Proposed Kenya bird mapping initiative set to boost Laikipia’s Citizens Scientist initiative

Kenya has always attracted avid bird watchers due to the sheer number of species in the country. The very first bird atlas conducted in Kenya was completed in the 1970s with over 200 birders involved in the data collection for the project which was finalised in 1984. This work led to the publication of the renowned book A Bird Atlas of Kenya by Lewis & Pomeroy (1989). Scientists and conservationists alike used half degree cells defined by 30 minutes by 30 minutes, or 54 Km by 54 Km in order to conduct the census which then resulted in the collation of data that has and continues to be used to inform conservation and scientific research. A Bird Atlas gave a great representation of the bird distribution in Kenya at the time, and was used in many publications thereafter including numerous regional bird guide books.

Citizen scientists identifying birds

Citizen scientists identifying birds

Bird species distribution has changed considerably since the first atlas was published; with some species increasing their flight range such as the House Sparrow, while others continue to be limited in range such as the Egyptian Vulture. There is no clear documentation of how much the species distributions has changed over the years and so there is an imminent need for a new bird atlas to be produced.

The Kenya Bird Map (http://kenyabirdmap.adu.org.za) is an internet-based bird distribution database that employs citizen science to map the location of birds and describe their distribution in real time. The Kenya Bird Map uses a finer grid scale of 5 minutes by 5 minutes ( c. 9 km by 9 km) referred to as a “pentad”. The pentads are overlaid on the map of Kenya, so that more areas in the country are located in a given pentad. The proposed data collection that will go into the new atlas will also be conducted by citizen scientists (volunteer birders who visit sites / pentads of their choice anywhere in Kenya to map birds). The birds will be recorded in the order that they are seen or heard, making note of how many birds are seen every hour. There are basically two mapping protocols:

  • Full protocol- a bird mapping session that lasts two hours or more
  • Ad hoc protocol- a bird mapping session that lasts less than two hours

The Kenya Bird Map team together with Laikipia’s Citizen Scientist Initiative, invites all passionate birders in Kenya, both beginners and professionals, to take part in this very important project. In order to conserve and protect Kenya’s bird species, knowledge of their distribution is crucial. Once it is known where the different species occur, the bird mapping team will be able to monitor the health of the populations as well as the dangers they face in those respective ranges. By pooling the effort of citizens scientists, the Kenya Bird Map will tell the public about the distribution of Kenya bird population and in so doing provide a powerful tool for conservation. This will in turn contribute greatly to avian tourism and thus boost the economy of Counties across the country.

Laikipia, and the greater Ewaso landscape have embarked on a mission to be Kenya’s very own Citizen Science destination and will be supporting this bird mapping initiative. The launch pad for this was the Great Grevy’s Rally (GGR) that took place from the 29th to 31st January 2016. Residents of Laikipia and visitors alike participated in the collation and sharing of data that will direct future efforts, both for scientific investigation and management of key, unique territories and their resources. The essence of Citizen Science is that volunteers collect and share information that can be analysed by scientists and citizen participants.

For more information on how you can participate e-mail: kenyabirdmap@naturekenya.org

Northern Rangeland Trust supports grazing committees for a healthier landscape

The Northern Rangelands Trust (NRT) now supports 33 community conservancies in northern Kenya. At the heart of community conservation lies the belief that the preservation of wildlife and landscape is inextricably linked to the sustainable development of rural communities. In a primarily pastoralist region, a lot of the time this means finding ways to manage livestock and wildlife together, by maintaining a rangeland healthy enough to support both in a semi-arid climate.

As well as fundraising for conservancies, NRT provides pastoral communities with training and advice on how to manage their activities, without diminishing the ownership and independence of the communities and their programmes. The NRT Trading BeefWorks programme buys cattle selectively from high-performing conservancies at market price. This not only provides pastoralists with an incentive to adhere to their conservancy’s grazing management plans, but it also minimises the losses experienced when trekking cattle to market.

Healthy livestock grazing in a healthy landscape

Healthy livestock grazing in a healthy landscape

Each NRT member conservancy has their own, elected, grazing committee and many have established rangeland management plans. These include experimenting with bunched grazing techniques, as well as designating no-grazing and dry-season-only grazing zones. Over 1.8 million hectares have been brought under improved grazing management so far.

However, pastoralists travel long distances with their livestock in a single season, and transcend the borders of their conservancies, and their home counties.  These long distance movements often result in clashes with other livestock owners, especially during dry seasons. Many of these clashes end in violence.

In 2015 NRT supported the establishment of regional grazing committees. The aim is to help manage grazing at a wider, landscape level, ensuring better coordination. So far, this has helped to diffuse a lot of competition and conflict, especially during the last dry season. Landscape level grazing plans are underway.

The regional grazing committees are made up of selected members of the grazing committees from clusters of conservancies. More effective coordination of grazing plans will not only improve grasslands and help to maintain peace, but also start to address the long-term over-population of livestock and resulting rangeland degradation.

The Northern Rangelands Trust (NRT) now supports 33 community conservancies in northern Kenya. At the heart of community conservation lies the belief that the preservation of wildlife and landscape is inextricably linked to the sustainable development of rural communities. In a primarily pastoralist region, a lot of the time this means finding ways to manage livestock and wildlife together, by maintaining a rangeland healthy enough to support both in a semi-arid climate.

As well as fundraising for conservancies, NRT provides pastoral communities with training and advice on how to manage their activities, without diminishing the ownership and independence of the communities and their programmes. The NRT Trading BeefWorks programme buys cattle selectively from high-performing conservancies at market price. This not only provides pastoralists with an incentive to adhere to their conservancy’s grazing management plans, but it also minimises the losses experienced when trekking cattle to market.

Each NRT member conservancy has their own, elected, grazing committee and many have established rangeland management plans. These include experimenting with bunched grazing techniques, as well as designating no-grazing and dry-season-only grazing zones. Over 1.8 million hectares have been brought under improved grazing management so far.

However, pastoralists travel long distances with their livestock in a single season, and transcend the borders of their conservancies, and their home counties.  These long distance movements often result in clashes with other livestock owners, especially during dry seasons. Many of these clashes end in violence.

In 2015 NRT supported the establishment of regional grazing committees. The aim is to help manage grazing at a wider, landscape level, ensuring better coordination. So far, this has helped to diffuse a lot of competition and conflict, especially during the last dry season. Landscape level grazing plans are underway.

The regional grazing committees are made up of selected members of the grazing committees from clusters of conservancies. More effective coordination of grazing plans will not only improve grasslands and help to maintain peace, but also start to address the long-term over-population of livestock and resulting rangeland degradation.

Dedicated enforcement of water reforms necessary for proper management of resources

LWF has been supporting Water Resource Users Associations (WRUAs) for over 10 years with the aim of building the capacity of local communities so that they can fully participate in water resource management. The Water Act (2002) provides for the establishment of WRUAs as a key platform for water users and stakeholders to engage and participate in the management of water resources within their sub catchment. However, this has not always been the case. It was in 1974 that a fully-fledged Ministry in Charge of Water Development affairs was created. One of the Ministry’s first decisions was to take over the management of not only Government operated water schemes, but also self-help and County Council operated schemes. This decision was marked with challenges including; lack of effective control over its schemes, rapid and effective responses to operations and maintenance requirements, reduced level of consumer participation and responsibility, low levels of equity in the social distribution of scheme water, financial sustainability among others.

Ewaso River

Ewaso River

The ministry acknowledged these challenges and commissioned 2 studies in 1983. The Water Study argued that the ministry should stay away from operations and maintenance responsibility while the Operations and Maintenance Study recommended this function should be decentralised. The two reports also called for water sector reforms to address the challenges. In 1992, the ministry of Water Development released two important documents that guided the sector up to the end of the decade. First to be tabled was the delineation study that defined the roles, functions and responsibilities of various actors in the sector, in particular the ministry and National Water Conservation and Pipeline Corporation. Second was The National Water Master Plan which set out long term plans for the much needed reforms in the management and development of the sector.

Between 1995 and 1999, the ministry was involved in a policy development process for the sector. National Policy on Water Resources Management and Development was published on Session Paper No.1 of 1999 and would become the blue print guiding the legal, administrative and investment reforms in the sector. The reforms would be driven by the Water Policy 1999, the Water Act 2002, the new Water Sector institutions as illustrated in the figure below.

Water

(Above) The new institution set up under water sector reforms -Source: WRUA Development cycle volume 3

The policy changes resulted in:  separation of functions as illustrated in the figure above; decentralisation from government delegating functions to decentralised institutions and operational levels; stakeholder’s participation with greater involvement of water users and stakeholders in decision making and water resource management through WRUAs and Catchment Area Advisory Committees; Consideration of water as social and economic good through commercialisation of water services; user and polluter payments; and systems of protecting less advantaged members of the society.

The new constitution has mandated the National Government with the role of Water Resource management and regulation while County governments with soil and water conservation, water and sanitation services. The constitution has placed greater demands and responsibility on National and County government in the provision of clean and safe water in adequate quantities. Many Counties, including Laikipia are benefitting from introduced mandates, however there are still strides to be made as communities still do not have access to water resources despite living within the catchment areas.

Currently, the water act bill 2014 has been set to align the current water sector institutions in order to fit to the requirements of the New Constitution.  It is only through the dedicated enforcement of these reforms can WRUAs and other dedicated stakeholders be successful in water resource management.

Poisoning of vultures stirs up questions for wildlife regulations

Africa’s vultures are under dire threat mainly due to poisoning and other human activities. In October 2015, four species of African vultures were declared critically endangered, and two species were up listed to endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species; the global indicator of a species well-being.

Poisoned White-backed and Rueppell’s vultures ADC Mutara 7 Jan 2016 Photo J Wahome

Poisoned White-backed and Rueppell’s vultures ADC Mutara 7 Jan 2016
Photo J Wahome

This means that the most commonly occurring vultures in Laikipia namely White-backed and Rüppell’s vultures, are at high risk of global extinction. Also facing extinction are the critically endangered Hooded Vultures, and the Endangered Lappet-faced Vultures. To date, there are three species of vultures that are only rarely seen in the wild in Laikipia and the are: The Bearded Vulture (or Lammergeier) that formerly nested on the Loldaigas; the White-headed Vulture whose former abundance in Laikipia is not well known; and the Egyptian Vulture that still thrived within the landscape until approximately 15-20 years ago, when their decline started to become apparent.

Today poisoning is the greatest threat to vultures worldwide, and the birds residing in Laikipia face the same threat. The poisoning of predators like lions and hyenas in retaliation for livestock loss is a huge challenge, and it is undoubtedly the biggest threat to Laikipia’s scavengers.

Sadly, early the New Year, vultures in Laikipia faced two separate poisoning incidents. The first took place at ADC Mutara on 6th January and occurred when lions killed four cows. In retaliation to this, herders laced three of the carcasses with an unknown poison. The result was the gruesome death of at least 32 White-backed and Rüppell’s vultures, and one Tawny Eagle. Two cows were also poisoned after grazing on grass contaminated by the vomit and faeces of the dying vultures. While the loss of livestock to predators is a serious issue for pastoralists, the indiscriminate use poisons is clearly not the answer.

The second incident occurred days later on Narok Ranch where two vultures, two Tawny Eagles, and one jackal were poisoned after a predator attacked a cow and a sheep.

“As a scientist, I can only speak with alarm when the small tracking devices we use to study the movements of vultures out lives the birds themselves. Vultures can live for many years and are slow reproducing birds. Ideally, they should live between 20 and 30 years, however most that I’ve tracked wandering widely in Laikipia, Samburu, and Marsabit Counties are lucky to survive even one year. For a group of species that typically lays only one egg, every other year, this situation can only result in the drastic decline Kenya’s resident vultures, affecting their long-term survival” says Darcy Ogada from the Peregrine Fund.

However it is not too late and measures can still be put in place that will help save these birds that play a vital role in the ecosystem. Efforts have already begun throughout Kenya will progress in 2016 and beyond. The more people involved, the more successful initiatives will be. This has begun through the training of rangers and field scouts to deter poisoning incidents. “We are also seeking creative ways to finance a vulture restaurant, or feeding station, which could provide ‘safe’ food for vultures.

As we work to improve the situation for vultures, please get in touch if you observe or have any old stories about Bearded, White-headed or Egyptian vultures anywhere in Kenya. We are also interested in knowing about the breeding locations of any species of vulture in Kenya. Finally, please report any poisoning incidences to KWS and to us” concludes Ms. Ogada.

KWS Board hosts discussions on wildlife regulations

In a rare and welcomed move, the Board Chair of KWS, Dr. Richard Leakey, and his respective board members, hosted a two-day open house meeting on January 21 and 22, 2016 to discuss over 20 regulations that have been designed to interpret the Wildlife Conservation and Management Act and put it into action. Dr. Leakey set the stage for open and honest discussions saying; “some of these regulations are punitive and confusing, let’s get them sorted out.”

Dr. Richard Leakey, KWS Chair addresses the open house meetings in January

Dr. Richard Leakey, KWS Chair addresses the open house meetings in
January

With more than 40 participants drawn from the private sector, conservation groups, research institutions and KWS, Dr. Leakey invited forthright discussion of what works and what doesn’t work in the new draft regulations. Ensuring there would be no “acrimony or recrimination” for being outspoken on the Act and its regulations, Dr. Leakey chaired the two day event while drafting consultants took note of public inputs. LWF was actively represented for these discussions.

The two days focused on a range of topics including wildlife research, access, incentives and benefit sharing as well as activities in protected areas. The group also addressed Bio-Prospecting, Community Participation, and the Wildlife Compensation Regulation. The full list of draft regulations in their present state can be obtained from the LWF website – www.laikipia.org under “resources” tab.

Perhaps of biggest concern to LWF members will be the final regulations governing the Establishment of Conservancies; Access, Incentives and Benefit Sharing; and the Wildlife Compensation Regulations. Under the Act’s definition of protected area, conservancies will be included, and thus conservancies of all types have a vested interest in these regulations. LWF and the Kenya Wildlife Conservancies Association (among others) are monitoring these developments carefully.

Expect the next draft of regulations out in the next two months using the feedback from these discussions. LWF and the KWS Board will remain actively engaged in creating a more “enabling environment” for all aspects of wildlife conservation in Kenya, and will be keeping the public informed of these developments.

Conservation Education in Laikipia set to benefit from formation of strong partnerships

The use of film to educate young minds is a tool that conservation education has taken advantage of for years. In partnership with Ol Pejeta Conservancy (OPC) and the Rufford Foundation, LWF continued to enhance conservation education using nature based films, hosting screenings for students in various local schools and communities living adjacent to the Conservancy.

The idea of the venture was to increase the level of understanding about wildlife, their respective habitats, wildlife conservation and management and how to improve community participation. It was hoped that the venture would trigger an eagerness to participate in wildlife management activities as well as appreciate the care for other natural resources.

Students at a film screening on wildlife

Students at a film screening on wildlife

The communities that live in and around OPC, in an ecosystem where wildlife thrives, have limited knowledge on the management of the resource continues to be limited. By introducing creative awareness of wildlife conservation and other related activities such as tree planting in schools, community areas and homesteads can be transformed and assist in keeping the landscape intact for future generations.

In addition, creating open spaces in schools and at surrounding trading centres where artistic expression through murals on building walls continues to stir interest in wildlife management and helps strengthen existing environmental clubs and networks.

The Rufford Foundation, formerly the Rufford Maurice Laing Foundation, is a trust based in the United Kingdom that funds nature conservation projects by small or medium-sized organizations in developing countries. The Foundation funded the Conservation Education Outreach Project initiated in February 2015 through a small Grant. Over the years the project has continued to achieve its aim and objectives.

There have been notable achievements and successes since the commencement of the project such as:

  • The provision of Rufford Small Grants to meet the budget costs;
  • Continued support from the implementing team an organisations;
  • Active and response audiences’ i.e. young learners and community members.

The initial stage of the project involved setting up a support network with key organisations such as African Environmental Film Foundation (AEFF) and Laikipia Wildlife Forum (LWF). AEFF donated 25 environmental themed films and documentaries to the project giving easy access to schools and other academic institutions within Laikipia through an established LWF network. The project was then introduced to teachers attending environmental education workshops organised by LWF while OPC did the same for local communities. In January 2016, the project was introduced to environmental educators from the larger Laikipia region during a 10 day training workshop on environmental education held in OPC.

Project contribution and outcomes  

  • The conservation education outreach schedules have created opportunities to reach out to wider target audiences in remote areas.
  • Through the nature based films, school going children and members of the local communities have had a chance to visually experience wildlife, their behaviours and their natural habitats increasing their awareness about wildlife conservation.
  • Through local community barazas (meetings), conservation issues have been discussed especially those that address human-wildlife conflict.

The project did face various challenges during its implementation, some of which were;

  • The manoeuvring around a challenging road network during the rainy season causing slight delays in the activities schedule.
  • Lack of information on conservation and use of Swahili translated films.
  • Set public school curricular proved to be inflexible to the introduction of the project, restricting the number of students who participated in the project.

LWF will continue to work with the Rufford Foundation, OPC and other key stakeholders in enhancing Conservation Education for local, national and international audiences, as well as look for ways to ensure a sustainable model for Conservation Education in Laikipia is implemented.

A poster supported by LWF, OPC and Rufford Foundation with the the Make A Choice on sustainable energy

A poster supported by LWF, OPC and
Rufford Foundation with the the Make A
Choice on sustainable energy

The Nature Conservancy and LWF Team up in Support of the Laikipia Unity Landscape

LWF recently announced that The Nature Conservancy will also be assisting with the Forum’s strategic planning efforts and will help to structure the organisation to lead the Laikipia Unity Landscape. This is a major effort to fulfil the LWF Mission:

To conserve Laikipia’s wildlife and ecosystem integrity and to improve the lives of its people.

The Nature Conservancy (TNC) has maintained historical interest and support for Laikipia and the greater Ewaso Nyiro Landscape for the last 10 years.  TNC is a well-known partner at the Lewa Wildlife and Loisaba Conservancies; and they have contributed to work with LWF, Africa Wildlife Foundation (AWF), and the Zeitz Foundation on land tenure and conservation in the County.

Lpinguan focus group discussion during LWF’s strategic planning

Lpinguan focus group discussion during LWF’s strategic planning

Beginning in January 2016, TNC has allocated resources and expertise to work with LWF to address the next steps in the evolution of LWF as a membership organisation. LWF will receive assistance with organisation, structure and financing of a conservation land trust that will provide oversight to the Laikipia Unity Landscape.  In addition, LWF will also receive advice and assistance on membership management, fundraising, public relations and advocacy aspects.

The Laikipia Unity Landscape is a unique blend of biodiversity conservation, land use management, and private land ownership. Together, landowners in Laikipia have dedicated themselves to a broad, landscape approach to conservation that provides direct and tangible benefits to the County, Kenya and the international community into the future.

Read more about LWF’s team efforts with TNC and the Laikipia Unity Landscape as LWF’s strategic planning efforts continue on www.laikipia.org and in future editions of Forum Focus.

LWF strategic planning calendar 2016

Laikipia Wildlife Forum (LWF) continues to gather key information from communities in the five strategic operational units. The process which started on January 8th 2016 is expected to conclude on March 1st 2016. The use of Focus Group Discussions is helping to identify the strength weakness, opportunities and threats of LWF both externally and internally, including its operational area.

Members of a focus group discussion held at Ilpolei Cultural Women’s Centre

Members of a focus group discussion held at Ilpolei Cultural Women’s Centre

In January FGDs were conducted in Uaso Ngiro unit at Ilpolei Cultural Women’s hall with representatives from the Naibunga Conservancy Group Ranch and grazing chairpersons from: Ilpolei, Morupusi, Munishoi, Kijabe, Nkiloriti, Musul; as well as conservation enterprise groups including: Twala Women’s Group (Ilpolei), Nabulu Women’s Group (Makandura); and Naitabaya Women’s Group (Musul). In total 18 people participated (12 men and 6 women).

The second FGD meeting was held in Kimanjo Library and attended by Tiamamut, Ilmotiok, Koija group ranches’ and grazing management chairpersons; members of registered enterprise member groups including: Osotua, Kiyaap, Naroshimali, Naningoi, Naaiku, Nalepo as well as Lower Ewaso Water Resource Users Association (WRUA). 24 people participated (19 men and 5 women)

Feedback from FGDs at Lamuria included a request for LWF to be more involved in the implementation of projects in the area while participants in attendance in Nanyuki looked forward to the realisation of the strategic plan and implantation of projects.

LWF’s future depends on the voice of its membership, of whom 80% belong to community organisations and schools. This process is generously supported by EKN and USAID, the result of which will be a 5 year strategic plan that covers 2016 through to 2021.

Programme

Laikipia HEC task force back on track to manage fences

The growth of human populations in the Laikipia ecosystem over the last few decades has caused a significant reduction of wildlife habitat. Increasing amounts of land is continuously being sought for crop farming as well as to make room for human settlements and their respective infrastructures in the wildlife dispersal areas.  Unfortunately, these developments have resulted in human wildlife conflicts as the later often raid crops in the farmlands. It is for this reason that electric fences were introduced as a mitigation measure as well as a management tool.

Simon Matheri

Simon Matheri checks the voltage at a section of the West Laikipia fence

The West Laikipia Fence project, initiated by LWF in 2007 with the support from IFAW, KWS, and Constituency Development Funds, strives to prevent elephants from leaving large-scale ranches and moving onto smallholder farms in western Laikipia. Between 2008 and 2012, 133km of the fence was constructed along the boundaries of six large-scale ranches, as well as two ring fences built around smallholder-cultivated areas. Pastoralists and many smallholder farms have begun to benefit from the barriers which have directly resulted in higher crop yields.

But addressing Human Elephant Conflict (HEC) is complex and even though fences provide a sustainable solution implementation of HECs have faced their fair share of challenges. The destruction of the fence by vandals as they break into private owned ranches to graze their cattle has increasingly been recorded in Laikipia. Insignificant fines for those that destroy the fence means that there is repeated vandalism. In addition, authorities lack the capacity to make arrests and to ensure that the appropriate fines are enforced. This coupled with the limited understanding by magistrates about the value of wildlife and the role fences play within the landscape adds to the challenges that need to be addressed. However not all challenges are caused by humans. There are also certain “soft spots” where problematic elephants repeatedly break the fence in search of food from farms or just to cross the landscape.

The Laikipia County Governor formed a taskforce comprised of government agencies, NGOs, private conservancies and other stakeholders to look into lasting solutions to the Human Elephant Conflicts.  The Laikipia HEC Task Force first convened in May 07, 2014 with the mandate to manage the construction and maintenance of the West Laikipia Fence and implement structures that would support its sustainability. After a short lull in activity as a result of various factors, the HEC task force reconvened in January 2015 in order to get back on track with its mandate. During this meeting it was decided that:

  • The Laikipia County Government will procure all materials required for the upgrade and maintenance of the of the West Laikipia Fence;
  • That Ol Pejeta Conservancy (OPC) will manage the upgrade of the West Laikipia Fence and provide oversight for its maintenance on ADC Mutara;
  • LWF will manage communications among the stakeholders for the project at the national, local and specific constituency levels within the neighbouring smallholders and pastoralists served by the fence;
  • ADC Mutara, Ngorare Ranch and Laikipia Nature Conservancy will provide the necessary access and support to OPC to enable the Conservancy to carry out the fence upgrade work; recruit and employ staff to upgrade and maintain the fence; provide security; and to manage community relations that will allow them to access grazing areas and other resources in accordance with the Laikipia Grazing Task Force (LGTF) and in accordance with the existing policies developed by the LGTF.  OPC will also look after all capital assets provided under this project;
  • Space For Giants (SFG) will provide management oversight for the project and be responsible for all necessary monitoring and evaluation works to facilitate effective and timely management decisions that are made in regards to the upgrade of the fence, maintenance and management of associated threats from people and wildlife;
  • KWS will oversee the project from a government stand point and ensure effective technical support is provided for the removal of problematic elephants;
  • The Laikipia County Security Committee will ensure that the necessary security protocols are in place to deal with those that vandalise the fence

In the not so distant future, the public, both local and international, will be invited to participate in the development of fences within Laikipia through various initiatives. The Laikpia HEC task Force will be publishing regular updates in the Forum Focus for public awareness.