Mobile App to boost mammal monitoring in Kenya

The Mammal Committee of Nature Kenya and the National Museums of Kenya have partnered with Spotteron Citizen Science to develop a mobile app to monitor mammals in Kenya.

The mobile app, known as Mammal Atlas Kenya (Makenya), is currently available on Google Play and Spotteron (www.spotteron. net). Spotteron is a web-based platform that hosts citizen science, environment protection and volunteer monitoring apps.

Makenya seeks to involve naturalists in collecting scientific data to map the distribution of over 390 mammal species. Data collected will then inform the development of a distribution map for mammals in Kenya.

“The app allows users to record mammal sightings using their mobile phones. It captures locations where the mammals were recorded. The captured data is then used to populate distribution maps,” Simon Musila, Head of Mammalogy section of the National Museums of Kenya said.

The availability of the Makenya app also marks the incorporation of technology in mammal conservation efforts. Citizens can now be actively involved in the monitoring of Kenyan mammals. Users are encouraged to share sightings of common and rare mammals.

“There are many mammal species in Kenya and the distribution of some of them is not known. This app will help experts consolidate shared information into a single database for an informed distribution map,” Musila said.

Wildlife enthusiasts can download and install the app on their Android or Apple IOS mobile devices for free. Once installed, they can now start contributing to monitoring of mammals across Kenya’s extensive network of protected and unprotected areas, including national parks, game reserves and forests.

The app allows users to record GPS coordinates of the area they spotted a particular mammal and even share pictures. Makenya users can utilise the app anywhere; on land, in water, and even underground as long as they have a stable cellular network connection. The crowd-sourced data captured by Makenya will also be used to monitor mammal species distribution within their known ranges.

KYELENI, the village less traveled

Within Kilimambogo lies Kyeleni, an unexplored agricultural village. On 20th February 2021, the Nature Kenya Youth Committee embarked on a two-day mission to survey the biodiversity in this area. (Kilimambogo is also known as Ol Doinyo Sabuk.)

Our journey to the village took longer than expected. Despite being exhausted from the three-hour drive, the team eagerly anticipated its visit, unsure of what to expect. Mr Francis, our contact person, greeted us by the roadside and directed us to the camping area, which would be our home for the next 24 hours.

Upon arriving at the campsite, the team was divided into groups to ensure cooking was completed early, to allow more time for the evening survey. The groups were: team Ugali (funny how energetic the members of this group were), team Stew (the best cooks in the group), team Firewood (in charge of lighting the fire), and team AOB (in-charge of cleaning the cooking pots after meals).

Francis gave some members of the group a tour of his farm as lunch was being prepared. In the middle of his farm, not far from the camping area, was the main attraction – a mango tree. You can only imagine the excitement of the hungry group upon seeing this tree. Francis allowed them to pick some mangoes. He even went out of his way to harvest some maize for the team to roast before lunch.

You would be mistaken to imagine that after feasting on mangoes and roasted maize, only a few people would show up for lunch. There wasn’t a grain of rice nor a drop of soup left in the pots!

We converged at around 5 p.m. and went through some of the species present in the area, survey methods, and identification tools (iNaturalist, Makenya, and guide books) for use. We set out on our first survey, hoping to come across some interesting species.

Three hours into the search, we had spotted a few birds. Some of the birds had been identified by their calls. Darkness fell fast, and we retreated to the camping area.

After dinner, we gathered around a fire. The team was still going strong and decided to play a few games before calling it a night.

The following morning was chilly and quiet, with only the sweet melodies of birds heard. We started birding at 6 a.m. The bird experts in the group assisted the rest of the team with identification through calls. As the sun steadily rose higher into the sky, more birds became visible, making it easier to identify them.

Although no other species besides birds had been spotted hours into the survey, the herp and mammal lovers remained optimistic.

The day grew hotter, and we began to meet local residents who were puzzled as to why such a large group was in their village early in the morning. Francis explained that visitors from outside, particularly those interested in conducting research, were rare.

As we approached the foot of Mt. Kilimambogo, the team heard calls of excitement from within. “Come see a snake,” someone called.  The snake enthusiast hurriedly rushed to the scene to catch a glimpse of the snake while others moved further away. To their amazement, it was a Cape Wolf Snake. Unfortunately, it was dead. A few meters away, the group came across another dead one: an Olive Snake.

The two snake sightings were the team’s highest moments. This energized us for the rest of the hike to the base of the mountain.

This survey would not have been successful without the continued support of Nature Kenya. In total, we recorded 32 bird species, two amphibians, and two snakes, with the prominent plant species being Euphorbia, Croton trees, and Sisal.