25 March 2009

Kenyan forces deployed for fires

By Peter Greste 
BBC News, Nairobi

A Kenyan park ranger surveys a section of Mount Longonot national park in the Rift Valley, 22 March 2009

Kenya has mobilised 3,500 security personnel to fight a series of bush fires raging out of control in some of the country's most important forests.

The government estimates that more than 4,600 hectares (11,370 acres) of bushland have already been destroyed.

At least 10 people have been arrested on arson charges. Mau - East Africa's largest forest - and Mount Longonot are among the places worst affected.

Some of the world's most endangered species are threatened.

With fires burning in at least eight forests, Kenyan emergency services are already overstretched.

Map of Kenya

Police, the national youth service, forestry service workers - all have been drafted in to help save the bushland in some of the country's most important watersheds.

On Mount Longonot, an extinct volcano to the west of the country, the fires have begun advancing into the crater, trapping and killing thousands of small animals unable to escape.

Some larger antelope have managed to get away but they now face starvation in grasslands already overgrazed in a prolonged drought.

Several rare sitatunga antelope have already been killed in another park.

Although it will take time to assess the impact on wildlife, a spokesman for the Kenyan Wildlife Service said there were real fears for rare and endangered species.

He said at least 10 people were under arrest charged with arson, although honey-gatherers lighting fires to smoke out bee hives and charcoal burners might also be to blame.

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