Understanding Key Biodiversity Areas

Key Biodiversity Areas (KBAs) are sites of global biodiversity conservation importance identified using internationally agreed, objective, quantitative and scientifically defensible criteria adopted in 2016. These sites significantly contribute to the survival of global biodiversity.  

KBAs include terrestrial, fresh water and marine water habitats, ranging from rainforests to reefs, mountains to marshes, deserts to grasslands and the deepest ocean floors. KBAs are crucial tools for guiding decisions on conservation and sustainable management as they ensure that efforts are focused on places likely to have the greatest conservation impact. 

Governments may use KBA data during planning for development projects to avoid damaging ecologically-sensitive areas. The KBA designation promotes site-based conservation efforts and seeks to ensures that nature’s most fragile habitats are given precedence.

Globally, more than 16,356 KBAs have been identified, with 43 percent occurring in protected and conserved areas. Nature Kenya and partners have identified 67 KBAs in Kenya, so far based on Important Bird Areas (IBAs). Thirty of these KBAs are protected (gazetted forests, national parks and reserves). The remaining 37 lack formal protection. A fraction of these sites is under private ownership and community management. 

Identification and designation of IBAs relied entirely on bird data. The 2016 shift of focus from IBAs to KBAs broadened the scope to include other taxonomic groups in identifying sites deemed important to biodiversity.   

All IBAs are KBAs, but some KBAs are not IBAs (i.e. they are significant for the conservation of other taxa, but not birds). Nonetheless, the IBA network has proved to be a good approximation to the overall network of KBAs, as it includes the bulk of other target species and the most significant sites.

Birds have unique characteristics that make them an easy target taxonomic group. Birds are common, occur in most of the habitats in Kenya, are diverse and easy to identify compared to other taxonomic groups. They are relatively large, conspicuous, easy to observe, appealing and well-studied. IBAs therefore offer an excellent starting point for immediate conservation action, as the addition of other sites to complete the KBA network progresses with data made available. 

KBAs need to be prioritesed for nature to continue to thrive. Appropriate identification, correct documentation, effective management, sufficient resourcing and adequate safeguarding of KBAs present the best option of preventing biodiversity loss and extinction of species. Realization of the KBA dream, however, requires a combined effort. 

We call upon taxon experts from government and non-governmental organizations, individuals, groups, societies and volunteers from all walks of life to support the KBA initiative in whichever way possible. Do you know a site with viable populations of unique and threatened species? Please send detailed information to CPO2@naturekenya.org and we will work together to see if it qualifies as a new KBA.