Oloolua Forest, an untapped resource in Kajiado County

By Obegi Malack

obegimalack@gmail.com

Oloolua Forest that was gazetted in the year 1941 as a forest reserve in Kajiado County is one of the untapped resources in the county as it has been neglected and left under the mercy of illegal loggers.

The expansive forest, upon gazzettement was thriving on 687 hectares, although records on a Kenya Forest Service (KFS) report released in 2018 indicate the forest occupies 667 hectares of land.

Part of the forest is now occupied by the Institute of Primate Research (IPR) and the National Laboratory and Regional Centre for Radiation Safety and Nuclear Security recently constructed sitting on 200 and 40 acres respectively as the remaining part of the forest is not utilized. IPR is under the National Museums of Kenya

The forest provides a habitat to a variety of wildlife including Dik-dik antelopes, other mammals such as hyenas and leopards that are occasionally spotted. It has indigenous trees that act as home to the more than 350 species of birds. There are natural caves, picnic sites, bicycle riding trails, waterfalls, hiking, walking trails and running trails for nature lovers and fitness fanatics within the forest.

The forest is part of the larger Ngong Forest block which comprises of Ngong Hills and Kibiko Forest. It meets Karen in the eastern side, Gataka to the south, Merisho in the south west, Embulbul northwards, Olkeri and Oloolua townships in the western side.

Oloolua Community Forest Association (CFA) Chairperson Christopher Muriithi in natural cave in Oloolua Forest.Photo by Obegi Malack..

Two rivers pass through the forest; the Enchorro Emuny, Kandisi River and Empakasi Mbagathi River. The two rivers join to form Athi River in Maasai Lodge area of Ongata Rongai.

IPR manages the Oloolua Nature Trail of which they charge a given fee to visitors. The Nature Trail contains the famous Maumau cave which goes 33 foot deep, picnic sites, bicycle riding trails, waterfalls, walking trails, hiking and running trails for nature lovers and fitness enthusiasts.

The other part of the forest which is also not manned by the IPR has the features which if utilized, would become resourceful.

Most part of the forest is manned by KFS and Oloolua Community Forest Association (CFA), an association made up of community scouts who keep eyes on what is happening in the forest besides planting trees on voluntary basis. The association’s Chairperson and Environmentalist Christopher Muriithi has the history of the forest at his fingertips as he takes us through the forest and tells us on how it should be utilized to benefit the community and the country at large.

The forest is under threat from human activities and Christopher says it has been encroached since it is not fenced, senior officers being part of the encroachment.

The indigenous trees are also cut down by loggers as people keep dumping waste in the forest, there also are quarry activities which has destroyed trees and the natural landscape. These activities have forced the CFA to introduce initiatives to protect and conserve the remaining part of the forest.

Community scouts Geoffrey Karioki and Wanjiru show an indigenous trees cut by loggers .Photo by Obegi Malack

“The SGR passed through the heart of the forest putting it at the brink of deforestation, we also have loggers that cut down trees, garbage collectors find it a quick spot to dump their trash,” he says.

Pollution is also high in the forest as Ngong town and other settlements such as Embulbul and Oloolua directs their sewerage systems to Enchorro Emuny River that passes through the forest. The poisonous sewers destroy the ecosystem, killing animals such as frogs and fish.

Wildlife depends on the Empakasi River which runs from Kerarapon forest to quench their thirst, the water is clean and is even used by Karen residents. It becomes dirty when it gets to Co-operative University Bridge courtesy of surrounding settlements such as Gataka that dump their waste in the river besides using its banks as cover for illicit alcohol brewing dens.

The conservationist says the only way to save the forest from deforestation and pollution is for the government to build a sewerage plant to serve residents who live along the rivers and in towns that surrounds the forest.

Ngong town is one of the main pollutant of the forest as residents pump sewers to the rivers since many buildings do not have septic tanks, the old sewerage has broken down and cannot serve the increasing population of Ngong while land allocated for the sewer system near the dumpsite is already grabbed.

Oloolua Community Forest Association chair Christopher Muriithi in the forest rocks. Photo by Obegi Malack

CFA is coming up with Participatory Forest Management plan to protect the forest and map out resources besides getting partnerships. They are now putting up an office in the forest to run forest activities.

The association has come up with nine user rights that they are allowed to implement which are; bee keeping, tree nursery, herbal, youth ecosystem, water, firewood, research and education.

The first item for the association is to secure the forest by fencing around it to keep illegal loggers and hunters away. The forest has more than seven entries and CFA wants them to be managed by scouts, creating employment for the surrounding community.

“This year alone, three bodies have been recovered in the forest, we also have animal hunters who are targeting game or wild meat, through our community scouts we patrol and police from Gataka are helping us overwhelmingly. The crime rate is going down,” Muriithi says.

A tree nursery by Oloolua Forest Community Forest Association.

He notes that since he was elected the chairperson of the association in August 2020, he has managed to reduce damages the forest faced and has also mentored locals on the importance of conservation.

After fencing, the community will place beehives in the forest. It will also work with herders to ensure they do not destroy the trees; a small fee will be priced on cattle grazing while grazing of goats will be banned since browsers destroy trees.

The association has tree nurseries in the forest and will ensure during tree planting exercise the trees are procured from the forest nurseries. They will also ensure those who extract herbal medicine do it procedurally.

To promote sports and wellbeing, the CFA will create 32 KM trails in the forest to aid athletes who are forced to train along the busy roads and pavements which can be dangerous to them.

Community scouts Geoffrey Karioki and Wanjiru says they patrol the forest to keep away loggers and hunters, during weekends they also get visitors whom they take around; they do this for the love of the forest.

During our nature walk, it was clear the Rongai-Gataka-Embul road is now among the busiest roads in the county. Most people prefer the Gataka route to beat the Magadi and Ngong road traffic jams.

Gataka town that neighbors the forest is now one of the busiest towns in the county, Matatu stage or picking points have been put up and travelling to the center is now quicker than before.

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