Conservation in the time of COVID-19

We are living in extraordinary times. The COVID-19 pandemic is affecting everyone and everything everywhere. The Kenya Government has given directives to help reduce the spread. Nairobi, Kilifi, Mombasa and Kwale Counties are locked-in. Social distancing and face masks are a must. Gatherings are not allowed. Cashless business transactions are encouraged.

 Nature Kenya management, staff and Executive Committee hope you all remain safe at this time of coronavirus danger. Nature Kenya is abiding by the government directives. Some activities have had to be postponed, while other work continues.

  1. Members will receive an electronic version of the Nature Net until further notice.
  2. The Membership office and shop is closed until further notice. Membership recruitment and renewal however continues. 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 mailed to you. As long as the main office remains open part of the time, members may also buy Arabuko-Sokoke honey. Pay by M-pesa and arrange to collect the honey.
  3. The 110th Annual General Meeting was postponed until further notice.
  4. The ‘Lungs for Kenya’ Charity Golf Tournament 2020 was re-scheduled for Friday, October 2nd, 2020 at the Karen Country Club.
  5. The EANHS library and museum galleries and sites remain closed until further notice.
  6. 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.

OFFICE OPERATIONS

At the Nature Kenya office, technical staff are optionally working from home, and support staff are on paid leave. With the Nairobi metropolitan area locked-in, staff cannot travel outside Nairobi. In April 2020, technical staff were busy with desktop tasks including writing donor reports and data analysis. Staff also provided comments to planning processes including the draft Nairobi National Park Management Plan and the control of desert locusts. With fewer field operations, staff were able to put more time into proposal writing targeting institutional donors and global philanthropists.

SITE ACTION DELIVERY

Field staff are present at site level: Yala Swamp, Mt Kenya, Taita Hills, Arabuko-Sokoke Forest, Dakatcha Woodland, Tana Delta, Maasai Mara and Amboseli landscapes. Staff in the field are liaising with technical staff in Nairobi to deliver site actions that do not require gatherings.

  • In the Maasai Mara and Amboseli landscapes, 65 village vulture volunteers are coordinating with four Nature Kenya vulture liaison officers to monitor and report wildlife poisoning followed by site decontamination to prevent the poisoning of vultures that feed on carcasses.
  • In the Tana Delta, staff and the Tana Delta Conservation Network (TDCN) are completing a Community Livelihoods and Learning centre.
  • In Arabuko-Sokoke Forest three Community Forest Associations are completing ecological monitoring along 47 transects.
  • In Dakatcha Woodland, a cutline along the borders of the 1,310-acre Clarke’s Weaver nature reserve purchased by Nature Kenya in 2019-2020 is underway.
  • In Mt Kenya, CFAs were very active with tree planting during the rainy season, replacing dead trees and weeding. Kabaru and Hombe CFAs planted 40,000 seedlings of indigenous trees. Replacement of dead seedlings and weeding around seedlings was undertaken by CFAs in Chuka, Ruthumbi, Kabaru, Wanjerere, Ntimaka, Hombe and Njukiiri. A total of 15,546 new trees were planted to replace dead seedlings and weeding for 74,909 young trees was done.
  • In Yala Swamp, the local people are completing a Community Conservation Areas Management Plan and construction of a bulking centre for nature based products in Siaya Town. Here 122 farmers have planted cereal crops; 16 farmers have vegetable nurseries (kales, black nightshade, coriander and capsicum); and 25 farmers have planted soya and vegetables. Some 11,352 indigenous tree seedlings were planted in the lower River Yala; 15ha of degraded papyrus planted in Yala Swamp; and a poultry rearing unit with capacity for 400 chickens constructed.
  • Common bird monitoring was done by three Site Support Groups: Dakatcha Woodland Conservation Group, Yala Ecosystem SSG and Mt. Kenya Biodiversity Conservation Group.

The local empowerment unit is liaising with Site Support Groups (SSGs) to assess the impact of COVID-19 on sites and livelihoods. However, it is clear that COVID-19 will have a serious negative impact on species, sites and people.

COVID-19 EFFECTS

Already, Kipepeo, the flagship butterfly farming project adjacent to the Arabuko-Sokoke Forest, is seriously impacted. Since 1993, local people have been rearing butterfly pupae that are packaged and exported to overseas destinations for live displays in butterfly houses. The COVID-19 global pandemic has caused total closure of these butterfly houses. Exports have completely stopped. Some 800 households who depend on butterfly farming have lost a means of livelihoods. The Arabuko-Sokoke Forest is in danger. If you would like to help, please get in touch.

MOVING FORWARD

Nature Kenya will continue to update you on further developments. 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. For any clarification or to report your observation on species and sites, kindly contact us through telephone:

020 3537568, 0780 149200, 0751 624312, 0771 343138 or email: office@naturekenya.org

 

Dr. Paul Matiku,

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

The legacy of the Osprey: Yala Ecosystem Site Support Group benefits from birdwatching training

Since the sighting and rescue of the ringed Osprey from Finland in Usalu village, Siaya County, there has been growing interest among local people to learn about birdwatching and the birds found in the Yala Swamp Ecosystem. Aspiring birders and nature enthusiasts hope to tap into the unexploited potential of bird-tourism as a way of diversifying income streams for community members who rely on the Yala Swamp Ecosystem for their livelihood.

In response, Nature Kenya with funding from the Darwin Initiative, supported an on-site training in bird identification for the Yala Ecosystem Site Support Group (YESSG). The training brought together 38 participants – 27 men, and 11 women – from the four cluster sites of Upper Yala, Yimbo and Kanyaboli in Siaya county and Bunyala in Busia county. The two-day training focused on how to identify common and uncommon bird species using sight and sound and how to distinguish resident birds from migrant birds.

The training took the participants on birdwatching excursions to the scenic Rawalo hills in Upper Yala, the spectacular Dhogoye causeway at the mouth of river Yala, Lake Kanyaboli and Bunyala Irrigation Scheme, places where birds flock all year round. The outings offered the birders a practical opportunity to enhance their skills on how to use binoculars to scan for birds across large open expanses, how to minimize disturbance and maximize bird observation time, how to use field guide books, and recognizing songs and other types of bird calls. They were also able to observe bird behaviour including feeding, flocking and predation. During the bird walks, Nature Kenya staff and   seven trainers trained in Ornithology trained bird mentors  freely offered  the participants lessons on adaptations of birds to their preferred habitats, how to use bird calls to discover what other wildlife is around and, interpreting bird behaviour.

There were plenty of birds to keep the birders enthralled. Over 118 bird species were recorded in Rawalo hills including the Hartlaub’s and Ross’s Turacos.  Forty one bird species were sighted in Yimbo including Osprey and Gabar Goshawk. Another 70 bird species were recorded in Kanyaboli including papyrus endemics – Carruthers’ Cisticola, Papyrus Gonolek and White-winged Swamp Warbler.  Birders also spotted a Palm-nut Vulture in Kanyaboli which is an uncommon species in the area.

A total of 69 bird species were recorded in Bunyala including  Collared Pratincole and Giant Kingfisher which are uncommon there. Some of the bird enthusiasts extended the excursions into the late evenings while on the lookout for nightjars and the mythical nocturnal owls.

The birders acquired skills in bird monitoring through bird survey techniques including common bird monitoring and waterfowl counts. They gained understanding on why birds are often seen as a good measure of the health of the environment. Upon their return to their clusters, they will help Nature Kenya to conduct bird surveys within their localities.

The relaxed outdoor atmosphere for training was acknowledged by the trainees as most appropriate for learning and offered a suitable platform for them to practice their new found skills. Mentorship of the birders and tour guides is ongoing to enhance their capacity to exploit the future avi tourism opportunities within the Yala Swamp complex while contributing to conservation through biodiversity monitoring.

Bulking Centre set to Revolutionise Papyrus Product Business in Yala

If you have travelled to the western part of Kenya, especially to papyrus-rich areas bordering Lake Victoria and Yala Swamp, you have probably spotted the beautiful papyrus crafts displayed on the roadside. It’s as if advertising the multiple possibilities of how this plant can be put to use.

Nearly every part of the papyrus plant can be utilised. The stems are used to create a wide variety of crafts ranging from ropes, brooms, mats, baskets, furniture and fishing traps for those who still use traditional fishing methods. So versatile is papyrus that it is used in house construction for thatching, house partitioning and in making ceilings.

Since the Yala Swamp is papyrus-dominated, competition for market among weavers is very high. Weavers have also been experiencing a marketing challenge with products fetching low prices at markets within the villages. This could soon change as Nature Kenya is supporting weavers to establish a papyrus bulking centre in Siaya town. The construction started in late March 2020 and is expected to be complete by May 2020.

The centre will be used as a bulking facility for papyrus and palm frond products before they are transported and marketed to external buyers in the country. The centre will thus provide a link between the weaver groups and end-buyers who buy in bulk. By collectively selling their products, the weavers are not only able to move their products in high volumes but also increase their bargaining power compared to when they individually sell these products. This will further help weavers to gain better returns for their talent and skills, besides improving their capacity to trade competitively.

Once complete, the centre will also comprise of a fully-equipped workshop which will allow the weavers to reduce their turnaround time from the harvesting of the raw materials to production of the finished products. The current production capacity for a total of 55 weavers is an average of 380 assorted items per month. Within the production chain, the weavers specialise in a niche area or product. For instance, there are weaver artisans who are engaged in fabrication of metal and wooden frames and production of furniture; others specialise in basket and mat weaving; while others deal with ornamentals and décor items.

The bulking centre will create a number of opportunities, including improving the capacity of weavers and artisans to produce and market high quality products through peer mentorship, provision of market linkages and market support services, improving sales promotion, forming weavers’ associations and developing small businesses.

A unique quality of the papyrus product business within Yala Swamp is that it encourages sustainable production, through selective harvesting of papyrus as opposed to clear cutting. The weavers are the first line community ambassadors advocating against burning of papyrus which threatens both their livelihood source and biodiversity.

Through the Yala Ecosystem Site Support Group (YESSG), the weavers are among the key groups engaged in restoration of degraded areas through tree planting and papyrus planting. Papyrus and palm frond production provides an opportunity for communities to preserve their indigenous cultural heritage which they use gainfully to support livelihoods and conservation. Papyrus production is thus one of the sustainable ways of conserving Yala swamp.

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.