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Feed the birds.

During the 1990s, people living along Lake Nakuru in Kenya's scenic Rift Valley relentlessly cut down the forests lining the lake, part of a slash-and-burn campaign to make way for farmland. But when the trees disappeared, the area's rainfall diminished, causing the lake to shrink. And that, in turn; spelled disaster for the huge flocks of flamingos on which the region's tourist economy depended.

Once the world-famous heartland of the majestic birds, the lake turned into a dead zone. Flamingo carcasses littered the lakeshore. Sickly birds struggled to stand upright. Stray dogs preyed on the reduced flock. An area once known for its scenic beauty had become another depressing symbol of deforestation.

"It was wrong to cut the trees, but we had to," says Jane Macharia, who, like so many others, razed the forest to make farmland when she came to Nakuru 10 years ago with no money and no means to produce food; "We burnt them all when we started farming. I needed land to survive."

Erosion from farming, combined with the effects of global warming, made the lake virtually uninhabitable for the flamingos. The flock of millions was reduced to some 10,000. When the flamingos disappeared, so did the European and American tourists. The local economy was hammered.

"After all the destruction of the forests, the rivers had no water and all the flamingos were dying," Charles Muthui, a senior warden at the Lake Nakuru National Park, says. "The business of this region depends on visitors. Destroy the forests and you destroy Lake Nakuru. Then no flamingos, and no tourism--we know all about that."

This awareness has spurred a local campaign to restore the region's forests. In the last two years, Nakuru locals have committed themselves to replanting the forest that they destroyed as an act of desperation in times of poverty. In 2007 alone, community groups have planted some 3,000 trees. They know that restoring the entire forest will take decades. Already, however, there are signs of progress: Flamingos are returning in droves to the sapling-dotted plains.

"Now is the time to make it right," Macharia says.

--Reuters, 4/23
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Title Annotation:AFRICA; campaign to restore forests around Lake Nakuru
Publication:Earth Island Journal
Geographic Code:6KENY
Date:Jun 22, 2007
Previous Article:Not so sweet.
Next Article:Nuke Africa?

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