SPECIAL FEATURE: Why Baringo Ostrich is endangered

A family of ostriches huddle together in the shore of Lake Baringo with nowhere to call home. PHOTO/Jeremiah Chamakany, The Scholar Media Africa.

Baringo County is witnessing one of her most severe environmental disasters brought by nature.

Both man and wildlife are at the receiving end.

Ever since the onset of the long rains in the country, Marigat is turning into a real theatre in the climaxing duel of man verses nature.

The area is registering massive losses in crop and disrupted social live.

People living around Lakes Baringo and Bogoria are bowing to the dictates of the water bodies claiming and conquering new territories at each rising sun.

Together with the surging shorelines, mosquitos bristle and breed in billions while crocodiles and hippos roam villages, declaring to all who is the master in the duel of man verses nature.

Salabani Location in Baringo South and Loruk trading center in Baringo North have both been treated very harshly by the unwelcome acts of mother nature.

Apart from people’s homes, many public amenities are fast disappearing into the history of the Lake sediments where they will remain in total darkness; waiting to be discovered by the next generation of marine archeologists.

Human beings in the affected regions have the option of fleeing to higher grounds, a vivid reminder of the Biblical floods only that in the case of the Baringo floods, man is only trying to save himself and his livestock; but not the wildlife.

The ostrich, scientifically known as struthio camelus is believed to have roamed the plains of Baringo South when it was still the morning of life.

For over a century or more; the flightless bird has lived and thrived among the people in the region; but that is not the case anymore.

The largest bird on earth is possibly the biggest loser in the catastrophe that mother nature is visiting to the region around the large water bodies.

For the first time in the unfolding history of floods and the surging lake within Baringo, the ostrich which is mainly a bird of the plains has been forced to live in the marshlands, and wade into the waters in search for food where it is frequently attacked; and eaten by the crocodiles.

“We have lost two ostriches to the crocodiles in the last two months,” said Mr. Chelimo Kiplagat, the Principal of the submerged Salabani Secondary School where ten ostriches have been hosted for the last five years or more.

The birds fled the mathenge bushes.

The fast spreading Prosopis Julisflora could not allow the ostrich anymore free movement in their former natural habitats within Meisori, Loropil and Ildepe villages.

Mr. Chelimo reveals to scholarmedia.africa that the ostrich gate crashed into the Salabani Secondary School compound, and was the unwelcome guest.

Students and teachers could easily skid over their dung and at the same time, get distracted when the six male ostriches engage in fights over the only two surviving females.

It later emerged that upon sighting the open school playing ground, the bird could not help coveting the field, immediately turning it into her habitat.

The bird eventually succeeded in claiming the school compound and has since remained part and parcel of the school community.

To supplement their daily foraging activities before the closure of the school following the outbreak of COVID-19, the family of ostriches always look forward to feeding on food crumbs that remain from the students dining Hall but now; her tale of sorrows is not showing any sign of slowing down.

The ostrich is now a fugitive in her homeland.

The surging lake has claimed more than half of the Salabani school compound; and the bird is now depressed, her beautiful wings drenched in water all day through.

“We have asked Kenya Wildlife Services to step forward and find a home for this birds because Salabani Secondary School which provided a home for them  is fast disappearing into the lake, possibly never again to host terrestrial life,” Mr. Limo told scholarmedia.africa while rescuing some files and other school records from his office now surrounded by water.

Ilchamus Ward Member of the County Assembly Joseph Ole Parsalach agreed to an Interview on the subject of the future of the Ostrich in Baringo South.

Parsalach is overcome by emotions while discussing the suffering the bird is going through, presently.

The Member of the Baringo County Assembly cites Mathenge tree as the original culprit; spelling doom to the bird which is not only mentioned in the Bible; but one which has also inspired songs and oral narratives among the Ilchamus people of Marigat since time immemorial.

“Destroy the Mathenge tree and you save the ostrich,” said Parsalach.

Ilchamus Ward MCA Joseph Parsalach is concerned about the Future of the Ostrich. PHOTO/Jeremiah Chamakany, The Scholar Media Africa.

He is categorical, while stating that floods in Marigat and the surging lakes are only lending a final blow to the ostrich existence in the region, by claiming the last frontiers of the now diminished ostrich habitat.

William Kimosop, Tourism and Wildlife Sector Coordinator in the Northern Rift (NOREB) reveals that apart from the floods, the Baringo ostrich has been forced out of her natural home by the spread of the Mathenge tree, the Prosopis Julisflora .

‘’Because of the Mathenge tree within Marigat, the ostrich has fled the Ilchamus flats and moved to as far as Mugurin and Kamar in Mogotio Constituency, Loruk in Baringo North and even Kapkon within Kimalel of Baringo South,” Kimosop revealed.

Kimosop explains that the ostrich is basically a bird of the plains, thriving more in the open fields where it can play, and unleash her ground breaking speeds any moment the urge strikes.

Kimosop states that the ostrich breeding grounds in Baringo has been destroyed by Mathenge tree and the frequent floods; a fact collaborated by the Salabani village headman Joseph Parkolwa who intimated that one of the ostriches hosted at Salabani Secondary school had eighteen eggs in total, but only managed to hatch two chicks.

Kimosop adds that in the new habitats the ostrich has fled to, there is no safety guarantee for largest bird on earth pointing out that  poaching, as in the case of Loyamorok Location in Tiaty Constituency is real.

Many ostriches have met a brutal end in Tiaty even after fleeing the Mathenge tree and the annual floods.

Area Senior Chief Robert Kanyekera has been forced to hold public barazas, and sensitize the locals on the importance of the ostrich conservation, being a very important foreign exchange earner under the Tourism sector.

The local administrator is using his barazas to tell his subjects not to harm or kill the ostrich mainly for feathers used in traditional dances, or the meat which is rumored to be an upcoming delicacy among the once conservative natives of Baringo.

They once revered the bird as sacred but now, globalization through the internet has informed many that the ostrich can be speared for food.

Kimosop is however optimistic that the Baringo ostrich can be helped to revert back to her former glory, only if the authorities concerned can eradicate, or minimize the spread of the Mathenge tree within the Ilchamus flats.

Kimosop cites the bird’s significance to the prosperity of pastoral communities since the beginning of time.

‘’Ostrich and pastoral communities have lived together in harmony since time immemorial. The fastest bird on earth is a good watch dog against hyenas and the feral dogs preying on livestock,” Kimosop reveals.

Human civilization in Baringo verses the uncompromising acts of nature leaves much to be desired about the fate of the Baringo ostrich.

The bird is facing two big enemies, the Mathenge tree and too much water through the annual floods and now the surging shore lines.

The two phenomenons do occasion a change of habitat for the bird, and may possibly spell doom and a final blow to the mighty ostrich of Baringo.

The bird is a natural attraction that forces both local and foreign tourists to stop, and snap photo graphs while enroute to many other tourist attraction sites in the Northern Rift.

According to one Richard Chepchome from Baringo North, the Mathenge tree was introduced to Baringo through the Food and Agriculture Program FAO, purposely to curb sheet erosion and provide forest cover through the Ilchamus Flats and Tugen Hills Program.

‘’I worked for Food and Agriculture Organization between 1983-1988, and had a chance to visit Australia and bench mark on how best the Mathenge tree could be utilized to stop sheet erosion and provide cover for the bare lands.

We introduced about thirteen Prosopis Julisflora Nurseries in Baringo North alone but now, I regret that the Mathenge tree has done more harm than benefit especially to the people of Baringo South, where the tree flourished more than Baringo North where it was also introduced,” Chepchome reveals adding that the tree has achieved the opposite of what was intended, adversely affecting community lives; destroyed pasturelands and changed the course of the rivers.

Chepchome is very supportive of any efforts to destroy Mathenge tree, an observation equally supported by Mr. Simon Choge, Assistant Regional Director, Rift Valley Eco-Region and Principal Research Scientist, KEFRI.

Speaking to The Scholar Media Africa at his Marigat offices within Baringo South Constituency, Choge is in agreement that the Mathenge tree has done more harm than good to the communities within Baringo South, and upset the way of life that ran smooth before the introduction of the Mathenge tree.

“We imported an insect from Latin America purposely to attack the Mathenge seeds.

In the year 2007, KEFRI was ready to introduce the insect to Marigat in a mission to upset the Mathenge tree reproduction process, a very effective biological mechanism; but encountered resistance from the locals who feared that the insect may also eat up their crops,” Choge reveals.

He adds that there is an urgent need to roll out a sensitization program; to help the affected communities understand why the tree must be eradicated in Marigat through biological means.

He points out that the Mathenge weed is spreading at an alarming rate, and that the end result will be catastrophic to the environment.

Choge however refuses to accuse Mathenge tree for being the culprit behind the flooding and the surging lakes within Marigat, a view he coincidentally shares with Walter Tanui, Water Resource Authority Manager in charge of Baringo Sub-Region.

“No one exactly knows why there is so much flooding or rise in water levels in Baringo Lakes. Many unproven scientific theories are going round; one of them being siltation. We still do not have any scientific explanation behind the increase in the volume of water in Lake Baringo or Bogoria. Global climatic changes have been advanced to explain the phenomenon, but we are still looking forward to getting factual information from the experts,” says Tanui.

In the face of this natural catastrophe, Baringo Deputy Governor Jacob Chepkwony who is also the Chairman of the County Disaster and Emergency Management Plan sent out an appeal to the National Government, and the International Community, appealing for partnership in the effort to find a lasting solution to the problem of floods in Baringo, and urgently find out why there is rise in water volumes in Lakes Baringo and Bogoria.

In this noble discussion, every effort and resource is geared towards saving human lives and livelihoods, but it now emerges that the Baringo ostrich has no advocate in the case to demand justice against forces that threaten her very survival.

According to the University of Michigan Museum of Zoology, ostriches once roamed all over Asia, Africa and the Arabian Peninsula but have been poached extensively.

Only a few ostriches are remaining in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Maybe it’s time to think seriously on how to conserve the Baringo ostrich, Marigat Sub-county is the only remaining ostrich frontier, the last vestige of her very survival.

Ostriches in Lake Baringo; a bird of the Plains is now forced to forage for food in the marsh lands where they are frequently attacked and eaten by the Crocodiles. PHOTO/Jeremiah Chamakany, The Scholar Media Africa.
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