Hunting down the deadly – It’s a Snake Eagle’s world

Snakes can’t fly. So when they drop down from the sky, something is amiss, right? An incident that occurred in June 2021 in Kitui caused quite a stir. A man was bitten by a snake while driving. The snake landed on the car’s roof and made its way inside through an open window. It then tangled around the man’s arm and bit him. 

Luckily, passersby came to the man’s rescue, killing the snake and freeing him from the deadly grip. More drama ensued. As the passersby prepared to burn the dead snake, a large bird swooped, grabbed the snake and made away with it. The spectacle left many baffled. Social media platforms and news outlets were full of speculations, bordering from bizarre theories to superstition. 

Being a bird enthusiast and naturalist, let me share some insights into the mysterious bird’s action. Many reports indicate it was an eagle. The peculiar behaviour displayed by the bird is typical of a bird of prey. My guess is a Snake Eagle. 

Snake Eagles, as the name suggests, specialize in hunting snakes. Like other eagles, Snake Eagles are agile, have a very sharp vision, and strong feet equipped with great curved talons. Additionally, a thick overlay of scales protects their feet from snake bites. Snake Eagles are medium-sized eagles with large rounded heads, striking yellow eyes, bare legs and an upright stance when perched.

A Snake Eagle hunts from a perch, or while soaring up in the skies. Once it spots prey on the ground, the eagle descends and snatches it, then quickly flies upwards. When it comes to hunting down some of the swiftest and deadliest snakes in the world, like cobras and black mambas, there is no room for errors. Neutralizing any potential harm comes first. The eagle crushes or rips off the serpent’s head while airborne. It then swallows the entire snake, head first. 

Occasionally, the snake may break free from the eagle’s grip and drop to the ground. Such was the case in Kitui. 

Several species of Snake Eagles occur in Kenya. They include the Black-chested, Brown, Southern Banded and Western Banded Snake Eagles and the rare Short-toed and Beaudouin’s Snake Eagles. The Beaudouin’s is listed as Vulnerable, and Southern Banded as Near Threatened by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). 

Indeed, eagles are fascinating birds of prey that display unique hunting skills. Unfortunately, many of these raptors are experiencing a decline in their populations. Habitat destruction, collision with energy infrastructure, hunting, and pollution are among contributors to the dwindling numbers. A lot needs to be done to keep these skilled, soaring hunters airborne. 

Saving Biodiversity: the world is trying to increase ambition

The world is trying to increase its ambition for safeguarding biodiversity. It is known that US$ 700 billion is needed annually. It is claimed that harmful subsidies worth US$ 500, especially in agriculture, need to be removed through sustainable pathways. If subsidies are removed, then US$ 200 billion annually is what will be required to finance the conservation of biodiversity.

If the world cannot be managed sustainably, more than US$ 700 billion must become available to deal with unsustainable production, including trade. Consumption patterns in developed countries are responsible for 50% of the threats to biodiversity in developing countries – mainly due to trade involving conversion of biodiversity habitats into commodities exported to wealthy recipient countries. 

International negotiations are not easy. Every government agrees that there is a problem and urgent solutions are needed. However, when governments meet and negotiations start, each party maintains a stance that makes it difficult to converge to an agreement. 

Nature Kenya Director Paul Matiku is a member of the Africa Group of Negotiators. As part of the Kenya Delegation to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) preparation meetings – Subsidiary Body on Implementation (SBI), Subsidiary Body on Technical and Technological Advice (SBSTTA) and Open-ended Working Group on Implementation – between 14th to 29th March 2022, Dr Matiku developed the Africa position on Resource Mobilization. 

The Africa position calls for all countries to set aside 1% of their GDP (Gross Domestic Product) to raise the US$ 700 billion including US% 500 billion for removal of harmful subsidies. The position for Kenya and Africa also calls for equity by requesting the developed countries to contribute US$ 100 billion annually to developing countries as grants to help to protect biodiversity. Kenya also requests parties to agree to 1% of retail being contributed to biodiversity funds. 

The CBD preparatory meetings in Geneva ended on 29th March 2022 without agreement. There has been a great deal of negotiations but the documents, in particular the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework, is full of brackets. As a result, the Open-ended Working Group on the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework has proposed to hold yet another meeting in Nairobi from 21st to 26th June 2022 to further promote consensus on the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework. 

Unfortunately, biodiversity conservation is no longer about vision and passion, but financing. The Convention on Biological Diversity’s 15th Conference of Parties (CoP) is to be held in Kunming, China in August 2022, subject to Covid. Will the world agree on an ambitious plan that is financed sufficiently to bend the curve and slow the loss of biodiversity? Please look at the international section of Nature Net each month for any updates.

Nature Kenya urges all governments of the world to ensure biodiversity action is transformative. Business as usual will not bend the curve.

Bees without stings

When you think of bees, the first things that comes to mind are yellow and black stripes, a buzzing sound, and the possibility of getting a painful sting. Can you imagine bees without a sting? 

Actually, those do exist! Such bees are called meliponines or simply stingless bees. Worldwide, more than 600 species of stingless bees exist. However, only a fraction of them has been studied to date. 

Stingless bees are distinguished from ordinary honey bees by their size, with meliponines being smaller, having reduced wing venation, and characteristically lacking a sting. This does not mean they are defenceless, as they are known to bite possible intruders. 

Like honey bees, stingless bees are eusocial insects, forming perennial colonies that consist of a single queen, workers, and temporary males. In the wild, they build their nests in a variety of habitats such as tree cavities, holes in the ground, dead wood, cracks in stone or mud walls and abandoned termite nests. 

Stingless bees play an important role in the environment as pollinators of various flowering plants, since they feed on pollen and nectar. Stingless bees have also shown potential as pollinators for agricultural systems. Some species have shown promising results in the pollination of vegetable crops such as capsicum, leading to an increase in their yields. 

Besides pollinating plants, meliponines also produce honey. Their honey has a high medicinal value due to its antibiotic properties. Stingless bee honey is one of the most sought-after and highly-priced therapeutic natural products. Their propolis and wax also have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.