Rare plant in Kilifi is under threat from limestone mining

Coastal Kenya holds many secrets. Among them is the rocky outcrop of Cha Simba in Kilifi County, which shelters some of the world’s most iconic and rarest plants.

Hidden below the trees that cling to the rock outcrops is one of Africa’s most famous plants, the African violet, generally known as Saintpaulia. The plants at Cha Simba are now specifically classified as Streptocarpus ionanthus subspecies rupicola. This subspecies is found in the wild only in Kenya, nowhere else in the world.

“African violets are popular house plants. But only three populations of this subspecies are known in the wild, only in Kilifi, and all of them are in danger of extinction,” notes Dr Cornelius Kyalo, a botanist who has studied the genetics and ecology of the African violet at Cha Simba.

Thirty other plant species clinging to Cha Simba rocky outcrop are classified as threatened on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

And now extinction is a real prospect! A mining company, Mashujaa Q&M PLC, is planning to mine the Cha Simba rock outcrop for limestone. The company and its Environmental and Social Impact Assessment submitted to National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) are apparently unaware of the unique natural heritage threatened by their project.

Every extinction is tragic. An African violet and the other Critically Endangered, Endangered and Vulnerable plants do not need to be sacrificed for a little cement.

“It is critical that Kenya is seen to meet its obligations under the Convention on Biological Diversity,” says Paul Matiku, Director of Nature Kenya. “Under this convention, it is Kenya’s obligation to protect all globally threatened species that occur in Kenya. The proposed limestone mining will wipe out this subspecies.”

Nature Kenya is appealing to the Ministry of Petroleum and Mining, the Ministry of Environment, the Ministry of Sports, Culture and Heritage, the Ministry of Tourism and Wildlife, the National Environment Management Authority and the County Government of Kilifi to stop this move to extinction!

Nature Kenya is also urging the government to place Cha Simba rock outcrop under official protection and requesting mining companies to avoid Coastal limestone outcrops with unique plant species.

Promoting climate-smart agriculture in Yala Swamp

Agriculture is the source of livelihood for thousands of communities in Kenya, and food for us all. Unfortunately, climate change effects such as reduced or unpredictable rainfall and prolonged drought spells have had devastating effects on crop production. Many rural communities bear the brunt of these negative impacts, often being left vulnerable with little or no food.

To help communities better cope with current and future climate variability, Nature Kenya is promoting the adoptionof climate-smart agriculture in Yala Swamp. Under the AfriEvolve Project, local communities are being facilitated to acquire necessary skills and inputs to be more resilient to climate change effects on farming.

Through the project, supported by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) and NABU (BirdLife partner in Germany), 150 farmers have been identified and supported to sustainably grow high-value climate-resilient vegetables and cereals under rain-fed agriculture. The vegetable and cereal types grown are fast maturing, require little rainfall and produce better yields than current crops. These farmers have received seeds and on-site technical support.

The project is also supporting agroforestry. Four community-based tree nursery groups were supported with equipment and seeds to produce tree seedlings for shade, fodder, firewood and fruit. Over 100,000 tree seedlings have been produced. Out of this, 51,000 tree seedlings are ready for planting to restore degraded riparian areas along River Yala and to establish woodlots. Twelve other community tree nurseries have been identified for agroforestry support. Kenya Forest Service (KFS) provides technical support for tree seedlings production.

Fish and poultry farming and beekeeping are the other nature-based enterprises promoted by Nature Kenya in Yala under this project. Three community-run fish ponds have been stocked with 3,000 tilapia fingerlings, with 30 fish farmers being trained on the basics of climate-smart fish production, formulation of quality feeds, packaging, storage and marketing technologies.

A poultry unit has been established and stocked with 200 improved indigenous chicken chicks, feeds and related equipment. Establishment of a second unit is underway. Communities have also been supplied with 100 modern beehives, honey harvesting gear and a processing unit.

The project lays emphasis on the transfer of knowledge and skills. Groups of crop farmers, fish farmers, poultry farmers and beekeepers have undergone training as ‘trainer of trainers’ (ToTs). Some of the things they have learned include bookeeping, value addition, packaging and marketing.

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

May ’22 Global Big Day

Bird watchers in Kenya joined the rest of the world in participating in the Global Big Day on May 14. On this day, birders from around the world venture out to enjoy birds and submit their observations through the eBird mobile app. The day is also celebrated as the World Migratory Bird Day.

Seventeen Site Support Groups (SSGs) affiliated to Nature Kenya took part in the event in Tana River Delta, Mumoni Hill forest, Lake Elmenteita, Mt. Kenya, Sabaki River mouth, Mutitu Hill forest, Dunga Swamp, Kereita Forest, Kinangop grasslands, Mida Creek, Dakatcha Woodland, Yala Swamp, Lake Ol’ Bolossat, Maasai Mara, Taita Hills forests, Arabuko-Sokoke Forest and Gede Ruins Key Biodiversity Areas (KBAs).

Kenya was ranked 9th in the world with 739 species with 293 checklists completed. Top Kenyan eBirder was Henry ole Sanoe from Lake Elmenteita Community-based Organization, the Nature Kenya site support group for Lake Elmenteita KBA with 201 species. The country’s top hotspot was Nairobi National Park with 213 species – in one day.

Conserving the Hinde’s Babbler in Mumoni and Mutitu

Local communities living near important natural habitats play a crucial role in conserving the unique wildlife found in these areas. Many wild animals in Kenya, including birds, live outside protected areas, in the community or privately owned land. By monitoring the state of birds and their habitats, these communities contribute immensely to tending to nature.

Birds are good indicators of the health of our environment. They are widespread, easy to spot and are considered important in cultures of various communities.

Hinde’s Babbler is a rare bird found only in Kenya. This bird is threatened and occurs in fragmented populations within a 1,900km2 range in Meru, Embu, Nyeri, Muranga, Kiambu, Nairobi, Machakos and Kitui counties. Hinde’s Babblers live in groups, occupying a specific territory in thickets and woodlands in semi-arid areas and moist, fertile land cleared for farming but with fragments of shrub thickets. In eastern Kitui, Hinde’s Babblers live in Mumoni and Mutitu Hills Forest Reserves and surrounding valleys dominated by Lantana camara and indigenous thickets.

Communities in these two sites are undertaking several initiatives to conserve the Hinde’s Babbler and its habitat. Working closely with Nature Kenya and the National Museums of Kenya, members of the Mumoni and Mutitu Site Support Groups (SSGs) have mapped areas where the birds live. Constant monitoring of these areas is ongoing to observe any changes or disturbunces. In addition, the two SSGs are conducting public awareness sessions within their localities. These sessions seek to sensitize local communities on the importance of conserving the Hinde’s Babbler’s natural habitat.

Knowledge of the bird amongst the local communities is steadily increasing in Mumoni and Mutitu. This is exemplified by the communities’ willingness to maintain and restore suitable habitats for the birds. The SSGs are also actively engaged in forest restoration activities.

Hunting down the deadly – It’s a Snake Eagle’s world

Snakes can’t fly. So when they drop down from the sky, something is amiss, right? An incident that occurred in June 2021 in Kitui caused quite a stir. A man was bitten by a snake while driving. The snake landed on the car’s roof and made its way inside through an open window. It then tangled around the man’s arm and bit him. 

Luckily, passersby came to the man’s rescue, killing the snake and freeing him from the deadly grip. More drama ensued. As the passersby prepared to burn the dead snake, a large bird swooped, grabbed the snake and made away with it. The spectacle left many baffled. Social media platforms and news outlets were full of speculations, bordering from bizarre theories to superstition. 

Being a bird enthusiast and naturalist, let me share some insights into the mysterious bird’s action. Many reports indicate it was an eagle. The peculiar behaviour displayed by the bird is typical of a bird of prey. My guess is a Snake Eagle. 

Snake Eagles, as the name suggests, specialize in hunting snakes. Like other eagles, Snake Eagles are agile, have a very sharp vision, and strong feet equipped with great curved talons. Additionally, a thick overlay of scales protects their feet from snake bites. Snake Eagles are medium-sized eagles with large rounded heads, striking yellow eyes, bare legs and an upright stance when perched.

A Snake Eagle hunts from a perch, or while soaring up in the skies. Once it spots prey on the ground, the eagle descends and snatches it, then quickly flies upwards. When it comes to hunting down some of the swiftest and deadliest snakes in the world, like cobras and black mambas, there is no room for errors. Neutralizing any potential harm comes first. The eagle crushes or rips off the serpent’s head while airborne. It then swallows the entire snake, head first. 

Occasionally, the snake may break free from the eagle’s grip and drop to the ground. Such was the case in Kitui. 

Several species of Snake Eagles occur in Kenya. They include the Black-chested, Brown, Southern Banded and Western Banded Snake Eagles and the rare Short-toed and Beaudouin’s Snake Eagles. The Beaudouin’s is listed as Vulnerable, and Southern Banded as Near Threatened by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). 

Indeed, eagles are fascinating birds of prey that display unique hunting skills. Unfortunately, many of these raptors are experiencing a decline in their populations. Habitat destruction, collision with energy infrastructure, hunting, and pollution are among contributors to the dwindling numbers. A lot needs to be done to keep these skilled, soaring hunters airborne.