The biodiversity of the Mara ecosystem is facing a number of threats including habitat loss and/or modification due to human population growth, deforestation, farming, over-grazing, settlements, illegal hunting, and infrastructure development. Studies suggest that the best approach to conservation of biodiversity is not only through conservation of plant and animal species, but also through conservation of habitats. Moreover, experience shows that the best way to conserve species is through protection of their critical habitats. (Mara Biodiversity Strategy Action Plan, 2010)
Elephants play a key role in structuring habitats and no habitats are more important to Kenya’s well-being than its forests, which often act as the water tower for key rivers and lakes in Kenya. MEP’s ability to protect elephants in the Mau, Loita and Nyakweri forests will directly help protect this important habitat. The elephant carrying capacity of forests in Kenya is heavily threatened by anthropogenic pressures like land encroachment for settlements and forest degradation through grazing, fires, illegal logging for timber, charcoal and firewood, and wildlife poaching.
The Mau Forest complex forms the largest canopy forest ecosystem in Kenya and is the single most important water catchment in the Rift Valley and Western Kenya. The Mau is critical to the Mara’s hydrological system and the loss of the forest through deforestation will result in the drying up of the Mara River.
“The Mau Forest is at the head of the entire water shed for the Mara and the Mara River, which is the primary water source for the ecosystem.” Dr. Jake Wall, MEP Director of Research and Conservation
The Loita Forest is an important refuge for elephants and other wildlife species including leopard and African wild dog. Although the forest cover is just over 3% of Kenya’s land area it contains 50% of the nation’s tree species, 40% of the larger mammals and 30% of known bird species. Kenya’s largest rivers originate in the Aberdares, Mt. Kenya and the Mau Forest complex, but also smaller forests such as Loita are key to the provision of water year-round for wildlife and people.
The growth of human populations and the associated habitat loss means free ranging areas for elephants and other wildlife are becoming increasingly rare and a key threat is deforestation. This includes illegal logging; charcoal production and conversion of land for agriculture and livestock. As wildlife habitat is lost, biodiversity is also lost.
“This area is a pristine rainforest, the Mara River almost stopped flowing in 2019, because the Mau is being destroyed. All the millions of wildebeest and all other life here in the Mara depend on the Mara River. If that’s destroyed there will be no Mara ecosystem.” Marc Goss, CEO Mara Elephant Project