Africa Cranes Ringing Program


Grey Crowned Cranes are being ringed to study their movements and timing, determine regional populations, mortality and other aspects of their natural history such as age at first pairing and breeding. Ringing involves placing a metal or coloured ring or band on the bird’s leg. This is a joint initiative of several organizations (NMK, KWS, NABU, ICF/EWT and Cranes Conservation Germany). The focus for now is to mark a substantial population of Grey Crowned Crane (GCC) across the range States. 

Colour bands or rings: The ringing program being adopted for Kenya and the rest of the GCC range is from the European Crane Ringing Program that has been running since early 1990s led by Cranes Conservation Germany. In Kenya, the program was rolled out in December 2017, and by August 2020, a total of c.60 flightless chicks had been colour-marked in Lake Ol’ Bolossat and Mugie Wildlife Conservancy – initially considered as one population (NB: Kenya is perceived to have six GCC populations but GPS data is proving otherwise!). A few individuals were additionally fitted with GPS tags. 

Why ring flightless chicks? These have the advantage of avoiding the use of traps that could injure delicate waterfowl such as cranes, and give us the certainty of both origin (hatching place) and age (GCC chicks fly from 12 weeks of age) – compared to an adult with an unknown past. Due to chick mortality (especially from predation by stray dogs and mongoose) and mysterious disappearances (likely from poaching for the bird trade), we prefer to mark them at age 10 or 11 weeks – just when they are about to fledge. 

Colour Combinations: Currently, there is a choice of 7 colour rings. A set of three is placed on each leg. The following is an interpretation of each ring: 

LEFT LEG: The top and bottom rings are the country colour code which for Kenya is Blue (Bu) while the middle ring is the population. We have been using Green (G) for the Lake Ol’ Bolossat basin population, and western Kenya has settled on Red. The combination is read top to bottom thus BuGBu. 

RIGHT LEG: This is the unique individual combination of any 3 colours from a choice of 7 [Green (G), Blue (Bu), White (W), Yellow (Y), Red (R), Brown (Br) and Black (Bk)]. The combination is also read top to bottom: GRG. 

GPS tags: At the moment, two types of solar-powered tags are in use: a backpack, and one glued to the colour rings. 

Some findings so far: Re-sighting of colour-marked individuals has been very poor, especially after the chicks take to the air as they disperse to join the non-breeding (‘floater’) flocks. The most rewarding data is from individuals marked with GPS tags. 

Report marked crane sightings: This study is just starting and we hope to spend quite some time unravelling the little-known life of the Grey Crowned Crane. We would therefore appreciate it if any information on marked cranes is shared with us at Wanyoike Wamiti (WhatsApp +254 733 599 686) with a cc to George Muigai Your records will be highly appreciated and acknowledged. 

Brood parasitism in birds

Ever been out on a bird walk and encountered birds exhibiting some extraordinary behaviours? Nature never ceases to amaze! Every moment outdoors has its surprises. Such was Jeam Agutu’s experience during a birding trip in Homa Bay. A White-browed Robin Chat feeding a Red-chested Cuckoo chick? Where did this relationship begin, and how did it happen?

This bird behaviour is called brood parasitism. It occurs when one bird lays eggs in the nest of another bird (the host). The host then plays foster parent to the chick of the parasitic bird. Brood parasitism occurs only in birds of different species. About one per cent of the world’s birds are brood parasites. They include some cuckoos, a duck, honeyguides, whydahs and indigobirds.

But how do they manage to lay their eggs in other birds’ nests? Brood parasites may spend long hours patiently watching their hosts’ nest, anticipating an opportunity. Time is of the essence when the chance arises. The brood parasite lays its eggs in quick succession.

Some species even remove some of the host’s eggs. Others lay identical eggs to their specific host, making it difficult for them to distinguish the intruder’s eggs.

The eggs of brood parasites develop quickly and are usually the first to hatch. The nestlings of some species even kill the young of the unsuspecting host bird to get all attention.

In the case of the Village Indigobird that lays eggs in the nests of Red-billed Firefinches, the young indigobirds and firefinches grow up and feed together.

2.2.22: Action for Wetlands!

February 2nd – 2.2.22 – is World Wetlands Day. It’s the anniversary of the Convention on Wetlands, adopted as an international treaty in 1971 in Ramsar, Iran.

Wetlands host birds, fish, amphibians, reptiles, mammals, insects, plants and microorganisms, providing food, shelter and breeding grounds. The seasonal wetlands of Dakatcha woodland, for instance, are the known breeding grounds of the Clarke’s (Kilifi) Weaver, a threatened bird found only in Kilifi County. Kingwal swamp in Nandi hills is a breeding site for the rare Sitatunga antelope.

Wetlands provide essential ecosystem services and support the livelihoods of millions of communities. Global recognition of the conservation value of the Tana River Delta confirms the significance of the ecosystem services it provides. This vast wetland system provides intangible environmental services, including: regulation of the hydrological cycle, moderation of the climate, protection of soil from erosion, stabilization of the shoreline and reduction of the impact of storm surges. The Delta significantly contributes to the livelihoods of farming, herding and fishing communities, cultural and recreational activities, and supports economic development for Tana River and Lamu Counties and the nation.

Despite the critical functions they provide, wetlands are continually under threat. Yala Swamp, for example, currently faces imminent danger from agricultural development. Yet Yala Swamp filters and cleans water entering Lake Victoria, supports local communities and protects papyrus-dependent birds and wildlife.

Lake Nakuru in the Rift Valley is choking with raw sewage and industrial waste. In Lake Naivasha, new industrial developments compete for fresh water with the lake, the horticulture it supports and the wildlife it shelters. Dunga swamp in Kisumu faces pollution from sewerage from adjacent residential estates, encroachment and excessive and unsustainable harvest of papyrus.

Seasonal Wetlands face special threats

Seasonal wetlands are under particular threat, because they appear dry much of the year. They are thus converted to agriculture, not reserved during land demarcation, and ignored in road construction and other infrastructural development. Aerial photographs are usually taken in the dry season, and seasonal wetlands may be “invisible” to planners and decision makers, leading to ecological and hydrological degradation and habitat loss.

Seasonal wetlands include floodplains; seasonal marshes, lakes and springs; temporary pools in grassland, woodland and bush; and ephemeral rock pools, flooded rock slabs and seeps. They play a critical role in dryland ecology.

Seasonal wetlands are breeding and regeneration sites for animals and plants. During the rainy season, fish, reptiles, amphibians, invertebrates and birds disperse to seasonal wetlands to breed. Mammals such as wildebeest migrate to areas with seasonal rain pools to give birth. Trees germinate on silt brought by flooding rivers. Seasonal wetlands are critical feeding grounds for livestock, migratory waterfowl and wildlife.

Some actions to protect seasonal wetlands include: Making at least one survey for an EIA during or immediately after the rainy season or enquire from local people which areas hold water during the rainy season; discouraging the planting of trees on seasonal wetlands, as trees may speed the natural conversion of wetland to land.

Addressing threats facing Kenya’s wetlands

In Tana River Delta and Yala Swamp, two of Kenya’s largest and most important wetlands, Nature Kenya has been championing for better planning of developments in the wetlands to minimize biodiversity loss.

In 2011, Nature Kenya led a collaborative effort of various stakeholders to develop the Tana River Delta Land Use Plan (LUP). The LUP was informed by a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA). The LUP is a framework that guides the management of land and natural resources for various uses, including conservation, at the Tana River Delta, a wetland of international importance (Ramsar site). Implementation of the Tana Delta LUP is ongoing.

Nature Kenya is leading different initiatives to support the Tana Delta ecosystem:

  • Promoting the indigenous and community conservation areas (ICCAs) approach at the Delta. The ICCAs are biodiversity-rich conservancies based on traditional, cultural, and multiple land use under the management of local communities.
  • The Restoration Initiative (TRI) Tana Delta’ project funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF) through the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) seeks to restore degraded forest landscapes and reverse biodiversity loss for increased and improved ecosystem services at the Delta. Nature Kenya is the project’simplementing partner.
  • Promoting sustainable livelihood activities to enhance community resilience to climate change and conserve the 130,000-hectare Tana River Delta. The livelihood activities include climate-smart agriculture and beekeeping. This initiative is funded by the European Union (EU) through its Rebuilding Community Resilience-Building in Livelihood and Disaster Risk Management (REBUILD) project. This project is being implemented by CISP, in collaboration with Nature Kenya, the National Drought Management Authority, GROOTS and Procasur.

A land-use plan for Yala Swamp has also been developed. The land-use plan seeks to put the use, management and conservation of Yala Swamp on a sustainable footing.

Community Engagement

Communities living adjacent to wetlands play a critical role in their conservation. Nature Kenya works with local conservation groups that serve as Site Support Groups (SSGs) for Key Biodiversity Areas (KBAs). These KBAs include wetlands. Community groups engage in site restoration, monitoring, advocacy, environmental education and awareness creation, and promotion of sustainable livelihood activities. The SSGs are active in Yala Swamp, Tana River Delta, Lake Bogoria, Lake Naivasha, Lake Ol’ Bolossat, Mida Creek, Sabaki River Mouth and Dunga Swamp. The Dakatcha Woodland Conservation Group (DWCG) works to conserve Dakatcha Woodland, including its seasonal wetlands.

We SAY NO to the proposed amendment to the Forest Act

Why do members of parliament want to condemn Kenya and the world to an unbearably hot future by weakening the Forest Act?

 Nature Kenya OBJECTS to the proposed amendment to the Forest Conservation and Management Act contained in an amendment Bill 2021 published by Moses Cheboi, Chairperson of the Procedures and Rules Committee.

 According to the existing law a forest boundary can only be amended based on stakeholder consultations, environmental impact assessment report and recommendations to parliament by the Kenya Forest Service. The proposed amendment isseeking to take away the powers of the Kenya Forest Service. Instead, it allows anyone to petition for a boundary change to the Clerk of the National Assembly.

The world is burning and forests are one tool to reduce the heat. It is dangerous to weaken the laws that protect our forests. It is dangerous to entrust the remaining forests to parliamentarians alone. World nations just agreed in the 2021 Climate Change meeting (CoP 26) to protect, conserve and increase tropical forests in order to reduce climate change. Kenya promised to halt deforestation by 2030.

Removing Kenya Forest Service from decisions on forest boundaries is ill advised, ill-timed and will expose Kenya’s forests to greedy individuals whose actions could damage Kenya's water catchment areas, hydro-electricity, irrigated food and thereby human well-being and economic development.

Nature Kenya – the East Africa Natural History Society – strongly OBJECTS to the proposed amendment to repeal section 34 (2A) of the Forest Conservation and Management Act 2016. It reads:

 A petition under subsection (1) shall only be forwarded to the National Assembly on the recommendation of the Service (Kenya Forest Service”.

This MUST be kept in the forest law.

We urgently urge Kenyans to SAY NO to this amendment bill! 

Reasons for Nature Kenya’s Objection:

  1. Deletion of section 34 (2A) will reverse the gains made over the past 15 years in restoring our public forests and water catchment areas. This compromises the protection of these forests, denying Kenyans access to forest goods and services that are critical to their survival.
  2. Amendment will reduce the forests land size contrary to the government's forest land reclamation policy that seeks to increase tree cover.
  3. The amendment is detrimental to forest conservation efforts in Kenya. This includes the implementation of the National Tree Planting Campaign (NTPC), a high priority Government-driven initiative seeking to achieve and maintain over 10% tree cover by 2022. If the bill is approved, the attention of implementing agencies will be diverted towards dealing with the anticipated influx of forest excision cases.
  4. The proposed bill negates the State’s constitutional obligation to protect the environment as stipulated in Article 69 (1g) of eliminating processes and activities that are likely to endanger the environment.
  5. The proposed bill sets a bad precedent. The Taskforce Report on Forest Resource Management and Logging Activities in Kenya 2018 (pages 36-41) cited human settlement and encroachment as one of the major threats to biodiversity loss in Kenya. The passage of the amendment bill amounts to setting a bad precedent which will see gazetted forest areas exposed to the risk of degazettment and further invasion.
  6. The proposed amendment bill does not consider all necessary social, economic and environmental safeguards.  It presents a possible violation of the rights and wishes of communities through Local Forest Conservation Committees.
  7. The proposed amendment bill contravenes Kenya's international commitments on landscape restoration and climate change mitigation:
  • Kenya is a signatory to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) among other international commitments to safeguard biodiversity. During UNFCCCs COP 26 in Glasgow on 2nd November 2021, Kenya joined other countries in committing to the Glasgow Leaders Declaration on Forest and Land Use which seeks to halt and reverse forest loss and land degradation by 2030. Making a statement during a COP 26 World Leaders Summit Plenary Session, President Uhuru Kenyatta affirmed Kenya’s commitment to restore degraded water towers, accelerate forest restoration and increase tree cover to at least 10% of the country’s land area.
  • As a state party to the Paris Agreement, Kenya recently adjusted its Nationally Determined Contribution target of emission reduction to 32% from 30% by 2030. The National Climate Change Action Plan 2018 – 2022 cites deforestation as the second largest contributor to Kenya’s greenhouse gases emissions after agriculture. The action plan further recognizes the country’s forest sector as having the greatest potential of reducing greenhouse gas emissions compared to other mitigation sectors.
  • Kenya ratified the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). This Convention is working towards reducing the rate of loss of all natural habitats, including forests. The Convention also seeks to bring habitat loss close to zero, where feasible, and significantly reduce degradation and fragmentation. The National Biodiversity Strategy Action Plan 2019 – 2030 was developed following the objectives of the CBD. In this action plan, Kenya has committed to bringing close to zero the rate of loss of all natural habitats including forests by 2030. This also entails significantly reducing the degradation and fragmentation of these habitats by 2030. Another specific target is to increase the country’s forest cover to at least 10% of the land area.
  • Other commitments made by Kenya include:
  • Commitment to contribute towards UN Decade on Ecosystem restoration (2021-2030),
  • Bonn challenge; African region initiative called the Africa Forest Landscape Restoration Initiative (AFR 100), Kenya has committed to restoring 5.1 million hectares of degraded landscapes by 2030
  • Commitment to United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification to achieve Land degradation neutrality by 2030.

Small scale fisheries in Tana Delta: The case of Lake Shakababo

The Tana River Delta is a biodiversity-rich wetland habitat that boasts of several unique animal species. One of these species is the endemic Labeo sp. Nov. ‘Baomo’ fish listed as Vulnerable in the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species. 

Researchers from Kenya Wetlands Biodiversity Research Team (KENWEB) are undertaking a project in the Delta aimed at conserving the Labeo sp. Nov. ‘Baomo’ fish species through securing its habitat. The project, funded by the Rufford Foundation, seeks to mitigate, reduce and, where possible, eliminate adverse impacts of illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing in the Tana Delta floodplains. 

The project team embarked on its first conservation activity in August 2021. The team conducted fish sampling at Lake Shakababo to collect scientific information on Labeo sp. Nov. ‘Baomo’. The species belongs to the family Cyprinidae and was left unnamed due to inadequate data and specimens. During the field activity, the team did not manage to capture samples of Labeo sp. Nov. ‘Baomo’. However, fishermen reported the presence of the species at the lake. 

The team sampled seven other fish species at the lake, including Gregori’s Labeo, East Coast/Tana Squeaker, Silver Catfish, Sabaki Tilapia, Sharp-tooth Catfish, Tana Bulldog and Red-fin Robber. These represent seven of 44 fish species recorded in the entire Tana Delta wetland ecosystems, indicating a high diversity of fish species. 

In addition to sampling, the researchers also conducted a community education and awareness workshop with fisherfolk, pastoralists, farmers, and traders at the Tarassa trading centre in Tana Delta. A discussion on the importance of enhancing river connectivity with the floodplain wetlands and the need to strengthen the Lake Shakababo Beach Management Unit (BMU) to undertake monitoring, control, and surveillance of local fishing activities took place during the workshop. 

Unsustainable fishing and the use of inappropriate gear were cited as hindrances to the growth of the local fisheries during the discussion. Fisherfolk further reported the invasion of Prosopis juliflora trees onto fishing sites, calling for the clearing of dead stumps in the lake area to improve fishing efficiency. 

Members of the Lake Shakababo BMU received 20 standard gauged gill nets, alongside other fishing accessories, from the researchers. The donation will go a long way in motivating fisherfolk to adopt sustainable fishing practices and protect the ecosystem they rely on for their daily livelihoods.

In subsequent field activities, the project will conduct habitat restoration activities at Lake Shakababo. Restoration will involve uprooting stumps of Prosopis juliflora in the lake. The team will continue to support the Lake Shakababo BMU to build its capacity in fisheries resource management.