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The waning beauty of Mt. Elgon
By DAVID MAFABI
Many years ago, Mt. Elgon slopes were green, animals enjoyed their habitat and the rivers flowed gently on its slopes. However, all that has changed, writes DAVID MAFABI.
As we prepare to depart from River Soloko in Bumasifwa on the slopes of Mt. Elgon, which is one of the rivers flowing from the Mt Elgon area in Sironko, Mr Charles Giduno, our tour guide, takes a look across the segmented river in a contemplative mood.
Mr Giduno stood straight in front of us as children and women went past us carrying firewood, mushrooms, bamboo shoots, vegetables, firewood while the men carried timber. He looked at all these people in disbelief; it was as though the entire strength had gone out of him. Then as a sigh of relief, he guided us slowly along empty paths, past willows and scattered forest trees, to “Jackson’s hole of death”, where we could clearly see the hitherto fertile valley, beautiful scenery as small rivers meandered downhill.
“Like many of the rivers that flow from Mt. Elgon, River Soloko used to be big and was filled up with water throughout the year but it is now just no more,” he says.
Paul Gidongo, who works with the Mt. Elgon Conservation Tourism Information Centre as a guide, believes that most of the rivers that provided a livelihood to about 500,000 people in Bugisu and Sebei sub-regions face extinction due to a combination of several factors, especially as a result of anti-environmental human activities like deforestation and poor farming methods.
“The rivers have become streams and have dried up. Soon the rivers will disappear because of human activity. People are farming on the slopes where the rivers flow from. This will make the rivers recede in size. We are going to lose the rivers and the entire beauty of Mt. Elgon,” said Mr Gidongo.
Mr Gidongo says Mt. Elgon ecosystem which provides a catchment area for lakes Victoria and Turkana and River Nile, was a home for about 400 elephants, antelopes, leopards and the protected columbus and blue monkeys, some buffaloes, giant forest hogs and waterbucks.
But that ever since encroachment took precedence over conservation, most of these are disappearing, pausing a threat to the tourism industry here. “Although the mountain is covered by red laterite soils which favours the growth of thick undergrowth, the huge Elgon teak and cedar trees, man has cut these down to secure land for settlement and farming to the disservice of the functions of the big mountain. I think environmental degradation on the mountain calls for immediate conservation interventions,” says Mr Gidongo.