Predator-Proof Bomas – A new dimension in human-wildlife conflict resolution

As the sun sets in the Maasai Mara, Narok County, neighbouring herders usher their livestock to the bomas (livestock enclosures) for the night. For Joshua Salaash the experience is different today – Joshua is leading his herd of cattle into a newly constructed eco-friendly and secure predator-proof boma.

In March 2020, Joshua lost six sheep to a lion attack at night. Before the construction of the new boma, the return of livestock each evening marked the beginning of a long restless night of listening for any commotion and shooing away predators.

“The possibility of losing livestock to a lion or a hyena was very high back then. My old boma was not strong to prevent attacks. It had many loopholes that made it easy for predators to breach and prey on my livestock. With this new shed boma, I can sleep more comfortably,” says the 37-year-old.

Maasai Mara is a human-wildlife conflict-prone area because of the proximity of human settlement to wildlife conservancies. Humans, livestock, and wildlife share the same space. Most conservancies are vast and not fenced, leaving wild animals free to roam, occasionally straying into villages and attacking livestock. Most herders in the Mara ecosystem say they have had their livestock preyed on by wildlife several times.

Wildlife attacks on livestock result in retaliatory assaults most of the time. Affected herders hit back by poisoning carcasses of sheep, goats, or cattle with pesticides. The poison is aimed at the predator, but it kills non-target species such as vultures in the process. In Kenya, these poisoning incidents are responsible for 60 percent of vulture mortality.

Conservation organizations working in the Mara ecosystem have devised new tactics to reduce human-wildlife conflicts in the area. Construction of the predator-proof bomas is one such intervention. Nature Kenya has partnered with the Mara Predators Conservation Programme to construct five predator-proof bomas in the Maasai Mara ecosystem.

The selection of five predator-proof bomas beneficiaries was conducted in June 2020. Officers from Nature Kenya and the Mara Predators Conservation Programme met with representatives from conservancies, the local administration, and local communities. The five beneficiaries were chosen based on the history of wildlife attacks, proximity to human-wildlife conflict hotspots, and assurance of permanent residence in their respective areas.

“Human-wildlife conflict issues are sensitive because they touch on the livelihoods of the affected herders. We had to carefully select beneficiaries to best bring out the advantages of this new initiative to the communities as part of solving human-wildlife conflict,” says Simon Shati, a Vulture Liaison Officer working for Nature Kenya.

The predator-proof bomas are constructed using recycled plastic poles that are surrounded by triple-twist chain link and barbed wire. A steel gate is installed to control livestock entry and exit. The boma is impenetrable for large carnivores as it is sealed all round. The recycled plastic and corner metal poles are sunk two feet deep into the ground. Their pits are filled with mortar to make them stable.

“The poles are high, standing at about two metres tall, which is high for a predator to scale up,” says Simon.

One boma can comfortably hold a herd of 700. Simon says that in addition to being made from a material that can withstand harsh weather and pests like termites, the herders do not need to cut down any trees.

Already the effectiveness of the bomas has been tested unintentionally by recent attacks. In the small village of Oloolchuura, sandwiched between two conservancies and the Maasai Mara Reserve, Siloma Ole Reiya considers himself a lucky man. On one corner of his shed boma the wire mesh is slightly deformed outwards following a commotion by cows. The deformity is proof of the events of the night of July 7, 2020 when a pride of lions unsuccessfully attempted to break into the predator-proof boma.

“I would be counting it as my fourth loss of animals this year were it not for this new shed. The layers of chain-link and barbed wire made it impossible for the lions to come close to the herd. Thankfully I was also able to scare the pride away in good time,” says Siloma.

A few kilometers away in Ingila village, Letutuk Tira’s homestead is not easy to miss; it is surrounded Naboisho and Olare Motorogi conservancies and the Mara Reserve. For Letutuk, predator attacks are a common phenomenon. Letutuk is another beneficiary, and his account of a July 14, 2020 attack reads like a scene from a movie:

“The big cat pounced on my motorbike, damaging the headlight, before attempting to enter the locked shed. I fled from the scene and I must say I am fortunate to be alive and for my animals to be safe,” says Letutuk.

The improved bomas are one among many projects aimed at reducing the cases of predation of livestock by wildlife. Nature Kenya has since 2018 been working with the Maasai Mara Wildlife Ambassadors, the Maasai Mara Important Bird Area (IBA) site support group (SSG), to create awareness about wildlife poisoning and its consequences. The group conducts market and village outreaches, using traditional dances and other forms of performing arts to spread conservation messages. Nature Kenya has recruited “vulture volunteers” who are members of local communities engaged in vulture conservation activities. All these efforts are geared towards helping communities to take up better human-wildlife conflict prevention mechanisms.

There are prospects of expanding this project to other areas within the Mara Ecosystem, and to Kajiado County in the coming months.

October Global Big Birding Day Update

The eBird October Big Day in Kenya has been a big success. Kenya has placed 6th globally with a total of 816 species reported on the day, from 258 checklists submitted. We were beaten by five South American countries, four of which posted day totals of more than 1000 species. To give you all an idea of the capacity of citizen science to monitor bird populations, some 7097 species were reported across the globe on the 17th October, from more than 78000 (!!!!) checklists submitted. More information on Kenya’s effort, including a full species list for the day, can be found at the link below.

https://ebird.org/region/KE?yr=BIGDAY_2020b&rank=lrec

A big thank you to all those who submitted lists for this event, thus highlighting the incredible birdlife on offer in Kenya. Outstanding efforts include:

Site high list – Ole Sanoe Henry (205 species – Soysambu)

Coastal birders – almost a cleanup; a very good contribution

Most remote list – Sibiloi NP and Ileret (Ambrose Ajiko)

Thanks to Pete Steward for pulling everyone together and to the eBird review team (including James Bradley, Stratton Hatfield and Tyler Davis) for going through and checking the data.

Birders, make sure to sign up for the next eBird big day in May 2021!

Meanwhile, enjoy the Global Bird Weekend and Global Big Day video by Washington Wachira

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g31BSrqDOrE

Rice growing boosts forest restoration in the Tana River Delta

Until recently, Ozi was considered a major community grown rice-producing area in the Tana River Delta. Seawater intrusion, however, forced communities to abandon rice growing in the area. At the time, the rice variety cultivated could not survive in brackish waters. Communities sought alternative livelihood activities, some of which were not good for the mangrove forest found in the area.

“The abandonment of rice growing in Ozi hurt the surrounding environment, particularly the mangrove and Ozi forests. Harvesting of mangrove poles was one of the alternative livelihood activities people got involved in. Communities also started clearing vegetation for farming further into the natural forest, and this was not good for the environment,” says Serah Munguti, then Policy and Advocacy Manager at Nature Kenya.

Since 2019, Nature Kenya, with support from EU Rebuild/CISP, has embarked on a new initiative aimed at reducing degradation at the Ozi forest and adjacent areas through the revival of rice growing.

Correlation between food insecurity and habitat loss

The aim of this initiative, Serah, points out, was to improve on food security as well as safeguarding the Ozi forest’s unique biodiversity.

It all started when Nature Kenya supported 126 households in Ozi village, representing 936 individuals (470 males, 466 females), with 2,571 kg of certified ITA 310 (NIBAM 110) rice seed. This seed variety was recommended for the area by experts from the Ministry of Agriculture.

ITA 310, according to Infonet- Biovision (https://www.infonet-biovision.org/PlantHealth/Crops/ Rice), is a long-grained rice variety that matures in 110-120 days. This variety is suited for growing in irrigated lowlands and is tolerant to rice blast and the Rice Yellow Mottle Virus (RYMV). ITA 310 is grown for subsistence and commercial use. It has a grain yield of 3-5 tonnes per hectare (t/ha).

Out of the supported households, 91 harvested 867Kg of paddy rice per acre, translating to 79 tonnes of unprocessed rice. The harvested paddy rice, working with a conversion rate of 65%, yielded 51 tonnes of milled rice valued at Ksh 3,076,983 at farm gate and Ksh 3,589,814 at market prices. This translated to an average income of Ksh. 33,813 and Ksh. 39,448 per household at farm gate and market prices respectively. These results of the rice harvest constituted a 33.83% and 61.56% increase in annual household incomes for male and female-headed households respectively at farm gate prices. At market prices, the annual household incomes increase by 39.53% and 72% for beneficiary male and female-headed households respectively.

Demand for the new seed variety has also increased as more farmers request for it. Nature Kenya, once again, has supplied 4.2 tons of the rice seed to the farmers this year, targeting 247 farmers.

Said Nyara, a rice farmer in Ozi, is upbeat about this initiative. Nyara, who has a three-acre farm, harvested 30 bags of 50kgs last season.

‘The rice variety is good. It is resistant to salt and yields a better harvest,” says Nyara, adding that it also fetches better prices in the market.

Mwanaharusi Bakari, another rice farmer from Ozi is excited to be growing the rice this year.

‘It’s my first time growing this rice variety, and I’m happy about it. I saw other farmers having a good harvest last season. This has inspired me,” she says.

Mwanaharusi intends to put two out of her three acres under rice cultivation.

Environmentally, the revival of rice growing has somehow also contributed to an increase in mangrove forest cover.

“Boosting household incomes through rice growing is one way of reducing over-reliance on forest products for livelihoods at the Tana River Delta. Nature Kenya is working with different communities spread across the delta to promote sustainable use of natural resources,” says Serah.

The Tana River Delta Key Biodiversity Area (KBA) is designated as a wetland of international importance (Ramsar site) and is one of the most important wetlands in Africa. In 2011, Nature Kenya led a collaborative effort of various stakeholders in the development of a Tana River Delta Land Use Plan (LUP) that was guided by a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA). The process was concluded in 2015. The land-use plan has since been approved and adopted as a policy by the Lamu County government.

The land-use plan is now in its implementation phase. Nature Kenya has also been promoting the Indigenous Community Conservation Areas (ICCAs) approach. Community Conservation Areas are biodiversity-rich areas partially or largely managed by local communities.

Bird and human mutualism: The Greater Honeyguide and honey-hunters

Greater Honeyguides know where bees’ nests are located and like to eat beeswax; humans know how to subdue the bees using fire, and open the nest using axes. By working together, the two species can locate the bee nest, overcome the bees’ defences and gain access to the nest, thus providing beeswax for the honeyguides and honey for the humans.

This specialised relationship is a rare example of animal-human cooperation – mutualism – that has evolved through natural selection. Pioneering research was done in Kenya by Dr Hussein Isack in the 1980s, who first demonstrated scientifically how the mutualism functions. Now we have the opportunity to take part in a citizen science study.

Researchers from the University of Cambridge in the UK and the University of Cape Town in South Africa are working in close cooperation with rural honey-hunting communities in Africa to study the foraging partnership between the Greater Honeyguide and the human honey-hunters whom it guides to bees’ nests. They want to understand the ecology, evolution and conservation implications of the honeyguide-human relationship, as a window into the origin and maintenance of mutually beneficial interactions between species (mutualisms).

If you have seen or heard a Greater Honeyguide anywhere in Africa, and whether or not it guided you, please tell them about it! Visit the citizen science project at <Honeyguiding.me> for more information and to submit a sighting.

“The honeyguide-human relationship is currently dwindling throughout Africa, and before it fades away, we need to understand this ancient part of our own species’ evolutionary history in those few places where it still thrives. This is relevant to conservation, because mutualisms can have wide reach in shaping ecological communities,” reads an excerpt from the Honeyguide Research Project.

Partnerships to restore Mt. Kenya forest

March 21 is the International Day of Forests – this year’s theme being ‘Forests and Biodiversity’. This day is marked to raise awareness of the importance of all types of forests. Nature Kenya and forest-adjacent communities are striving to restore the forest landscape on the iconic Mount Kenya and other parts of Kenya.

Enhancing the capacity of communities to engage various stakeholders in forest conservation is key to ensuring the sustainability of forest landscape restoration initiatives. Eleven Community Forest Associations (CFAs) in Mt. Kenya, working closely with Nature Kenya, are among the recipients of Ksh32 million funding from Upper Tana Natural Resources Management Project to boost restoration of the Mt. Kenya forest.

The 11 CFAs are Gatere, Murinduko and Irangi from Murang’a, Kirinyaga and Embu counties respectively; Ruthumbi and Mweru from Meru county; Chuka and Kiera Hills from Tharaka Nithi county; and Cheche, Naromoru, Ragati and Hombe from Nyeri county.

The funding to the CFAs marks a milestone for the participatory forest management approach in Mt. Kenya, where community groups are now directly engaging public and private entities to finance their conservation activities. This follows a series of training programs undertaken by Nature Kenya to build the capacity of the CFAs. The groups have been trained on governance, advocacy, writing of business plans and funding proposals, among other subjects.

“The main aim of the training is to help the CFAs diversify their financial resource base to complement their forest restoration efforts,” says Charles Kiama, Nature Kenya’s Conservation Officer.

The funds will go towards supporting various sustainable livelihood projects like establishment of tree nurseries, eco-tourism and fish farming. These activities are aimed at improving livelihoods, creating employment and reducing poverty levels among forest adjacent communities through conservation, management and sustainable utilization of the forest resource.

Upper Tana Natural Resources Management Project, or Upper Tana Project as it is widely known, supports communities to sustainably manage natural resources. Besides providing funding, part of their mandate is to improve the incomes and the living standards of the target groups through interventions that are beneficial to the management of the natural resources. Last year, 22 CFAs from the Mt. Kenya block received their first Ksh20 million grant from the Upper Tana Project.

Nature Kenya, with funding from World Land Trust and The Darwin Initiative, is partnering with CFAs and other stakeholders to restore degraded sections of the Mt. Kenya forest. About 650,000 trees have been planted since 2017 covering close to 650 hectares of degraded forest area. Last year, 421,800 trees were planted during the heavy rains of October and November. The work of nurturing tree seedlings to maturity was done by members of 22 CFAs. Kiama says that they hope to capitalize on the long rains from March to May to double these numbers. To achieve this, Nature Kenya is partnering with five county governments – Meru, Nyeri, Embu, Tharaka-Nithi and Kirinyaga  – and like-minded locally based community organizations, among them CFAs and Site Support Groups.

A business case has been developed for Mt. Kenya forest. The business case seeks to enhance the wellbeing of forest-adjacent communities by providing an incentive to conserve, manage and restore the Mt. Kenya ecosystem.  The communities (water ‘sellers’) engage in protection and rehabilitation of the watershed, with financial support from downstream water users (‘the buyers’).  Kenya Breweries Limited adopted the business case in 2017 and has since facilitated the planting and nurturing of 100,000 seedlings in Mt Kenya.

“Our main target is large-scale water buyers and consumers of resources from Mt Kenya. We are supporting CFAs to partner with the stakeholders who are willing to engage in forest restoration activities,” says Kiama.

Mt. Kenya forest is an irreplaceable biodiversity hotspot with unique flora and fauna of conservation importance, which underpins its Key Biodiversity Area (KBA) status and government protection. The forest is a cornerstone of Kenya’s economy through provision of varied socio-economic and ecosystem services: Mt. Kenya forest is a major carbon sink and a major water tower.