Grey crowned crane census to be conducted

Kenya loses at least 800 grey crowned cranes yearly,scientists have warned. Raising the alarm, the scientists added that the bird is facing extinction. They were speaking before the launch of a
nationwide survey for the bird.

“The species is in trouble. Its future is fading fast,” said Wanyoike Wamiti a scientist from the National Museums of Kenya (NMK). The National Museums of Kenya, the Nature and
Biodiversity Conservation Union – Germany (NABU) and other partners will conduct the survey. Forty volunteers forming at least nine teams drawn from Kenya, Germany, UK, France, Rwanda and Tanzania
are to take part.

The environmentalists attributed the decline on habitat loss and illegal collection of the birds’ eggs. In 1986, there were 35,000 of the species. The number reduced to 12,500 in 2015. A partial survey last year showed the birds were endangered. There were only less than 10,000.

“The population has declined by 80 per cent in a period of 40-50 years,” Dr. Peter Njoroge said. He is a senior scientist at NMK. Dr. Njoroge said the census set to run until March 8 will be critical in coming up with an action plan to save the birds. The grey crowned crane is one of the 15 living species of the cranes in the world. It is currently listed as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) head of research and multilateral agreements Solomon Kyalo said Kenya, as a signatory to treaties and conventions, is required to cooperate with other countries to
protect the birds.

“KWS is obligated to prepare status of wildlife and present the report to the Cabinet secretary before being tabled in the National Assembly,” he said. Kyalo said the report will help the country to
intensify conservation efforts. After the census, figures will be consolidated with those KWS has in its database. Scientists say invasive plant species ruin the bird’s nesting places.

Nature Kenya’s communications and advocacy manager Serah Munguti said the data will be used in policymaking.

HELP MONITOR MAMMALS IN KENYA

HELP MONITOR MAMMALS in Kenya through The Mammals Atlas for Kenya (MAKE) project. The distribution of different mammal species in Kenya is not well known. Information about the existence of different species in many places in and outside protected areas is scattered in different publications, online databases and personal field notebooks. Hence there is need to consolidate this data into a single database and produce up to date distribution maps for different species of mammals. To do this the Mammalogy Section staff and other members of the Mammal Committee of Nature Kenya would like you to assist in the citizen science mapping of the distribution of mammal species in Kenya. You can do this by contributing the following information:
1. List of identified wild mammals of all species in places you visit (in and outside protected areas) while on a game drive or while birding in your village
2. Provide names of the places where you recorded the mammal species
3. Provide GPS coordinates, if you have them, for the places where you recorded the mammals. If you have no GPS go to Google play on your phone and download the Handy GPS (12MB) free location app and install it in your phone for coordinates of places you visit (https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=binaryearth.handygpsfree&hl=en)
4. If you cannot identify a particular mammal but have a photo, send the photo
For more enquiries about MAKE or on how to send mammal observations kindly contact Simon Musila (Email-surnbirds@gmail.com or smusila@museums.or.ke, Mobile-0727-0937373 or 0788-349227)
MAKE Project Opportunities: We are looking for volunteers to assist in compiling mammal species information from all protected areas in Kenya managed by Kenya Wildlife Service and Kenya Forest Service, as well as all private and community ranches. Volunteers are also needed to compile mammal species information scattered in existing publications on mammals from Kenya, either from online publications or in library journals and reports. More volunteers are needed to fundraise for the establishment of a mobile based online volunteer mammal sightings reporting tool for MAKE. If you are interested in participating in the MAKE project volunteer opportunities, please contact Simon Musila at surnbirds@gmail.com or phone 0727-093737 or 0788-349227.

Putting boots and more on the ground in Arabuko-Sokoke

Since its relaunch in 2016, Friends of Arabuko-Sokoke Forest, a Committee of Nature Kenya, has been putting ‘boots on the ground’ to support Kenya Forest Service and Kenya Wildlife Service to protect this treasured forest. This was further boosted when in 2017 FoASF received funding from the Minara and Oak foundations to train and employ 10 community scouts and carry out daily patrols to help heighten the security of the forest.
Through these patrols the Friends of Arabuko-Sokoke’s profile has been greatly increased and they are seen as one of the key protectors of the forest. Arrests have been made and snares and logs confiscated.
Apart from this vital work, Friends of Arabuko-Sokoke continue to create awareness of the forest amongst local and international communities and to support the local farming communities. Recently, with the assistance of African Fund for Endangered Wildlife (AFEW) FoASF has rented land for 17 local women and one man to plant cassava. AFEW also provided a solar drier and processor to help following the harvesting of the crop.
Recognising that the future of the forest is in the hands of the youth, FoASF has started a concentrated programme of bringing 2,000 primary school pupils into the forest. This has been made possible with 500,000/- raised from the Kilifi Gold Triathlon and help from AFEW.
Friends of Arabuko-Sokoke Forest promotes the conservation of the forest through participation and was relaunched following a critical threat to the forest from oil and gas exploration surveys. Its more than 200 ‘friends’ are drawn from individuals, people from the local community who are passionate about the conservation and sustainability of the forest, academia and commerce.
Check our website or Facebook page for more information. And when next at the coast do visit the Arabuko-Sokoke Forest!

Commemorating World Wetlands Day 2019

Wetlands serve a broad range of functions. They play an important role as filters for pollutants arising from their catchment. They provide ecosystem services such as water, papyrus products, fisheries, and recreation. Local communities rely on wetlands for products including firewood, thatch grass and fodder for their livestock. They are very important carbon sinks that contribute to global climate regulation.

These functions have a key contribution in achievement of the government’s Big Four agenda especially on promoting expansion of the manufacturing sector, affordable housing and achieving food security.

However, wetlands are also very attractive to both large and small-scale farmers for crop production. Although it is an important ecosystem service, cultivated food production and other development activities within wetlands directly compete with other services. This sometimes leads to conflicts between different stakeholders.

Nature Kenya applauds the government’s efforts in the recent past to reclaim wetlands against encroachment, together with legal protection of some wetlands such as Lake Ol’Bolossat.

Wetlands and climate change
As we commemorate the World Wetlands Day 2019 whose theme is wetlands and climate change it is worth noting that wetlands play a critical role in enabling communities to mitigate and build resilience against the impacts of climate change. At the same time, wetlands are fragile ecosystems which are highly vulnerable to the effects of climate change.

Wetland ecosystems can be severely impacted or even destroyed by drought, but also provide water storage and often groundwater recharge capacity which can contribute to drought management. When changing rain patterns bring heavy rainfall, wetlands may be negatively impacted by increase in contaminated runoff, but can also provide flood storage and filter at least some pollutants from runoff reaching other waters. Wetland habitat can be altered by hydrological changes. Their biodiversity richness may shift following temperature alterations, but they can also provide migration pathways and refuge for some species.

Wetlands sequester significant amounts of carbon as compared to other ecosystems. Findings from an ecosystem services assessment for the Yala Swamp conducted in 2015 indicated that soil and vegetation carbon pools were greatest in natural and semi-natural papyrus-dominated habitats and lowest in the drained farmed areas. The study was done by Nature Kenya and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.

Nature Kenya work in wetland conservation
Nature Kenya has supported a number of wetland conservation interventions. These are geared towards supporting ecosystem and community resilience to climate change. In Tana River Delta and Yala Swamp, Nature Kenya has supported the formulation of landscape level land use plans, informed by strategic environmental assessment.

Currently Nature Kenya is implementing a project funded by the Darwin Initiative. The project’s primary goal is to catalyze the implementation of the Tana Delta land use plan in Lamu and Tana River counties through the establishment of multiple use Community Conservation Areas (CCA).

Traditional land uses which include subsistence crop farming, livestock and fishing will continue within the CCAs. Developments that are recommended within the Tana Delta land use plan will also be promoted. The CCAs will be managed by local communities with support from the County Governments of Tana River and Lamu and national government agencies.

There are early successes for the project. Communities have established a demonstration farm for Climate Smart Agriculture where they farm vegetables in two greenhouses. This demonstration site has become a learning site that has drawn the attention of the wider community, leaders at the national and county levels, business enterprises and NGOs. Two fishponds in Ozi Village were assessed and rehabilitated in preparation for stocking. Villagers harvested close to 1,000 litres of honey from 369 beehives (with 100 supported by the project), which has earned them Ksh.567,735. Pastoralists were supported to purchase 94 goats using a business model of fattening and selling. In less than two months, one beneficiary community (Hurara Village) reported the sale of nine goats for Ksh.27,800, earning a net profit of Ksh.9,700/-. The community has since opened a new butchery to slaughter and sell the meat, with the support of health and veterinary departments, with the aim of value addition, improving their marketing strategy and increasing profit prospects. A total of 500 energy saving stoves were installed in thirteen villages. A spot assessment indicated that these stoves save the communities 39% of the time spent cooking, and enabled a 44% reduction in wood fuel use.

The Tana Delta is also benefiting from a Tana River catchment restoration project in Mt. Kenya. This project supports communities to carry out forest rehabilitation and restoration through partnering with the private sector, with support from Darwin Initiative and the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF). The Tana River watershed, with its source in Mt. Kenya Forest, provides drinking water to over two million people.

In Yala Swamp, Nature Kenya in 2014-2018 implemented a program whose goal was to secure the future of the swamp, recognizing both development and conservation needs. The Yala Swamp land use plan was formulated, informed by a strategic environmental assessment. Some 8,400 ha of community conserved areas (CCAs) were identified within the swamp with a committee established to manage, guided by a draft management plan. The program was supported by the Darwin Initiative, MacArthur Foundation and USAID-PREPARED.

Within the CCA, 320 ha of degraded areas were planted with papyrus. Local farmers were supported to plant 186,293 indigenous tree seedlings in the lower River Yala riparian area and on farms. This has led to increased tree cover and rehabilitation of 175.41 ha, upstream of the Yala Swamp.

The wellbeing of Yala Swamp communities has also improved. Eleven fish ponds were established and 156 households benefited from the harvest of at least 9.2 tons of fish. Households made up of 448 individuals earned a total of Ksh.224,950 from sale of high value papyrus products by the end of 2018. Energy saving stoves were installed in 2,000 households and 177 schools; this has seen consumption of wood fuel in households and schools reduce by 50%. Other initiatives include training of 113 community tour guides who currently engage in eco-tourism as a source of livelihood, and carry out biodiversity monitoring within the swamp.

The main legacy of the program was the establishment of Yala Ecosystem Site Support Group, made up of 55 community-based organizations. The Site Support Group coordinates conservation work in Yala Swamp even after the program came to an end. For instance, on February 2nd the group will coordinate Siaya County level World Wetlands Day Celebrations with key activities aimed at creating awareness on the importance of the swamp in climate change adaptation and mitigation.

Informed communities to protect vultures and wildlife

Vultures and other scavenging birds play a critical role in maintaining healthy ecosystems. Their decline can have serious unforeseen effects on other species and the many benefits provided by nature. The main cause of the drop in African vulture populations is poisoning. When predators kill livestock, herders may take revenge by lacing the carcass with poison. Vultures are particularly sensitive, and may die in large numbers after feeding on a poisoned carcass.

While it is difficult to prevent wildlife poisoning, rapid response and immediate action can significantly reduce resultant wildlife deaths and environmental contamination.

In Maasai Mara ecosystem, Nature Kenya, the Peregrine Fund, BirdLife International and the Kenya Bird of Prey Trust, under the ‘Preventing Poisoning to Save Africa’s Vultures’ project, have been testing various approaches aimed at reducing poisoning related wildlife deaths. One such approach is sensitizing the community about the negative impacts of wildlife poisoning. Community meetings at villages and manyattas within the Greater Mara ecosystem have been taking place to raise awareness on the plight of vultures and the impacts of illegal wildlife poisoning. The meetings seek to ensure that the public is aware of the value of vultures, threats facing them and the need for their conservation.

Most wildlife poisoning incidences are retaliatory in nature. The poisoning mainly occurs after pastoralists lose their cattle to predator attacks. The pastoralists then lace cattle carcasses with poisonous substances such as pesticides. The poison not only ends up killing the targeted predator but also scavenging animals such as hyenas and vultures. A single poisoned cow carcass can end up killing 150 vultures! It is therefore extremely important for communities to understand the dangers posed by wildlife poisoning.

In October, 10 community meetings were conducted within Maji Moto and Olkinyei areas which border Olarro and Olkinyei conservancies respectively. Continued interaction with the communities has helped to identify conflict prone areas, leading to directing more efforts to such areas. During such interactions, community members are engaged and the effects of poisoning are discussed. Focus is directed to the poisoning cycle where a single poisoned carcass may affect many other species within an ecosystem, including humans. Measures to mitigate human-wildlife conflict are also discussed. The emphasis here is the importance of maintaining a healthy ecosystem in which all species can thrive.

Actions that have been agreed upon by the communities in these meetings include stopping the baiting of livestock carcasses with poison. Instead, community members agreed to report predator invasions to village elders to help mobilize local support for affected households, and to take such cases to the relevant authorities.

So far 20 large villages and 16 large manyattas have been reached out to, in addition to 15 market outreaches across Maasai Mara, reaching up to 30,000 community members.

Other initiatives undertaken to reduce wildlife poisoning include training of rangers from the Maasai Mara National Reserve on how to respond to poisoning incidents. Sixteen rangers have been trained. Another 45 rangers from 15 community conservancies have also undergone the training.

One notable impact of the anti-poisoning campaign is a recorded increase of Critically Endangered White-backed Vultures’ nests in Maasai Mara.

‘Preventing Poisoning to Save Africa’s Vultures’ is financed by Band Foundation. This initiative in Kenya is also supported as part of a program to tackle vulture poisoning running jointly across Kenya, Botswana and Zimbabwe, funded by Fondation Segré.