Bringing the Tana Delta Land Use Plan to action

The Tana River Delta (130,000 ha) is one of the most important wetlands in Africa. It lies on the Kenya coast between Malindi and Lamu. The delta is the second most important estuarine and deltaic ecosystem in Eastern Africa and a Key Biodiversity Area. Recognition of the delta as an Important Bird and Biodiversity Area (IBA) and a designated Ramsar site further underscores the ecological importance of this ecosystem. (A Ramsar Site is a wetland site designated of international importance under the Ramsar Convention.)

The delta supports a number of endangered primate, marine turtle and plant species as well as rare fish, amphibians and reptiles. A vast number of migratory and resident waterbirds are dependent on seasonally flooded grasslands and Borassus palm savannah that covers some 70,000 ha in the heart of the Tana Delta. The delta’s mangrove forests provide important spawning grounds and nurseries for fish and shellfish.

The delta is also a source of livelihood for communities, providing dry season grazing areas, fertile farmlands and rich fishing grounds. Despite its immense importance, the delta is threatened by resource use conflict between pastoralism, farming and conservation.

Nature Kenya in 2011 led a collaborative effort of various stakeholders in the development of a Tana River Delta Land Use Plan that was guided by a Strategic Environmental Assessment. The process was concluded in 2015. The land use plan has since been approved and adopted as a policy by the Lamu County government. In May 2016, the Tana River Delta Land Use Plan won the Royal Town Planning Institute’s International Award for Planning Excellence.

The land use plan seeks to promote a balance in the use of the delta. It involves regulated access, wise use and improved rangeland management that will lead to improved sustainable livelihoods, security and equity, and biodiversity conservation. The success of the award-winning land use plan is dependent on its effective implementation. Implementation includes enhanced capacity of government, communities and the private sector to drive policy change, and to balance the rights, responsibilities and benefits of sustainable land management and conservation.

Nature Kenya has now moved to the implementation phase of the Tana Delta Land Use Plan. This is made possible with funding from the Darwin Initiative for a project called “Balancing water services for development and biodiversity in the Tana-Delta”. The four-year project started in April 2017 and will end in March 2021. It promotes the Community Conservation Areas (CCAs) approach which is perhaps the most practicable way in which Kenya’s vast natural resources can be conserved and a pathway out of poverty for the poorest of the population. This approach puts Kenya on course to deliver both key articles of the Convention on Biological Diversity and also many of the Sustainable Development Goals.

The project’s overall objective is to support 45 villages and two County Governments to balance water use for development and biodiversity by establishing a community conservation area of over 95,200Ha at the Tana River Delta. The desired outcome is to demonstrate how communities and county governments can use natural resource governance to reduce conflict amongst communities and conserve biodiversity. Key activities for the project include an ecosystem services assessment for the CCA, livelihoods activities targeting 200 households within the CCA, and establishment of a community led governance structure for the CCA. Conservation areas within the CCA will be identified and management plans developed in consultation with all stakeholders. The project also seeks to explore sustainable financing options to generate carbon-credits and expand incipient ecotourism ventures to complement the Tana River and Lamu County Governments’ revenues.

The project will directly benefit 35,000 and indirectly benefit 120,000 people dependent on the Tana Delta. In the long term it will benefit 1.12 million people, as the Government of Kenya plans to replicate the Land Use Plan process at Yala Swamp, Lake Naivasha, Lake Turkana, and the Nyando and Nzoia River Basins.

The project implementation partners include the Tana Delta Conservation Network (TDCN) and Tana Planning Advisory Committee (TPAC), who are local beneficiaries. These two partners act as grassroots agents for change towards sustainable land management; and also the ‘voice of communities’ for engaging and negotiating with the county governments, national government and other partners. Other local partners include Community Forest Associations (CFAs), Water Resource Use Associations (WRUAs) and Beach Management Units (BMUs).

 

Site Support Groups inspire communities to tackle climate change

Climate change has many negative impacts on natural ecosystems, agriculture and food supplies, human health, forestry, water resources and availability, energy use, and transportation. Nearly all rural communities’ livelihoods are directly linked to natural resources and are therefore vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. For example, prolonged dry spells have frequently resulted in food insecurity, displacement of communities and intercommunity conflicts.

In September 2012, at a workshop for Site Support Groups (SSGs), participants presented evidence of the impacts of climate change in different Kenyan Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBAs). The negative impacts included: loss of most of Mount Kenya’s permanent glacier, extreme weather conditions including frost being observed in some of the IBAs such as the Kinangop Grasslands, unpredictable or erratic rainfall, increased mean temperatures, prolonged drought and perennial flooding in some of these sites.

During that workshop it was noted that most rural communities’ livelihoods were directly linked to natural resources and hence they were vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. As a way forward, each SSG was asked to identify the impacts of climate change on livelihoods, ecosystems, habitats and biodiversity within their area of operation, and hence assist to plan for the adaptation strategy that needs to be employed. The discussions on climate change also led to the development of a climate change strategy for SSGs in 2015.  (SSGs are local conservation organizations working with Nature Kenya to conserve IBAs while helping neighbouring communities.)

Since the development of the climate change strategy, several SSGs have undertaken measures to counter the effects of climate change in some of the IBAs. These include reduction of deforestation, restoration of degraded habitats, reforestation and on-farm forestry. To date, over 6 million tree seedlings have been raised and planted by members of SSGs in various parts of the country to assist in protecting and restoring water catchment areas. In addition, over 300ha of papyrus have been planted to rehabilitate degraded areas around Lake Kanyaboli, Bunyala, Usenge and Bar Olengo areas of the Yala Swamp.

SSGs have been in the forefront in promoting the use of energy-saving cooking devices amongst communities as a means of reducing firewood and charcoal use. Through the SSGs, over 5,000 energy-saving ‘jikos’ and slightly over 1,000 ‘fireless cookers’ have been installed at various sites in the country. The SSGs have also been encouraging the use of biogas as an alternative source of clean energy.

On livelihoods, the SSGs have adopted sustainable income generating activities such as bee keeping and butterfly farming. These activities are friendly to the environment and enable communities to earn a living sustainably. To date over 1,400 beehives have been supplied to communities through the SSGs, enabling communities to earn over eight million shillings annually from sale of honey and other hive products.

The climate change strategy for SSGs recognizes the need of establishing partnerships between SSGs, national and county governments and other stakeholders. As part of implementing their climate change strategies, some of the SSGs are working with their respective county governments and other stakeholders in implementation of their activities. Good collaboration with other stakeholders has been reported in Baringo, Kitui and Siaya counties, providing a good platform for the SSGs to achieve their climate change strategies.

Not all Aloes are Healing!

In Kenya, we have almost fifty species of Aloe, including three exceedingly poisonous species. Many people have heard of Aloe vera, the so-called wonder plant, and mistakenly call all aloes Aloe vera.

This has caused not just misunderstandings but has had serious consequences. Applying the wrong Aloe on a wound or eating the wrong Aloe can have fatal consequences.

There are three poisonous Aloe species – Aloe ballyi, Aloe elata and Aloe ruspoliana. These species have leaf sap that gives off a strong ratty odour. Fortunately the first two species are relatively rare and not widespread but it is important to know your aloes before attempting to use them medicinally.

Following a presidential ban on the collection of wild-growing aloes, commercial harvesting of aloe sap has taken its place. There is the danger that due to lack of knowledge, this sap could actually be sourced from poisonous aloes.

It’s true that the leaves of several species of Aloe are used medicinally. And the roots of Aloe volkensii, for example, in combination with other plants, are a significant ingredient for many local brews. But beware! One of our missions in Succulenta East Africa is to raise public awareness that there are dangers out there and that not all aloes have medicinal properties!

Not all Aloes are Aloe Vera!

The plants called Aloe include many different species. Most of them have succulent, spiky leaves and colourful flowers. You can see several Aloes on the grounds of the National Museums of Kenya. There is a very famous Aloe called Aloe vera. It does not grow wild in Kenya, but it is planted and used medicinally. The Aloes that we see in the countryside and on safari are not Aloe vera. They belong to different species of Aloe. Sue Allan tells you more about them … 

Scientists in efforts to save frogs in Kenya

The National Museums of Kenya (NMK) and a US university are working together to develop technology that will help track amphibians with a view to protecting them. The project targets amphibian species (frogs, toads, newts and salamanders) listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as endangered.

Researchers have expressed concern over the rapid decline of frog population in Kenya and Africa in general, citing disease and destruction of natural habitats have been cited as major threats. The situation has been further compounded by lack of information on the species. Data from IUCN shows 1,800 species of amphibians across the world face extinction.

Human activity such as logging and agricultural expansion, climate change and alien species invasion have been blamed for the decline of frog population in Kenya. Poor waste management leading to pollution of water bodies, home to amphibians, has also been contributed to this population.

The first major goal of the project will be to collate information about amphibians in Kenya. This information will be built from existing records. A digital inventory will then be created and updated from time to time.

Using cutting-edge technology to detect the presence of species in the environment, researchers hope to come up with a better documentation method that will enhance the protection of amphibians that live in the soil, water and any other habitats.

The Journal of East African Natural History

The first issue of “The Journal of the East Africa and Uganda Natural History Society” was published in January 1910. It Contained papers on birds, butterflies, plants, fish, elephants, snakes and the Kariandusi deposits. For the next 105 years the Journal, under various titles and different layouts, continued to be published and distributed as a hard-copy journal containing an ever changing, eclectic mix of papers on the biodiversity of the eastern African region.

However, the times are changing, and the publishing world in particular has gone through a drastic reorganisation. Few of us still go to a library to browse through rows and rows of dusty books and journals to find information of interest. Instead, we google and download the papers we are looking for, all done and dusted within a couple of seconds. For a long time, we continued printing the Journal as an exchange resource to stock the joint library of the East Africa Natural History Society and the National Museums of Kenya. However, with many support systems in place to provide scientific information free of charge in those countries that are unable to afford subscriptions to content gatherers, and with Open Access publishing gaining in popularity, the need to exchange hard copy for hard copy has fallen away. Furthermore, the increasing costs associated with printing and postage of the Journal have become a serious burden for a small society such as ours.

Thus, like so many other journals, the management of the Journal of East African Natural History has decided to stop printing hard copies, and from now on to distribute the Journal as an electronic publication only. We will continue our partnership with BioOne, which hosts all issues produced since 1994.

The older issues are Open Access, whereas the more recent ones can only be accessed through subscription. The income that we generate in this way has been a lifeline in the continued production of the Journal. Our content can also be accessed through African Journals Online, and issues from 2016 onwards will be posted there as Open Access, meaning that anyone can download them free of charge. With this mixed model, we hope to continue generating income while we also offer our articles free of charge to institutions and the public that cannot afford a subscription to BioOne. A long printing tradition as the Journal has cannot just simply end without a flourish, and we have therefore decided to make our last printed issue a special one in dedication to the 80th birthday of a great scientist, namely Jonathan Kingdon.

On behalf of the East Africa Natural History Society, the National Museums of Kenya and the editorial committee of the Journal of East African Natural History, I sincerely hope that you will understand and support our decision, and that you will continue to enjoy reading about our amazing biodiversity.

Four Critically Endangered African vultures to get global protection

Four critically endangered vulture species  found in Africa are set to get a new hope for survival from a 12-year multi-species coordinated action plan set for tabling at a United Nations (UN) summit this month. The critically endangered White-backed, White-headed, Hooded, and Rüppell’s vultures are among 15 vulture species from 128 countries set to get collaborative international protection under the Multi-Species Action Plan to Conserve African-Eurasian Vultures (MsAP).

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of species threatened with extinction has listed a majority of these vulture species as critically endangered, indicating a very high risk of extinction in the wild. Three endangered vulture species — the Cape, Lappet-faced and Egyptian vultures; and two near threatened — the Bearded and Cinereous vultures, found in Africa, are included in the action plan. The plan also covers the Red-headed, White -rumped, Long-billed and Slender-billed vultures, all critically endangered and mostly found in Asia.

Vultures are considered nature’s garbage disposers, as they feed on the carcasses of dead animals that are often infected with diseases such as anthrax, cholera, botulinum toxin and rabies that would be lethal to other scavengers. They therefore play a critical role in maintaining healthy ecosystems. Despite their vital role in nature, vultures are often portrayed as greedy and unprincipled in popular culture. In the field, they are under extreme pressure from a range of human activities. Drastic and widespread population declines in recent years in Africa and Asia have seen some vulture species sliding towards extinction.

In Africa, poisoning is the leading cause of vulture deaths. These deaths occur when people try to kill mammalian predators of livestock (and in some areas feral dogs), with poison-laced carcasses or baits, accidentally attracting vultures. Elephant and rhino poachers also poison vultures in an attempt to mask their tracks, which would otherwise be revealed by the birds circling overhead. The strategic action plan seeks to address threats facing vultures through promoting concerted and collaborative international conservation actions. Among the objectives of the Vulture MsAP are to:

  • Rapidly halt current population declines in all species covered by the Vulture MsAP;
  • Reverse recent downwards population trends to bring the conservation status of each species back to a favourable level; and,
  • Provide conservation management guidelines applicable to all Range States covered by the Vulture MsAP.

The Vulture MsAP will be tabled at the 12th session of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention  on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS COP12) slated for 23rd to 28th October in the Philippines capital Manila. Representatives from more than 120 countries will be in attendance.

New online database could reduce poisonous threat to wildlife

The use of poisons to kill wildlife in Africa has rapidly accelerated over the past decade, and is having a devastating

effect on the populations of many species. In Kenya there has been as escalation in the use of poisons due to various reasons. Highly toxic     pesticides are used to lions and hyenas in retaliation for damage to livestock. Monkeys and elephants are targeted due to conflicts with farmers. Very concerning is the use of poisons to harvest animals as a food source where fish and waterbirds are frequent targets. Due to the indiscriminate nature of poisons, there are almost always unintentional consequences that affect a broad range of terrestrial and aquatic species, including humans. Vultures are the most severely afflicted, as they are typically the first to arrive at a poisoned carcass, and they feed in large numbers. There are also serious issues involving contamination of lakes, rivers, and waterholes whenever toxic pesticides are sprinkled into these water sources to harvest fish or other aquatic species.

The Peregrine Fund has been collecting data on wildlife poisoning since 2005 and has now joined forces with the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) based in South Africa to assess the scope and impact of this critical threat to vultures and other wildlife species across Africa. In partnership with the Vulture Specialist Group of the IUCN Species Survival Commission and The Gadfly Project, the Peregrine Fund has collated all historical and current incidents of wildlife poisoning into the African Wildlife Poisoning Database or AWPD, www.africanwildlifepoisoning.org

So far, the database contains records of 272 poisoning incidents that have killed over 8,000 animals of 40 different species, from 15 countries. Although records of poisoning date back to 1961, in the past decade there has been a sharp escalation in poisoning incidents, with most of the deaths occurring during this time. Aside from vultures, species affected range from large carnivores, such as lions, leopards, and hyenas, to elephants, impalas, cranes, and storks. However, by far the most deaths are of vultures, comprising ten different species, including two species that migrate to Africa from Europe. Poisoning is the most significant threat to vultures in Africa and Eurasia and, over the last 30 years, has contributed to declines in excess of 80% in some African species. Currently, the IUC N Red List of Threatened Species lists four species of African vulture as Critically Endangered and three species as Endangered.

The AWPD is designed to facilitate simple, effective capture of relevant data, either by using a mobile device at a wildlife poisoning incident, or by inputting data via the website. Users can access basic information on poisoning incidents and mortalities, and view these on a map of Africa. The AWPD will contribute to gathering better information on poisoning incidents, as well as on the drivers of wildlife poisoning

Mainstreaming Biodiversity: A key component to Sustainable Economic Development

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The economic survival of various production sectors, and of the people depending on those sectors for their livelihoods, is intricately connected to the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity. As such, biodiversity is considered as part of the functioning of the productive sectors.

However, over the years we’ve witnessed the rapid decline of biodiversity. One of the major challenges in preventing this decline has been finding ways of addressing the issue where it matters most; the production sectors that exert the greatest pressure. It is out of this realization that a forum was convened in Nairobi in July to deliberate on mainstreaming biodiversity into sectors of the economy.

The forum dubbed the “National Dialogue on Biodiversity Mainstreaming into Sectors of the Economy” was organized by the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources as part of the National Forest Program (NFP). Stakeholders from various sectors of the economy who attended the forum at the Laico Regency Hotel on July 25 were in agreement that biodiversity conservation is a pre-condition for achieving sustainable development. As such, it needed to be integrated into all sectors and across sectors: biodiversity needed to be mainstreamed.

Addressing stakeholders during the forum, the Cabinet Secretary, Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources Prof. Judi Wakhungu explained that forests hosted the bulk of biodiversity in addition to providing water, sequestrating carbon, providing a base for renewable energy, hydro generation and supporting other sectors of development.

“In spite of the centrality of forests in environmental stability, forest ecosystems are increasingly under threat from the ever growing pressure to meet human needs,” noted Prof. Wakhungu.

Major threats to Kenyan forests include competition for land due to agricultural expansion, settlement and urban development, excessive extraction of forest products, unsustainable charcoal production and overgrazing.

Prof. Wakhungu informed stakeholders that the government was developing a National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan (NBSAP) and also the first National Wildlife Conservation Strategy. She added that implementation of the strategies and programmes would require substantial budgetary allocation and called for a creative mix of resources from all stakeholders including public, private sector and local communities.

Participants in the forum were drawn from government agencies, the private sector, civil society and community forest associations (CFAs).

Nature Kenya in collaboration with the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources is organizing a similar forum to discuss implementation of conservation initiatives and biodiversity mainstreaming in the Taita Hills and Tsavo conservation area.

Maasai Mara National Reserve: IBA IN FOCUS

The Maasai Mara ecosystem is home to approximately twenty-five per cent of Kenya’s wildlife. It hosts more than 95 mammal species besides being a recognized Important Bird Area (IBA). Presently, about 70 per cent of this wildlife is living outside the gazetted conservation area – the Maasai Mara National Reserve. Adjacent land owned by local communities form key dispersal and diversity areas.

The Maasai Mara National Reserve is Kenya’s most-visited protected area. It is world famous for its high density of herbivores and predators and the spectacular annual migrations of wildebeest. In 1996, the reserve was nominated for designation as a World Heritage Site.

Habitats in the Masaai Mara are varied, including open rolling grassland, riverine forest, Acacia woodland, swamps, non-deciduous thickets, boulder-strewn escarpments, and Acacia, Croton and Tarchonanthus scrub.

The Mara’s extensive grasslands are a stronghold for the threatened, migratory corn crake and the near threatened, restricted-range Jackson’s widow bird. The woodlands around the reserve are probably the centre of abundance for the threatened, restricted-range grey-crested helmet shrike. The restricted-range rufous-tailed weaver has recently been sighted within the reserve, near the southern border, and may be expanding its range northwards. More than 500 other bird species are known to occur, including 12 species of Cisticola and 53 birds of prey. Grassland birds are especially well represented. Large numbers of Palearctic migrants winter in the area, including Caspian plover and white stork.

Friends of Maasai Mara (FoMM) is the Maasai Mara IBA site support group (SSG). Since its formation in 2014, Friends of Maasai Mara has addressed critical environmental and wildlife biodiversity conservation and protection actions meant to create awareness and sustainable conservation among the community, government, and other stakeholders.

Knowledge Sharing: Mara communities visit Lion Guardians

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Community exchange visits have always been considered as important strategies that can be applied to promote a practical-based learning approach to some of the best lessons worth replicating. The Lions Guardian model is one such notable approach. This community wildlife conservation initiative encourages “sustainable coexistence” between lions and humans.

The model has successfully managed to blend science with Maasai traditional knowledge and cultural practices to drastically reduced incidents of human-wildlife conflict and minimized cases of retaliatory wildlife killings in Amboseli.

Based on this understanding, Nature Kenya, under a BAND Foundation funded project, organized a visit to Amboseli for a community group from Maasai Mara. The eighteen community members were part of a community exchange visit whose aim was to learn more about the Lion Guardians’ proven community conservation model, as well as gather ideas, lessons and strategies for sustainable coexistence with wildlife from communities that the Lion Guardians is working with. The group comprised of opinion leaders and representatives from various conservation organizations involved in the implementation of human wildlife conflict and poison control related projects within the Mara ecosystem.

The methodology applied for this activity was a practical approach that entailed visiting and interacting with locals in community managed ranches, and conducting field visits to get feel of how wildlife conservation is carried out with minimal interference to human activities as a key objective of mitigating human wildlife conflicts. Like in any other ecosystem where there is direct interaction between human and wildlife, it is expected that there would be conflicting interests as far as utilization of ecosystem services is concerned. In such cases, different communities residing within these ecosystems devise strategies on how to manage conflicts arising from these interactions.

For the Maasai community living around Amboseli National Park, the key approach they have adopted is preserving indigenous culture which promotes co-existence between humans and wildlife. Most of their communally owned land has been divided into ranches, with grazing patterns. The ranches have further been subdivided into different sections for different uses including grazing and conservancies. The communities, under the guidance of their leaders, have developed grazing plans that guide where the communities can graze their livestock at specified times, ensuring minimal conflict with wildlife.

Problematic lions are collared and ‘morans’ using skills acquired on GPS use complemented by their traditional knowledge, keep track of them. This enables them to pin-point the location of the lions and guide cattle grazers away from them. Furthermore, community scouts patrol grazing zones to ensure that cattle herders and wildlife do not cross paths. ‘Moreso’, a Maasai culture of killing lions as a rite of passage, was turned around with the introduction of the Lion Guardians program. The morans have instead been transformed into guardians of lions.

The community also devised ways of ensuring there is a balance in satisfying the needs of all resource users; for instance, local communities have been mandated to ensure that water points (mainly those fed by pumped water from boreholes) have readily available water at night for use by wildlife so as to minimize conflicts.

It is hoped that the delegation from Maasai Mara will replicate some of the lessons they learned to manage human-wildlife conflict and reduce poisoning incidents. After thoughtful review, the community representatives will develop action plans for implementation of the lessons learned.

Among the long term outcomes expected from the visit are to engage local communities in and around Maasai Mara in implementation of non-poisoning control systems for predators, and creating greater public awareness of the vulture crisis and appreciating the role they play in human and wildlife health.

Nature Kenya is implementing the “Saving the African Vulture” Project in the greater Mara Ecosystem. The project seeks to reduce poison related vulture deaths as a contribution towards the halting and long-term reversal of vulture declines in Africa. The vulture crisis is complex and multi-faceted, but poisoning is by far the most important and urgent threat they face. Stopping vulture poisoning is therefore a top priority to enable their numbers to stabilise and build solid foundations required to effectively address other threats they face.