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.