KBA in Focus: Ruma National Park

Ruma National Park lies in Lambwe River Valley between the Kanyamwa Escarpment and the Gwasi Hills, 10 km east of Lake Victoria in Homa Bay County. The park, 120 square kilometers in area, is a Key Biodiversity Area (KBA). It is characterized by a mosaic of landscapes, ranging from riverine woodland and rolling savannah to magnificent escarpments and towering cliffs offering stunning views of Lake Victoria and the surrounding landscape.

Ruma’s pristine nature makes it a suitable home for many animal species. It is the last remaining sanctuary for the nationally endangered Roan antelope (Hippotragus equinus). The park is a popular bird-watching destination with more than 400 bird species. It is the only protected area in Kenya where Blue Swallow (Hirundo atrocaerulea), a globally vulnerable and scarce intra-African migrant, is regularly recorded.

Despite its ecological significance, Ruma National Park faces several threats. These include habitat loss and degradation due to the clearance of forests and grasslands adjacent to the park for agriculture, settlements, and infrastructural development. Other include human-wildlife conflict, forest fires, and poaching, which is a major concern, particularly for large mammals such as the Roan antelope. Climate change also affects the KBA in various ways, including unpredictable rainfall and other weather patterns. Ruma National Park is reportedly a breeding ground for tsetse flies, increasing the prevalence of the Trypanosoma parasites that cause sleeping sickness in cattle and humans.

Efforts are being made to address these threats to ensure the long-term survival of Ruma National Park, currently under the management of the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS). In 2020 KWS launched the Roan Antelope Species Recovery Plan to address the steady decline in the species’ population. An electric fence has been installed around the park to prevent wildlife from straying outside, protect its vegetation from degradation caused by domestic animals and help prevent human-wildlife conflicts. Other initiatives to conserve the KBA include the involvement of local communities in conservation and ecotourism activities, habitat restoration, and education and awareness campaigns. Ruma Site Support Group (SSG) is the local community organization undertaking conservation initiatives at the park. Comprising of individuals living adjacent to the park, the SSG plays a critical role in ensuring its well-being.

The SSG conducts biodiversity monitoring, environmental education and awareness creation, and habitat restoration, among other conservation activities. Ruma SSG is also promoting the uptake of nature-based community livelihood options such as beekeeping and the establishment of fruit tree nurseries. To help boost community resilience to climate change, the Ruma SSG is championing for climate-smart agriculture and agroforestry. The SSG’s broad membership base has enabled them to advocate for the restoration of heavily degraded neighbouring habitats like Gwasi Hills and Lambwe forest, which are important water catchment areas.