Kenya wildfire stampedes animals

A huge fire on Kenya’s tallest mountain is stampeding big game animals down the slopes to safety.

British troops are among those helping in the fight to put out several blazes on Mount Kenya.

Flames have already consumed hundreds of acres of forest, said Paul Udoto, a spokesman for the Kenya Wildlife Service. The fire has covered the mountain in a haze of smoke.

Tourists staying in mountain lodges are safe, Mr Udoto said, but elephants are among the many animals fleeing.

“The elephants fled the area but they are still within the protected areas of the mountain,” Mr Udoto said.

Firefighters said they have not come across any animal hurt or killed by the fire.

Mount Kenya is the second-highest peak in Africa, at 17,057 feet.

“There’s fires all over the place,” said Iain Douglas-Hamilton, the founder of the group Save the Elephants. “It’s because of the dryness. But I bet people are setting the fires ... accidental but human-generated.”

Fires are also burning in the nearby Aberdare National Park. Mr Douglas-Hamilton said the fires will deprive animals of food and that he expects some to get caught in the flames.

Mount Kenya is a Unesco World Heritage Site. The UN organisation describes the region as “one of the most impressive landscapes of Eastern Africa, with its rugged glacier-clad summits, Afro-alpine moorlands and diverse forests.”

Susie Weeks, the executive officer of the Mount Kenya Trust, a group that works to protect the mountain’s wildlife, said at least three separate fires were burning. She said in an that the British military and the Kenya Wildlife Service were co-ordinating “beautifully”.

“Today is a much better day! Less chaos, more help, low winds and a bit of cloud. However we need to sustain this level of attack on the fires for a couple of days to succeed,” she said.

The fire is burning forest that serves as a water catchment, potentially affecting the region’s water supply and hydroelectric dams. Wildlife would also be forced to move.

Patrick Wanjohi, the director of the Mountain Rock Lodge, a holiday resort on the lower slopes of Mount Kenya, said the forest will not regenerate fast because of the high altitude. He said animals are likely to flee into farms at lower elevations, leading to human-animal conflict.

Capt. Maz Kingston, a spokeswoman for the British Army Training Unit Kenya, said they had helped carry out an aerial assessment of the fire, and is providing command and control for the firefighting response. British military vehicles are helping move firefighters close to the flames.

“Fires have been going on for last couple months with varying degrees of intensity,” Kingston said.

“It’s very intense and it’s quite extensive across the mountain. ... We had a little bit of rain last night which tamped it down a little bit.”

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