Working for birds in Africa


Wed, 01/16/2013 - 13:35 -- abc_admin

Cheetah, Masai Mara, Kenya

Image Credit: 
Sue Walsh

Kenya has more than 50 National Parks, reserves and sanctuaries covering some 4.4m hectares or 7.5% of the land area. Almost half of this area is accounted for by the two biggest National Parks, Tsavo East and Tsavo West.

Kenya is party to several international agreements including Biodiversity, Climate Change, Desertification, Endangered Species and Wetlands.

There are a large number of environmental issues including water pollution from urban and industrial wastes, degradation of water quality from increased use of pesticides and fertilizers, water hyacinth infestation in Lake Victoria, deforestation, soil erosion, desertification and poaching.

Nearly $US 1 million has been awarded by the United States Agency for International Development for ongoing conservation work at the Arabuko-Sokoke forest. See notes in ABC Bulletin, Volume 11, No.1, March 2004. This forest has been ranked second in importance for threatened bird species among African mainland forests and has been the subject of a long-term BirdLife International programme to conserve the forest and its wildlife whilst bringing increasing benefits to local people.

An award was made by ABC to the National Museums of Kenya Ornithology Department to assist a study of Chapin's Flycatcher Muscicapa lendu in Kakamega Forest. A further award was made for a study of the population size and density of Abbott's Starling Pholia femoralis in the Kikuyu Escarpment Forest Reserve.

A study has been carried out to determine the rate of papyrus swamp loss and the impact of habitat degradation on 5 specialist bird species. The most important papyrus swamps in Kenya are confined to the shores of Lake Victoria at Dunga, Koguta and Kusa. Despite being IBAs, none are protected formally. The abundance of White-winged Warbler Bradypterus carpalis, Carruthers's Cisticola Cisticola carruthersi, Papyrus Gonolek Laniarius mufumbiri and Papyrus Canary Serinus koliensis were found to be directly related to the height and density of papyrus. Too few Papyrus Yellow Warblers Chloropeta gracilirostris were found to be able to draw meaningful conclusions.

Conservation News

5th May 2008: Tana biofuel plans could break the law

Plans to grow biofuel crops on an idyllic river plain in Kenya underestimate the cost, overestimate the profit and could be illegal if implemented as currently proposed, consultants say in a new report. The project, to turn 50,000 acres (20,000 hectares) of the mostly pristine Tana River Delta over to sugarcane, ignores fees for water use, compensation for lost livelihoods, chemical pollution and loss of tourism and wildlife.

Consultants, commissioned by Nature Kenya (BirdLife in Kenya) and the RSPB (BirdLife in UK), highlight the “irreversible loss of ecosystem services” the scheme will cause, and states that some costs “defy valuation”. They conclude: “In the light of expected negative impacts of the project, it should be suspended. Instead, the ecologically friendly activities such as pastoralism, fishing, small-scale farming, timber harvesting, honey production, medicine and tourism should be encouraged.

The scheme was proposed by Mumias Sugar Company in February this year prompting outrage amongst local people, conservationists and farmers. Their opposition has led the government to hold a three-day public hearing, starting tomorrow (May 6). The company claims the cost of sugarcane plantations, new sugar and ethanol plants on the Delta will be £19 million (US$38 million) bringing in an annual average of £1.25 million (US$2.5 million) over 20 years.

The consultants’ report disputes these figures, calculating a yearly income of less than £400,000 (US$800,000). In contrast, the value of farming, fisheries, tourism and other incomes derived from land and wildlife is already more than £30 million (US$60 million), the consultants say. The Delta, on Kenya’s northern coast, is invaluable to numerous farming and fishing communities because it is less affected by droughts. It draws livestock farmers from as far as Somali and Ethiopian borders where the dry season is harsh.

It is home to lions, hippos and nesting turtles, more than 345 species of bird and the Tana red colobus, one of 25 primates facing extinction worldwide. The area’s thick vegetation absorbs carbon dioxide and its waters teem with fish. One third of Tana River water would be needed for sugarcane irrigation but feasibility studies, published by Mumias, ignore charges for water extraction levied under Kenyan law and the damage this loss of water would cause.

They also overlook the effect of the loss of grazing land and crops. That would squash livestock into a smaller area causing overgrazing and damage to land.

Paul Matiku, Executive Director of Nature Kenya, said: “We feared this project would turn much of the Delta into an ecological desert and this report shows its impact on local people, on wildlife and on the Kenyan economy would be quite horrific.

“The huge disparity between the scheme’s value to Kenya in the future and the worth of what we have now means the government should dismiss these plans immediately.” Conservationists want the most important parts of the Delta made a national protected area so that future development proposals take account of the value of wildlife.

Paul Buckley, an Africa specialist with the RSPB, said: “Africa boasts spectacular and invaluable wildlife assets with unquantified benefits for her peoples. Biofuel developments have already caused the widespread destruction of many unique habitats without necessarily cutting greenhouse gas emissions. “Loss of the Tana Delta for another unproven biofuel and to a scheme which could well fail, would be a disaster both to hopes of tackling climate change and for those so dependent on the area for their livelihoods.”

Source: BirdLife International

6th December 2007: Kenya: Turning to Birds to Boost Revenue

After registering success on beach and wildlife tourism, Kenya is now turning an eye to its priceless birds to shore up revenues. Though part of the wildlife, bird tourism has for long been ignored despite its potential to bring in extra foreign exchange earnings. Currently, there are only 250 'birders' also known as bird watchers, who come to Kenya each year, spending about Sh45 million.

But the problem that has left many players desperate for answers is that despite having less bird diversity than Kenya, some African countries have managed to attract more visitors, hence making more money from bird watching. In South Africa, for example, bird watchers, who form the largest single group of eco-tourists, contributed between $11 million to $24 million to the country's economy in 1997.

This is what Kenya is trying to emulate in a bid to put the country in the league of the world's leading tourist destinations. In fact, more than 1,090 bird species have been recorded in the country, making Kenya one of the most attractive bird watching destinations in the world. According to Nairobi-based organisations Nature Kenya and BirdLife International, all conservation outfits, the country holds one of the world records for most birds seen within 24 hours - a high of 342 species. In Nairobi, for example, over 600 bird species have been recorded, more than in any other capital city in the world.

Source: Allafrica

31st October 2007: Top Kenyan nature reserve under threat. Huge sugar plantation would devastate Tana Delta, home to dozens of bird species.

Little disturbs the tranquillity of the Tana Delta. As the deep orange sun sets above Kenya's largest wetlands hippos wallow in the shallows, crocodiles slide off the banks into the brown river, while terns and whistling teals circle above. It is one of Kenya's most important natural reserves and very soon it could all be gone.

Plans have been drawn up to turn part of the delta into Kenya's largest sugar plantation – an 80,000 acre area that could produce 100,000 tons of sugar a year and bring 20,000 jobs to a region where most people do not have jobs. Conservationists are alarmed. They warn that the plantation will destroy the wetlands and with it the habitats of dozens of species of bird including Allen's Gallinules.

More than 15,000 birds from 69 species were counted on a single day earlier this year in an area comprising just 15 per cent of the wetlands. The coastline is home to endangered marine turtles, while two endangered primates can be found in the forests that line the wetlands – the red colobus and the crested mangabey. "To put sugar plantations right into the heart of the Tana Delta will spell the end of the delta," said Colin Jackson of the Mwamba Bird Observatory. "It will be a natural disaster if this development is allowed to go ahead the way it is currently planned."

The Tana Delta stretches for 50 miles inland from the northern coast of Kenya, between Lamu and Malindi. To reach the Mbililo lake at its heart requires a bumpy two-hour journey along dirt tracks, followed by two hours on a motor boat through reeds and under thickets up the Tana River. Just what it is that will be lost is only clear when viewed from the air. The lush, rich greens of the wetlands continues for mile upon mile. Thousands of cattle graze along the banks, and flocks of waterfowl soar from the river towards the pink clouds above.

But amid the beauty there is desperate poverty. Around three-quarters of the delta's residents live on less than $1 a day. Jobs are scarce, clean water and electricity are non-existent.

Mumias Sugar Company, the company behind the scheme, which is backed by the regional development authority and the Kenyan government, has promised to bring jobs and investment to the delta. It also said the project will bring roads, water, electricity, schools and hospitals.

Local residents are divided. "The government hasn't brought us anything," said Ibrahim Nossir, a father of three. "If we refuse this we might not get anything else. How will we pay our school fees for our children if we do not agree?"

But local conservation officials believe too much will be lost. "If the plantation comes we will lose all of our natural resources," said Ibrahim Hiribae, the secretary of the Lower Tana Delta Conservation Trust. "What if the project fails? We will have nothing left."

Source: The Independent On-Line

6th July 2007: Kenya adds birds to tourist attractions

The Tourism Trust Fund (TTF) has launched a Ksh19.7 million ($294,000) bird tourism project to market Kenya’s Important Bird Areas (IBAs). The project, to be implemented by Nature Kenya, will target three well-known IBAs — Dunga papyrus wetlands, Kinangop Plateau Grasslands, and Kakamega Forest. “All these areas are ripe for tourism development,” TTF chief executive officer, Dan Kagagi, said.

Dr Kagagi said the project will be achieved through a global marketing campaign, development of IBAs, development of a bird guides’ curriculum and training.

“The global market and demand for avi-tourism are enormous. This product development and niche marketing of an under-exploited resource, will promote little known areas to a large and high value market of specialised tourists” said Dr Kagagi.

Kenya’s 60 IBAs are located in both well established tourist circuits and little visited areas of the country. The potential for revenue is vast. According to Bird International, Worldwide, there are about seven million birdwatchers going in birdwatching trips abroad per annum, spending over $7 billion in the countries they visit.

According to Nature Kenya, current visits by keen bird watchers are as low as only 250 per year. Increasing this number is obviously beneficial in revenue terms, but also in terms of visitor patterns.

25th April 2007: Kenyans Plant Trees To Coax Back Flamingos

Five years ago, dead flamingos littered the drying shores of Lake Nakuru in Kenya's scenic Rift Valley. Sickly birds struggled to stand upright while stray dogs scavenged on the depleted flock. The once world-renowned heartland of the majestic birds with their long necks and striking pink, scarlet and black plumage was yet another depressing symbol of deforestation, pollution and global warming in Africa.

But now, after two years fighting to reverse their role in the damage, Nakuru's local community has set itself the task of replanting a whole forest they had razed as a measure of desperation in times of poverty. They hope that as the flamingos return, so will the tourists. "It was wrong to cut the trees but we had to. We burnt them all when we started farming," said Jane Macharia, who like so many others slashed the forest to make farmland when she came to Nakuru 10 years ago with no work or means to produce food.

"I needed land to survive," she explained, kneeling in the wet mud with a group committed to turning back the clock by planting saplings in the hills above the lake.

As the forests receded, the rains left too. Erosion from farming and the effects of global warming combined in the late 1990s to leave Lake Nakuru virtually uninhabitable for its famous birds. The flock of millions - drawing thousands of tourists to Nakuru each year - was reduced to 10,000 by 1996.

"After all the destruction of the forests, the rivers had no water and all the flamingos were dying," the senior warden at Lake Nakuru National Park, Charles Muthui, told Reuters, adding that some 800 hectares (2,000 acres) of forest had been degraded. Conservationists feared the birds would be wiped out completely. "Now is the time to make it right," Macharia said.

Her community knows full well the cost of their deforestation. Along with their lakes and flamingos, the numbers of American and European tourists who came each year dropped. The local economy took a battering. "The business of this region depends on visitors," the warden said. "Destroy the forests and you destroy Lake Nakuru. Then no flamingos, then no tourism -- we know about that."

Nakuru community groups have already planted some 3,000 trees since January alone, but they say it will take decades to fully reverse the harm already done by cutting the forests. Still, below the hills where locals toil between thick forest and open plains dotted with tree stumps, planting sapling after sapling, flamingos have begun returning in droves.

7th December 2006: New report gives direction to IBA conservation in Kenya

A report from NatureKenya (BirdLife in Kenya) sheds new light on the changing challenges and pressures facing the conservation of Important Bird Areas (IBAs). Results from ‘Kenya’s Important Bird Areas: Status and Trends’ highlight in particular, the threat of overgrazing and illegal logging to the protection of IBAs in East Africa.

This is the first time that African IBAs have been monitored and the results have given a valuable insight into the issues that surround wildlife conservation in East Africa. Two threats of particular concern were found to be overgrazing and illegal grazing - both of which were deemed a serious threat to 57% (34 out of 60) of the IBAs in Kenya.

Illegal selective logging and vegetation destruction were also widespread issues – 55% of all IBA sites in Kenya highlighted the ‘serious threat’ that this had to site conservation. Of the 22 forest IBA sites in Kenya, 16 reported that tree logging and pole-cutting posed threats to IBAs. Another frequently cited threat was firewood collection; deemed a threat to 43% of IBAs.

“Many IBAs in Africa face similar threats, but our results hint that these threats are reversible,” said Paul Matiku, Executive Director, NatureKenya. “The state of our IBAs has not changed dramatically between 2004 and 2005. Indeed, in some cases, pressure may have reduced slightly; often a result of the hard work that NatureKenya and its Partners, particularly in the relevant government departments, have been putting on educating, monitoring and building local constituencies for conservation, in particular the Site Support Groups”

Source: BirdLife International

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