Yala’s Indigenous and Community Conserved Area

Yala Swamp, including lakes Kanyaboli, Namboyo, and Sare, is one of the most extensive freshwater wetlands in the country. It is one of the few shelters of the nationally threatened sitatunga antelope and Lake Kanyaboli provides a safe haven for critically endangered haplochromine cichlids fish species. The swamp provides critical stopover habitat for thousands of migratory birds, including Barn Swallows and Yellow Wagtails. 

Some 8,404ha in the heart of Yala Swamp have been designated as an Indigenous and Community Conserved Area (ICCA). This is helping protect critical habitat for wildlife, including migratory birds. 

Within the ICCA, local community conservation champions, the Yala Ecosystem Site Support Group (YESSG) has worked hard to restore 66.7 ha of degraded wetland by planting papyrus. This is in keeping with the ICCA management committee guidelines for promoting the natural regeneration of papyrus in degraded and riparian areas. 

YESSG has also planted 69,622 indigenous trees in the lower Yala River riparian zone and trained 90 crop-farming households in climate-smart farming techniques. These farmers are increasingly adopting agroforestry practices that keep trees in place even as they plant crops. 

These measures are improving the swamp for birds. For the first time in five years a Giant Kingfisher was recorded in January 2020, in the lower stretches of the swamp (Bunyala- Sitome village) and in February 2020 along the fringes of Lake Sare in Usalu village. It was sighted again in February 2021, both at the manmade Lake Bob next to Bungu village and along Dhogoye causeway. 

Other waterfowl species which were previously uncommon or rarely seen, but are now frequently recorded include Lesser Moorhen, Water Thick-knee, Common Snipe, Spotted Redshank, Collared Pratincole, Abdim’s Stork, Black-crowned Night Heron, Black-headed Heron, and African Darter. The Endangered Grey Crowned Crane now inhabits the previously flooded rice paddies where Dominion Farms used to operate. Papyrus endemics — Papyrus Gonolek, White-winged Swamp Warbler and Carruthers’s Cisticola can be spotted with ease even along Kombo dyke at Lake Kanyaboli. 

“The planting of papyrus will maintain and even increase the kind of habitat needed by papyrus endemics and migratory birds,” states Moses Nyawasa, the Project Extension Officer. “It also means that the prospects for people living around Yala Swamp, an area which could potentially attract ecotourism, will improve,” he adds. 

This article by Emily Mateche appears in the current issue of Kenya Birding magazine.