Eburu Forest

A Day in the Mau Eburu Forest – The Mountain of Steam.

From the Tree Safari Sketch book, February 2021

Ol Doinyo Opuru is a Maasai name which means ‘Mountain of Steam’. The mountain is still volcanically active. As we drove up to the forest gate, we saw clouds of steam rising from the ground.

The people living in Eburru village harvest this steam to use as drinking water. In this picture you can see how they collect the steam. 


 A pipe is sunk into the ground and the steam that comes out is directed along the pipes. As the steam moves through the pipes it cools and turns into water. It runs down the pipes and is collected in the tanks.  

The soil here is very red.  The Maasai collect it to rub into their skin for initiation ceremonies.


Further up the mountain, KENGEN (Kenya’s state-owned power company) have set up a geothermal plant which uses the steam to spin a turbine and create electricity.  Have a look at this link to see how it works. https://archive.epa.gov/climatechange/kids/solutions/technologies/geothermal.html

At the entrance to Eburu forest we met Mercy Natembeya, a Kenya Forest Service ranger.  She came with us, bringing her gun, to keep us safe in case we met a buffalo.  Mercy’s motto is ‘Prepared for anything’!

Our guide Simon Lomelo, from Lake Naivasha Nature Club, told us that the Mau forest was once enormous - more than 10,000 square kilometres in size. It is one of Kenya’s most important ‘water towers’: a source of rivers which provide water for people and animals.

Over the last hundred years, as the population of Kenya grew, people cut more and more trees for building and cooking.  Two thirds of the Mau forest trees have been cut. Today 22 pieces of forest remain where the great forest once stood. 

The light green shows where the forest used to be. The darker green show the areas which have been protected (they are ‘gazetted’ by government which means trees cannot be cut).  Eburu forest is at the bottom on the right hand side.

(this map comes from the Eburu guidebook , p 16,and is shared with permission of Eburru Rafiki)


The Mau Eburu forest itself was almost lost in the 1990s as more people moved to Naivasha.  It was saved, just in time, by the combined efforts of local people and the Rhino Ark project.  They built a 43 km fence around the forest, making it possible to control who could come in, and what they could do there. Thanks to their hard work, the forest is now looking very healthy, new trees have been planted, cleared areas are regenerating and it is a haven for birds and animals including the rare Mountain Bongo.  You can read more about the Rhino fence here.

As we drove into the forest Simon showed us the many beehives hanging from the trees. Though cutting trees and hunting in the forest is not allowed now, local communities, particularly the Ogiek people, who once lived in the forest, still use it to keep bees and to collect dry wood and medicinal plants.  The friends of Eburru are promoting tourism to bring employment and business opportunities to local people.  A camping site with a natural sauna fed by a volcanic steam vent has already opened in Eburru village. 

In the centre of the forest we found a big clearing. You can camp here (bring all your supplies and water) and take several interesting walks (the walks are described in the Eburru guidebook, but you need to take Mercy, or another forest ranger, with you in case of wild animals). The Western summit trail, the deep valley trail and the Ndabibi Forest Glade trail all begin from this spot. We set out to explore the Western summit trail…

Mercy led the way, and Simon pointed out interesting plants, birds and butterflies.  People come from all over the world to see the special birds in this forest.  The Doherty bushshrike, Narina’s trogon and Crowned Eagles, which feed on the colobus monkeys, are amongst some of the birds you may see here. 

Narina's Trogon.

Click this link http://rhinoark.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/birds-of-Eburu-brochure.pdf to see the full list of birds in Eburu forest.

We heard swishing in the trees above and looked up to see … a colobus monkey.

The monkey was sitting in an enormous old tree. Simon told us its known as the ‘Octopus tree’ (Schefflera volkensii) . This could be because its flowers look like tentacles.  Or because, like the strangler fig, it has a habit of wrapping itself around other trees. We later read (in Dale and Greenway) that the Octopus tree’s wood is useless for building and stinks when it burns. Maybe that's why it escaped being cut by the illegal loggers?  There are many enormous and ancient Octopus trees growing in the forest.

The Octopus tree is in the Araliaceae family, the same family as the Cabbage Tree (Cussonia holstii) and the Parasol tree (Polyscias fulva) which also grow in the forest. Plants in this family have flowers growing on umbrella shaped stalks (known as umbels). They are related to the ‘umbrella plant’ some of us have growing in our gardens or in pots.


There were many other beautiful old and giant trees along the trail including Forest Velvet or Mucami (Allophylus abyyssinicus), the Brittle- wood (Nuxia congesta) and the Milanji Podo (Podocarpus milanjianus).

When air passes over mountains, the moisture inside it forms into clouds, bringing rain.  If there are trees on the mountain, they add to the moisture in the air through evapotranspiration. So forested mountains make for lots of rain. We saw this for ourselves on our day in Eburu. While Naivasha town stayed dry, clouds began to gather over the forest. 

As the clouds became thicker, we heard thunder in the distance. Mercy advised us it was time to head back to the car!

We got there just in time!

… and drove down the hill through thunder and lightning, rain and then hail.

As we drove back through Eburru village, the slopes were white with hail.  We even saw people making snowballs.

We had such an interesting and exciting day in Eburu.  We are definitely coming back soon to see some more.

To get to Eburu follow google map directs to the KenGen Eburru Power Station.  At the forest gate you can buy a guidebook with lots of information about what you will see as you walk.  You can find a contact for a local community guide here https://www.eburrurafiki.com/forest-guides or call Simon Lomelo of Naivasha nature club on 0727055910.

A big thank you to Simon Lomelo who guided us through the forest and checked this story for accuracy!  Any remaining errors are my responsibility.  Please let me know if you spot anything or if you have information you would like us to add.


Thank you Mercy Natembeya for guarding us as we walked through the forest and helping to clear the trees that fell across the road!

Thank you friends of Eburru for allowing us to share the map of the Mau forest on this site.  

If you want to find out more about Eburu Forest, here are some useful links:-

KFS      http://www.kenyaforestservice.org

Eburu Rafiki    www.eburrurafiki.com

Rhino Ark        https://rhinoark.org/eburu-fence-project

Bongo surveillance project     https://mountainbongo.org

Naivasha nature club  https://lakenaivashanatureclub.webs.com

Earth Camp, Naivasha http://naivasha-camping.co.ke

Further reading

Plant Checklist for Eburu forest reserve (2016) WRQ Luke, M Hoeft and Ndeshe

Have a look at this national Geographic article to learn more about how Kenya is using its geothermal energy https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/article/geothermal-energy-kenya-photography

Additional notes

The Lake Naivasha Nature Club supports the forest wardens with emergency firefighting. They use the forest as a classroom for young people who are interested in nature and conservation. You can find out more about their work here https://lakenaivashanatureclub.webs.com or find them on facebook.


The Kenya Water towers agency has identified 90 important ‘water towers’ in Kenya. Of these, 18 are now protected by law. Visit their website to find out more about Kenya’s water towers, what is been done to protect them and to explore the towers on an interactive map. https://watertowers.go.ke/water-towers/

According to a study carried out with the Marakwet people, the Octopus tree and the Brittle wood (Nuxia congesta) are used to treat common colds and flu (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3974104/) A study of the medicinal plants used by the Marakwet Community in Kenya

Wilson Kipkore,1 Bernard Wanjohi,2 Hillary Rono,3 and Gabriel Kigen4

Email treesafari@gmail.com for a free fact sheet on Eburu.

Octopus tree 

Octopus tree

Giant Lobelia