Enhancing vulture conservation in the Mara and beyond

By Brian Otiego and David Odhiambo

Often misunderstood and unappreciated, vultures play a crucial role in scavenging and disposing of carcasses and consequently preventing zoonotic disease outbreaks. Despite their importance, many vulture species have recorded population declines. Kenya hosts eight vulture species: White-backed, White-headed, Rüppell’s, Lappet-faced, Hooded, Egyptian, Bearded (Lammergeier) and Palm-nut vultures. Four species (White-backed, White-headed, Rüppell’s and Hooded vultures) face extinction.


On September 2, the world marked the International Vulture Awareness Day (IVAD), a day dedicated to creating vulture conservation awareness. In Kenya, Nature Kenya, in conjunction with Maasai Mara Wildlife Ambassadors – the site support group (SSG) for Maasai Mara Key Biodiversity Area (KBA) – held a public event at Ereyiet-Oltome village to mark IVAD. The event aimed to sensitize communities on the importance of vultures in the Mara ecosystem and highlight the dangers posed by wildlife poisoning. About 130 participants attended the event, including community members, representatives from the Mara Predators Conservation Programme, Olkinyei Conservancy, the local administration and two local radio stations – Mayian and Sidai FM.


Human-wildlife conflict is of great concern in the Maasai Mara ecosystem. Wildlife poisoning, triggered by human-wildlife conflict, is the leading cause of vulture deaths in Kenya. When livestock is preyed on by predators such as lions or hyenas, herders often resort to lacing carcasses with poison in retaliation, aiming to kill the rogue predators. Vultures often fall victim to these wildlife poisoning incidents since they feed on carcasses in large numbers.


Through support and capacity building, Nature Kenya has been empowering local communities in the Maasai Maraecosystem to advocate against wildlife poisoning for the protection of vultures. Maasai Mara Wildlife Ambassadors have been at the forefront of this. The SSG is restructuring to enhance its ability to deliver local conservation actions and extend its reach across the vast Mara landscape. The community group, through its vulture volunteers, monitors, responds to and reports wildlife poisoning incidents. It also carries out public awareness and environmental education. To broaden its vulture conservation reach, the SSG is also engaging the local administration and two local radio stations.


Vulture Liaison Officers (VLOs) from Nature Kenya and the vulture volunteers have so far managed to reach out to 94,732 people through community gatherings, village meetings, chief’s barazas, and market outreaches.


To further enhance vulture conservation efforts, Nature Kenya, The Peregrine Fund, Kenya Wildlife Service, Wildlife Research Training Institute, National Museums of Kenya, Kenya Birds of Prey Trust and the Raptor Rehabilitation Centre are developing a National Vulture Multi-species Action Plan. The action plan seeks to mainstream vulture conservation into existing wildlife-related legislation, including the Wildlife Conservation and Management Act 2013, to improve the legal protection of vultures in Kenya, among other objectives.

IBA in Focus: Cherangani Hills

By Joshua Sese

The Cherangani Hills Key Biodiversity Area (KBA) on the western ridge of the Rift Valley, traverses across Elgeyo Marakwet, Trans Nzoia, and West Pokot counties.  Cherengani Hills KBA is characterized by an undulating terrain with steep hills and a series of expansive indigenous forests, savanna and grassland habitats. The site is part of the Eastern Afromontane Biodiversity Hotspot, and one of Kenya’s five main ‘water towers’. It hosts the headwaters for Kerio and Turkwel rivers draining into Lake Turkana, and river Nzoia draining into Lake Victoria.

Cherangani Hills ecosystem is home to globally threatened and endemic flora such as Dendrosenecio cheranganiensis – EN and Parasol tree Polyscias kikuyuensis – NT, and regionally threatened fauna such as De Brazza’s Monkey (Cercopithecus neglectus), Crowned Eagle (Stephanoaetus coronatus – NT), and perhaps the elusive Lammergeier or Bearded Vulture (Gypaetus barbatus – NT), among others.  Most of the highland forests are gazetted as Forest Reserves.

Despite the undoubted significance of the KBA, impacts of climate change and increased anthropogenic pressures in the region continuously threaten its persistence. The human activities affecting the KBA include illegal logging, charcoal production, and encroachment and land clearing for agriculture and settlement. Unsustainable land use practices such as overgrazing, land fragmentation and clearing, have led to soil erosion and degradation. Unchecked encroachment in the KBA has led to frequent human-wildlife conflict incidents. Forest fires are frequent, especially during the dry season, stemming from slash-and-burn land preparation methods, use of fire during honey harvesting, and burning of grazing land to allow for pasture regeneration. Inadequate awareness of the KBA’s ecological significance and poor enforcement of safeguarding measures also impede conservation efforts.

Chebororwa Sekemiat Site Support Group (SSG) is the local community organization championing the conservation of the Cherangani Hills KBA. The SSG actively engages in tree planting and growing, biodiversity monitoring, and conservation awareness creation. It undertakes environmental education through school outreach programmes, community gatherings, and marking national and global awareness days such as World Environment Day. Chebororwa Sekemiat SSG also promotes sustainable community livelihood activities such as beekeeping and tree seedling production.

Africa Climate Summit summary

Nairobi hosted the inaugural Africa Climate Summit (ACS23) on September 4-6, 2023. Organized by the African Union and hosted by the Government of Kenya, the Summit brought together 17 African Heads of State and Government and other leaders from across the continent and globe, including the Secretary-General of the United Nations António Guterres and the President of the European Union Ursula von der Leyen.

Under the theme “Driving green growth and climate finance solutions for Africa and the World”, the Summit focused on five key areas: climate finance, loss and damage, energy transition and green jobs, sustainable agriculture and nature-based solutions. 

The outcome document of the Summit was the Nairobi Declaration on Climate Change and Call to Action. It will form the basis for Africa’s position during the Conference of the Parties (COP28) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Dubai in November. In the Declaration, African countries committed to and called for:

  • Accelerating all efforts to reduce carbon emissions to align with goals set forth in the 2015 Paris Agreement (such as limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius or less);
  • Upholding commitments to a fair and accelerated process of phasing down coal, and abolishment of all fossil fuel subsidies;
  • Developed countries to fulfil their commitment to provide $100 billion per year (pledged 14 years ago) in climate financing by 2023;
  • Swift operationalization of the Loss and Damage Fund to help developing countries cope with the impacts of climate change – by COP28;
  • Restructuring of the climate financing architecture to be responsive to Africa’s needs. For example, restructuring of existing debt and fair and flexible terms for climate financing;
  • Establishment of a carbon taxation regime, including a carbon tax on fossil fuel trade, maritime transport and aviation, that may also be augmented by a global financial transaction tax;
  • Global leaders to join Africa in seizing this unprecedented opportunity to accelerate global decarbonization, while pursuing equality and shared prosperity.

Notably, the Declaration recognises the role of nature and biodiversity in resolving the climate crisis. There are six references to “biodiversity” and four to “nature.” In clause 24, African leaders commit themselves to “Strengthening actions to halt and reverse biodiversity loss, deforestation, desertification, as well as to restore degraded lands to achieve land degradation neutrality.”


Climate Finance commitments

During the Summit, $4.5 billion was committed to climate adaptation and mitigation. Pledges made were from governments, businesses, and development partners. The United States pledged $3 billion annually for adaptation, as part of its President’s Emergency Plan for Adaptation and Resilience (PREPARE) initiative. The United Arab Emirates pledged $1 billion for climate action in Africa. The African Development Bank (AfDB) committed $1 billion for the African Adaptation Initiative and $100 million for the Climate Resilience Adaptation Finance and Technology Transfer Facility.

It was agreed that the Africa Climate Summit will be held every two years.

Youth taking lead in community-based adaptation to climate change in Yala

By Emily Mateche

As the world reels from droughts, floods, heat waves and wildfires, the global focus is shifting towards green agricultural practices to cope with the effects of climate change. Climate-smart agriculture is emerging as one of the sustainable farming alternatives. And farming, long regarded as a preserve of the middle-aged and elderly, is gaining popularity among youth as a livelihood option for communities residing adjacent to Yala Swamp, Kenya’s largest freshwater wetland.

In Siaya County, two youth groups supported by Nature Kenya – under the AfriEvolve project – are charting the path towards sustainable farming through climate-smart agriculture and other nature-based livelihood activities.

At Kanyibok village, near the shores of Lake Victoria, lies a green vegetable farm belonging to the 30-member Kanyibok Youth Group. Black nightshade (managu), amaranth (terere), collard greens (sukuma wiki) and other vegetables cover the approximately 0.2-acre plot, which also serves as a climate-smart agriculture demonstration farm.

“Our farm is small but the harvest is good. Climate-smart agriculture has enabled us to transform our small piece of land into a productive vegetable growing area using minimal resources,” says Lilian Akatcha, a member of the group.


The youth group’s climate-smart venture has seen them secure tenders to supply vegetables to secondary schools in the area. In addition to schools, the group also supplies their produce to markets nearby.

Through the demonstration farm, the group is educating local farmers on various farming techniques such as application of organic manure, soil and water conservation measures, crop rotation and growing high-value, fast-maturing and drought-resistant crops. To reduce dependence on rain for farming, the group has installed a solar-powered irrigation kit.

“Using irrigation, we are able to grow vegetables all year round. This means we can supply these vegetables even during the dry season,” adds Lilian.

To stay updated and informed, the youth farmers have embraced mobile technology. Using mobile apps, they can get area-specific weather information and advisories from the County Directorate of Meteorology and expert advice from the County Department of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries. This information helps them make sound farming decisions like what crops to plant, when to plant, when to harvest, when to stock and how best to control pests and diseases. The use of mobile phone technology is proving useful not only for accessing information but also for marketing and sharing experiences through community social media forums.

In Yimbo, one of the driest regions in Siaya County, another group – Wambasa Youth Group – is also changing the fortunes of local youth through climate-smart agriculture and beekeeping. Group members grow vegetables and cereals on their farms. The group also has an apiary with over 200 hives.

“We hardly look for a market for our honey. Our honey is sold out by the time we harvest,” says Robert Ouko, a group member.

Apart from crop farming and beekeeping, the youth group is also into fish farming and chicken rearing.

This new crop of youthful farmers is a source of inspiration to local communities in Siaya who have, in the past few years, seen their farming fortunes dwindle due to the adverse effects of climate change. With climate-smart agriculture, communities are now better prepared to deal with the uncertainties of climate variability.

Sunday Birdwatch in Gatamaiyu Forest

By Richard Kipngeno

July’s Sunday Birdwatch destination – Gatamaiyu Forest – caught the attention of many of our readers. This was a new site since the resumption of our bird walks after the Covid pandemic.  As we approached Limuru junction on July 16, heavy fog engulfed the road. One could hardly see what lay a few meters ahead!

We were met by Ann Njeri Githua, a member of Kijabe Environment Volunteers (KENVO) – our Site Support Group (SSG) for Kikuyu Escarpment Key Biodiversity Area (KBA) and our host for the bird walk. Elizabeth Njeri, the chairperson of Lake Elmenteita Community-based Organization (LECBO) – our SSG for the Lake Elmenteita KBA – was also in our midst, as well as the Nature Kenya Chairman, Rupert Watson.

With gloomy weather and high canopies in the forest, it was difficult to get a good view of birds. Songs and calls came in handy in identifying bird species. Hunter’s Cisticolas were the first to make it into our bird list. Eastern Double-collared Sunbirds were all over flowering trees. Yellow-whiskered and Cabanis’s Greenbuls chirruped from the forest. Further into the forest, a White-starred Robin stared at us. A Hartlaub’s Turaco could be heard calling from the valley. Brown-chested Alethe perched silently on the climbers just above the ground. Our path was littered with Safari ants and occasionally you would hear “watch out” warnings from the ones in front.

The skies eventually cleared, letting warm sun rays peek into the forest. Insects were flying all over, triggering some bird activity. African Paradise Flycatchers, Chinspot Batis, White-bellied Tits, Chestnut-throated Apalis, and Brown Woodland-Warblers all seem to be in a feeding frenzy. Calls from a Crowned Hornbill could be heard coming from tree tops. An African Goshawk was comfortably perched on a dead tree.

We made our way down to the Thaba waterfall, tucked in the middle of nowhere. Down the stream, we saw Mountain Wagtails, African Black Ducks and Black Crakes. A Black-tailed (Mountain) Oriole, White-tailed Crested-Flycatcher and Mountain Grey Woodpecker were spotted as we exited the forest. What a great way to spend the Sunday outdoors connecting with nature!