KBA in Focus: Aberdare Mountains

By Joshua Sese

The Aberdare Mountains Key Biodiversity Area (KBA) is in the central Kenya highlands, forming part of the eastern escarpment of the Rift Valley. It is a stunning landscape where lush forests, sweeping grasslands, bamboo thickets, montane moorlands and misty peaks converge to create a sanctuary like no other. It comprises 76,600 ha of National Park and 108,400 ha of Forest Reserve. The ecosystem is amongst the five main ‘water towers’ of Kenya, forming a catchment area for dams supplying water to Nairobi City, the Athi-Galana-Sabaki River draining into the Indian Ocean, the Ewaso Nyiro River draining into Lorian Swamp, and the Malewa River draining into Lake Naivasha.

The Aberdares Key Biodiversity Area boasts a diverse array of wildlife, including the critically endangered Mountain Bongo. Over 300 bird species have been recorded, including the rare and globally threatened Aberdare Cisticola, Abbott’s Starling, Jackson’s Widowbird, and Sharpe’s Longclaw. Endemic species such as the Aberdare shrew, Aberdare mole rat and the Aberdare frog highlight the area’s evolutionary importance. A hotspot for biodiversity, the KBA serves as a living laboratory for scientists, offering insights into ecological processes, species interactions, and the intricate web of life that sustains this remarkable ecosystem.

Regardless of its outstanding importance, the KBA now faces several threats, which include illegal logging, illegal grazing, poaching of wildlife, illegal water abstraction, destruction of riparian areas, excisions and encroachment of forest areas and climate change. There is also an imminent threat of infrastructural development. In January 2024, the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) approved the construction of a49-kilometre road section cutting through the forest to connect Nyandarua and Nyeri counties. According to an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report, 104 hectares of vegetation in the KBA will be cleared for the road project. These will include 75 hectares of bamboo, 14 hectares of forest, and 14 hectares of moorland.

Safeguarding this essential site requires strong collaboration among government agencies, conservation organizations, local communities, and other stakeholders. Due to the site’s importance and uniqueness, countless restoration initiatives have been undertaken by the conservation community and other stakeholders around the ecosystem. Currently, the Conservation Alliance of Kenya (representing 73 member organisations, including Nature Kenya) has lodged an appeal at the National Environment Tribunal seeking to halt the construction of the proposed 49-kilometre roadsection. The Alliance has highlighted the detrimental impact of the road on the KBA and proposes an alternative route for the road that will have minimal effects on biodiversity and will be just as effective for travel.

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.

Promoting conservation in Mount Kenya Forest through nature-based enterprises

By Martin Kiama

Mount Kenya – a Key Biodiversity Area (KBA) is in the limelight for several reasons, from being the second-highest volcanic mountain in Africa to being a World Heritage Site, a major catchment feeding the Tana and Ewaso Ngiro basins and a tourist destination attracting about 20,000 local and international visitors annually.

The mountain’s unique montane forest offers a range of essential ecosystem services valued at US$220 annually. These include the provision of water, energy, food, medicines, timber and habitat for biodiversity. Mount Kenya Forest helps to conserve soil fertility, regulate the climate and store carbon dioxide. The forest also provides livelihoods to adjacent communities.

One of the many community groups reaping ecosystem benefits from Mount Kenya Forest is the Mt. Kenya Biodiversity Conservation Group (Mt. KEBIO). Mt. KEBIO, the Site Support Group (SSG) for the Mount Kenya Forest KBA, is engaged in eco-tourism and other nature-based enterprises. The group organises hikes to the forest and bird-watching excursions. Thirteen of its members are professional tour guides trained in mountain climbing, map navigation, first aid and rescue, and ornithology, among other skills. Local and international tourists make up Mt. KEBIO’s ecotourism clients. Neighbouring hospitality facilities like the Mountain Rock Hotel also contract the group for tour guiding and birding services.

In 2023, Mt. KEBIO held 12 monthly bird walks in different forest and wetlands habitats within Mount Kenya. The group participated in the May and October Global Big Days, conducted two Abbott’s Starling monitoring surveys at Castle Forest and two biodiversity assessments.

Mt. KEBIO also operates three tree nurseries, namely Tumaini, Mazingira and Gathiuru, that currently have 11,400 indigenous and exotic tree seedlings. Last year, the SSG distributed 7,400 tree seedlings to schools, churches and community members. The SSG collaborated with other conservation groups to support restoration of Nanyuki River through the planting of indigenous trees and construction of gabions to control degradation of the river banks. So far, 1200 trees have been planted and six gabions constructed through an initiative dubbed `A Tree for My River`.

To ensure the sustainability of the ecosystem benefits, the group conducts awareness creation activities to promote environmental conservation knowledge in Mount Kenya, reaching 240 pupils from local primary schools. The group also hosted several conservation clubs from institutions, including Thika Technical Training Institute and Red Cross members from Laikipia County. 

KBA in Focus: Nairobi National Park

By Brian Otiego  

Amidst the hustle and bustle of city life, about 7 km from the centre of Kenya’s capital city, lies a unique gem, the Nairobi National Park Key Biodiversity Area (KBA). Tucked within  the city’s southern border, Nairobi National Park is separated from the busy Nairobi metropolis by an electric fence on the northern, western and eastern borders. The southern border of the park is open, marked by the Mbagathi River and serving as a gateway for wildlife dispersal to the Athi Kapiti plains that connect the park to the Amboseli ecosystem. The park is one of the world’s most unique wildlife reserves due to its vicinity to a major urban centre. Local and international visitors have the opportunity to witness Africa’s iconic wildlife against the backdrop of Nairobi’s skyline.

The KBA stands right on the line between two great ecosystems: the forested hills that rise toward the Aberdare range, and the grasslands that stretch all the way to Kilimanjaro. The park’s distinctive landscape, encompassing upland forest, open grasslands, rocky outcrops, acacia (now Vachellia) woodlands, dams and other wetland habitats host a remarkable array of biodiversity.

The park is a haven for a diverse range of wildlife species, featuring iconic large mammals such as lions, giraffes, zebras, buffaloes and rhinoceros. Rare plants bloom on rocky outcrops. Also found in this park are the charismatic but critically endangered obligate scavenging birds of prey: White-backed vultures (Gyps africanus) that breed inside the park, and Rüppell’s and Lappet-faced vultures that visit to feed. Other resident raptor species are Martial, Tawny, Long-crested and Crowned eagles, Bateleur, and Secretarybird, among some 500 other bird species.

Nairobi National Park faces several conservation challenges, primarily stemming from its proximity to the capital. Nairobi City is at the epicentre of rapid infrastructural development. Human-wildlife conflict, land use changes and associated fragmentation, pollution from liquid and solid wastes and degradation and loss of wildlife corridors and dispersal areas are key, escalating issues. Encroachment by the expanding city infrastructure have led to increased pressure on the park’s boundaries, posing threats to its biodiversity.

Navigating the challenges of conservation and urbanization requires a multifaceted approach that brings together Kenya Wildlife Service in collaboration with civil society organizations in conservation, researchers, community members and key decision-makers to sustain the delicate balance between urban development and wildlife preservation.

One of the noteworthy elements of such engagement is a vulture study project funded by The Rufford Foundation Small Grant. The study aims to establish the breeding population of vulture species within Nairobi National Park and its dispersal habitats and to raise community awareness on the plight of vulture conservation. Through such efforts, community engagement, and sustainable tourism practices, Nairobi National Park KBA stands as a beacon of success in the realm of urban conservation, offering a blueprint for other metropolitan areas facing similar challenges.

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.