The Journal of East African Natural History

The first issue of “The Journal of the East Africa and Uganda Natural History Society” was published in January 1910. It Contained papers on birds, butterflies, plants, fish, elephants, snakes and the Kariandusi deposits. For the next 105 years the Journal, under various titles and different layouts, continued to be published and distributed as a hard-copy journal containing an ever changing, eclectic mix of papers on the biodiversity of the eastern African region.

However, the times are changing, and the publishing world in particular has gone through a drastic reorganisation. Few of us still go to a library to browse through rows and rows of dusty books and journals to find information of interest. Instead, we google and download the papers we are looking for, all done and dusted within a couple of seconds. For a long time, we continued printing the Journal as an exchange resource to stock the joint library of the East Africa Natural History Society and the National Museums of Kenya. However, with many support systems in place to provide scientific information free of charge in those countries that are unable to afford subscriptions to content gatherers, and with Open Access publishing gaining in popularity, the need to exchange hard copy for hard copy has fallen away. Furthermore, the increasing costs associated with printing and postage of the Journal have become a serious burden for a small society such as ours.

Thus, like so many other journals, the management of the Journal of East African Natural History has decided to stop printing hard copies, and from now on to distribute the Journal as an electronic publication only. We will continue our partnership with BioOne, which hosts all issues produced since 1994.

The older issues are Open Access, whereas the more recent ones can only be accessed through subscription. The income that we generate in this way has been a lifeline in the continued production of the Journal. Our content can also be accessed through African Journals Online, and issues from 2016 onwards will be posted there as Open Access, meaning that anyone can download them free of charge. With this mixed model, we hope to continue generating income while we also offer our articles free of charge to institutions and the public that cannot afford a subscription to BioOne. A long printing tradition as the Journal has cannot just simply end without a flourish, and we have therefore decided to make our last printed issue a special one in dedication to the 80th birthday of a great scientist, namely Jonathan Kingdon.

On behalf of the East Africa Natural History Society, the National Museums of Kenya and the editorial committee of the Journal of East African Natural History, I sincerely hope that you will understand and support our decision, and that you will continue to enjoy reading about our amazing biodiversity.

Four Critically Endangered African vultures to get global protection

Four critically endangered vulture species  found in Africa are set to get a new hope for survival from a 12-year multi-species coordinated action plan set for tabling at a United Nations (UN) summit this month. The critically endangered White-backed, White-headed, Hooded, and Rüppell’s vultures are among 15 vulture species from 128 countries set to get collaborative international protection under the Multi-Species Action Plan to Conserve African-Eurasian Vultures (MsAP).

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of species threatened with extinction has listed a majority of these vulture species as critically endangered, indicating a very high risk of extinction in the wild. Three endangered vulture species — the Cape, Lappet-faced and Egyptian vultures; and two near threatened — the Bearded and Cinereous vultures, found in Africa, are included in the action plan. The plan also covers the Red-headed, White -rumped, Long-billed and Slender-billed vultures, all critically endangered and mostly found in Asia.

Vultures are considered nature’s garbage disposers, as they feed on the carcasses of dead animals that are often infected with diseases such as anthrax, cholera, botulinum toxin and rabies that would be lethal to other scavengers. They therefore play a critical role in maintaining healthy ecosystems. Despite their vital role in nature, vultures are often portrayed as greedy and unprincipled in popular culture. In the field, they are under extreme pressure from a range of human activities. Drastic and widespread population declines in recent years in Africa and Asia have seen some vulture species sliding towards extinction.

In Africa, poisoning is the leading cause of vulture deaths. These deaths occur when people try to kill mammalian predators of livestock (and in some areas feral dogs), with poison-laced carcasses or baits, accidentally attracting vultures. Elephant and rhino poachers also poison vultures in an attempt to mask their tracks, which would otherwise be revealed by the birds circling overhead. The strategic action plan seeks to address threats facing vultures through promoting concerted and collaborative international conservation actions. Among the objectives of the Vulture MsAP are to:

  • Rapidly halt current population declines in all species covered by the Vulture MsAP;
  • Reverse recent downwards population trends to bring the conservation status of each species back to a favourable level; and,
  • Provide conservation management guidelines applicable to all Range States covered by the Vulture MsAP.

The Vulture MsAP will be tabled at the 12th session of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention  on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS COP12) slated for 23rd to 28th October in the Philippines capital Manila. Representatives from more than 120 countries will be in attendance.

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,

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