Nairobi: Fires that have been raging across Mount Kenya may have been set by poachers trying to create a diversion from their illegal attacks on animals, a wildlife official said.

Poachers target the elephants that roam the forested slopes of Mount Kenya for their ivory tusks.

The assistant director in charge of the mountain conservation area, Robert Njue, said honey hunters may have also started the fires, to produce smoke so they could harvest wild honey.

Flames rushed through a bamboo patch on the mountain on Tuesday, thwarting attempts to extinguish the mountain’s many fires. Njue said lightning was likely not the cause since the region has been experiencing dry weather and has not seen any recent storms.

Mount Kenya is the second-highest peak in Africa, at 5 199m. Elephants are among the many animals fleeing the flames. Poachers also target smaller game for their meat.

Hundreds of hectares of indigenous forest were already burnt to black ash, blighting the picturesque green slopes and rugged cliffs of the snowcapped mountain. Elephants grazed a dozen kilometres from a bamboo forest that had reignited after firefighters thought they had put it out.

Mount Kenya is a Unesco World Heritage Site. – Sapa-AP