The establishment of a Bongo and Rhino Sanctuary in Meru County is in top gear after the County Governor Kawira Mwangaza led other partners in a ground breaking ceremony at Marania forest in Buuri sub-county.
During the event, Kenya Forest Service (KFS) through Chief conservator Julius Kamau issued a user license for the 250-acre parcel of forest in the Marania and Mucheene state-owned forest covers within the Mount Kenya forest reserve.
Meru Bongo and Rhino Conservation Trust has been entrusted with the implementation of the project assisted by partners including the Meru County Government, Kenya Forest Service, Kenya Wildlife Service, Ntimaka and Kamulu Community Forest Associations, Lewa Wildlife Conservancy, Rare Species Conservatory Foundation, and Florida International University’s Tropical Conservation Institute.
Speaking during the event, Governor Mwangaza said the sanctuary will uplift the lives of future generations through the proceeds of tourism activities.
She added that social amenities including schools and hospitals among others will be constructed in areas neighbouring the sanctuary which will in return bring a positive impact to the people.
She called on the residents to support and own the project in order to get the benefits that come with such projects and also as a way of environmental conservation.
“The county government is fully behind this project and will do all that it takes to ensure it’s a success,” said Ms Mwangaza.
Mr Kamau, the KFS Chief Conservator said there was a need to conserve the forest in order to ensure that such endangered species survived without any interruption.
“As a way of supporting the initiative, we should take it as our responsibility to conserve our forests in every way possible,” said Mr Kamau.
He said in the 1970s, the country had about 700 Bongos but at the moment they were less than 100 that live in Mount Kenya, Mau, and Aberdare forests.
“The government has the plan to recover the rare species by increasing the population to about 720 by 2050 which is possible with this kind of initiative,” said Mr Kamau.
Meru Bongo and Rhino Conservation Trust Chairman Mr John Kinoti said the project aims to restore the wild Mt. Kenya population, engage local communities in eco-tourism and eco-friendly sustainable agriculture, and leverage protection for biodiversity across the Mt. Kenya ecosystem.
This initiative, he added, will be carried out in stages, with Bongos introduced into the sanctuary during the first phase and Black rhinos introduced in the second.
He said the returned Bongos will be placed in spacious, specially built, fence-protected enclosures where they will be closely observed to ensure their acclimation.
He said after the ground-breaking, the foundation will embark on the process of engaging the Kenya Wildlife Service to fast rack issuance of importation licenses in order to import the Bongos from Florida in America.
“We intend to important 20 female and five male bongos which will be accomplished sometime in June,” said Mr Kinoti.
He said the new sanctuary enables Bongo groups to breed and thrive, providing future generations to be rewilded into Mt. Kenya’s forest ecosystem.
“This project demonstrates the first effort in several decades of a public-private partnership of its kind in Kenya aimed to re-introduce a wildlife species that had gone extinct within the northern slope of the Mt.Kenya Forest,” said Mr Kinoti.
It brings together key stakeholders with the highest level of experience and expertise in wildlife conservation to join hands with the local communities to bring back and protect rare species for the benefit of conservation and economic development.
By Dickson Mwiti