24 March 2009

Wildlife trapped by Kenyan bush fire

NAIVASHA, Kenya, March 23 (Reuters) - Game wardens fear wildlife is trapped in the crater of an extinct Kenyan volcano that was engulfed by a bush fire for a third day on Monday.

The blaze at on Mount Longonot -- one of the best-known trekking spots in Kenya's Great Rift Valley -- has sent thousands of animals scampering to safety in nearby villages.

"The fire is still burning inside the crater and we fear that some animals like baboons and rabbits have been burnt as they have no escape route,"park warden Peter Muthusi said.

Several blazes have been fed by weeks of hot, dry conditions in the east African country. Zebras, buffaloes, antelopes, gazelles and giraffes all fled the national park that surrounds Longonot, crossing a busy road to reach safety.

Another fire sprung up at the nearby Hell's Gate National Park and was put out, but only after it had razed 30 acres of grazing land, said the warden in charge, Nelly Palmeris.

Smaller fires were also reported near Mount Elgon, Mount Kenya, in the Mau Forest and in the Aberdares National Park.

Kenya is suffering a drought that has parched the landscape, left farmers facing ruin and contributed to hunger that the government says is afflicting some 10 million people.

Muthusi said strong winds and the very dry vegetation were making it harder to fight the fire.

"It's very smoky inside the crater," he said. "We are determined to put out the fire inside the crater using all possible means so as to save the animals inside." (Reporting by Antony Gitonga; Writing by Helen Nyambura-Mwaura)