Siaya’s Lake Kanyaboli: A beauty enclave faces peril
The Endangered Sitatunga Bird
One of the establishments under construction in front of Lake Kanyaboli. Locals are calling on national and county governments to protect the lake. PHOTO | TOM OTIENO | NATION MEDIA GROUP


Some will call it astonishing, others spectacular. Whatever your choice of word, just know inescapable beauty awaits you the moment you step in Alego Usonga, Siaya County, home of Lake Kanyaboli and the endangered Sitatunga. Around the second largest ox-bow lake in Africa, families of boulder rocks sit in interesting patterns on each other, some precariously, but they never tumble. In this rural enclave there is nothing but blissful peace. Most people use bicycle and donkeys for transport and to fetch water from the lake. The 1,000-hectare Lake Kanyaboli, is one of the three components that make up the phenomenal Yala Swamp complex. The other two features are wetlands in the delta of the Yala River and Lake Sare, one of several outlets of the Yala River into Lake Victoria. Patient fishermen decorate the still waters in their traditional canoes and fishing rods. The chirping of birds confirm that the area has been classified as one of Kenya’s 60 important bird areas, making it an ornithological paradise, a real pearl for tourism. A visit will not be complete without a trip the nearby Bur Kolendo Shrines. There lies the interesting history of Kit Mikayi stones of Kisumu. However, all is not well for the lake, the swamps and the entire ecosystem.
Environmentalists have sounded teh alarm that the water levels in the three metre deep Kanyaboli is slowly receding, thanks to human activities and a harsh climate. The nearby swamps are being burnt at a fast rate by people seeking farming land and to remove fish hiding beneath the vegetation. Sitatunga, an animal in the antelope family, is not safe either. It is hunted heavily for food.


While having a beautiful view of the lake from one of the many beach hotels coming up, a green Land Rover pulled up and several uniformed men jumped out with guns. They were the Kenya Wildlife Service officers, who straight away started combing the nearby swamps as if on an emergency search. “We are on a security patrol to protect the endangered Siatatunga. We are checking the migratory paths to ensure that hunters have not set traps. “Sitatungas follow the same migratory routes making it easy for hunters to find them,” one officer said as he continued his frantic in the bushes. Mr Stephen Okumu ,the vice chairman of the Yala ecosystem site support group, and former Alego Usonga MP Sammy Weya expressed fears that the change in the water level is likely to lead to the disappearance of the lake and wildlife depending on it for survival. The two blamed an international investor undertaking large scale agriculture around the area, for blocking the inlets into the fresh water body thus leading to poor oxygenation of the lake. “The lake Water volume is slowly decreasing, this is as a result of negative climatic conditions and poor oxygenation of the lake which is eventually threatening the wildlife living around the lake,” said Mr Okumu in Siaya during a meeting with community members. However, the Siaya County Kenya Wildlife Services Director, Mr Augustine Ajuoga, absolved the Dominion Farm from blame and instead pointed an accusing finger to the community for contributing to the lakes’ current state. “Locals are fast invading the wet land and destroying the plantation responsible for the survival of the Lake,” he said. Mr William Hamisi, Siaya sub regional manager for Water Resource Management Authority, said they have already opened the canals that were “illegally” put up by the farm to divert the water. “We opened the water canals last Month and I think the current low water level in the Lake can only be linked to inadequate rainfall that has affected the nearby River Yala which drains its water in Lake Kanyaboli,” Mr Hamisi said. Previously, the Yala river flowed through the eastern swamp into Lake Kanyaboli, then into the main swamp, and finally into Lake Victoria via a small gulf. The Yala flow is now diverted directly into the main swamp. A man-made dyke cuts off Lake Kanyaboli, which now draws its water from the surrounding catchment and through back-seepage from the swamp. According to a survey conducted in 2011, Yala swamp lies on 17,500 hectares piece of land in both Siaya and Busia counties and the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) had earmarked 41.42 square kilometre as a national reserve.


The KWS director added that the local community has barred its operations in the area when they moved to court contesting the gazettement of the 41.42 km2 as a national reserve. “We are not able to control the activities of the local communities who have invaded and cultivated into the gazetted area, this is as a result of a petition waiting to be addressed by the court,” said Mr Ajuoga. Mr Ajuoga added that the destruction of these papyrus reeds will also lead to natural calamities including floods, drought and high temperatures.
“These papyrus reeds are very important this is because they hold carbon dioxide, their destruction leads to increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere thus leading to global warming associated with increase of natural calamities,” he said. Locals are now calling on the immediate intervention of both the national and county government to regulate the activities of the investor along the vast Yala swamp. Already, several efforts are being fronted in a bid to conserve the lake and its ecosystem. Mr Ajuoga added that the Kenya Wildlife Service in conjunction with the Siaya County Government is in the process of conducting the 6th edition of the regional ‘Sitatunga Boat Race’ in November aimed at enlightening the communities on the importance of environment conservation. In September the county government in partnership with Seeds of Peace Africa and Athletics Kenya will host its second edition of Lake Kanyaboli Half Marathon a move aimed at raising funds towards conserving the Yala ecosystem.

Senior SSS

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