Coronavirus Update – Message from the Nature Kenya Executive Director

TO ALL OUR MEMBERS

Nature Kenya – the East Africa Natural History Society – management, staff and Executive Committee hope you all remain safe at this time of coronavirus danger.

In light of the Government of Kenya directives, following the confirmation of Covid-19 infections in the country, we regret to announce the following:

  1. The Membership office and shop is closed until Monday 4th May 2020 or further notice. Membership recruitment and renewal however continues. Those registering or renewing are encouraged to visit http://naturekenya.org/support/membership/ and use cashless payment options such as M-Pesa or credit/debit cards. Your membership cards will be processed and availed to you.
  2. The 110th Annual General Meeting initially scheduled for Wednesday, May 6th, 2020 has been postponed until further notice.
  3. The ‘Lungs for Kenya’ Charity Golf Tournament 2020 that was scheduled for Friday, March 27th at the Karen Country Club has been re-scheduled for Friday, October 2nd, 2020.
  4. Members will receive an electronic version of the Nature Net until further notice.
  5. All museum galleries remain closed until further notice.
  6. The EANHS library remains closed until further notice.
  7. The Wednesday Morning Birdwalks, other field trips and monthly talks have been suspended until further notice. You will be informed as soon as they resume.

Nature Kenya – the East Africa Natural History Society – will continue to update you on any further developments. For any clarification kindly contact us through telephone:

020 3537568, 0780 149200, 0751 624312, 0771 343138

or email: office@naturekenya.org

Threats remain to species and habitats, and conservation work must go on. Please continue to support Nature Kenya, and to observe and enjoy nature from wherever you are.

 

Dr. Paul Matiku,

Executive Director, Nature Kenya – the East Africa Natural History Society

Vulture conservation initiative spreads to Kajiado

Nature Kenya has been pushing the vulture conservation agenda in many ways with the hope of seeing vultures flying freely in Kenyan skies.As part of achieving this goal, Nature Kenya in 2019 expanded its vulture conservation activities to the Amboseli and Kwenia regions in Kajiado county.

Amboseli presents its unique set of challenges not experienced in Maasai Mara where the vulture conservation programme was initiated. For starters, Amboseli is a national park under the jurisdiction of the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS). Areas bordering the park are considered human-wildlife conflict hotspots. Community conservancies in that area lie on vast tracts of land which cannot be fenced off as this will interfere with wildlife migration corridors. Owing to this, wild animals freely roam in and out of the conservancies into neighbouring villages, sparking off human-wildlife conflicts. Cases of wildlife poisoning are rife in these areas.

To achieve its vulture conservation goal, Nature Kenya has resolved to engage community members living near or within the conservancies in the implementation of its strategies. Mosiro in Kajiado north and Kwenia-Kaputei in the southern part are the target areas.

Nature Kenya has enlisted volunteers from local communities to engage in vulture conservation work. The idea to recruit community volunteers was informed by the fact that they were better placed to respond to wildlife poisoning incidents within their localities. Serving as the bridge between local communities and Nature Kenya, the volunteers are also engaged in awareness creation.

“Recruiting volunteers and training them isa novel idea as it engages people who are at the heart of the wildlife poisoning crisisin coming up with a solution,” says Paul Gacheru, Nature Kenya’s Sites and Species Manager.

Nature Kenya has recruited 34vulture volunteers who are distributed in Kajiado North, Kajiado Central and Kajiado South. The volunteers work under the supervision of the two Vulture Liaison Officers who are based in Kimana and Kajiado town.

Before being dispatched to the ground the volunteers were taken through a two-day training on awareness creation, communication techniques, response to poisoning and vulture monitoring techniques.

The first big assignment for this group, which also tested the effectiveness of this approach, came in January 2020 where four White-backedVultures died after consuming a poisoned cow carcass at Oldonyo Sampu in Kaputei area. The volunteers informed relevant authorities of the incident and were actively involved in the search for other affected vultures.The second incident was reported in the last week of January in Ilmarba village, Amboseli, where 17 White-backed Vultures died after feeding on a poisoned calf. Luckily, one vulture was rescued and rehabilitated due to the quick response and collaboration between the volunteers the ranches.

To enhance their efficiency, the cohort has been equipped with field essentials such as smart-phones and a pair of binoculars.The volunteers also collect monthly data on human-wildlife conflict incidents and vulture sightings.

Working closely with the Vulture Liaison Officers and the local administration, the vulture volunteers are conducting community awareness market outreaches, Barazas and Manyatta meetings, educating the public on the dangers of wildlife poisoning and its impact on vultures. The public is also being urged to support vulture conservation activities.

Nature Kenya is working with The Peregrine Fund, Kenya Birds of Prey Trust and BirdLife International to conserve African vultures.

Vulture flagship initiative launched

BirdLife International has rolled out a raft of measures to see a reduction of vulture mortality in Africa by 50 per cent by the year 2029. The declining number of vultures and the increasing number of vulture poisoning incidents in East Africa have pushed BirdLife International – a global partnership of conservation organisations that strives to conserve birds – to come up with stringent strategies that are aimed at reversing this downward trajectory.

Statistics from the organisation indicate that seven out of 15 African-Eurasian vulture species are at risk of extinction. The leading threat to vultures in East Africa is poisoning, both intentionally and unintentionally, accounting for 61 per cent of vulture mortality. Energy infrastructure is the next biggest threat, accounting for 9 per cent of recorded vulture mortality in Africa. Other factors driving vulture population declines include habitat degradation and decline in food availability, though vultures face numerous other human-induced threats.

BirdLife is in the process of developing and ratifying the Conservation of Migratory Species African-Eurasian Vulture Multi-species Action Plan (MsAP). Once the MsAP is in place, BirdLife will be collaborating its partners like Nature Kenya in implementing a Rapid Poison Response Mechanism (RRM) to ensure quick, coordinated and effective response to vulture poisoning incidents. They are also working to strategically establish Vulture Safe Zones (VSZs) and expand existing safe zone areas in East and Southern Africa by 2025.

BirdLife is seeking policy intervention at national, regional and international levels for vulture protection. The organisation is forecasting that these collaborations will ease the enactment and implementation of national vulture protection policies and legislations, including mainstreaming RRM and VSZs in at least five African countries in the next five years.

An online vulture conservation communication campaign has been rolled out on social media using the hash tags #Impact4Vultures #ProtectAfricasVultures. The main aim is raise awareness among the public on the importance of vultures to the ecosystem and the need to conserve them.

Women in Conservation: Serah Munguti

Seventeen years ago, if anyone would have told Serah Munguti that she would be a name to reckon with in the conservation circles in Kenya, she would have probably shrugged off the idea. Her work of influencing policies precedes her laid back persona. Numerous awards and certificates serve as proof of her enormous contribution to conserving Kenya’s Habitats. She is the Policy and Advocacy Manager at Nature Kenya – the East Africa Natural History Society, a position that has seen her contribute to important decisions. One of her biggest projects, the Tana River Delta Land Use Plan, won a prestigious international award for planning excellence in 2016 and also saw her receive a Tusk Conservation Award in 2017. Serah has also made notable contributions towards the conservation of the Yala Swamp, Kenya’s largest freshwater swamp, as well as Lake Natron. Nature Kenya’s Esther Wangari recently had a chat with Serah. 

Esther: How far back can you trace your love for conservation?

Serah: My passion for nature and wildlife goes back to when I was a little girl. I remember growing up in Makueni and my mother and I would visit my father who worked in a hotel at Amboseli National Park. The hotel’s staff camp sat on an elevated position and from that point I could see different wild animals freely moving around. My fondest memory was watching elephants soil-bathing. I would marvel at how they would majestically take turns to throw soil on their backs with their trunks. Later on in both primary and secondary school I joined the wildlife clubs. That early interaction with nature played a big part in nurturing my interest in conservation and wildlife.

Esther: Did you ever see yourself being at the forefront of conservation?

Serah: Not really. The passion was in me but it was somewhat unconsciously natured along the way. I have always been vocal so I picked law as my first choice course in campus. However, I ended up being selected to study Wildlife Management, which was my second choice. With that I felt it would be wise to combine my activism nature with my love for wildlife. As fate would have it, my masters degree centred around advocacy and policy formulation which was totally different from my previous areas of specialisation. For me, ceasing opportunities before me, the zeal to make a positive impact on the environment and having communities that are aware of their rights are what eventually brought me to this level.

Esther: When you returned to Kenya after your masters degree, you were offered a new position at Nature Kenya. How was it settling down into a position that you had no previous experience in?

Serah: It took me sometime to see what the Nature Kenya Executive Director had seen in me when he created the advocacy position. He always said I was eloquent in the way I presented my views. I remember how I initially felt lost after attending stakeholder meetings. Slowly, I got acquainted with terms and how things worked in matters conservation before finally getting the hang of it. For me the first big project was being part of the team that spearheaded campaigns to save Lake Natron from a prospective developer who wanted to put up a soda ash mining factory. Lake Natron is a major breeding site for most Lesser flamingos in Africa. Being part of the team that halted plans that would have threatened the future of  the Lesser flamingos became a stepping stone in my quest to protect other key biodiversity areas in Kenya. That experience encouraged me to yearn for more areas where I could put my ideas to use.

Esther: In 2006 you embarked on a journey to save the Tana Delta from exploitation by both local and foreign companies at the expense of conservation. What challenges did you face in Tana Delta?

Serah: Nothing had prepared me and by extension Nature Kenya for what we found in Tana. The area had a bad history of ethnic conflicts originating from unresolved land issues so the air was always tense for us. There was also resistance from the community. Being a largely patriarchal community, taking in ideas on how to safe guard their rights and those of their resources from a young woman did not sit well with some men. They eventually warmed up to me and we worked together to realise our common goal. I think the worst challenge for me was the many threats we faced from people who claimed to have links with powerful leaders in the world. The fear of not knowing what the threats would lead to somewhat dampened my spirit. But, I had set my mind to succeed in Tana.

Esther: How did your success in Tana Delta influence your foray into the conservation of Yala Swamp?

Serah: The ruling by Lady Justice Mumbi Ngugi was proof that it was important to involve the community when making major development plans involving their resources, and that there was need to sustainably manage our natural resources and also protect our biodiversity areas. With that confidence our team started working on restoring Yala Swamp. We encountered challenges  but I was confident. The Land Use Plan was being implemented in the Tana Delta and had also been adopted as model for water and coastal management in Europe, it would therefore work in Yala.

Esther: You work in a male dominated field. How have you been able to rise above the stereotypes about women as key policy makers in the field of conservation?

Serah: I am inspired by God and I draw a lot of strength from my life experiences. I joined campus for my undergraduate studies with very high hopes that I would not find gender stereotypes only to find out later that the course I was taking was somewhat cut out for men. There were only two girls in our class. I however pursued the course to the end. My current interaction is mostly with men so I have learned to earn the right to be heard. I always counter the gender stereotype using my ideas. Nobody can ignore a good idea.

Esther: As a renowned policy advocate how do you remain grounded?

Serah: Humility was one of the things I had to deliberately work on because I am not any better. I also want to help the communities achieve more and I would also like to mainstream biodiversity policies into areas that are in dire need of conservation.

Esther: What is the best advice you would give to a young woman interested in following in your footsteps?

Serah: This may sound cliché but you need to believe in yourself. You can do whatever you set your mind to do. I have always believed that nothing is too difficult. It doesn’t matter how big it looks or how small you think you are as long as you believe you can do it, I will be done.

Esther: Have we seen the best of you?

Serah: The best is yet to come. I am working on several restoration and conservation programmes – I love to think of them as programmes and not projects – for Kenya’s biodiversity areas. We depend on nature for our existence and some of these sites are in dire need of conservation. I will keep working on these programmes for as long as I can.

Partnerships to restore Mt. Kenya forest

March 21 is the International Day of Forests – this year’s theme being ‘Forests and Biodiversity’. This day is marked to raise awareness of the importance of all types of forests. Nature Kenya and forest-adjacent communities are striving to restore the forest landscape on the iconic Mount Kenya and other parts of Kenya.

Enhancing the capacity of communities to engage various stakeholders in forest conservation is key to ensuring the sustainability of forest landscape restoration initiatives. Eleven Community Forest Associations (CFAs) in Mt. Kenya, working closely with Nature Kenya, are among the recipients of Ksh32 million funding from Upper Tana Natural Resources Management Project to boost restoration of the Mt. Kenya forest.

The 11 CFAs are Gatere, Murinduko and Irangi from Murang’a, Kirinyaga and Embu counties respectively; Ruthumbi and Mweru from Meru county; Chuka and Kiera Hills from Tharaka Nithi county; and Cheche, Naromoru, Ragati and Hombe from Nyeri county.

The funding to the CFAs marks a milestone for the participatory forest management approach in Mt. Kenya, where community groups are now directly engaging public and private entities to finance their conservation activities. This follows a series of training programs undertaken by Nature Kenya to build the capacity of the CFAs. The groups have been trained on governance, advocacy, writing of business plans and funding proposals, among other subjects.

“The main aim of the training is to help the CFAs diversify their financial resource base to complement their forest restoration efforts,” says Charles Kiama, Nature Kenya’s Conservation Officer.

The funds will go towards supporting various sustainable livelihood projects like establishment of tree nurseries, eco-tourism and fish farming. These activities are aimed at improving livelihoods, creating employment and reducing poverty levels among forest adjacent communities through conservation, management and sustainable utilization of the forest resource.

Upper Tana Natural Resources Management Project, or Upper Tana Project as it is widely known, supports communities to sustainably manage natural resources. Besides providing funding, part of their mandate is to improve the incomes and the living standards of the target groups through interventions that are beneficial to the management of the natural resources. Last year, 22 CFAs from the Mt. Kenya block received their first Ksh20 million grant from the Upper Tana Project.

Nature Kenya, with funding from World Land Trust and The Darwin Initiative, is partnering with CFAs and other stakeholders to restore degraded sections of the Mt. Kenya forest. About 650,000 trees have been planted since 2017 covering close to 650 hectares of degraded forest area. Last year, 421,800 trees were planted during the heavy rains of October and November. The work of nurturing tree seedlings to maturity was done by members of 22 CFAs. Kiama says that they hope to capitalize on the long rains from March to May to double these numbers. To achieve this, Nature Kenya is partnering with five county governments – Meru, Nyeri, Embu, Tharaka-Nithi and Kirinyaga  – and like-minded locally based community organizations, among them CFAs and Site Support Groups.

A business case has been developed for Mt. Kenya forest. The business case seeks to enhance the wellbeing of forest-adjacent communities by providing an incentive to conserve, manage and restore the Mt. Kenya ecosystem.  The communities (water ‘sellers’) engage in protection and rehabilitation of the watershed, with financial support from downstream water users (‘the buyers’).  Kenya Breweries Limited adopted the business case in 2017 and has since facilitated the planting and nurturing of 100,000 seedlings in Mt Kenya.

“Our main target is large-scale water buyers and consumers of resources from Mt Kenya. We are supporting CFAs to partner with the stakeholders who are willing to engage in forest restoration activities,” says Kiama.

Mt. Kenya forest is an irreplaceable biodiversity hotspot with unique flora and fauna of conservation importance, which underpins its Key Biodiversity Area (KBA) status and government protection. The forest is a cornerstone of Kenya’s economy through provision of varied socio-economic and ecosystem services: Mt. Kenya forest is a major carbon sink and a major water tower.