In Kenya’s storied hills, traditional ways confront a modern problem: climate change

Maasai guides

Muli and Matasha, Maasai guides who works with the Maasai Wilderness Conservation Trust, make their way toward a cloud forest high in the Chyulu Hills. (© Charlie Shoemaker for Conservation International)

Editor’s note: Tomorrow, Conservation International (CI) launches its Carbon Footprint Calculator, a tool to calculate your carbon footprint and reduce it by purchasing what’s called an “offset.” One beneficiary of these offsets is a forest-protection project in Kenya’s Chyulu Hills, home to 140,000 indigenous people and an incredibly effective carbon sink. The project will prevent an estimated 18 million tons of carbon dioxide from being emitted over the next 30 years.

Explore life in the Chyulu Hills in the photo essay below.

The Chyulu Hills

The cloud forest on top of the Chyulu Hills, a volcanic mountain range, located in south-eastern Kenya. (© Charlie Shoemaker for Conservation International)

Overlooking the iconic Mount Kilimanjaro across the border in Tanzania, the Chyulu Hills emerge between Kenya’s Tsavo and Amboseli national parks — and were said to be part of the setting for Ernest Hemingway’s “Green Hills of Africa.” Savanna grassland and acacia woodlands dominate the low-lying areas as far as the eye can see, contrasting starkly with the lush green cloud forest atop the hills.

A dazzle of zebras

A dazzle of Zebra drink water inside Tsavo National Park West. (© Charlie Shoemaker for Conservation International)

In this arid landscape, the numerous springs and rivers of the Chyulu Hills stem from a unique cloud forest that acts as a critical water tower for nearby communities, livestock and wildlife.

Orphaned elephants

Orphaned elephants at the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust center in Kibwezi, Kenya. (© Charlie Shoemaker for Conservation International)

The Chyulu Hills are an integral part of Kenya’s largest conservation landscape that provides critical habitat for many of Africa’s most iconic species, including endangered rhinos and elephants.


A herd of cattle led by a young Maasai herdsman returns home because the borehole was dry. (© Charlie Shoemaker for Conservation International)

In addition, the area is home both to Maasai pastoralists — sheep, goat and cattle farmers — and Kamba agriculturalists, who have utilized the land for hundreds of years.

Bags of illegal charcoal

Bags of illegal charcoal sit on the side of Mombasa Road. (© Charlie Shoemaker for Conservation International)

Despite its critical importance, the forest is being degraded and destroyed by agricultural encroachment, the practice of charcoal burning (carbonizing wood in a charcoal pile or kiln) and forest fires, among other threats.

All-women community seed bank

Members of an all-women community seed bank that is supported by the Maasai Wilderness Conservation Trust gather seeds. (© Charlie Shoemaker for Conservation International)

A recently verified REDD+ project could help keep the vital forest intact. Short for “Reducing Emissions From Deforestation and Forest Degradation” — the “+” stands for additional features including the role of conservation and sustainable forest management — REDD+ provides financial incentives for communities, regions and countries to keep forests intact, preventing carbon emissions caused by deforestation.

Maasai women

A woman’s group supported by the Maasai Wilderness Conservation Trust who make traditional Maasai jewelry to be sold stand in their boma, or enclosure. (© Charlie Shoemaker for Conservation International)

“The Chyulu Hills Conservation Trust — a unique coalition of partners including two government agencies, three local NGOs and four Maasai community members — will oversee the flagship Chyulu Hills REDD+ project that will compensate communities for keeping the forests standing,” says Christina Ender, CI’s senior technical manager of payment for ecosystem services in Africa. The project recently completed its first verification in accordance with the Verified Carbon Standard and the Climate, Community and Biodiversity Standard.

Maasai carries water

Muli, a Maasai guide who works with the Maasai Wilderness Conservation Trust, carries water. (© Charlie Shoemaker for Conservation International)

“The Maasai communities strongly support this project and it is an important opportunity to further clearly demonstrate building our local economy based on protecting the natural environment, living sustainably, and maintaining our cultural link to the land while promising a better future for generations to come,” said Samason Parashina, Maasai leader and Chairman of Chyulu Hills Conservation Trust.

Anti-poaching unit

Big Life anti-poaching Rhino unit goes out for their morning patrol looking for tracks and camera traps in the field. The rapid response unit looks after a crash of nine rhinos that live and move freely in the Chyulu Hills region. (© Charlie Shoemaker for Conservation International)

The revenue generated from the sale of carbon credits, available for sale to corporations and individuals via CI’s Carbon Footprint Calculator, will help reduce deforestation and protect forests and natural resources. It will also support employment of forest or game rangers, safeguard the Chyulu Hills water catchment and provide communities with improved social services in health and education, employment and business opportunities.

Calculate your carbon footprint — and offset your emissions — here.

Cassandra Kane is the communications manager for CI’s Conservation Finance Division.

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