Fostering children’s connection with nature through environmental education

By David Odhiambo

Every year, the Kakamega Environmental Education Programme (KEEP) – the Site Support Group (SSG) for Kakamega Forest Key Biodiversity Area (KBA) – engages schoolchildren in various greening activities. These include the establishment of tree nurseries in schools, kitchen gardening, tree planting and environmental awareness. Through these activities, children get to appreciate the value of nature by actively participating in its conservation.

Since January, KEEP has run a school environmental programme that has seen them visit 19 schools (12 primary and 7 secondary). Through this programme, the SSG has reached out to over 13,000 pupils and students. As a result, they have also supported the planting of 2,600 trees in the schools.

“When we visit schools, we show children environmental conservation videos for them to learn. We also plant trees with them and teach them the importance of forests and trees. These activities bring children closer to nature and make them environmental stewards,” says Dominic Shilabila, a member of KEEP.

Dominic adds that through their engagements, children have become more conscious and appreciative of their surroundings. “We have noted a change in the children’s mindset. They are now more aware of birds, insects, snakes and trees found here and how to live with them,” he says.

Kakamega Forest, located in Kakamega County, is the only remnant in Kenya of the great tropical rainforest that once stretched across Central Africa. The forest is designated a Key Biodiversity Area and is home to various mammals and birds, including Black-and-White Colobus and De Brazza’s monkeys, Great Blue Turaco, Grey Parrot, Turner’s Eremomela and others. The forest also hosts several unique insect, reptile, amphibian and plant species.

Managing Human-wildlife Conflict through community engagement

By Rebecca Ikachoi

Imagine waking up one morning to find your cattle killed by a lion, leopard or hyena, or worse, sustaining serious injuries while trying to protect your livestock from a predator attack. This is an everyday reality for the communities living in the Maasai Mara landscape. The frequency of these grievous occurrences begs the question: do human-wildlife conflicts (HWC) happen due to the community’s inability to coexist peacefully with wildlife, or are the majestic carnivores partly to blame? More importantly, can we ever solve these conflicts or are our competing interests and needs too big for this challenge?

Traditional approaches to managing HWC, such as financial compensation, use of physical barriers, and translocation interventions, among others, have proven ineffective due to their focus on wildlife conservation while neglecting community needs. As a result, Nature Kenya is promoting alternative HWC management approaches that promote community participation and engagement in wildlife conservation, aimed at fostering coexistence between people, livestock and wildlife.

In the Maasai Mara landscape, Nature Kenya, with support from the Darwin Initiative, is implementing a number of community-led initiatives, for instance, the livelihood improvement program. Local communities in Mara are highly dependent on livestock rearing. The high wildlife density makes them vulnerable to HWC, leading to significant loss of livelihoods. This informed the need to diversify livelihood options to minimize over-reliance on livestock rearing. The aim is to improve community livelihoods by encouraging safer onfield herding practices, improved household livestock protection and promoting sustainable nature-based enterprises like beekeeping.

Nature Kenya also holds community-led discussion forums (barazas) at the village level to explore and agree on feasible solutions to managing HWC at the grassroot level. For instance, working with the communities, a guide on the best herding practices was developed. The guide is now being promoted across the landscape to reduce livestock predation incidents at the grazing fields.

The engagement of community volunteers is also pertinent to our conservation work as it enhances ecological awareness and knowledge, increasing understanding and support for conservation efforts. Community volunteers are involved in monitoring species, reporting poisoning incidents, helping with awareness-raising campaigns and recording vulture sightings, with data reported on a monthly basis. This data is essential as it guides conservation interventions within the landscape.

To better understand the needs of the communities and their perceptions of wildlife conservation, Nature Kenya recently conducted focus group discussions within selected villages across the landscape. We conducted this exercise to gauge community attitudes towards wildlife conservation, track changes in community attitudes towards wildlife poisoning and measure the adoption of previously proposed HWC mitigation interventions. The discussions, which involved men, women and youth, provide refreshingly positive feedback that engaging communities in wildlife conservation, and providing opportunities for participation in wildlife conservation through programs such as the community volunteer network, fosters a sense of ownership and responsibility towards the wildlife.

Community-centred conservation interventions are essential in promoting wildlife conservation and fostering coexistence between people and wildlife, as communities get the opportunity to share their perspectives on HWC management and propose solutions to the everyday challenges they face.

KBA in Focus: Amboseli National Park

By Ednah Kulola and Joshua Sese

Located in the footsteps of Mt Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest peak, and approximately 210 kilometres southeast of Nairobi in Kajiado County, is Amboseli National Park Key Biodiversity Area. The name Amboseli comes from the Maasai word meaning “salty dust”. Amboseli N.P. is characterized by wooded savannah grassland with permanent herbaceous swamps and marshes, alkaline pools and the dry lake basin of Lake Amboseli that fills up during the rainy season.

The park is home to vast biodiversity. It is an expansive wilderness hosting five mammal and 17 bird species classified by IUCN as threatened (Critically endangered, endangered or vulnerable). The mammal species include some 1,800 endangered African Elephants (Loxodonta africana), and African Lion, Cheetah, Hippopotamus, and Maasai Giraffe. Amboseli N.P. is an Important Bird Area with over 400 species of birds, among them globally threatened species such as White-backed, Lappet-faced and Ruppell’s vultures, and Malagasy Pond Herons. It is one of the six biosphere reserves in Kenya – sites nominated by countries and recognized under UNESCO’s Man and the Biosphere (MAB) programme to promote sustainable development based on local community efforts and scientific data.

Climate change, falling pasture productivity, habitat loss, water diversion, poaching and the rising human population in adjacent communities, remain the biggest threats affecting the Amboseli ecosystem. Constant land fragmentation for commercial agriculture, settlement expansion, and infrastructural development has led to the isolation of wildlife populations and inteferences with their migration routes. Increased contact between humans and wildlife has also led to an intensification of human-wildlife conflicts. Invasive species, both native and exotic, have infested large swathes of the park’s wetlands, further impacting on its ecosystem dynamics. Illegal extraction of resources such as logging, charcoal production, and sand harvesting within and around the park have played a role in the degradation of the precious ecosystem.

A collaborative approach between government agencies, conservation organizations, local communities, and other stakeholders is essential to ensure the long-term survival of Amboseli and its biodiversity. The approach would include actions such as effective law enforcement, community engagement and empowerment, habitat restoration, sustainable land use planning, and climate change adaptation strategies. To this effect, two management plans (Amboseli National Park Management Plan, 2020-2030 and Amboseli Ecosystem Management Plan 2020-2030) were launched in 2020 and are now in the implementation stage. In collaboration with the Amboseli Ecosystem Trust and partners, the Kenya Wildlife Service has also developed human-wildlife co-existence protocols to guide response to negative human-wildlife interactions. At the moment there is a new initiative to change Amboseli N.P. to become a National Reserve managed by the County – a slow and cumbersome legal process whose outcome is unclear.

2024 World Wetlands Day highlights

By David Odhiambo

The World Wetlands Day 2024 was marked on 2nd of February 2024 with the theme “Wetlands and Human Wellbeing”. Nature Kenya collaborated with nine community groups to mark the day.

In the west, Friends of Dunga Site Support Group engaged with the local community in awareness creation on conservation of wetlands at Dunga Beach, reaching over 1,230 people, including 800 school children. Kakamega Environmental Education Programme organized 256 community members and stakeholders at Chirobani Primary School to plant 1,000 assorted indigenous tree seedlings along River Shitiya. And Kanyaboli Ecosystem Site Support Group reached out to 89 people in awareness creation towards conserving the Lake Kanyaboli ecosystem in Yala Swamp.

At the lakes, Lake Elmenteita Community-based Organization partnered with Lake Elmenteita Serena Camp to celebrate the day. Eleven volunteers from the SSG conducted a clean-up, collecting about 9 kg of waste. The SSG also shared the importance of the lake as a habitat for Lesser Flamingos, Great White Pelicans and other waterbirds with the local community. At Lake Ol’Bolossat, the Nyahururu Bird Club engaged 700 people to plant 850 tree seedlings.

At the Coast, the Sabaki River Conservation and Development Organization engaged 166 people, including 70 school children, to plant 1,500 mangrove seedlings and collect about 200 kg of waste in a beach clean-up exercise at the Sabaki River Mouth. The Mida Creek Conservation Awareness Group organized a bird walk to mark the day; and the Dawida Biodiversity Conservation Group in Taita Hills planted 30 tree seedlings.  In Tana River Delta, the Tana River Conservation Network marked the event in Tana River and Lamu counties. Poems, traditional dances, speeches and clean-ups were part of the proceedings during the events. More than 240 people were reached, including 139 school children.

Wetlands and human wellbeing

By John Mwacharo

In Kenya, a country blessed with many natural wonders, wetlands play a crucial role in supporting biodiversity, sustaining livelihoods, and providing vital ecosystem services like filtering and storing water, controlling floods and erosion, sequestering carbon and supporting fisheries, among others. World Wetlands Day, celebrated on February 2nd each year, provides an opportunity to raise awareness about the importance of wetlands for our planet’s health – and ours.

Wetlands are places where land and water meet and support characteristic biodiversity. They are important economically, ecologically and socially, yet Kenya’s wetlands face numerous threats. These include unsustainable exploitation of wetland resources, encroachment and conversion, habitat destruction and climate change. Most of our wetlands are not under any form of state protection. Others are seasonal, like the wetlands in Dakatcha Woodland (see page …), and lie on private land.

The conversion and degradation of wetlands endangers biodiversity, disrupts essential ecosystem services, and poses risks to the livelihoods of local communities. Over the years, Nature Kenya has worked closely with various stakeholders to conserve some of the country’s wetlands.

Tana River Delta

The Tana River Delta is Kenya’s largest delta. It is a designated Key Biodiversity Area (KBA), a Ramsar site as a wetland of international importance, a Global Biodiversity Hotspot and a proposed World Heritage Site. The Delta supports immense biodiversity of global significance. Over 250,000 people practising crop farming, livestock rearing and fishing depend on it for their livelihoods due to its varied, extensive and productive habitats. Tana River Delta, however, faces many threats, including over-exploitation of natural resources, poor land use practices, unregulated human settlement and unsustainable large-scale agricultural development.

Over the years, Nature Kenya has worked with local communities and other partners to conserve the Delta. In 2011, Nature Kenya led a collaborative effort by 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 and is currently under implementation. Nature Kenya is also promoting the Indigenous and Community Conservation Areas (ICCAs) approach. Community Conservation Areas are biodiversity-rich sites partially or largely managed by local communities.

Yala Swamp

Yala Swamp is the largest inland freshwater wetland complex in the country, sheltering a great variety of birds, fish and mammals, including some threatened ones, and thus a KBA. Yala Swamp provides useful environmental services like filtering out harmful pollutants from water flowing into Lake Victoria. The swamp is also a source of livelihood for many communities.

Nature Kenya is working to reduce pressure on the swamp for natural resources by supporting community nature-based enterprises like climate-smart agriculture, fish farming, beekeeping and papyrus weaving. Nature Kenya is also working with like-minded organizations in advocating against the controversial allocation of half of Yala Swamp for sugarcane growing by the National Land Commission (NLC); and to push for the sustainable use of the swamp’s resources to benefit local communities and biodiversity.

Sabaki River Mouth

The Sabaki River Mouth, where the Athi-Galana-Sabaki River meets the Indian Ocean, is a vital link between freshwater and marine ecosystems. It provides a critical habitat for migratory birds and supports a diverse range of marine life. The mangroves along the river mouth act as a nursery for juvenile fish, ensuring the sustainability of fisheries in the region. Despite its invaluable ecological and economic importance, Sabaki River Mouth KBA faces many threats, including sand harvesting, fishing with illegal gear, illegal mangrove pole harvesting, discharge of solid waste and effluent, encroachment and land grabbing.

Nature Kenya and other stakeholders are undertaking several conservation actions to safeguard the estuary. These include supporting the development of the River Sabaki Estuary Management Plan 2022-2032, led by the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) in collaboration with the Kilifi County Government and other stakeholders.

Nationwide, Nature Kenya is working with 11 site support groups (SSGs) in 11 KBAs to promote wetland conservation through site restoration, monitoring, advocacy, awareness creation and environmental education activities.