Twenty years ago, in Kenya's Central Province, a fence was built to protect the
endangered black rhino. Now that fence has been expanded. The nearly completed
barrier is 400 kilometers long. It encloses Aberdares National
Park and helps promote ecosystem management, farming and public education. Voice of America English to Africa Service reporter, Sara
Nics, at Aberdares, describes the scene.
On a steep, forested hillside, four men are unrolling
wire mesh and nailing it to tall wooden beams. They carefully bury the base of the fencing in a three-foot
Colin Church looks out at the view over Kenya's central
province. He explains why the fence is being built along the edge of Aberdares
National Park, "That is farmland, thousands of farmers on what is called the
Kinangop Plateau, where there is mixed farming…very intense farming, right up
against the fence."
Church is the executive director of the charitable
trust called Rhino Ark, which has been building the barrier for the past 20 years.
So far, the project has completed
about 350 kilometers of electrified fence, enclosing almost 2000 square acres
He says, "The fence is seven feet above ground, three feet below
ground. It stops wild pig…bush pig and forest hog and porcupine. The fence of
course is impregnable to elephant as well. Essentially, this is a very, very
strong barrier…. In these mountain systems, with their indigenous forests and
with millions of farmers living on the lower slopes, you have to have a barrier
that everyone respects: the elephant on one side, and the farmers on the
The original purpose of the project was to help stop the
poaching of the black rhinoceros that live in these mountains. The fence helps
keep out people who would kill rhino for their horns and other animals for
But over the past 20 years, the goal has expanded. Staff at
the Rhino Ark, the Kenya Wildlife Service and the Kenya Forest Service came to
understand that the Aberdares mountain range is more than a sanctuary for
nearly two dozen endangered rhino.
The rain that falls on the mountains including neighboring
Mt. Kenya is the source of five of Kenya's largest rivers. The water that is
caught and filtered here irrigates land for many, many miles. The fence
prevents people from illegally harvesting the trees that make the Aberdares
such a valuable water catchment area.
One of the park's wardens, Augustine Njoga, says the fence
also protects the farms on the edge of the park. "The fence was meant to protect the community, as well as
protecting especially the rhino sanctuary. It was being used as a barrier to
prevent the wildlife from getting out and destroying crops."
42-year-old Crispus Karue has lived and farmed here on the
foothills of the Aberdaress his entire life. The fence is only a few feet from
his three-acre farm, "These are potatoes, these are maize; we want to plant
cabbages. We do sell them at the market and we just get something little for
Before it was built, he says, elephants, water buffalo and
other animals would often cross the hedges and game ditches that were intended
to keep the wildlife and humans apart:
"Before the fence, we [had] a lot of problems with the
animals -- the elephants, buffaloes, water bucks and the rest. When there was
no fence they [would] come here [and kill] our animals like cows, goats; even
sometimes they kill even people. [They would] come out from the forest to get
food and to eat here. So they destroyed our crops."
Now, he says, with the animals kept at a distance, he and
his family harvest almost everything they plant.
Warden Njoga says the rate of conflict between humans and
wildlife has decreased by about 90 percent where the fence has been built. The
property values of neighboring farms have increased by 50 to 200 percent. More
farmers' children are able to go to school since they are no longer needed to
guard the fields against wildlife.
Njoga says now the farmers who live next to the fence help
protect it. They also help the Kenya Forest Service educate border communities
about how the fence keeps humans safe from wildlife and wild spaces safe from
But Rhino Ark director Colin Church says fences are not a
solution country-wide, "It's not the solution for wildlife all over Kenya. We
stress it every time: wildlife can not be fenced in everywhere. There are
realities that we have to face. One is that we have created an island
ecosystem, so there could be long-term challenges. "
To address that, Church says the Rhino Ark and the Kenya Wildlife
Service are looking for ways to create corridors for elephant and other
wide-ranging species. They are hoping to link the Aberdares with its
neighboring park, Mt. Kenya, and the open rangelands to the north.
Church expects the initial 400 kilometers of
fence will be complete in early 2009. It's taken 20 years to get this far. But
now that Rhino Ark has expanded its goals to include protecting both the
ecosystem and human communities, the project is only just beginning.