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

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.