Category Archives: big cats

#NTVWild panel discussion: Understanding the wild in Kenya with Jonathan Scott

It was a pleasure to listen and watch Jonathan Scott LIVE in studio. Many have watched him on Big Cat Diaries but few have ever met him. Along with Dr. Paula Kahumbu, WildlifeDirect CEO and Paula Mbugua from KWS, they talked about the new series #NTVWild that Premieres on NTV KENYA on Saturday January 16, 2016

Watch the discussion here:




NTV WILD Season Premiere on 16th January 2016

We are proud to announce the official premier of NTV Wild, a partnership between NTV one of Kenya’s premier broadcasters, WildlifeDirect and the Kenya Wildlife Service.

NTV Wild is a partnership between NTV, KWS and WildlifeDirect. The first ever broadcasting of the Award winning wildlife documentaries made in Kenya and Africa every Saturday.

We will awaken your sense of awe and wonder at our magnificent wildlife heritage, which you own and have a responsibility for protecting.

Help us save it. Visit our magnificent parks, and take actions against anything that threatens our protected areas, wildlife spectacles, wild landscapes and endangered species.

Tune in every Saturday (from the 16th of January) at 8 pm. Share this widely through your networks and on social media using the hasthag NTVWild
We look forward to your feed back


The Marsh Pride: end of an era

Jonathan Scott: The poisoning of members of the Marsh Pride, the world’s best known lions, highlights the need for a lasting solution to human–wildlife conflict in Africa


Lioness Bibi in her prime in the Masai Mara National Reserve, Kenya. Bibi was a member of the Marsh Pride that featured in the BBC TV series “Big Cat Diary” from 1996 to 2008. Bibi died on 6 December 2015 after being poisoned along with other members of the pride. Photograph: courtesy of © Andrea Scott. All rights reserved.

Lioness Bibi in her prime in the Masai Mara National Reserve, Kenya. Bibi was a member of the Marsh Pride that featured in the BBC TV series “Big Cat Diary” from 1996 to 2008. Bibi died on 6 December 2015 after being poisoned along with other members of the pride. Photograph: courtesy of © Andrea Scott. All rights reserved.

On Sunday morning (6 December 2015) news broke of the poisoning of members of the Marsh Pride. These are the lions that Angela and I have followed since 1977 and were the stars of our “Big Cat” TV series, that documented the fascinating and often tumultuous life of the pride over a period of more than 12 years.

The Marsh Pride occupies a territory on the edge of the Masai Mara National Reserve in Kenya, one of Africa’s foremost protected areas. All members of the “big five” (lion, leopard, African elephant, African buffalo, and black rhinoceros) are found on the vast plains of the Mara, plus a wealth of other wildlife.

On Saturday night, the lions had killed cattle belonging to a family living near the reserve. In retaliation, a member of the family sprinkled pesticide onto the carcass, knowing that the lions would return. He was intentionally trying to kill them. How many lions have died as a result is still unclear.


The body of Marsh Lioness Bibi, who died from poisoning at 7.30 am on Sunday 6 December 2015, along with other members of the Marsh Pride. Masai Mara National Reserve, Kenya. Photograph: Courtesy of Patrick Reynolds

The body of Marsh Lioness Bibi, who died from poisoning at 7.30 am on Sunday 6 December 2015, along with other members of the Marsh Pride. Masai Mara National Reserve, Kenya. Photograph: Courtesy of Patrick Reynolds

I wish I could say that this was shocking news, but there is nothing shocking any more about what is happening in the Masai Mara. Tens of thousands of cattle encroach in to the Reserve every night when visitors are safely out of sight – but when the likelihood of conflict with predators such as lions and hyenas is at its greatest. This makes no sense.

This sorry state of affairs is testimony to the appalling management of the Reserve east of the river. This is a situation that has existed for at least as long as I have known the Masai Mara. Management failures contributed to the precipitous decline in the Mara’s black rhino population from an estimated 150 to 200 in the 1960s to just 11 by 1983 (it has risen again to between 30 and 40).

The BBC filmed the hugely popular TV series ‘Big Cat Diary’ in Marsh Pride territory from 1996 to 2008. Our base in the Mara was – and still is – a stone cottage at Governor’s Camp. This is a safari camp set in the heart of the reserve, in the vicinity of the glorious Musiara Marsh after which the Marsh Lions were named.

The Marsh is the heart of the Marsh Pride’s dry season territory, while to the east the intermittent watercourse known as Bila Shaka was the traditional breeding site and resting place for the pride. Bila Shaka means ‘without fail’ in Swahili, testimony that the guides could always find lions here. Not now.

Each year Governor’s Camp outfitted a special tented camp for us along the Mara River just upstream from Main Camp. The foundation of the series was that we always knew that we could find lions, leopards and cheetahs in the area on a daily basis. The Marsh Pride were at the heart of the series, and virtually never let us down.

The Marsh Pride at home in the Masai Mara National Reserve, Kenya. Photograph: courtesy of © Andrea Scott. All rights reserved.

The Marsh Pride at home in the Masai Mara National Reserve, Kenya. Photograph: courtesy of © Andrea Scott. All rights reserved.

But that all changed when the authorities decided to turn a blind eye to the incursion of cattle into the reserve, forcing the lions to move out or risk death. The Marsh Pride has always been vulnerable since its territory spreads beyond the reserve boundary. This is particularly apparent in the wet season when Musiara Marsh (and Bila Shaka at times) becomes waterlogged and the lions move to higher ground to north and east.

Each year we lose lions to poisoning or spearing by pastoralists. That was always part of life for the lions. But in the last few years the situation has escalated beyond all reason, with the Marsh Pride becoming increasingly fragmented by the influx of cattle and herdsmen. Today it would be impossible to film Big Cat Diary in the same location. What a damning fact that is.

This year the impact of livestock has been all too apparent. Huge herds of cattle would camp during the daytime along the boundary of the reserve waiting for the tourists to head in to camp. Soon the Musiara area looked like a desert and each night you could see dozens of flickering torches as the cattle were driven in to the reserve after dark.

The deep tracks leading into the reserve are testament to this, along with piles of cattle dung scattered deep inside it. And the Musiara area is not alone. Guides from other parts of the Mara have been complaining about this situation for years. But nobody seems to be able to do anything about it.

These incursions are threatening the social cohesion – and very existence – of the Marsh Pride. Earlier in the year a breakaway group of young Marsh Pride females with young cubs were forced to cross the Mara River and set up home in the Kichwa Tembo area. The older females – Bibi (17), Sienna (11) and Charm (11) – and their cubs increasingly avoided Bila Shaka and the Marsh, loitering at the fringes of their traditional territory, forced to encroach on neighbouring prides.

The pride males – Scarface and his three companions – no longer visit the Musiara area, ever since Scarface was shot in 2013. He was treated and recovered but knew better than to stay.

In the past pride males often only managed a tenure of 2 years – sometimes less – before being forced out of their pride by younger or more powerful rivals. It was not uncommon to see groups of five or six young nomadic males roaming the Musiara or Paradise area together. I have counted as many as nine travelling as a group. That was a sign of a healthy lion population with lots of dispersing sub-adults.

Now Marsh Pride males are able to remain as pride males for many more years, due to a decline in the number of young nomadic male lions vying to replace them. The scarcity of these nomadic males suggests that they are not surviving as well as in the past, due to the disturbance that lions are facing on a nightly basis in parts of the Mara from livestock and herdsmen, or from trying to survive in less optimal areas beyond the reserve boundary.

Lions are always going to kill livestock if it comes within range – and of course they will sometimes kill livestock outside the reserve and must bear the consequences when they do. The only way to prevent this happening is if there are sufficient incentives to persuade the herdsmen that lions equate to tourists – and that means a financial return.

And that is the key point. Many Masai do not think of the Masai Mara Reserve as a source of income. They often feel that it is unfair that wildlife is allowed to share their pastures, and sometimes kill their livestock, while they are not allowed to reciprocate by bringing livestock in to the Reserve during dry times.

The Masai have roamed these areas for hundreds of years, long before it was given official protection. Understandably the Masai claim the Mara as their own. The authorities urgently need to address this issue by ensuring that everyone benefits from tourism to the Mara in a truly tangible way.

There will be no safe place for the Marsh Lions until the reserve authorities decide to address all of the issues that have been debated ever since I first came to live in the Mara in 1977. Measures must be taken now to ensure an equitable distribution of revenue from the reserve to the local community, and to increase support for the wildlife conservancies created on private lands around the reserve, where cattle grazing is permitted on a rotational basis.

Within the reserve, there should be a moratorium on any further tourism development, and an embargo on grazing of livestock.

What a miracle it would be if the demise of the Marsh Pride became the catalyst for serious dialogue and change as to how the Masai Mara is managed. The Governor of Narok County, the Honorable Samuel Ole Tunai, pledged to do just that when he called a Masai Mara Stakeholders Meeting in Nairobi in September 2015.

I attended that meeting and was impressed by the number of people who made the effort to come along and by the Governor’s openness to dialogue. Since then a small group of concerned individuals drawn from all walks of life have worked to support the Governor’s initiative.

We can only hope that we are about to witness tangible steps towards securing the future of this iconic landscape and its magnificent wildlife.


Paula Kahumbu writes: This is an edited version of an article written by Jonathan and Angela Scott and published on their blog on 7 December 2015. Jonathan and his wife Angie are award winning authors and internationally renowned wildlife photographers. My sincere thanks to Jonathan and Angela for permission to publish the article here.

Responding to a tip-off from visitors, the Kenya Wildlife Service and local authorities acted swiftly to bring the culprits to court, while the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust and other local conservation organisations were prompt to treat the affected lions. But despite this veterinary support three lions have already died. At the time of writing, another four are still sick. The condition of others is not known.

Kenya has never before charged a person with poisoning wildlife, even though it is a frequent crime that has devastating effects on populations of lions, vultures and other predators.

However in this case the new Wildlife Crime Prosecution Unit has moved quickly to charge the suspects of this crime with offences against endangered wildlife species under Section 92 of the 2013 Wildlife Act, which could result in a fine of Ksh 20 million (USD 200,000) and/or life imprisonment.

This is another welcome sign that Kenyan courts are now taking wildlife crimes seriously. As Jonathan eloquently argues, this needs to be backed up by action to address the root causes of wildlife crime, inspired by the vision of a common future for people and wildlife

Lion killed and warriors critically injured in lion hunt on Kuku Ranch

On 28th of June in the afternoon a group of newly initiated Masai moran, or warriors, went on a hunt to kill a lion that had apparently killed a sheep on a ranch. In the attack three warriors were critically injured and the lion killed. This incident comes hot on the heels of the killing of 6 lions in Kitengela next to Nairobi National Park on June 20th. This incident is tragic on several fronts. First, it happened on the privately run community ranch called Kuku, where researchers and conservationists have been working hard to protect lions for many years. The lion, was wearing a radio collar as he was the subject of research. This male was the head of a pride of 12 others. His loss is a devastating blow to the country’s dwindling lion population because when pride males are killed, other males will take over, killing all the cubs and chasing off or killing other all the other males in the process.

I was at the neighbouring ranch, Mbirikani for a traditional Masai wedding last weekend. Anthony Kasanga, a former lion guardian was tying the knot. Young warriors attended his ceremony and danced for 3 days in a row. The new initiates, aged between 14 – 20 were dressed in traditional red robes, had beautifully braided hair, and had adorned themselves in beaded jewelry. Their faces were painted with red ochre to make them appear fierce. This was no ordinary disco. The dancing of moran, or warriors involves putting the initiates into a trance, they chanting and leaping high into the air in a competition for glory. Girls surround the warriors to assess their prowess. It’s no secret that the highest jumper is considered the most attractive. But nothing is more appealing to the girls than a demonstration of courage – and killing a lion is the ultimate proof.

Lions are the number 1 attraction of visitors to Kenya


We interviewed 5 elders in the community to learn about how things were in the past and to explore what has changed as part of a folklife project called Africa’s Wildest Stories (which you can listen to here). Every single man spoke of his hunting accomplishments. One bragged that he had killed 50 black rhino in his youth. Another described how the warriors used to return from lion hunts with the skins and heads which would be raised in the village on poles like flags. This was a message to all visitors about the courage of that group of warriors. The sight was not just a boast but a challenge to any other warriors to try and do better.

Though much has changed since those days, the courage of the Maasai is still legendary. To attain the courage needed to take on killing a lion with only a spear is no small feat. The warriors chant and dance, and invoke the spirits to protect them. This puts them in a dream like trance in which they become fearless.  For new initiates like those inovlved in the hunt two days ago, it does not always work, and now three teenagers lie in critical condition in a hospital.

I live in the city of Nairobi and on the edge of Nairobi National Park whose greatest attraction is the 40 plus lions. Nowhere else in the world does a capital city have a park with wild lions on within the city boundary. This is what makes Nairobi Park special. But the tiny 117 square kilometer park depends on a large ecosystem through which wildlife disperses each rainy season. On December 28th last year 3 of the park lions left the park following the zebra and wildebeest. They killed livestock and were themselves killed in retaliation. After a series of meetings with the authorities, the community agreed not to kill any more if compensation was paid for the dead livestock. Then barely 6 months later 6 more lions were killed in a savage attack. They were trapped in a stockade and the community killed two adult females and surprisingly 4 cubs. If they hadn’t escaped, two males would have been killed too. There is no honor in killing a weakened  enemy and to many Maasai , the killing of the cubs was cowardly and unnecessary.  But then this was no ordinary hunt, a tipping point had been reached. The Maasai community say that they are fed up with being expected to incur the costs of the losses of livestock to lions. To these urban Maasai, lions are simply vermin.

WildlifeDirect working with the Friends of Nairobi Park and the local community have been monitoring and mapping all of the  lion predation incidents around Nairobi since October 2011 under a grant from the National  Geographics Big Cats Initiative. The killings of the 6 lions was no surprise to us. In fact in our observation the community had shown enormous restraint considering that over 140 head of livestock worth thousands of dollars had been killed in the previous 9 months. But most Kenyans are outraged because Kenya’s remaining population of only 1,970 lions is sliding quickly towards oblivion. The implications for the tourism based economy are enormous, lions are the number 1 attraction for tourists to the country. Expanding the tourism industry under Kenya’s ambitious Vision 2030 requires  them.

Why is it so hard to manage only 1,970 lions? Most of Kenya’s wildlife occurs outside of the protected areas in landscapes increasingly dominated by people. The situation is extreme around Nairobi Park where lion predation incidents have been rising rapidly.  Lions are constrained in a tiny park area because of an increasing human populations in the dispersal area south of the park. The lions have been getting away with killing livestock which is easier and safer than chasing down a zebra or buffalo. Of course this has emboldened them and increasingly they are attacking livestock in daylight and are even taking their cubs into homesteads.

Efforts to resolve the human-lion problem have  involved local NGO and KWS drive efforts to build lion proof stockades, compensation for livestock losses, financial rewards for protecting lions, sharing of revenues from tourism and education of warriors and the curious invention of lion lights by a 13 year old Maasai boy Richard Turere which we reported here. But there are two reasons why the killings of lions continue. First there is the culture of lion killing by the Maasai. Lion hunting is still appealing for warriors as those who kill lions will be championed as brave warriors.  It is completely against the law of course, but so far, no one has been arrested for any of these incidents. In fact the Minister for Forestry and Wildlife has publically exonerated the lion killers and a local member of parliament has urged the Masai to kill all “stray” lions. Kenyans are demanding that the new wildlife legislation which has been languishing in draft form since 2008 be urgently passed. In it are provisions for carrots and sticks. The Wildlife Bill will guarantee compensation against loss or damage of property at cost. It also includes severe penalties for poaching, and dealing in wildlife.  But any law is only as good as how it is implemented. So long as the Kenyan leadership continues to lack political will – lion killers will continue to escape and more lions will die. The government authority responsible for wildlife conservation, the Kenya Wildlife Service, is increasingly finding its self between a rock and a hard place as the situation continues to worsen.  Not only are the current laws out dated, but the central government has not invested adequately in conservation outside of the protected areas where 75 percent of Kenya’s wildlife resides.  Given the importance of lions to the economy, what Kenya must do is develop a national plan for managing lions in the wild at an ecosystem level. Thankfully, being the hub of conservation and research in eastern Africa, there is no shortage of experts and interest in helping the government to solve these problems. If Kenya can’t get it right, then there is little hope for Africa’s threatened cats.   In any case, Kenya does not have a choice, lions are the national symbol of the country, and a Kenya without lions is unimaginable.

As I sit here typing I can hear two lions roaring. It’s a mating ritual. It is a wonderful  earthy sound that reminds me of how lucky we are in the city of Nairobi. But I can’t help feeling that unless we solve the lion conflict situation, the lions of Nairobi will not survive for much longer.

To support our lion conservation work please make a donation today. Thank you

Outrage over lion killings in Nairobi

Lion killed in Kitengela


Yesterday mornings killing of  six lions just 15 kilometers south of the Nairobi Park has sparked outrage in the Kenyan news and the news has gone global sparking huge debate. These weren’t any old lions, they are all individually known lions The two females (AF3 and AF4) and their cubs, two juveniles and two young cubs.

6 Lions were killed in Kitengela including 2 cubs

The local communities argue that their losses of livestock are not taken seriously by the Government authorities. The Government has threatened to arrest those responsible for killing the lions which has only hardened the community stand. This morning a local elder told me angrily that he was ready to go to jail – for saving his community’s livelihood.

WildlifeDirect, working with the National Geographic Big Cats Initiative has been discussing the challenges with the local communities and seeking a lasting solution that will enable people to benefit from living lions to secure their future in this landscape. We are exploring how to secure adequate land for lions .


Six Nairobi Park Lions killed in Kitengela

It is with great sadness that we announce the killing of six lions in Kitengela this morning. The two females, two juveniles and two cubs were attacked by angry residents in a homestead 15 km south of the Nairobi National Park. The lions of Nairobi Park have been wreaking havoc amongst the residents and communities of villages and towns and residential areas around Nairobi National Park for several months now. WildlifeDirect and the Friends of Nairobi National Park have been monitoring the situation since last year and so far 149 livestock have been killed since October last year. In January 2012 three lions were killed by the community. In response the government promised to take actions and the community promised to stop killing lions. However, the situation has worsened with 115 head of livestock killed by lions since the 1st  of January.  Te problem has overwhelmed the authorities as well as the community.

embedded by Embedded Video

YouTube Direkt

The cost to the community has proven to be too great to bear and this morning the six lions were killed right inside a homestead. This video taken by Nation TV illustrates the situation

embedded by Embedded Video

YouTube Direkt






Manufacturers of Furadan to pay $170 million

Dear Friends,

We just received this news from The Defenders of Wildlife

The mind boggles that a company can afford to do so much damage and make such payments

This article is in honor of Nosioki and her cub who were poisoned this week with pesticides, possibly Furadan which is manufactured byFMC and yet not permitte dfor use in USA where it is considered too dangerous for users, consumers and the environment. The product is NOT banned in Kenya although FMC claim to have removed the product from the shelves in the country.  It is alleged that the Furadan that was mopped up in Kenya was moved to Tanzania and Uganda from where it returns to Kenya in the boots of cars and on the backs of bicycles.


Even Lion Guardians couldnt prevent Nosioki from being killed with pesticide

Even the best conservation efforts by Lion Guardians couldn't prevent Nosioki from being killed with pesticide

WASHINGTON, D.C.–The Department of Justice and the Environmental Protection Agency today announced that FMC Corporation, Inc. has agreed to spend a total of approximately $170 million — including the largest civil penalty ever obtained under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) of $11,864,800 — to settle charges that it repeatedly violated the hazardous waste law at its phosphorus production facility in Pocatello, Idaho.

The government’s claims against FMC include numerous RCRA violations, the most serious of which involve mismanagement of ignitable and reactive phosphorus wastes in ponds. Storage of such hazardous wastes in ponds is prohibited by RCRA because of the potential threat to human health and the environment. The sediments in these ponds burn vigorously and persistently when exposed to the air, and a number of fires have been documented at these ponds in the past. The wastes in these ponds also generate phosphine and hydrogen cyanide, highly toxic gases that can cause serious health and environmental problems. FMC at times has reported elevated levels of phosphine around the ponds, and it is believed that migratory bird deaths in the area also may be attributable to phosphine poisoning.

“Everyone managing hazardous waste should be on notice that the federal government will strongly enforce the nation’s laws to ensure the safe operation of all facilities to protect public health and our environment,” EPA Administrator Carol M. Browner. “The people of Pocatello deserve the clean, healthy air and water this settlement will ensure.”

“FMC for many years operated its hazardous waste ponds in disregard of the law and the people who live in and around Pocatello, Idaho, including members of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribe. The people of this community deserve better than that,” said Lois J. Schiffer, Assistant Attorney General for Environment and Natural Resources. “That’s why today’s announcement is so important. It means cleaner air, cleaner water and healthier communities in the Pocatello region. It also puts industry on notice that the federal government will not tolerate illegal handling of hazardous waste.”

FMC will close surface ponds previously used to store and manage hazardous ignitable and reactive phosphorus wastes. In addition, FMC will construct a $40 million waste treatment plant to deactivate the phosphorus bearing wastes in order to avoid the inherent threats posed by the handling of such hazardous materials. This treatment plant will be subject to interim status and permitting requirements under RCRA, which will include public notice and comment prior to EPA approval. FMC also will implement upgrades to its facility to meet RCRA secondary containment requirements for all pipes, tanks, and other units handling these types of wastes. FMC also will undertake a comprehensive environmental management system to ensure future compliance with the law. Costs associated with all the injunctive relief required under the settlement are expected to exceed $90 million.

FMC is one of the world’s leading producers of chemicals and machinery for industry, government and agriculture. With sales of $4.5 billion to over 100 countries, the company operates 115 manufacturing facilities and mines in 24 countries. FMC’s Idaho facility is the world’s largest producer of elemental phosphorus, which is used in detergents, beverages, foods, synthetic lubricants, and pesticides, and is located on privately owned land within the Shoshone-Bannock Tribe’s Fort Hall Indian reservation. Operating at the present site since 1949, FMC processes about 1.4 million tons of shale ore per year, which produces about 250 million pounds of elemental phosphorus a year. The bulk of the wastes generated from these processes are hazardous wastes regulated under RCRA.

FMC also has committed to over a dozen Supplemental Environmental Projects (“SEPs”) with a capital cost of $63 million, which will significantly improve air quality in the Pocatello region through a reduction of approximately 436 tons of particulate matter per year in emissions of dust and soot at the facility. As a final SEP, FMC will conduct a $1.65 million public health assessment and education program to investigate the effects of contaminants generated by FMC on human health and the environment, particularly within nearby tribal lands.

Total injunctive relief costs of approximately $93 million, SEP costs of approximately $65 million, and a penalty of nearly $12 million will result in a total cost to FMC of approximately $170 million.

EPA Regional Administrator for Region 10, Chuck Clark, said, “The injunctive relief required under the settlement is sorely needed, both to bring the facility into RCRA compliance, and to protect the tribal members and surrounding community.”

“I applaud this settlement as one of the most significant environmental results in our state,” said Betty Richardson, U.S. Attorney for the District of Idaho. “We have major industries which rely upon extraction and use of natural resources in Idaho. The message to timber, mining, ranching the manufacturing companies is that they must comply with environmental laws. I commend FMC’s decision to face up to their violations and commit to a more environmentally responsible future.

” The settlement has been codified in a Consent Decree that will be made available for public notice and comment for a period of thirty days. EPA will conduct two public availability sessions in Pocatello, Idaho within this time frame.

You can get the original article here

Paula Kahumbu wins 2011 National Geographic Society/Buffett Award for Leadership in African Conservation

WildlifeDirect Executive Director Dr. Paula Kahumbu has for the second time this year won a National Geographic award after being declared the winner of the prestigious National Geographic Society/Buffet Award for Leadership in African Conservation. Moi Enomenga, a community leader of the Huaorani people from the Ecuadorian Amazon, who is working to preserve his cultural heritage and the forests where his people live, is the winner of the award for South America. Previously, in May 2011, Dr. Kahumbu was named – together with 13 other trailblazers – as a National Geographic Emerging Explorer for 2011.

Kahumbu and Enomenga have been recognized for their “outstanding leadership and the vital role they play in managing and protecting the natural resources in their regions. They are inspirational conservation advocates who serve as role models and mentors in their communities,” said Peter Raven, chairman of the Conservation Trust, the body that screens the submitted nominations.

Kahumbu’s award is in recognition of her work at WildlifeDirect. As the Executive Director of WildlifeDirect, she uses the power of the Internet to spotlight key conservation issues and raise awareness and donations for projects saving wildlife and wild places. Thanks to her efforts, about 120 conservation projects have an online platform to share challenges and victories via blogs, videos, photos and podcasts, saving species from ants to lions. By celebrating the work of conservation heroes, Kahumbu has turned WildlifeDirect into a tool to advocate for and share home-grown conservation solutions to such challenges as ivory and rhino horn poaching, roads through parks, climate change and wildlife conflict in areas that neighbor parks.

The National Geographic/Buffet Award for conservation leadership in Africa is given to one African conservation leader every year by Howard Buffet the president of the Howard G. Buffett Foundation, which focuses on humanitarian and conservation issues. The award is the greatest accolade that Kahumbu has ever received for her work. She will be presented with the award and a cash prize of USD 25,000 on the 21st of June at a ceremony at the National Geographic Society.

Read the press release announcing the two winners at the National Geographic website

paula with telescope

Who is Paula Kahumbu?

Coached and mentored by legendary Kenyan conservationist Dr. Richard Leakey, who remains one of her closest allies and supporters, Nairobi, Kenya-born Kahumbu has had an illustrious career more than spanning two decades. Her entry into conservation work was marked by one of the most memorable event in the history of elephant conservation when she was assigned the task of weighing Kenya’s ivory stockpile prior to the 1989 ivory burning ceremony – a powerful international statement that Kenya would not tolerate the effect of the trade in ivory on her elephants. She would later deliver passionate and forceful speeches at two consecutive conferences of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) as head of the Kenya delegation – while working for the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) – to the convention.

Kahumbu’s achievements are numerous. While conducting her PhD research on elephants in Shimba Hills at the Kenya coast, Shestarted the Colobus Trust – a volunteer organization that conserves the black and white colobus and other primates in the resort beachfront of Diani – and introduced the colbus bridges or “colobridges” to help the monkeys cross the busy Diani highway. All the while, she was singlehandedly raising her 2 year old son Joshua – now a grown man serving in the US Navy.

After attaining her doctorate from the prestigious Princeton University, Kahumbu would briefly return to KWS before joining Bamburi Cement where she launched the environmental subsidiary, Lafarge Eco Systems. She published the best selling childrens book, Owen and Mzee (Scholastic Press), the story of the giant tortoise that adopted a baby hippo orphaned by the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami. The book sold more than 1 million copies and is translated into 27 languages.

Kahumbu joined WildlifeDirect in 2007 and spearheaded its growth into Africa’s largest wildlife conservation blogging platform. With a keen eye, she noticed reports of poisoning of wildlife in several blogs. The poison used in all cases was Furadan, an American made pesticide formulation of the lethal chemical carbofuran. She documented the massive nationwide misuse of Furadan for killing lions, other predators, scavengers and wetland birds and the catastrophic decline of Kenya’s lion and vulture populations that this caused. KWS estimate a population of fewer than 2000 lions and the vulture population is said to have declined by between 50% and 80% due to poisoning. Kahumbu led a campaign against Furadan resulting in the manufacturer, FMC Corporation of Philadelphia, withdrawing the product from East African market but it still is in use and birds and fish are still being poisoned. Kahumbu still campaigns for a total ban and revocation of licenses for the deadly poison.

Kahumbu is known for her passion and recently, she has taken up the task of ensuring that development in the outskirts of Nairobi City do not compromise the wellbeing of the wildlife of Nairobi National Park, the city’s ‘green’ jewel. Convinced that the park is integral to the value of the city for instance, she has persuaded many organizations including KWS, ILRI, the community, AWF, the Wildlife Foundation, ACC, the Friends of Nairobi National Park, the Kenya Land Conservation Trust, WildlifeDirect, private land owners and many others to conduct an ecosystem wide wildlife census that will help guide the decisions taken by the ministry of transport regarding the controversial Greater Southern Bypass. She chairs the board of the volunteer organization, Friends of Nairobi National Park, whose sole mission is to preserve the beautiful and unique park.

Kahumbu’s education and passion for championing the environment cause has greatly influenced others to take up the mantle. William Kimosop, who recently opened a hiking trail across Kenya’s Great Rift Valley to conserve the Greater Kudu and connect communities through ecotourism, and Anthony Kasanga who saves lions in the Mbirikani area near Tsavo National Park – and who recently returned from Oxford University with a diploma in wildlife management after being spotted by the prestigious school on the WildlifeDirect blogs – are just a couple of the many she has inspired.

Kahumbu recently launched a partnership with Screaming Reels Production where she presents the documentary series, Wildlife Sentinels, reporting on news from the conservation frontline and bringing to light the ivory trade, poaching, human wildlife conflict and other real life wildlife stories.

“All Kenyans should be thrilled that Paula has been recognized for her achievements through the National Geographic/Howard Buffet Award. She is the country’s most passionate advocate for wildlife conservation and has made enormous personal sacrifices to protect it. Her efforts to have the pesticide carbofuran (sold locally as Furadan) banned have so far not been received well by the relevant ministries in Kenya, but this award will boost interest locally and internationally and I urge the government of Kenya to fully support Kahumbu’s initiatives to save Kenya’s unique wildlife heritage” said Richard Leakey, proud of the talent he has helped nurture.

Nairobi National Park, the cities greatest asset is at risk

One of the things that keeps me awake at night is the fact that wildlife declines are being documented right across Africa. Two recent scientific articles have made the headlines across the world – both were written by Joseph Ogutu a Kenyan scientist now based in Germany. Ogutu has shown through analysis of long term game counts, that the migratory wildlife of the Masai Mara ecosystem is in decline. That fact should wake a few decision making Kenyans up for several reasons.

Nairobi is no ordinary city, the Park is its greatest asset

Nairobi is no ordinary city, the Park is it's greatest asset

Tourism brings in 12% of Kenya’s GDP and multiple sectors benefit from visitors pouring into the country from small scale farmers, who produces the food, to hotels, tour companies, transport companies, and curio shops. Hundreds of thousands of Kenyans depend on the tourism industry, and it’s collapse would be deadly for Kenyans as we witnessed in the aftermath of the post election violence. Yet Kenyans are silent about wildlife declines at home even though it threatens to strip the capital city of one of our most loved icons, the Nairobi National Park.

Nairobi as a major African city that is characterized by it’s spectacular wildlife show case right in a major urban center. Although there are thousands of resident wildlife in Nairobi Park, the wildebeest, zebra, gazelles and hartebeest have for millennia used the park as a dry season refuge and move out of the park during the rains into surrounding grasslands that are occupied by Maasai pastoralists. They move to avoid diseases and predators, mainly lions, that hide in the long grass to ambush their prey. There is no other capital city in the world that can boast such wildlife spectacles, and indeed the Nairobi Park is the city’s Eiffel Tower.

This park which is entirely contained within in the city boundaries, is unique in that it is still home to all the big 5 (although elephants are contained at the David Sheldrick Trust on the park boundary, and is home to a wildebeest and zebra migration that is dependent on seasonal access to grazing and calving zones south of the park. This dispersal area is not contained within the city boundaries – at least not yet.

It is only a matter of time before the city boundaries stretch and swallow the environs south of the park. That’s because the city is going through major urban expansion, it is in growth mode as it consolidates its position as the regional hub for Eastern Africa. As most Nairobians would witness, development over the last 40 years has been largely as unplanned leading to disastrous outcomes like slums, pollution, uncollected garbage, water lines contaminated with sewage, power rationing, insecurity, traffic jams.. the list goes on and on. Continued unplanned development will threaten to swallow up the park and further fragment and change the land on which the wildlife depend. In addition, in trying to ease traffic across the city, the Kenya government has proposed to construct the Greater Southern Bypass, a mega highway that is proposed to cut right across the wildlife dispersal area. If it comes into being as proposed, it will disconnect the wildlife from it’s dispersal area effectively strangling the ecosystems lifeline. If that happens, Nairobi will lose one of it’s most valuable assets.

Is this really development

Is this really development?

So the challenge is to have a city and to safeguard this globally important wildlife asset through planned development that takes the needs of the wildlife and the people into consideration. We need to develop an economic environmental analysis to establish the value of the proposition from a conservation point of view and a business proposition to land owners. It will include a cost-benefit analysis particularly with a view to the Greater Southern Bypass.

But how do we know that the dispersal area is still critical for the survival of wildlife in the Nairobi Park? How many animals still use the vast dispersal area in Kitengela south of the park? Where is the data? This is the first step that we must undertake. We are finding out how important the dispersal area is for the parks wildlife by conducting game counts in the park and it’s ecosystem. The counts started on 4th of June have been organized by the Friends of Nairobi Park and ILRI, with help from the Kenya Land Conservation Trust, KWS, Africa Conservation Center, the local communities, the Wildlife Foundation and some individuals.
These counts will reveal the wet season extent of wildlife movements from the park. The major donors are WildlifeDirect, the African Wildlife Foundation, FoNNaP and friends. The counts include aerial counts conducted by the Directorate of Resource Survey and Remote Sensing over the entire ecosystem. These WildlifeDirect and partners are mounting a campaign to save the wildlife of Nairobi National Park. counts which started in 1977 used to be conducted annually but were halted in 2007 due to financial constraints. We have conducted the 18th count of the ecosystem which will reveal long term ecosystem wide changes in key ungulate species. They are fully funded by WildlifeDirect and the African Wildlife Foundation.
The Nairobi National Park game counts are organized by KWS every 2 weeks since 1960, and are conducted by volunteers of Friends of Nairobi National Park. Until now, the data have never been analysed and published but we are rectifying that in a joint scientific publication with Joseph Ogutu. These data spanning 42 years will reveal changes only in the parks total wildlife numbers.

The Nairobi Park wildlife dispersal area comprises 2,200 km2 just south of the park – an area we call Kitengela. The community have previously conducted two counts here in 2005 and 2007 to document the distribution and numbers of wildlife in the landscape. This will be the third count and will give us wet season data that we can compare to a dry season count later in the year. This 20 day count will involve 40 members of the local community walking in 5 km transects over a distance of nearly 800 km in total. They will count all wildlife species, livestock, cars and dogs. The data collected will be mapped to illustrate the distribution of wildlife. The Maasai want to participate in the data interpretation and to have all the reports prepared in their own language and disseminated through out the Kajioado district.

Finally, the vast private ranches of Machakos comprising 400km2 is a different district but part of the same ecosystem will be counted by car as it has been done fore more than 10 years. Results from this count will reveal what is happening to wildlife numbers in a part of the ecosystem that is largely cut off from the rest of the dispersal area by the presence of .

All of these data will be analysed and the results compiled into scientific publications as well as reports for public consumption.

The outcome of these historic counts will provide some of the scientific basis for keeping the dispersal area open and promoting developments that take into consideration the needs of wildlife and people. Perhaps then Nairobi can thoughtfully plan the expansion of the great city and become an exemplar to every other capital city in Africa.

Paula Kahumbu interviewed by Yale Environment 360

WildlifeDirect Executive Director, Dr. Paula Kahumbu, was recently interviewed by Christina Russo of Yale Environment 360. In the Interview posted on 8 June 2011, Paula spoke at length about her work at WildlifeDirect and our triumphs and struggles as we battle to preserve Africa’s magnificent animals.

portrait small

When asked who are the WildlifeDirect bloggers, Paula said “These are hands-on conservationists. Some of them are community-based people working in the field… All of those people who are doing conservation work on species, even if they aren’t as majestic or charismatic as the lions or the mountain gorillas, there is a really good chance that somebody will see their work [on our site]. Many of our bloggers were completely unknown until they started blogging on WildlifeDirect.” Paula emphasises that bloggers are the backbone of the organisation.

I would not want to interpret the interview for you… but rather, I invite you to read the entire interview over at Yale Environment 360.