Golfing to restore degraded forests

By Richard Kipngeno

The 14th Nature Kenya charity golf tournament was held on Friday, March 15th at the Karen Country Club. The charity event raised Ksh 1 million for Mt. Kenya Forest restoration. A total of 93 golfers participated in this fundraiser. The event was sponsored by 17 corporates. Kenya Breweries Limited was the main sponsor. Platcorp Foundation, Knight Frank, Williamson Tea and Privatization Authority were hole sponsors.

Others who supported the event with auction and raffles items included Young Muslim Association, Serena Hotels, Karen Country Club, Cormorant Tours, Davis & Shirtliff, Safarilink, Air Kenya, The Safari Collection, Emrok Tea, Cookswell Jikos, Matbronze, Woburn Residences – Salma and Andy Watt, Alex Duncanson, Patricia Odima, Karen Lawrence and Andrew Kamiti.

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.

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.