New satellite data analysis reveals that the Mau Forest in Kenya, the largest montane forest in East Africa, is continuing to lose tree cover, likely due to illegal logging and agricultural expansion, despite efforts at protection. The Mau Forest is vital as the country’s biggest water catchment area, covering some 2,700 square kilometers (1,042 square miles) in western Kenya. Forest monitoring groups report approximately 25% of the forest was lost between 1984 and 2020 due to human pressures.
Data from the monitoring platform Global Forest Watch (GFW) shows that Mau Forest lost 19% of its tree cover, around 533 square kilometers (205 square miles), between 2001 and 2022. Satellite data for 2023 indicates that deforestation is continuing in the Mau Forest protected area complex this year, particularly in the Londiani, Mount Londiani, Mau Narok, Eastern Mau, and Olpusimoru forest reserves.
Most of the deforestation in Mau is caused by agricultural expansion, using slash-and-burn methods to clear land for cattle and crops. Small-scale agricultural fires are common in the reserve and surrounding buffer zones. Residents also selectively log valuable tree species. Despite evictions and replanting efforts, activities like logging and charcoal production continue.
Satellite data reveals that Olpusimoru Forest, a large reserve within the Mau complex, experienced 9% primary forest loss from 2011 to 2021. In 2018, the Kenya Forest Service evicted thousands of settlers from Olpusimoru in an attempt to protect the forest, but fresh signs of tree cutting were found in the reserve in 2022.
Limited resources and unclear boundaries between the public forest and the reserve hinder enforcement. Conservationists argue that stronger monitoring and enforcement are urgently needed to save the Mau Forest and preserve its rich biodiversity and water resources. The deforestation in the Mau Forest threatens biodiversity and water security for the millions dependent on the vital ecosystem.
The forest is home to endangered species such as the African bush elephant, the African golden cat, and the yellow-backed duiker, as well as a diverse range of bird communities. Efforts by local NGOs to counter poverty-driven deforestation are hindered by conflicts over resources between communities.
In conclusion, stronger enforcement and action are needed to save the remaining Mau Forest and protect its biodiversity and water resources.