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.

Monitoring the Abbott’s Starling in Mt. Kenya

 Kenya is home to 46 globally threatened bird species. These birds live and breed in various sites scattered across the country; or spend time in Kenya during their migrations. Monitoring of threatened bird species is a critical conservation action Nature Kenya is undertaking with the assistance of local community volunteers referred to as site support groups (SSGs). 

The Mt. Kenya Biodiversity Conservation Group (Mt. KEBIO) is the SSG for Mt. Kenya Important Bird Area (IBA), now considered a Key Biodiversity Area (KBA). This SSG is actively engaged in numerous activities to conserve the site’s unique habitats and species. 

Abbott’s Starlings are among the threatened bird species that call Mt. Kenya home. This rare blue-black and creamy white bird only lives in some tropical moist montane forests in Kenya and Tanzania, with its population on a decline. In 2021, the Abbott’s Starling was uplisted to Endangered in the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species. According to BirdLife International, between 1,000 – 2,500 individuals are remaining. Forest loss and degradation are listed as the major threats to the bird’s survival. 

Last year, Mt. KEBIO conducted monitoring of the Abbott’s Starling in Castle forest on the southern slopes of Mt. Kenya. The objective was to establish the status of the bird’s estimated population and the condition of its habitat in the forest block. A monitoring team, comprising of members of Mt. KEBIO and Castle Community Forest Association (CFA), Nature Kenya and Kenya Forest Service (KFS) officers, and birders and guides from Castle Forest Lodge, undertook the exercise on four separate days in August, September and December 2021. 

Interactions with local bird guides proved helpful. The guides provided invaluable insights into the Abbott’s Starling’s behaviour patterns. From their observations, Abbott’s and Waller’s starlings are commonly spotted together in Castle forest. The two species prefer nesting in cleavages of dead trees. According to the local bird guides, the best times to see the Abbott’s Starling at Castle forest are 7:00 to 10:00 in the mornings and 3:00 to 5:00 in the evenings. 

Other birds observed during the monitoring exercise included African Green Pigeon, White-headed Wood Hoopoe, Silvery-cheeked Hornbill, Grey-backed Camaroptera, Kikuyu (Montane) White-eye, and Mountain Wagtail, among others. 

Famous for its breathtaking landscapes, the Mt. Kenya ecosystem is also a significant contributor to Kenya’s economy. Its forest catchment is a source of water for domestic use, agriculture, hydropower generation and industrial use. Deforestation remains the greatest threat facing the Mt. Kenya forest. 

 Established in 1999, Mt. KEBIO has been championing the conservation of biodiversity in the Mt. Kenya ecosystem. The group is undertaking several conservation activities such as forest habitat restoration, biodiversity monitoring and environmental education and awareness creation. Mt. KEBIO plans to make monitoring of the Abbott’s Starling at Castle forest a regular activity. 

Covid 19: Moving on

February 2022 was a month for wetlands. The World Wetlands Day was celebrated on 2.2.22. Nature Kenya joined the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) to raise the profile of Ondiri Swamp, the source of Athi River. Athi River water is said to be contaminated with metals, pharmaceuticals and human waste rendering the water unfit for use by people, livestock and wildlife downstream. The awareness raising events at Ondiri Swamp included a bird walk led by Richard Kipng’eno and Peter Muriithi of Nature Kenya. 

Nature Kenya Site Support Groups celebrated at their respective sites in style. The Yala Ecosystem Site Support Group collaborated with the Siaya County Government to raise awareness for the sustainable management of Yala Swamp – Kenya’s largest freshwater wetland. The wetland faces a myriad threats; over-exploitation of its natural resources is one major threat. Nature Kenya worked with local communities and the Siaya and Busia county governments to develop a Land Use Plan to balance the various interests within the wetland. Nature Kenya, through funding from the Darwin Initiative, convinced the Busia County Members of the County Assembly to approve the Land Use Plan to ensure development overall is sustainable and compatible with biodiversity protection. Nature Kenya also mobilized communities in Yala, who have submitted requests to Kenya Wildlife Service and the Siaya County Government to consider the listing of Yala Swamp under the Ramsar Convention. 

In the Tana River Delta, the Tana Delta Conservation Network (TDCN) and the County Governments of Tana River and Lamu brought together local people and decision makers to raise the profile of Tana Delta – a vast seasonal wetland complex on the Kenyan coast of national and global importance. Nature Kenya is currently involved in the implementation of the Tana River Delta Land Use Plan (LUP). The LUP’s implementation process seeks to ensure that biodiversity needs are considered in the planning of development activities within the Delta. As part of the implementation of the Land Use Plan, Nature Kenya is supporting the designation of Indigenous and Community Conserved Areas (ICCAs) to conserve important cultural values and biodiversity and also promote ecotourism. Nature Kenya is also spearheading Green Value Chains and forest landscape restoration in the Delta under the Tana River Delta Restoration Initiative funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF) through the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). In February, Tana River County gazetted the Green Heart Committee, a new institution that will oversee sustainable land management for nature and people in the Delta. 

Many businesses have also recognized the need for ‘Green Recovery’. Kenya Breweries Limited, for instance, joined Nature Kenya to raise awareness for wetland conservation through an article published in the Sunday Standard under the name of Paul Matiku. Kenya Breweries is leading business efforts to restore Mt Kenya forests to enhance water quantity and quality. Coca-Cola Beverages Africa – Kenya has joined this tree planting effort and more partners are invited to join. 

At other sites, Site Support Groups celebrated the World Wetlands Day in their own style. Waterfowl counts were conducted by Nature Bogoria, Friends of Dunga Swamp, Lake Elmenteita Ecosystem Community Based Organization (LECBO). The Kijabe Environment Volunteers (KENVO) counted birds at Manguo swamp. Data collected from the counts will be collated, analyzed, published and used to inform conservation actions. 

In Dakatcha, members of the Dakatcha Woodland Conservation Group conducted detailed monitoring for the Kilifi (Clarke’s) Weaver. The SSG members observed around 300 weavers flying among Brachystegia trees near Gandi wetland. 

On the policy front, we sincerely thank members for signing the Nature Kenya petition against the proposed amendment to the Forest Act. Nature Kenya coordinated Site Support Groups and Community Forest Associations who submitted their petitions against the proposed amendment. If the law is amended as proposed, the Kenya Forest Service will have no say in alteration of forest boundaries. Under the current law, any change of forest boundary has to be advised by the Kenya Forest Service based on an Environmental Impact Assessment. If you know someone who knows an influential person, please ask them to say NO! 

In March 2022, membership activities will continue in adherence to the Covid-19 protocols as follows:

  1. A members’ talk titled ‘The role of forensic entomology in the criminal justice system in Kenya’ will take place virtually on 18th of March.
  2. The ‘Lungs for Kenya’ charity Golf tournament is scheduled to take place on 25th March 2022 at the Karen Country Club. Book your slot to participate by contacting Gloria Waswa Membership and Marketing Manager at
  3. Wednesday Morning Birdwalks and Third Sunday Birdwatch in Nairobi and Thursday afternoon and Fourth Saturday bird walks in Malindi continue with caution. See back page for details.
  4. The Nature Kenya Sales and Membership office will be open to members on weekdays, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Please wear masks, sanitize and keep social distance.
  5. Online membership functions to continue: membership can be renewed online or via M-Pesa. Books, honey, etc. may be purchased online or with M-Pesa (Paybill 100300, account “books” or “honey”) and collected from the membership office between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m.
  6. Members will continue to receive an electronic version of the Nature Net. A hard copy of Nature Net can be posted or collected from the office by request to or telephone 0726 134029.
  7. The Nature Kenya conservation office remains closed. Physical conservation meetings in Nairobi and other Covid hotspots to be avoided unless absolutely critical.
  8. The EANHS/NMK Library is open. Museum galleries and sites are open to the public under Ministry of Health guidelines.

For clarifications or to report your observations on species and sites, kindly contact us through email: or telephone: 020 3537568, 0780 149200, 0751 624312, 0771 343138 

Dr Paul Matiku,

Executive Director, Nature Kenya – the East Africa Natural History Society