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.

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