Partnership for sustainable restoration of Mt. Kenya forest

Ongoing efforts to conserve Mt. Kenya ecosystem got a Ksh. 8 million boost from Kenya Breweries Limited (KBL) geared towards rehabilitating degraded forest areas. The funds, part of a public-private sector partnership to sustainably restore Mt. Kenya forest, will see KBL support the planting of 100,000 indigenous trees in the forest by the Mt. Kenya Biodiversity (Mt. Kebio) site support group. The public-private sector partnership for sustainable water flows from Mt. Kenya forest is a Nature Kenya initiative that seeks strategic commitment and support from the business sector to enhance the quantity and quality of water flowing from Mt. Kenya.

The initiative targets to raise Ksh. 140 million annually to plant 2 million trees to restore 2,000 Ha of Mt. Kenya and upper Tana catchment landscapes while keeping clean water flowing for access and use by downstream users and ecology.

Speaking when presenting the Ksh. 8 million cheque to Nature Kenya, KBL Finance Director, Ms. Kinya Kimotho said the company was committed to conserving the Mt. Kenya forest, terming it as a key pillars to Kenya’s economic development.

“Today’s partnership is in line with our sustainability agenda which calls us to reduce our environmental impact. So far, 133 staff from KBL have signed up to join the community in Mt. Kenya in planting 100,000 tree seedlings,” said Ms. Kimotho said.

The presentation of the cheque was made during a breakfast meeting convened by Nature Kenya to discuss Mt. Kenya restoration. Prof. Judi Wakhungu, Cabinet Secretary Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources was the chief guest at the meeting with participants drawn from the public and private sectors.

Acknowledging the initiative by Nature Kenya, Prof. Wakhungu urged the private sector to play a leading role in the restoration of Mt. Kenya forest by allocating more resources for conservation.

The Mt. Kenya and upper Tana ecosystem is the most productive basin for agriculture in Kenya. It provides water to key national parks, generates half of the country’s total hydropower, and supplies 95% of Nairobi’s water.

Mt. Kenya is also recognised as an Important Bird and Biodiversity Area (IBA) and as such is part of the “Kenyan Mountains Endemic Bird Area (EBA)”.

Bird species found there include the Jackson’s Francolin, Sharpe’s Longclaw, Jackson’s Widowbird and Abbott’s Starling.

Avian flu reaches East Africa

At the start of 2017, hundreds of White-winged Black Terns were found dead on the shores of Lutembe Bay on Lake Victoria in Uganda. These birds nest in central Asia and southeastern Europe, and migrate to Africa to escape the northern winter. Tests on some of the terns were positive for avian influenza, also called bird flu or avian flu.

Five domestic ducks and a hen in Masaka district, west of Kampala, were also infected, according to Uganda’s Agriculture ministry. This is the first report of avian flu in East Africa. In response, Kenya and Rwanda have banned importation of poultry and eggs from Uganda.

Worldwide, about 40 countries have reported new outbreaks of highly pathogenic avian influenza in poultry and wild birds since November 2016, according to WHO (the World Health Organization). In Europe and Asia, thousands of infected poultry are being culled. In China, some human infections have been reported.

Nature Kenya, the Kenyan Partner of BirdLife International, has this advice for birding enthusiasts and the general public:

1.    If you are out birding and you come across dead birds: record the location, bird species and the total number of dead birds seen. Take a photo if possible.

2.     Share this information with Nature Kenya (office@naturekenya.org) or National Museums of Kenya Ornithology Section (Dr Peter Njoroge Head of Ornithology Section pnjoroge@museums.or.ke) or Kenya Wildlife Service (gakuya@kws.go.ke ) or any local veterinary office nearby.

3.    Do not touch dead birds! Avian Flu can infect people, although this is rare so far

4.     Viewing birds and eating cooked chicken and eggs is safe. There were no cases of bird flu in Kenya as at 27 January 2017.

5.    For more information see http://www.birdlife.org/action/science/species/avian_flu/index

The sweet taste of conserving Arabuko –-Sokoke Forest

Beekeeping has traditionally been considered a preserve for men in Kenya. Culture dictated that the laborious and dangerous honey harvesting process was not fit for women, particularly in a rural setting. However, the advent of modern beekeeping techniques and tools has seen more women venturing into commercial beekeeping. For Alice Kasika Mwiu it is also a tale of passion and determination, a personal mission to conserve the largest single block of indigenous coastal forest remaining in East Africa: The Arabuko-Sokoke Forest.

Alice, a resident of Matano Mane in Kilifi County, is a champion for the conservation of Arabuko-Sokoke Forest, for her livelihood depends on the forest’s existence. “This forest is a vital resource that provides livelihoods for people living adjacent to it. It provides us with bees for honey, wood for fuel, fresh air that we breathe and plants for medicine,” she says.

Without the forest, Alice adds, she wouldn’t be earning any living out of her hives, as it’s the forest that supplies flowers for the bees to feed on. In a good season her 200 hives are capable of producing more than two tonnes of honey, she says. Last year for instance, Alice harvested one hundred 20-litre containers of honey valued at more than two million shillings. In addition to honey, she also sold wax and other hive products. Out of proceeds from the sale of bee products, Alice has managed to build on her plot and also buy some cattle.

Alice’s beekeeping success story has seen her gain recognition as a model farmer and a source of inspiration to others. Hundreds of aspiring beekeepers flock to her farm to know more about bees and honey production. Alice has had visitors coming from as far as Nandi and other parts of the country to learn from her vast experience in beekeeping.

At Arabuko-Sokoke Forest, community-driven conservation projects such as beekeeping and butterfly farming were initiated to ensure that the people can draw a livelihood from this vital ecosystem without destroying it. One such initiative is “The People Partner with Nature Program” developed by BirdLife Denmark (DOF) together with three BirdLife partners: Nature Kenya, Nature Uganda and Bird Conservation Nepal. This program is supporting 50 beekeeping groups and 26 butterfly farming groups neighbouring Arabuko-Sokoke Forest.

The success of such initiatives is testimony to how improving livelihoods can go hand in hand with conservation. “People here now appreciate the value of preserving this important forest as there are direct benefits linked to its conservation. Arabuko–Sokoke is our forest and it is our duty to protect it,” says Alice who is also a member of the Arabuko-Sokoke Forest Adjacent Dwellers Association (ASFADA), which is the forest’s Site Support Group (SSG).

“Getting people to embrace conservation has its own challenges, but with increased awareness communities can be mobilized to take action. Some years back people would walk into the forest, cut trees and get away with it. Nowadays community members are vigilant, any illegal activity spotted is immediately reported to the authorities,” concludes Alice.

ARABUKO–SOKOKE – the premier coastal forest

Arabuko-Sokoke Forest is the last large remnant of the East African coastal forest. The forest covers about 420 km2 and is an important conservation area due to its biodiversity richness. The forest is internationally renowned for its rare bird and mammal species and diversity of habitats.

The Globally Endangered birds Clarke’s Weaver, Sokoke Pipit, Amani Sunbird, Spotted Ground Thrush and Sokoke Scops Owl are found in the forest, which is home to twenty per cent of the bird species and thirty per cent of the butterfly species found in Kenya.

The Golden-rumped Sengi or Elephant-shrew is one of four globablly threatened mammals in the forest. Arabuko-Sokoke Forest is designated as an Important Bird and Biodiversity Area (IBA), and together with Mida Creek, forms part of a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. The forest is also renowned for its innovative Kipepeo Butterfly project.

A management team of important stakeholders manage the Arabuko-Sokoke Forest Reserve. The Management Team is composed of Kenya Forest Service, Kenya Wildlife Service, National Museums of Kenya, Kenya Forestry Research Institute, Nature Kenya and the Arabuko-Sokoke Forest Adjacent Dwellers Association.

The Arabuko–Sokoke Forest Adjacent Dwellers Association (ASFADA) is the forest’s Site Support Group (SSG). The group has 3,563 members and is involved in activities such as butterfly farming, beekeeping, tree planting and ecotourism. With help from Nature Kenya and the Community Development Trust Fund,

ASFADA built and manages the Jamii Villas, where visitors can stay or have a meal.

The Friends of Arabuko-Sokoke Forest, a working group of Nature Kenya, also carries out conservation activities in the forest. The group monitors, documents and reports illegal tree felling and poaching of animals, creates awareness about the value of the forest amongst local and international communities, and supports local farming communities and the conservation work of the Kenya Forest Service and Kenya Wildlife Service.

Continue reading “ARABUKO–SOKOKE – the premier coastal forest”

We are never too young to make a difference

This was the bold message that over 140 secondary school students were sending across when they took part in a de-snaring walk at Arabuko-Sokoke Forest. The students, drawn from six secondary schools – Shimo la Tewa High School, Ngerenya Secondary School, Katana Ngala Secondary School, Sokoke Secondary School, Kilifi Township High School and Roka Secondary School – were joined by community members from the area. The de-snaring walk was organized by various stakeholders within Arabuko-Sokoke Forest including Nature Kenya (NK), Friends of Arabuko-Sokoke Forest (FoASF), Wildlife Clubs of Kenya (WCK), Kenya Forest Service (KFS) and Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS).

Arabuko-Sokoke Forest is the last large remnant of the East African coastal forest. The forest covers about 420 km2 and is an important conservation area due to its biodiversity richness. The forest is internationally renowned for its rare bird and mammal species and diversity of habitats, and is home to twenty per cent of the bird species and thirty per cent of the butterfly species found in Kenya. Arabuko-Sokoke Forest is designated as an Important Bird and Biodiversity Area (IBA), and together with Mida Creek, forms part of a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.

Today, the biodiversity of this unique forest is threatened by a number of illegal activities, including the snaring of antelopes and other mammals for bushmeat. Traditional hunting is no longer sustainable, as mammals found only in coastal forests are threatened with extinction.

So various conservation players recently joined hands in organizing and executing a walk in the forest aimed at removing of snares. This was to send a statement to the poachers that it’s time they stop and keep off the forest. The event also served to collect data on illegal activities taking place within the forest.

The event’s organizers had identified 24 active footpaths (presumed to be used by poachers) traversing an area covering about 12 km2 along the Kararacha-Matsangoni area. The footpaths were labeled and assigned to chosen team leaders.

The walk kicked off at around 7:00 am, with each team leader being paired with a ranger, at least 5 students and community members. Each group walked for about two and a half hours into the forest, covering a distance of about 2 km, looking for snares and any other illegal activities. By midday, all the teams were back to their starting points where they were picked up and dropped at Kararacha Campsite. Each of the 24 groups then presented what they had recorded during the walk. The groups managed to remove 74 snares from the forest.

Logging was identified as the most rampant illegal activity within the forest, with 256 tree stumps being spotted. Pole cutting and charcoal burning were other illegal activities identified. Three people ferrying 28 poles from the forest were spotted during the walk. The three however managed to escape leaving behind their illegal cargo. Bicycle tire marks were recorded, indicating that some poachers use bicycles to ferry their ill-gotten products.

One of the most surprising things noted was that all these incidents of destruction were recorded close to the perimeter fence, raising concerns over what goes on deep into the forest where on several occasions camps of woodcarvers and loggers had been found and destroyed.

Nature Kenya, through funding from NABU (the BirdLife partner in Germany) has continued to support improvement of local capacity through diversification of skills for communities living adjacent to the forest. The NABU funded project contributes to the implementation of the Arabuko-Sokoke Forest Elephant Conservation Action Plan.

“The People Partner with Nature Program” developed by BirdLife Denmark (DOF) together with three BirdLife partners including Nature Kenya, is also underway in Arabuko-Sokoke Forest.  The Program’s long-term objective is to reduce the depletion of forested Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBAs) and contribute to the best and most sustainable forest management practices for the benefit of all. The program is funded by DANIDA via the Danish umbrella NGO/training organization, Civil Society in Development (CISU).

Kiptaberr Hill – a new birding hotspot

Kiptaberr Hill is one of the forest fragments in the Cherangani Hills, located near Kapcherop market centre, close to the Kenya Forest Service station. The hill is a spectacular single giant rock. During a survey for the GEF/UNDP funded “Strengthening Protected Areas Network within the Eastern Montane Forest Hotspot of Kenya” project in the western forests of Kenya in 2015, it was observed that Kiptaberr was a stopover point for migrants and a home to raptors. Kiptaberr Hill is a suitable raptor migratory watchtower that is yet to be considered for protection and conservation.

The survey team from the National Museums of Kenya and Nature Kenya found the Critically Endangered (CR) Hooded Vulture (Necrosyrtes monachus) resident at the rock, with two roosting flocks of 6-8 individuals spotted on one of the survey transects. When climbing up the hill, the team often saw a pair of Vulnerable (VU) Southern Ground Hornbills among flocks of goats and sheep.  At the peak of Kiptaberr rock, at alt 2,786, they found Malachite Sunbirds feeding and nesting.

While enjoying a spectacular view of Trans Nzoia from atop the hill, a visitor will also see a cave between rocks that is home to Nyanza Swifts. The birds make repeated trips to their nests in the cave with food in between their beaks to feed young ones. Some 200m higher, a Lanner Falcon flies in very fast and enters between two rocks.  Suddenly, the sound of begging chicks can be heard. Clearly, Kiptaberr is an avifauna hot spot.

By observing human activities in and around Kiptaberr, it is evident that this forest fragment is facing serious threats. Encroachment, over-grazing and logging are some of the looming threats at Kiptaberr and one cannot stop wondering, ‘does this unique forest fragment have a future?’

How long can an African Paradise Flycatcher live? Nairobi ringing group will tell you…

Bird ringing is a tool used by researchers to study birds. It involves trapping birds using special nets called mist nets; carefully extracting and examining them; putting a light metal ring with a unique number on the tarsus (leg); taking measurements like age (adult or young), weight, bill length, among other biometrics; and releasing them back to the wild.

A lot of information has been obtained from birds ringed in this way, among them, movement of birds, migration routes followed, lifespan, distribution and dispersal, habitat change, among others.

In Nairobi, ringing is usually done weekly by members of Nairobi Ringing Group at Nairobi Museums Ground. During the month of June, we experienced cold and rainy weather and a decline in the number of birds caught; sometimes we closed nets with 1-2 or no bird ringed at all. Nevertheless, that has not interfered with members’ morale and effort to set up nets and hope to ring some birds.

A number of longevity records in June are very important information for ringers and birders in general. A Singing Cisticola (Cisticola cantans) with ID ring K 45132, was first ringed on 9th July 2009 as an adult bird, and re-trapped in June 2016. A Rüppell’s Robin Chat (Cossypha semirufa) with ID ring AA 31604 was ringed on 17th July 2014 as an adult, and re-trapped in June 2016.

We don’t know how far resident birds move from time to time; but with ringing, we are getting an answer.  An Olive Thrush (Turdus olivaceus) was ringed with ID ring BB 7402 on 11th November, 2015; it was later caught by the public at Kiambu Road, Runda area, approximately 15 km from the Museums ground.

An amazing highlight was an African Paradise Flycatcher with ID ring K45023. This bird was ringed on 23rdAugust, 2007 as a full adult and re-trapped on 23thJune 2016. Lifespan with the ring is 8 years, 10 months, and since he was an adult bird, he may be older than 10 years.

Please report any ringed bird to Bird Committee at Nature Kenya (birds@naturekenya.org) or Ornithology Section, National Museums of Kenya. Remember, don’t try to catch a bird to read the number! Photograph it instead and send us the photo. Wishing you happy birding and ringing!