Herps of Dakatcha Woodland: a first glimpse

Dakatcha Woodland is famed for its unique bird species. However, little is known about its other flora and fauna. To begin to bridge this gap, members of the Kenya Herpetofauna Working Group set out to explore the amphibians and reptiles of this expansive woodland and also share information on snakebite management with the local community. The excursion took place on 21-22 September 2019. Julio Mwambire, a local guide, welcomed the team to Marafa. Divided into two groups, the team proceeded to the forest in search of herpetofauna at the Marafa Community Conservation Area. Two hours later the groups emerged with interesting findings: three species of lizards and one snake were recorded!

The hot sun took a toll on everyone and the party retreated to the campsite to pitch tents and prepare lunch. During the lunch break, three other lizard species were recorded: Sudan plated lizard, Large-headed Tree gecko and Tree skink. The most abundant on the roof was the Mombasa Dwarf gecko.

In the evening the team set out again, this time in search of amphibians. Julio took the team to the Kwanguluwe pond that was teeming with different species of frogs that were croaking. Some team members searched around the pond’s edges with flashlights seeking to identify the croaking frogs. Male frogs sat on stones and leaves floating on water. Frogs recorded were the East African (Acridoides) Puddle frog, Red-legged Kassina, Galam’s White-lipped frog and Guttural toad.

The team, excited from the findings at Kwanguluwe pond, requested Julio to take them to a nearby pond – Agina dam. Agina dam appeared to be more crowded than Kwanguluwe. The croaking sounds from the dam could be heard from the main road. Six frog species were recorded there, four of which had not been spotted at Kwanguluwe. The team returned to the camping site at around 10 pm.

Having not recorded a single snake species, four team members embarked on a survey around the campsite in search of them. Thirty minutes into the search no snake had been spotted. Just as the group was about to call off the search, screams from one member alerted the rest of a snake sighting. Fortunately, the snake was a harmless Brown House snake.

The next morning, the team headed to the Bore Community Forest Centre for opportunistic searches. The site was on an eroded hill and it was quite easy to climb down the hill. Three snake species were recorded at this site: Speckled Sand snake, Spotted Green snake and Spotted Beaked snake.

The peak moment of the day was the awareness session with community members at Kafunyalalo Primary School in Marafa. Community members were educated on the various types of snakes, both venomous and non-venomous, found in their locality. Lack of knowledge on snakes among the people was evident from the interaction, and the team took time to differentiate the venomous and non-venomous snakes. The local people acknowledged seeing snakes with some having killed several. Snake bites were apparently a big problem in the area with a majority of the community members knowing at least one person who had been bitten. Getting treatment for snake bites was a major challenge to the local people as the nearest health facility was far and transport was poor in their area. Other topics discussed were how to avoid snake bites, do’s and don’ts of snake bites and snake bite treatments. Myths and misconceptions about snakes and traditional snakebite treatment methods were also shared, and the team dispelled some of the myths.

That evening the team explored Hell’s Kitchen in search of more reptiles, snakes in particular. Hell’s Kitchen – a dramatic erosion feature – is a major tourist attraction in Dakatcha and is famed for its beautiful sunsets. The hike was exciting as the team explored the dark gorges with the aid of flashlights and took photos of the amazing view of the canyons. There was panic when the team got lost in the middle of the gorges under darkness. They, however, traced their way back by following footsteps.

The team is grateful to Nature Kenya for providing funds for this project, the Herpetology Section of the National Museums of Kenya under the leadership of Dr P.K. Malonza, and members of the Kenya Herpetofauna Working Group led by Dr Beryl A. Bwong for their contribution and support towards the success of this project.

Wetlands and biodiversity

February 2 is World Wetlands Day. This day commemorates the signing of the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance (the Ramsar Convention) in Ramsar, Iran, 49 years ago. It’s also a day set aside to raise public awareness on wetland values to promote their conservation and wise use.

Wetlands are amongst the most productive ecosystems on earth. Wetlands provide water for daily use, soils for agriculture, fish for food, pasture for cattle and materials for construction. Millions of people across the world, including Kenya, directly depend on them for their livelihoods! These unique ecosystems also provide essential services such as flood control, water filtration, protecting soil from erosion and carbon sequestration (removing carbon from the atmosphere and depositing it in a reservoir – in this case, in plants).

We dedicate this issue to highlighting some of the measures being undertaken by Nature Kenya to conserve two of the country’s most important wetlands – the Tana River Delta and Yala Swamp.

The Tana River Delta

The Tana River Delta is an unprotected wetland on the Kenyan coast. The Delta, a designated Key Biodiversity Area (KBA), covers 130,000 ha and is Kenya’s largest wetland. The Tana River Delta is also a designated Ramsar site – a recognized wetland of global importance. The Delta's abundant biodiversity is a reflection of its rich and diverse habitats which comprise of a vast patchwork of palm savannah, seasonally flooded grassland, forest fragments, acacia woodlands, lakes, marine wetlands and the river itself. The Tana River Delta is, therefore, one of the most important wetlands in Africa.

The Tana River Delta is also known for being a highly fragile and dynamic wetland system, flooding in times of good rain and drying off again. Over the years, Nature Kenya has been working with the people of the Delta, seeking to maintain a balance as any small change in the hydrological system could potentially upset the delicate natural balance, disrupting the ecosystem.

Nature Kenya is currently involved in the implementation of the Tana River Delta Land Use Plan (LUP). The LUP’s implementation process seeks to ensure that biodiversity needs are considered in the planning of development activities within the Delta. In the past, during planning processes, the intangible ecosystem services offered by the Delta were often overlooked.

The Tana Delta LUP was developed between 2011 and 2016 in a process that brought together local communities, over 18 government ministries and departments, the county governments of Tana River and Lamu, and international planning experts who offered technical assistance. The process aimed at striking a balance between human development needs and the conservation of biodiversity. A Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) informed the development of the Tana River Delta Land Use Plan, unlike all other planning processes previously conducted in the country.

Through a Darwin Initiative funded project, local communities, county governments of Tana River and Lamu and national government agencies with the support of Nature Kenya have identified 95,000 ha out of the 130,000 ha in the Delta for the establishment of Indigenous and Community Conserved Areas (ICCAs). As part of the implementation of the Land Use Plan, Nature Kenya is supporting the designation of ICCAs to conserve important cultural values and biodiversity and also promote ecotourism. The ICCAs will ensure that biodiversity conservation is recognized as a key use for land equal to other uses such as farming, pastoralism and fishing. Nature Kenya has also targeted the restoration of at least 10,000 ha of land to enable and foster the increased survival of biodiversity.

Currently, Nature Kenya is engaging and supporting local communities to promote sustainable crop, livestock and fish farming, ecotourism, beekeeping and other nature-based enterprises. This will complement and support the conservation of wildlife and other forms of biodiversity. All stakeholders, including the National and County government ministries and departments, community-based organizations, non-governmental organizations, local communities and private investors, are being encouraged to take action towards a sustainably managed Tana Delta. The Tana Delta Conservation Network – the Tana River Delta KBA site support group – is the taking lead in coordinating conservation activities within the community areas.

To further ensure that biodiversity conservation has support at the village level and that local communities own the process, Nature Kenya has formed Village Natural Resource and Land Use committees in all Delta villages to facilitate governance, conservation and development actions.

Yala Swamp

Yala swamp lies on the north-eastern shore of Lake Victoria. The swamp is Kenya’s largest freshwater wetland (the Tana Delta is both freshwater and marine), a Key Biodiversity Area and a proposed Ramsar site. Thousands of communities depend on the wetland for fishing and farming as core backbone livelihood activities.

The wetland, however, faces a myriad threats. Over-exploitation of its natural resources is one major threat. Others are encroachment, habitat degradation and biodiversity loss. Through a multi-stakeholder approach, Nature Kenya worked with local communities and the Siaya and Busia county governments to develop a Land Use Plan to balance the various interests within the wetland. This plan has been endorsed by H.E. Cornel Rasanga, Governor Siaya County, H.E. Sospeter Ojaamong’, Governor Busia County and H.E. The Rt. Hon. Raila Odinga, Prime Minister, Republic of Kenya (2008-2013) and African Union High Representative for Infrastructure Development.

Nature Kenya, through funding from the Darwin Initiative, is now keen on supporting the adoption and implementation of the Land Use Plan to ensure development overall is sustainable and compatible with biodiversity protection. As part of the implementation of the Land Use Plan, Nature Kenya is supporting the designation of ICCAs to conserve important cultural values and biodiversity and also promote ecotourism. Initial sensitization meetings with the national and county administration are on-going, spearheaded by the Yala Ecosystem Site Support Group (the Yala Swamp KBA site support group). Awareness creation meetings on ICCAs will culminate into the formation of village-level Natural Resource and Land Use Committees. The Land Use committees will be supported to deliver ICCA conservation actions on the ground. The Land Use committees will also be an integral part of the ICCA governance structure.

11,000 scientists warn of ‘untold suffering’ caused by climate change

“The scientists point to six areas in which humanity should take immediate steps to slow down the effects of a warming planet:

  1. Energy. Implement massive conservation practices; replace fossil fuels with low-carbon renewables; leave remaining stocks of fossil fuels in the ground; eliminate subsidies to fossil fuel companies; and impose carbon fees that are high enough to restrain the use of fossil fuels.
  2. Short-lived pollutants. Swiftly cut emissions of methane, soot, hydrofluorocarbons and other short-lived climate pollutants; doing so has the potential to reduce the short-term warming trend by more than 50% over the next few decades.
  3. Nature. Restore and protect ecosystems such as forests, grasslands, peatlands, wetlands and mangroves, and allow a larger share of these ecosystems to reach their ecological potential for sequestering atmospheric carbon dioxide, a key greenhouse gas.
  4. Food. Eat more plants and consume fewer animal products. The dietary shift would significantly reduce emissions of methane and other greenhouse gases and free up agricultural lands for growing human food rather than livestock feed. Reducing food waste is also critical – the scientists say at least one-third of all food produced ends up as garbage.
  5. Economy. Convert the economy to one that is carbon free to address human dependence on the biosphere and shift goals away from the growth of gross domestic product and the pursuit of affluence. Curb exploitation of ecosystems to maintain long-term biosphere sustainability.
  6. Population. Stabilize a global human population that is increasing by more than 200,000 people a day, using approaches that ensure social and economic justice.”

“Mitigating and adapting to climate change while honoring the diversity of humans entails major transformations in the ways our global society functions and interacts with natural ecosystems,” the paper states. “We are encouraged by a recent surge of concern. Governmental bodies are making climate emergency declarations. Schoolchildren are striking. Ecocide lawsuits are proceeding in the courts. Grassroots citizen movements are demanding change, and many countries, states and provinces, cities, and businesses are responding. As an Alliance of World Scientists, we stand ready to assist decision makers in a just transition to a sustainable and equitable future.”

Read if it you haven’t, hear in open-access format at BioScience:  https://academic.oup.com/…/d…/10.1093/biosci/biz088/5610806…


Promoting climate resilience in Taita

Communities across Kenya are not only feeling the presence of climate variability and change but also its impacts. Climate change has resulted in prolonged drought, and high incidence of pests and diseases, affecting livestock and crop production negatively. This year the ‘long rains’ were late and short while the ‘short rains’ were long and heavy. Through the ‘People Partner with Nature’ program, Nature Kenya has been supporting initiatives aimed at helping communities in Taita and Kilifi counties adapt to climate change through participatory forest and natural resource management.


In Taita Hills, community members are employing various adaptation strategies to counter the effects of climate change. Climate-smart agriculture is one such approach. It refers to agricultural practices geared at sustainably increasing productivity, building resilience to climate change and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Climate-smart agriculture includes the integration of tree planting with crop and livestock production as a package. Six self-help groups affiliated to Dawida Biodiversity Conservation Group (DaBiCo), the Taita Hills forests’ site support group, have embraced this approach.  The groups are Ndiwenyi Community Unit, Ngangao Farmers Group, Mwavunyu Chakiloli, Iyale Angamiza, Wuchichi Self Help Group and Mghange Dawida Mazingira.


The groups have established kitchen gardens on which they grow high-value crops. These include vegetables like cabbages, tomatoes, capsicum, courgette, black nightshade – locally known as managu – and onions. Vegetables are preferred because they are fast-growing and yield good returns. One benefit of the kitchen garden model is that it utilizes space efficiently, maximizing productivity.

The communities use hybrid seeds, organic manure and drip irrigation technologies to further enhance crop production. Planting of fruit and fodder trees is another practice being promoted under the climate-smart agriculture approach. The trees planted on farms also provide building materials and fuel wood. Other practices include application of soil and water conservation techniques and use of crop residue as livestock feed.  These practices improve soil moisture and organic matter retention and mitigate the risk of erosion.

The Taita Hills comprise two main mountain massifs, Mbololo and Dawida, rising from the dryland below. The forests that remain on the hilltops are extensively fragmented. Taita Hills forests are part of the Eastern Arc mountains, one of 34 global biodiversity hotspots, and are ranked as one of Kenya’s Key Biodiversity Areas (KBAs). Two Critically Endangered birds are only found in these forest remnants: Taita Thrush and Taita Apalis. Severe fragmentation, isolation and decline in quality and extent of indigenous forest cover in Taita Hills pose major threats which affect the breeding success and survival of the two bird species. Helping the community to conserve the forests is therefore vitally important.

The ‘People Partner with Nature’ program is supporting communities living adjacent to the Taita Hills forests to engage in income-generating activities, such as butterfly farming, beekeeping, eco-tourism, climate-smart agriculture, among others, that reduce pressure on the environment. The program is being implemented in partnership with DOF (BirdLife in Denmark) with financial support from DANIDA/CISU. The overall objective of the program is to ‘reduce the destruction of forested KBAs and contribute to the realization of best participatory forest management practices for the benefit of all.’ This program is also running in Arabuko-Sokoke Forest and Dakatcha Woodland in Kilifi county.