Lake Olbolosatt in Nyandarua County is majestically walking to extinction.
Unless proposed county rehabilitation remedies to revive the once very active tourism attraction centre are urgently implemented, and, if confession by resident community and visitors is anything to go by, Olbolosatt, the only natural lake in Central Kenya region will soon be a once upon a time rhetoric.
The lake is home to endangered bird species whose numbers are no longer visible, and it is marked as the 61st Important Bird Area (IBA) in the country, meaning it is a place of international significance for the conservation of birds at the global level.
But the worst tragedy is that the locals do not see any value or opportunities to be exploited, but vividly recall the good days when tourists donated generously in support of community projects.
But the tourists and birds have vanished, and the attractive scenery can hardly be felt.
Tens of acres of land previously occupied by blue waters are now a free grazing zone, where farmers drive ancient Boran cattle and sheep to graze.
While livestock graze during the day, hippos take the night shift, but overgrazing by the livestock is causing human-wildlife conflicts, where hungry hippos revenge by attacking farms at night and any farmer blocking their way.
It is now a hungry hippo is an angry hippo situation.
The hippos not only attack the farms but also raid cattle sheds brutally killing cows at adjacent farms.
Mr Mwangi Kanyi recalls how KWS officers forced young men in the village to eat a hippo carcass.
May this year, the young men went on a revenge mission after the hippos went on a killing spree attacking both human and livestock.
But where residents see no good or hidden opportunities, visitors are full of ideas how the lake can be revived and the opportunities it presents.
Mr Stephen Kariuki, 26, has witnessed the lake speedily move from glory to ashes over the last ten years.
He has a tale to tell to his young brothers, maybe, in preparation for longer tales to his sons and generations to come.
As a young boy, he specifically recalls a friendly white man who occasionally visited the lake killing the birds, and young Kariuki used to enjoy the loud bangs from guns.
“He was always in the company of a young girl who brought me some biscuits, juice and canned meat. We helped them trap the birds, I hardly understood any English word yet we still managed to communicate,” said Mr Kariuki.
The only way to tell if he got the white man’s instructions right was to study his facial expression, where frowning meant no and a big smile with a hug and pat meant well done.
The last time he saw them was over a decade ago when he was ten years old.
Mr Josphat Njoroge, 72, says the last time he spotted a foreign visitor at the lake was more than ten years ago.
“The lake is of no value to us, we don’t benefit from it. The only benefit we got was donations from visiting tourists who generously donated towards the construction of local primary schools. The only thing we now know are battles with hippos that kill us and destroy our crops,” said Mr Njoroge, who is desperately looking for a buyer to sell his five-acre farm and vacate the area.
He also recalls that in those days, young men earned a living entertaining guests who flooded the area on Friday and left on Sunday evening.
Other young men travelled all the way from Nakuru and Nairobi to sell ornaments.
At the lake, we meet Mr Paul Mwangi a teacher at Daystar Secondary school in Nakuru County and the school’s driver Davis Mbogo, who are full of ideas how the lake can be rehabilitated and opportunities exploited by the local community.
They had accompanied school prefects on a tour where they got spiritual nourishment and counselling.
It is Mr Mwangi’s first visit, yet he can not hide his frustrations.
“It’s the only lake in Nyandarua County and by extension Mount Kenya region and that was motivation to visit and be part of that discovery. I expected the place to be accessible with good road network, I also expected many economic activities.”
“Students like shopping but there is nowhere to shop. We also expected a high number of local and international tourists to interact with. Unfortunately, we found a deserted place,” said the teacher.
Being the origin of Thomson Falls in Nyahururu, Mr Mwangi expected to find the lake pregnant with waters but was welcomed by a hard of unattended livestock.
“There lacks proper demarcation and one cannot tell where the lake ends and private lands start. There is an attractive signboard at Rurii market showing the direction but no signage to direct us here. What we find here does not reflect the signboard at Rurii junction,” said the teacher.
He said apart from the county government, the local community has a bigger part to play, adding that they have concentrated more on agriculture.
“I am sure some young men here complain they are jobless, but there are many opportunities here, starting with something small like photography or food industry because eating is constant, there are many economic generating activities that require small capital. The community must first treasure the lake as an asset,” said Mr Mwangi.
He also proposed improved road network, noting that the students had to walk nearly two kilometers after the school van stalled.
The school driver has visited the lake several times but said the lake benefits no one including the county government.
“The place should be fenced with an entry point where visitors can be charged entrance fee like other tourist attraction areas. I have brought many visitors here but they all come with packed lunch. This lake is located in a very conducive and serene environment, that’s the only thing that attracts the visitors but they leave very discouraged,” said the driver.
Speaking about the lake when he addressed the second county assembly, Governor Francis Kimemia said: “I ask the county assembly to walk with us in developing the Lake Olbolosatt Management Plan for purposes of conserving and managing the lake and its resources. This will go a long way in ensuring sustainable use and management of the flora and fauna in the lake, promoting tourism and creating employment.”
The governor said encroachment, human-wildlife conflict and the fact that the lake is not gazetted as a protected area has restricted the county from initiating developments around it.
The county government is following up with the national government to fast-track the process of gazettement.
Among proposed development projects include construction of a leisure park, fencing, introduction of other wild animals and converting the area into a game reserve.