residents face Day Zero on May 11, when they could run out of water after 3 years of drought. Already, residents are to use only 13 gallons of water per day. A 90-second shower uses 1/3 of that; and a 4-min shower uses it all.

Outdoor shower, Naboisho Conservancy, Greater Maasai Mara Ecosystem

KENYA In Nairobi, leaves are tightly curled and drooping. In the Aberdare Mountains and Mt Kenya forests, most streams are dry. This is due to drought and to casual dams built by folks wanting water - despite needs of downstream communities.

Laval rocks, spewed from Mt Kenya and smoothed by tumbling headwaters for eons, in now-dry Thego River.

These illegal dams are often poorly designed. Some use just a few rocks – some use concrete and boulders. We drove across one unpermitted dam with a smart-looking spillway. However, rainy-season floods created their own spillway, displacing the dam’s boulders held by thin mesh.

Non-functioning spillway on downstream side of Nyangi River dam.

Today no water flows through that poorly engineered spillway – or other dams. Yet people upstream, and waterfowl enjoying these illegal muddy pools, seem unconcerned about downstream impacts.

Pelicans and red-billed ducks in a stagnant, illegal reservoir.


Straddling sparkling streams, Mt Kenya’s new Ragati Conservancy is a fisherman’s delight – and a sharp contrast to muddy pools behind illegal dams. Here, last-ditch efforts to save the iconic Mountain bongo from extinction are underway. Captive bongo from private owners and zoos will soon be moved to Ragati’s holding pens and then released to join the remaining 6 bongo on Mt Kenya. Protecting the forests for bongos also protects downstream rivers, a critical water reserve for Kenya.

The Ragati River, next to a muddy buffalo path that “sucked off my shoes!”


At a forest retreat, warmed by firewood we brought with us, I learned about 57 dams currently proposed in Kenya. I heard elephant slurping from the nearby waterhole – and I heard the dams were not for irrigation as I’d thought, but rather dams to provide water for home usage. “It’s time to stop so many women and girls having to walk so many miles to gather water,” said my hostess.

Kenya’s girls and women still walk for water.


To mitigate for environmental impacts, dam builders will be asked to build rain-harvesting gutters for home water storage and to add to existing forest acreage. This month I’ll join Kenyan conservationists to discuss impacts on Kenya’s Maasai Mara and Tanzania’s Serengeti ecosystems of any new dams on the Mara River.

L to R: Christian Lambrechts (Rhino Ark, Dir.) and Mike Prettejohn (BSP, Dir.) study camera-trap images from Aberdare Forest.


Despite Kenya’s election controversies, peace reigns. Kenyans learned in 2013 that election violence doesn’t work. They vow that shall never happen again.

Responsible tourist venues, such as Solio Lodge with its many rhino, invest in conservation and development. Kenya’s Ban on Plastic (with severe penalties) has cleaned up roadsides and towns.

No longer can one joke that plastic bags are Kenya’s national flower.

EXTINCTION BE DAMNED! Now, I must download my photos of rhinos at mud-holes and camera-trap images of Mountain Bongo from Mike Prettejohn, founder of the Bongo Surveillance Program [BSP]. NWNL happily contributed a 32-gig card to help record the elusive bongo. BSP has documented the only 120 bongo left in the wild. All remnant herds of this “flagship species of the forests” are in Kenya’s threatened forests of the Aberdare Mountains, Mt Kenya and the Mau Complex (source of the Mara). BSP is determined to protect them from extinction by protecting their forest habitat – also protecting Kenya’s water supplies.


Mountain bongo on the Aberdares Salient. Camera-trap image by Mike Pettejohn.

THANKS Mingi asanti’s to all who added to the success of this NWNL “Forest Expedition:”
Mike and Diane Prettejohn (Bongo Surveillance Project)
Christian Lambrechts (Rhino Ark Trust)
Malte Sommerlatte & Brendan Hill (Ragati Conservancy)
Peter Mwangi (Sangare Conservancy)
Ava Paton and Solio’s guide John (Solio Lodge)

Appreciation, as always, to James Robertson and Abigail (Ker and Downey Safaris) who’ve made all NWNL Kenyan expeditions possible by providing a great base and advice. They do so much to promote conservation!

NEXT My upcoming NWNL sojourns in Kenya:
The Desert around Lake Turkana (terminus of Ethiopia’s Omo River)
The Savannah of the Maasai Mara (famous Game Reserve in Mara River Basin)

SALAAMS to all NWNL rafiki (friends) and Sarah Kearns for managing NWNL from NYC!
– Alison Jones, Director of NWNL

[Published February 12, 2018]