Structure originally intended to save endangered black rhino succeeds in protecting forest and river sources.
After just over two decades, 402 km and $9m later, the last post on one of the longest fences ever built in Africa has been hammered in.
The electrified barrier, which rings the Aberdare mountain range, in west central Kenya, was initially intended to keep people out in order to save the few endangered black rhino within, but has become a model for countries struggling to protect scarce water resources.
Colin Church, the chair of the Kenya-based Rhino Ark conservation group and a leading expert on African leading wildlife, said the fence, which took 21 years for local communities to complete, had failed to save the rhino in the uplands it surrounds.
However, it had succeeded in protecting a large forest area and the sources of four of seven of Kenya's largest rivers, all of which rise in the Aberdares and provide electricity and water to major cities including Nairobi.
“In the early days, the motivation was to protect the black rhino, but then we all woke up to the fact that the farmers [who lived near the fence] were celebrating, and the reality is that this forested mountain area was the lifeblood for millions of people. We realised the whole ecosystem was at stake,” he said.
“Our thinking had to change.The Aberdares are now the most secure mountain ecosystem in the whole of Kenya and maybe Africa.” Kenya's wildlife service is now studying whether to put electric fences around Mount Kenya, the Mau forest, Mount Elgon and the Cherangani Hills, most of which have been invaded by thousands of poor people who threaten the country's water supplies, Julius Kipng'etich, the director of the wildlife service, said.
The fence, which has 8,000 miles of wire, was built largely from recycled plastic stakes made from the waste of dozens of flower farms at nearby Lake Naivasha.
Local people are allowed through it to collect wood and water. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010