Guardians of the Mount Kenya forest ecosystem

The Mount Kenya Biodiversity Conservation Group (Mt Kebio) is one of the Site Support Groups (SSGs) of Nature Kenya in the Central region. The SSG works with local communities alongside conservation authorities to conserve the critical Mount Kenya forest ecosystem.

Rampant cases of deforestation, the disappearance of rare species like the Kenyan Jewel damselfly, Abbot’s Starling and Mountain Bongos, coupled with increased cases of charcoal burning and solid waste pollution led to the formation the SSG by porters and tour guides in 1999.

Currently, the group operates from the Mount Kenya Eco-resource centre in Naro Moru town at the base of the mountain. The Eco-resource centre was constructed in 2002 by Nature Kenya through funding from the Global Environment Facility (GEF). The centre serves to encourage the appreciation of the Mount Kenya forest ecosystem and its biodiversity by offering an integrated environmental education program. It hosts a conference hall alongside a library and an artefact shop where learners, researchers and tourists can access materials on conservation.

The SSG also uses the facility as a venue for public awareness creation. School children, college students and other groups visit the centre to learn more about the critical Mount Kenya forest ecosystem. Souvenirs made by SSG members are also sold at the centre.

Besides advocating for the conservation of the Mount Kenya forest ecosystem, the SSG has also integrated outreach programmes to schools.

“The aim is to let the learners know of the challenges stemming from destructive activities. We want children in schools around the Mt. Kenya area to learn and conserve this ecosystem. Children get to learn about the devastating effects of activities such as illegal logging and charcoal burning. Teaching children the values of conservation at a tender age is the best way to ensure the sustainability of this valuable ecosystem,” says Mr Alex Karuri, secretary of the SSG.

Alice King’ori, a senior teacher at Kiboya Primary School in Kieni East notes that the integrated educational programmes offered within the eco-resource centre are helping to boost learners’ understanding of conservation.

“This initiative is excellent because when learners visit the library, they get to access a lot of conservation-themed materials. They are also taken through lessons, and they get to learn of rare species found within these forests,” Ms King’ori says.

One can also spend a night camping around the eco-resource centre by hiring tents owned by the SSG and enjoy guided nature hikes offered by tour guides who double up as SSG members.

Nature Kenya has supported the training of SSG members on bird identification. The training has enhanced the guides’ bird identification skills enabling them to lead bird enthusiasts, researchers and visitors to bird-rich areas.

Planning to visit the Mount Kenya Eco-resource Centre? Kindly get in touch with Gerald on 0722172285 or Alex 0702104488.

Sighting a Rare Leucistic Ring-necked Dove

Ring-necked Doves (Streptopelia capicola) are common birds in our gardens, parks and even in towns in dry country. They are grey in colour, with darker colours on their back, the iconic black feathered collar and black eyes.

Sighting a leucistic Ring necked Dove in the bushes of Ilekunyeti village (2 degrees south and 37 degrees east) in the Amboseli Ecosystem was thrilling. We immediately noticed the grey collar which drew our attention. A few seconds later, it started calling, which ascertained that it’s a Ring-necked Dove. This individual had all white feathers, grey collar and dark eyes.

What are Leucistic birds? – These are birds with a genetic mutation that results in a total or partial reduction of colour in a bird’s feathers. Due to this mutation, pigments are inadequately fixated or fail to be deposited properly in the feathers.

Leucistic birds have a normal coloration of the eyes, bill, legs, and bare parts which make them different from albino birds that totally lack melanin (this is what gives the feathers and eyes their colour). Albino birds are always pure white and have reddish or pink eyes.

Exploring Mida Creek

A blend of red, orange and yellow paints the sky whilst the setting sun casts silvery glitters on the vast expanse of Mida Creek, a tidal inlet in Kilifi County. On the beach, hundreds of silhouettes of birds move with the constant ebb and flow of waves. A suspended boardwalk cutting through the dense thicket of mangrove forest completes the charm of this special place tucked within Kenya’s North Coast.

All around the boardwalk, which opens up to the sea at the end, is a rich concentration of mangroves. Of Africa’s nine species of mangroves, Watamu’s Mida Creek boasts of eight, making it an important breeding and feeding ground for marine species.

“Mida Creek is a place rich in biodiversity. This creek attracts tourists and researchers who come to learn more and study the complex marine ecosystem,” says Ali Bakari, the chairperson of Mida Creek Conservation and Awareness Group.

From the boardwalk, one can discover the many aspects of Mida Creek: mud and sand flats, open shallow waters and mangrove forests. It is these diverse habitats and the birds and marine life they sustain that give Mida Creek global recognition.

Together with the adjacent Arabuko-Sokoke Forest, Mida Creek is part of a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve – terrestrial, marine and coastal ecosystems that promote the reconciling of conservation of biodiversity with sustainable use.

The mangrove channels form important feeding and breeding grounds for various fish species, including parrotfish, rabbitfish, jacks, snappers, groupers, emperors and barracudas. The creek is also hosts thousands of migratory and resident birds, including regionally and globally threatened species. Mida Creek is designated as an Important Bird Area for hosting large congregations or gatherings of migrating birds from Europe and Asia

With binoculars, one might observe Dimorphic Egrets, Lesser Crested Terns and Roseate Terns feeding. Between September and May, one can also spot migrant birds like Sanderling, Curlew Sandpiper, Little Stint, Whimbrel, Grey Plover, and Greater and Lesser Sand Plovers. Mida Creek is famous for hosting Crab Plovers, white and black shorebirds that nest in Somalia.

In the water, marine life includes varieties of seagrass and seaweeds that provide food and habitat for other aquatic species. Among the mangroves, one can spot fiddler crabs with one big bright claw carpeting the sand.

Nature Kenya Coast Regional Coordinator Francis Kagema explains the need to keep the creek’s environment healthy to support its large number of marine species.

“To sustainably conserve the creek, we rolled out livelihood empowerment programs that involved building capacity of local communities to enable them to tap from tourism and conserve Mida Creek,,” Kagema says.

The Mida Creek Conservation and Awareness Group is the area’s Site Support Group (SSG). The group conducts conservation activities, including site monitoring and restoration, awareness creation and environmental education. It also runs income-generating activities in the form of a restaurant and boat rides for visitors. Nature Kenya provided the group with life jackets and other marine safety gear.

“Our group is actively engaged in various conservation activities,” notes Bakari. “These include beach cleanups as well as the planting of mangroves in degraded areas. This creek plays a critical role both in conservation and in supporting our livelihoods.”

Collecting seeds to restore Mount Kenya forest

John Mwithimbu spreads out the freshly collected heap of Syzygium guineense seeds to dry on a mat outside Imenti Forest station offices. The sun is blazing hot and the Community Forest Association members are streaming in for a brief meeting. As is the norm, each is carrying a heap of wild seeds collected from the forest. The seeds are part of the many varieties of indigenous tree seeds aired out to dry every day at the forest station.

Collecting wild seeds for propagation in Mt. Kenya forests is part of the ambitious initiative by Nature Kenya targeted at restoring degraded parts of the forest – a critical water tower.

“Every member collects seeds from the forest, which are then dried out and propagated into seedlings. The seedlings are planted in degraded parts which have been marked,” explains Mwithimbu.

Once the seeds are dried, CFA members sow the seeds in nurseries. The germinated tree seedlings are tended by CFA members who have mastered the art of tree seedling propagation.  Mature seedlings are sold to individuals and organizations for replanting.

The seed collection initiative also seeks to address the challenges of sustainability and viability of seedlings that do well in Mt. Kenya forests. Initially, restoration initiatives in Mt. Kenya relied on purchasing seeds from elsewhere. This posed a challenge of low growth rates, as some tree species sourced from outside did not do well. Now, community members collect seeds directly from the forest.

Sebastian Kiogora, the chairperson of the CFA, said that wild seed collection, introduced by Nature Kenya to involve communities in sustainable efforts to restore the forests, is also a revenue-earner. ” CFA members get proceeds from selling these seedlings to individuals and organizations.”

On the other side of Mt. Kenya, members of Hombe Community Forest Association are also documenting the progress of their conservation efforts. At Hombe, tens of nursery beds alongside beehives dangling from trees tell the story of a restoration initiative targeting 6,200 hectares of degraded forests in Mt. Kenya.

“We collect these seeds as members and propagate them. Besides restoration, it also generates revenue because we are integrating it with bee-keeping,” says Mary Muriithi, treasurer of Hombe Community Forest Association.

“The seeds we used to purchase failed to grow and through training from Nature Kenya, we started collecting our own from the forests and propagating them. When we do this ourselves, we get to know the specific sites where certain trees grow,” says Louise Ndegwa, secretary of the group.

Milka Musyoki, a community liaison officer from Nature Kenya, said communities play a key role in restoration of the water tower, by providing seedlings and removing the aggressive Lantana camara which is spreading within the forest.

“While the communities help to restore the forest, they also have to benefit. Activities that generate money include tree nurseries and bee-keeping,” she said.

Mobile App to boost mammal monitoring in Kenya

The Mammal Committee of Nature Kenya and the National Museums of Kenya have partnered with Spotteron Citizen Science to develop a mobile app to monitor mammals in Kenya.

The mobile app, known as Mammal Atlas Kenya (Makenya), is currently available on Google Play and Spotteron (www.spotteron. net). Spotteron is a web-based platform that hosts citizen science, environment protection and volunteer monitoring apps.

Makenya seeks to involve naturalists in collecting scientific data to map the distribution of over 390 mammal species. Data collected will then inform the development of a distribution map for mammals in Kenya.

“The app allows users to record mammal sightings using their mobile phones. It captures locations where the mammals were recorded. The captured data is then used to populate distribution maps,” Simon Musila, Head of Mammalogy section of the National Museums of Kenya said.

The availability of the Makenya app also marks the incorporation of technology in mammal conservation efforts. Citizens can now be actively involved in the monitoring of Kenyan mammals. Users are encouraged to share sightings of common and rare mammals.

“There are many mammal species in Kenya and the distribution of some of them is not known. This app will help experts consolidate shared information into a single database for an informed distribution map,” Musila said.

Wildlife enthusiasts can download and install the app on their Android or Apple IOS mobile devices for free. Once installed, they can now start contributing to monitoring of mammals across Kenya’s extensive network of protected and unprotected areas, including national parks, game reserves and forests.

The app allows users to record GPS coordinates of the area they spotted a particular mammal and even share pictures. Makenya users can utilise the app anywhere; on land, in water, and even underground as long as they have a stable cellular network connection. The crowd-sourced data captured by Makenya will also be used to monitor mammal species distribution within their known ranges.