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From Wasteland to Paradise

You might have come across in the media about the amazing true story of a baby hippo having lost his mother during a tsunami and got adopted by a tortoise, a story about love and acceptance, which even was published as a children’s book, Owen and Mzee – The True Story Of A Remarkable Friendship.
Even more interesting is the story about the Haller Park, in which this animal romance happened:
In 1952, a Swiss company, Cementia Holding AG Zurich, built a cement factory in Kenya just behind the palm-fringed Bamburi Beach, 12 kilometres north of Mombasa, which became the biggest of Kenya’s industrial giants, and East Africa’s biggest cement producer, but which destroyed the ecosystem of the area. In 1959, the plant hired Dr Rene Haller, a young agronomist from Lenzburg in Switzerland, with the mandate to produce food – fruit and vegetables – for employees of the factory, many of whom were undernourished, as well as spruce up the area surrounding the site. In the 1970s he started a unique ecological experiment, attempting to rehabilitate the limestone quarries scarring the Mombasa coastline. Today he has transformed much of the seven square kilometre Bamburi site from a barren and dusty lunar landscape to an ecological haven. The quarries are now a combination of lakes, wetlands and savannah grasslands, with walking and cycling trails, as well as a Nature Park and Wildlife Sanctuary – nearly 100,000 visitors came in 2002.
Dr. Haller published a book called From Wasteland to Paradise, where he presents the remarkable history of the transformation. Rene Haller recalls “The ugly wasteland expanded annual by tens of thousands of square meters. No plants seemed able to establish themselves. I spent countless hours in the hot dusty barren land, found a few ferns and perhaps half a dozen� grasses struggling to take root� – it was hardly an encouraging environment for tree planting. However one day I discovered in a remote part of the quarry five small casuarina trees . Finally I had found some life which inspired me – a glimmer of hope giving a direction which might be worthwhile following”.
His “Baobab Trust” is a charitable organisation committed to working closely with the surrounding local communities to develop innovative environmental and wildlife conservation practices.

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