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From den of vice to joggers’ haven, Karura forest thrives

Within 10 years, Karura has gone from a dangerous no man’s land to one of Nairobi’s safest and most popular destinations



“We would collect dead, dumped bodies. Some were decomposing… others were fresh,” said John Chege of his early days policing Nairobi’s Karura Forest, back when thieves and murderers outnumbered joggers and dog walkers in the woods.

Karura then was the stuff of urban legend, a fearsome place invoked to scare misbehaving children. Chege and his scouts, stumbling on corpses by day, kept white-knuckled vigils by night as they scanned the darkness for intruders.

“It was hell,” Chege told reporters of his hair-raising first months as Karura’s inaugural chief scout, back in 2009 when efforts began to reclaim the forest. “But today we celebrate because there is nothing of the sort.”

In the space of 10 years, Karura has gone from a dangerous no man’s land to one of Nairobi’s safest and most popular destinations, a verdant refuge in a city that has long carried the unfortunate moniker “Nairobbery”.

John Chege, chief scout, speaking during an interview in Karura forest. (Photo by SIMON MAINA / AFP)
John Chege, chief scout, speaking during an interview in Karura forest. (Photo by SIMON MAINA / AFP)

Karura is also a symbol against land-grabbing, having been saved from developers to become the world’s second-largest forest that is fully within city limits, conservationists say.

Kenya’s forests are cleared at a rate of 5,000 hectares (12,300 acres) a year, the environment ministry said in 2018. But Karura has survived, even as green spaces are being swallowed by concrete in one of Africa’s fastest-growing cities.

From zero visitors in 2009, today Karura attracts up to 30,000 nature lovers a month, with 10-year commemorative events planned in October to mark its striking transformation and storied history.

For many years, hardly anyone came, said Karanja Njoroge, who chaired Friends of Karura Forest, a community group that co-manages the reserve, from 2011 to 2018.

Bad reputation –

Shaking its reputation was a challenge, even after an electric fence was raised around the perimeter.

“Karura Forest in 2009 was a place where no one would even want to be threatened to be taken. It meant either you were going to be killed, or that you were going to be punished,” Njoroge said.

Chege and his scouts, who were trained by the British army, could not convince nervous joggers they would be safe, and so ran alongside them in khaki fatigues.

“Perhaps a visitor wanted to run 10 kilometres? My guy was to run 10 kilometres,” he said.

Slowly, visitor numbers grew as the criminals were flushed out. A clubhouse, long abandoned because patrons kept getting mugged, reopened its doors. Women felt safe enough to run on their own, Chege said.

Local communities were vital in bolstering security. 

Chege, a former illegal logger, was recruited from Huruma, a slum on Karura’s northern fringe. The community used the forest for firewood, and as a rubbish tip and open toilet.

Today, they are its custodians, planting saplings, clearing weeds and policing its borders.

Karura narrowly escaped destruction in the late 1990s when, crawling with bandits and ravaged by logging, developers gifted parcels of the forest to politically connected elites.

Read: Gabon ready to receive funds to fight deforestation

The upland forest is a developers dream: 1,000 hectares of prime land, straddled by Nairobi’s most exclusive suburbs.

Wangari Maathai, the late founder of Kenya’s Green Belt Movement, and the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize rallied church leaders, lawyers and students to Karura’s defence.

In January 1999, armed thugs attacked Maathai as she tried to plant seedlings in an act of protest, landing her in hospital.

A notice board is photographed in Karura forest, Nairobi. (Photo by SIMON MAINA / AFP)
A notice board is photographed in Karura forest, Nairobi. (Photo by SIMON MAINA / AFP)

The violence made international headlines and outraged a public tired of corrupt elites grabbing state land.

The protesters won the day: development was halted.

Green icon –

The forest still bears the scars of this violent past. Bald tracts of forest cleared for mansions abut thriving black wattle — a tree whose growth was spurred by fires from the days protesters burned tractors in defiance, Chege said.

But its tranquillity is not assured.

Other forests, such as Oloolua in Nairobi’s south, have suffered from rampant encroachment. Even the city’s iconic national wildlife park is being sliced through with a railway whose construction began last year in defiance of a court order.

Though Chege worries more about dogs off leashes these days than dealing with dead bodies, a road being widened on Karura’s eastern border has raised concerns.

Land grabs are not a distant threat. In July, a court ruled against a private company trying to claim 4.3 hectares of Karura.

“If everybody who wants to build keeps chipping away, there will be very little left,” Njoroge said.

Karura persists as a conservation triumph. Native trees are taking back the forest from species introduced by the British to fuel their railway to Uganda, notably eucalyptus trees.

A man jogs in Karura forest. (Photo by SIMON MAINA / AFP)

Before conservation efforts began, non-native trees, many of them invasive, made up 60 per cent of the forest. Eucalyptus, in particular, inhibit the growth of other plants and monopolise the water supply with their voracious thirst.

The forest contains rivers, waterfalls and caves used by anti-colonial rebels. Joggers encounter bushbucks, hornbills and Syke’s monkeys.

Maathai’s daughter, Wanjira Mathai, said her mother would be proud of what Karura has become, “and maybe even surprised at just how much people love it”.

“She had hoped her children’s children — my generation and our children — would enjoy this forest, and that’s what has come to pass,” Mathai told reporters.

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Conservation News

Kenya, Tanzania Plan to Conduct Wildlife Census



Kenya and Tanzania are set to conduct a joint cross-border count of rhinoceros and other large mammals in the shared Mara-Serengeti ecosystem.

The census is one of the resolutions reached by a joint meeting dubbed ‘the Greater Serengeti Society Platform’

Chaired by chairperson of Tourism and Natural Resources Management Committee of the Council of Governors Samuel Tunai, it had in attendance key tourism industry players from the two countries.

The forum also deliberated on successes in conservation of the Greater Serengeti Ecosystem, as well as challenges and the interventions needed.

Attendees at the workshop facilitated by the European union included senior managers and directors from Kenya Wildlife Services, Tanzania National Parks, and Tanzania Wildlife Management Authority.

Others are Narok County, Maasai Mara game reserve warden, Frankfurt Zoological Society, Tanzania Association of Tour Operators, Grumeti & Friedkin and the Maasai Mara Wildlife Associations.

The meeting saw to the constitution of the committee tasked with the cross-border census. It involved Kenya Wildlife Service, Narok county government rangers, Tanzania Wildlife Research Institute, Wildlife Division of Tanzania and Tanzania National Parks and Environmental activists.

The aerial census seeks to establish the wildlife population, trends and distribution as well as foster cross-border collaboration on wildlife monitoring and management between the two East African countries.

Tunai said data from the census will be used for planning and preparing the management for possible wildlife security and human-wildlife conflict eventualities in the ecosystem.

Researcher Grant Hopcraft said the Tanzanian government has moved about 8,000 persons out of the Speke Game Controlled Area in a bid to conserve Serengeti’s ecosystem as it faces shortfalls in rainfall.

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Egypt’s Asmarat Alternative Housing to Receive Dozens of Families

Asmarat is receiving over 130 slum-dwelling families in fully-furnished buildings, offering succour to underprivileged women, children and the physically challenged.



Over 130 families and former residents of Sayeda Aicha neighbourhoods have started arriving at Asmarat social housing due to fears of collapse of their buildings.  

Cairo municipal authority has marked 47 buildings for demolition and has bulldozed 31 buildings used sheltering 35 families.

Asmarat is offers alternative housing to slum dwellers. The current occupants of its fully-furnished buildings were formerly resident in shanties of Qaleat Al Kabsh, Al Mawardy, Ezbet Khair Allah, Mansheyet Nasser Maspero Triangle among others.

Head of Asmarat Municipal Authority Hassan al-Ghandour said its alternative housing project plans to collaborate with Orman Charity Organization to exempt widows, divorced women, and the disabled persons from paying LE3600 annual rent.

Ghandour explained that the neighborhood is of a great interest to the political leadership and that Cairo governor visits the place weekly. He added that the neighborhood is home to several factories that secure 1,400 jobs to women paying them LE3,500 as income salary and offering paid internships at LE1,000.

The third phase of the project also includes a football pitch, four multi-purpose playgrounds, two swimming pools, a social building, a garden for children, four nurseries, four health units, a car mark that can hold up to 1,000 cars. Also, a mosque, a church and an automatic bakery production line will be established.

Social Solidarity Minister Nevin Al-Qabbaj explained last year that 13.6 percent of Asmarat families have female breadwinners with one in every two family having more than four members most of whom have unstable and irregular jobs.

Egypt’s Minister of Finance Mohamed Ma’it said in July last year that the country plans to implement 100,000 housing units during fiscal year of 2020/2021, in addition to planning to complete 105,000 units in 2021/2022.

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Ghana and Switzerland Sign Historic Pact for Climate Action

Under the agreement, the National Clean Energy Access Programme (NCEP) will be implemented. It is expected to lead to the transfer of mitigation outcomes to Switzerland in exchange for financial resources and the extension of Swiss technical expertise as a demonstration of the scalability of Ghana’s conditional mitigation commitments.



The government of Ghana and Switzerland has signed a bilateral pact as a framework for the implementation of Article Six (6) of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.

After two years of negotiations between the two countries, the signing of the framework agreement marks the first of its kind in Africa, and second in the World. The new partnership will enable the adoption of green and low carbon technology solutions across the country resulting in social and environmentally beneficial outcomes.

With this Agreement, Ghana will receive funding from the Swiss side for sustainable development projects.  Switzerland will take carbon credits from the Ghanaian side for the emission cuts to meet her climate commitments without compromising Ghana’s effort to achieve her own climate actions.

The negotiations between technical teams of Ghana and Switzerland was further boosted by a Memorandum of Understanding signed in Bern between Ghana and Switzerland during the State visit to Switzerland by President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo in February, 2020.

​Read also:

UNDP Administrator Achim Steiner stated, “We are proud to have been able to facilitate the dialogue between Switzerland and Ghana, build trust in the process on both sides and offer our technical support in the implementation…”

Article six (6) of the Paris Agreement on carbon markets is an innovative voluntary instrument available to countries to mobilise finance and catalyse private sector investments for the implementation of nationally determined contributions.

Steiner further explains “…We hope this bilateral agreement will enable Ghana’s national clean energy access programme (NCEP) to fulfil its objectives by abating up to 2 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions, providing energy access to millions and head towards a green recovery.”

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In his speech, the President of Ghana H.E Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo represented by the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Shirley Ayorkor Botchway called on the private sector of both countries to consider “this bilateral cooperation as a step to further strengthen collaboration between Swiss and Ghanaian companies to identify commercially viable and sustainable development projects over the next decade”.  

​In formulating this agreement both parties have highlighted practical ways of operationalising the envisioned architecture of Article 6 of the Paris Agreement.


Read also:

Under the agreement, the National Clean Energy Access Programme (NCEP) will be implemented. It is expected to lead to the transfer of mitigation outcomes to Switzerland in exchange for financial resources and the extension of Swiss technical expertise as a demonstration of the scalability of Ghana’s conditional mitigation commitments.

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