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!