By the late 1980s, Amboseli’s acacia forests were facing a crisis of survival, as a growing population of elephant took its toll on the fragile environment of the – apart from the swamps which are fed by water coming off Mt. Kilimanjaro – otherwise rather arid national park. Tourists enjoying a calm evening on the terrace of their lodge were suddenly able to see the lights of other lodges in the park, previously concealed by the patches of forest which had managed to cling on to the dry earth.
At the turn of the decade, alarm signals rang all over the offices of the lodges, and it was Serena Hotels, which in a pioneering move decided to take decisive action and help rescue what remained of the acacia forest patches before embarking on a major restoration drive. Since the program was launched in 1991 around the Amboseli Serena Lodge, visiting dignitaries, guests, and staff have planted over 1.2 million acacia seedlings, and the success has bred similar initiatives in other areas of the park and beyond.
Protected by electric fencing, all put up by the lodge at its own expense, and tended to by a number of locally-employed Masai staff, many of these trees have matured beyond the wildest dreams of those who launched the program nearly 25 years ago, creating an additional buffer between the lodge and the surrounding swamps and dryer park areas.
Elephant still periodically raid the forest in search of food after first cunningly breaking the electric fence, inserting their tusks between the wires before breaking them with a swift upward move of their heads, but the lodge staff are alert and react promptly to drive the eles back beyond the fence before making repairs.
Lodge General Manager Mr. Herman Mwasaghua went to some length to personally conduct a tour of the property which sits on well over 8 hectares of land. Apart from the main builldings of the lodge, rooms, and back of house, most of the land is dedicated to either the manicured gardens or was left alone to remain in its state of wilderness, with the acacia forest contributing to an improved micro climate around the lodge.
This pioneering spirit by Serena has earned the lodge major accolades in the past including Green Globe awards and being inscribed in a global list of the most ecofriendly and sustainable operations-focused properties around the world.
Most important though, Serena’s quarter-of-a-century old effort and commitment has shown results for the park itself. A core area in the center has equally been fenced off where the Kenya Wildlife Service is now undertaking similar reforestation efforts in order to gradually increase the forested area of the park which provides a crucial habitat for birds and other species.
In the late 1980s, Amboseli threatened to become a mere dustbowl, apart from the swamp areas, which would have put the survival of many species under threat. Mindful of the need to protect such natural resources though, after all safari tourism can only prosper when its wildlife and nature fundamentals remain intact, this private effort turned the tide even though it took nearly 25 years to get where Amboseli is today, and the battle is ongoing.
Climate change makes itself felt more acutely in Africa than in most places around the world, and the shrunken ice caps of Kilimanjaro are the writing on the wall that change is needed today, when efforts might still yield results and the scale has not yet been tipped.
Kenya’s if not Africa’s national parks are, whether inscribed by UNESCO into the global heritage roll or not, a global heritage nevertheless. To preserve and protect such resources for generations to come, decisions must be taken, painful as they might be, to ensure the long-term survival of big and small game, birds, reptiles, and flora.
It may yet take another pioneering initiative by such corporate entities like Serena Hotels to push the envelope and set examples which the politicians of today, staring only from one election cycle to the next, may have to embrace, too, or else lose their corporate support and lose the next ballot.
Meanwhile, the forest around Serena’s Amboseli Safari Lodge received a further 13 new baby trees yesterday, planted by the media group brought into the country by the Kenya Tourism Board to create global coverage for the upcoming Magical Kenya Travel Expo.