New Guidebook to The Mau Eburu Forest

I came to work a few weeks ago and found a large brown envelope on my desk. Inside was a new copy of The Mau Eburu Forest – A Visitors’ Guide, and a very neatly written letter from the guide’s editor, Gordon Boy. ‘I hope this guide might inspire one (or more) in your team of illustrious columnists’, he wrote, ‘to visit the forest and attempt one of its many hiking trails’. With no plans at the weekend, that’s exactly what we did.

In preparation for the trip, I had a thorough read through the guidebook. The first of its three sections tells the story of Mau Eburu – from the brief history of its people and its broader ecosystem, to current conservation efforts. The second explores the unique flora and fauna of the forest, and includes a map of the reserve and the surrounding settlements. And the third provides practical information for visitors, including very detailed route notes for six hiking trails.

The guide was produced with support from the M-PESA Foundation, and is an outcome of the ongoing Eburu Ecosystem Conservation Project – a joint initiative of the Rhino Ark Kenya Charitable Trust, the Kenya Forest Service, and the Kenya Wildlife Service. Its well-researched and well-presented chapters draw on the expertise of guides from within the local Eburu community, as well as several researchers and scientists.

Until as recently as the 1930s (the guide tells me), the Mau Eburu Forest was just the easternmost tip of the vast, 10,000km2 Mau Forest. But, as a consequence of decades of deforestation, this super forest has been fragmented into a patchwork of ‘ecological islands’. The Mau Eburu Forest may be among the smallest of these islands, but its biological diversity and function as a key water catchment have motivated the likes of the Rhino Ark to protect it. Now, with the completion of a perimeter fence in 2014, the forest is better protected than ever before.

To get to the forest, we opted for the route along the Moi North Lake Road. After about 10km, turn right once you see a sign for the KenGen Eburu Geothermal Power Station. The road deteriorates considerably from here, and climbs for 12km through the settlement of Eburu towards the main gate.

Here we met our guides for the weekend – Joseph Sang, Charles Sang and Maseto Kusen. Maseto grew up in the forest, and like most of Eburu’s Ogiek community still trades honey, herbal medicine and other items he collects from the forest. Though his little English was a hindrance, Charles and Joseph were always on hand to translate.

We drove up the narrow, fern-lined track through the heart of the reserve to the Forest Glade Campsite, the starting point for our trek. Each of the six hiking trails presented in the guidebook make the most of what the reserve has to offer. The forest covers the slopes of Mount Eburu, a volcanic massif with two prominent peaks. Eastern Eburu is still geologically active, with numerous hot-springs and steam-jets that spit from fissures in its flanks. Western Eburu was formed thousands of years before its neighbour, but their summits sit just 5km apart, separated by a steep ridge.

In addition to the options of trekking to each summit, visitors can brave the Deep Valley Trail, which explores the upper reaches of the Ndabibi River Valley, south of the Western Summit. Dense forest-clad cliffs and a spectacular waterfall make for a very scenic hike, and it would have been our first choice had it not been for recent heavy rains. We opted instead for a three-hour trek along the Western Summit Trail, which was just as spectacular. Gaps in the belt of African Mountain Bamboo around the summit revealed hazy views of Soysambu and Lake Elmentaita to the north, and Lake Naivasha to the south.

Along the way we disturbed troops of Blue Monkeys, and Guereza Colubus Monkeys. The biological diversity preserved within the forest is extraordinarily rich. As well as being recognised as the most important ‘hotspot’ for birdlife on the Mau Highlands, the forest is home to 10% of the global wild population of the critically endangered Mountain Bongo.

We found out later that night, as we camped by the Forest Glade, that the reserve is also home to a large population of tree hyraxes – who kept us up all night with their crescendo of blood-curdling shrieks. For those who don’t want to be completely self-sufficient and camp in the forest, there are plenty of accommodation options by Lake Naivasha.

You can pick up a copy of the guidebook from the Nature Kenya office at the Nairobi National Museum, and it will soon be available at Bookstop at the Yaya Centre. To plan a visit, call Douglas Gachucha (0723928471), a keen birder and knowledgeable local guide who helped to map the hiking trails presented in the guidebook.

Published in Kenya’s Sunday Nation