If you missed the discussion on #NTVWild about Mzima Springs, Mzima: Haunt of the Riverhorse (the film), Tsavo National Parks and conservation issues in that region of Kenya, watch it here
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We have always had conflict in the world but it is worse in rural indigenous communities who in most cases are isolated and marginalized by governments. The conservation community is right is in thinking something needs be done to address this. Recently, I was requested to take part in a resource use planning process, for enhanced development of pastoralist communities living in Northern Kenya. So, my adventurous travels started from Nairobi, through the former central, rift valley, western, back to the rift valley again, and finally ending up in the Eastern province of Kenya.
I will be here for sometime trying to collect information on how best the resources of the Sibiloi National Park can be utilized by the communities to improve their livelihoods while conserving them. KWS, National Museums of Kenya and Turkana Basin Institute, three major stakeholders in the initiative want to stimulate community participation and contribution in the process so as to make it successful and sustainable.
The communities living around the lake and the park are all pastoralists. The Gabra, Turkana, Daasanach and the El Moro share the resources, which they mainly use as pastureland for their animals. Historically, there have been conflict over the access and usage of these resources often leading to fighting and loss of life. Compounded with frequent and long dry spells, this factor poses a great threat to resource conservation and development activities in the area. I was welcomed by news of the current conflict whereby one Daasanach elder was killed by Gabra people while following his lost donkeys. In retaliation, the Daasanach are said to have killed a Gabra and are demanding for the return of their donkeys or they go into war. The Daasanach, who are better warriors and have access to more sophisticated arms, have their community stretching across the Kenya-Ethiopian border.
The KWS officers and other government administrative arms are doing their best to resolve the dispute and we hope peace will prevail. Keep reading for more updates from here, the North.
Dear friends, in view of the scary season we thought we’d give you something disgusting. Here’s a podcast about Dino’s favourite people, maggots. Enjoy! Let us know what you think
We are indebted to Scott Ward for this guest post who wrote from Amboseli National Park with spectacular photographs he took there. Scott raises some tough questions. Read more about Scott Ward below.
Photo Scott Ward
As I drove into Amboseli National Park from across the long dry lakebed, I was immediately taken aback by the large number of carcasses that were dotted everywhere. In some places it seemed as though a bomb went off and destroyed every living creation within a large area. It seemed as though a great battle took place with no one winning. Among the dead an inordinate amount of hyenas plundered the dead and decaying. Of course, to me, the saddest thing was to see the giant decomposing bodies of elephants. If elephants lived as short of lives as mice, bred like rabbits, and were abundant, I might be able to relegate their death to just a mere cycle of nature. But I think it is more than that. When one sees a wild elephant up close and experiences the wisdom of long years in her life and the power within her massive body one quickly realizes that we are sharing our planet with a truly wondrous creation. The death of one of these magnificent creatures somehow diminishes our Earth.
Amboseli drought photo from http://www.elephanttrust.org
But in the midst of the macabre dance of the hyena, there is life and green. Rain has returned to Amboseli – maybe not in the abundance that was hoped for, but arrived nonetheless. As I drove through the park it was wonderful to see elephants playing in the chest deep water as if celebrating themselves the return of the rains. Cape buffalo once again have mud to wallow in. Zebra and wildebeest are slowly returning. Three beautiful lion cubs were feasting on a freshly caught warthog. The Rains have returned and hope springs to life again, yet the drought has taken its toll and causes me to wonder what’s next.
Photo Scott Ward
As I sat around the pool at our lodge, I began to contemplate that probably this swimming pool was filled with water while animals perished just a short distance away. The freshly manicured grass was definitely kept watered through the long drought, while on the other side of the fence the grass literally dried to dust. Tourists enjoyed a whole host of drinks and foods while the animals struggled for a drop of water or a morsel of food. As these thoughts rolled around in my mind, I began to ask myself, “Why can’t we help?” According to leading scientists, global warming is our fault. Others say that we should not interfere – that we should take a hands-off approach to wildlife conservation. Many people just don’t care either way what happens, because they have their own life to worry about. But they did not see the casualties.
Photo Scott Ward
I certainly don’t know all the answers, but it did impress upon me the necessity to continue my support of conservation efforts. The lives of these incredible creatures are too precious to simply let them slide into eternity without a fight.
About Scott Ward: My family and I are missionaries in Northern Tanzania near Moshi. I am also an amateur photographer trying to take steps into a larger arena with my photography. I currently have a number of images in the online gallery called Art for Conservation (http://www.artforconservation.org/artists/scottward). It is here that I have been supporting the George Adamson Wildlife Preservation Trust with sales from my photographs on this site. We live right next to Mkomazi National Park and have visited with Tony and Lucy Fitzjohn who run the conservation effort there. My personal portfolio website is http://www.sbward.com. I have my sepia-toned images for sale and on display at the web address listed above. I also have some color photographs of African wildlife at http://useatripod.imagekind.com.
A Kenya Forests Service (KFS) crackdown on illegal charcoal trade in Kinango, some 70 km southeast of Mombasa, Kenya, nabbed six 3-ton trucks loaded with more than 5,000 bags of charcoal in two days starting 1 December 2009. The operation, involving 15 forest rangers, one commander, two forest officers and the District Forest Officer (DFO) also fined the 6 trucks KShs 50,000 ($650) each in addition to forfeiting their charcoal load.
To ensure that the truck crews forfeited the charcoal, the DFO had to rush to the Kwale District Coats (under whose jurisdiction Kinango is) to obtain an order allowing the crack team to confiscate the haul. The team then started disposing the charcoal by selling it to local people at KShs 300 ($4) per bag on 3 December. This is the normal way of disposing of impounded charcoal. Buyers were however suspicious thinking that they were being trapped resulting in a slow start to the disposal process. By end of Day 1 only 1/3 of the load had been sold.
According to Elias Kimaru of the Kwale landscape project of the WWF in the area more than 3,000 bags of charcoal are getting out of the area on daily basis to supply Mombasa and Nairobi. “It is also believed that some charcoal is being exported to Middle East.” Kimaru told WildlifeDirect.
Most charcoal bags weigh 50 kgs (heavy charcoal from indigenous trees). “Taking the rate of conversion from wood to charcoal to be 10%, we are talking of more than 1500 tonnes of woods is being converted from trees to charcoal daily”, adds Kimaru
According to Kimaru, most of these trees are harvested from private ranches and county council land (unprotected public land).
The result of this wanton destruction of tree cover is accelerated micro-climatic changes in the area with the inevitable outcome of prolonged drought which Kimaru says is turning the area into a desert. The Kinango area for instance has not recieved any significant rainfall for more than four years. “An area like Kilibasi which used to be self sustaining in food production in mid 80’s can not feed itself at the moment.” says Kimaru. “Water pans have dried and most cattle have died. More than 41% of the people depend on relief food on permanent basis while the poverty levels have increased to all time high of 71% (the District is among the poorest in the country).” he adds.
Ending the charcoal menace is hampered mostly by politicians who insist that charcoal burning is a means of livelihood for the local people. But Kimaru disagrees: “If it was a livelihood we would have expected a decrease in poverty levels [not] an increase.”
There is an urgent need for politicians to show willingness to link the high rate of tree destruction with increasing poverty levels in Kwale District. This is of course not likely in the near future given that – as Kimaru suspects – “some power people are benefiting from this illegal activity and they would like the status [quo] to remain.” This is corruption which in most African countries is the key impediment to conservation of forests, wildlife and entire ecosystems. It is also driving Africans deeper and deeper into poverty.
Some organizations are however working towards providing alternative fuel methods to at lease reduce local demand for charcoal and other wasteful wood fuel uses. In my next installation, I will bring you the story of one such organization that is harnessing the power of the volunteer movement to develop more efficient methods of domestic fuel consumption for local people.
Kenya just recently went through the most devastating drought in decades. It is believed that in some parts of the country, this drought was made worse by forest destruction and the resultant drying of rivers. The most dramatic case of rivers drying was experienced in the areas which source their water from the Mau Forest Complex. The Mau is the largest continuous forest area in East Africa and is the source of many rivers including the Mara River, which runs through, and is the lifeline, of Kenya’s most celebrated wildlife conservation area – the Masai Mara National Reserve.
The Mau Complex in Kenya (Map: BBC News)
For years, the Mau has suffered severe destruction as land hungry Kenyans invade the forest, sometimes with government consent and fraudulently issued legal land ownership documents. According to the BBC “During the past 15 years, more than 100,000 hectares – one quarter of the protected forest reserve – had been settled and cleared.” About 20,000 families had settled in the forest.
In the last few years, the government has been working on the removal of these illegal settlers from this forest complex which is the largest of the country’s 5 most important ‘water towers’. Now it seems that the government is succeeding, but it has not been – as usual -without its fair share of politics. Of course, where voters are concerned, the politicians will take sides depending on which block of the electorate they want to align themselves with.
That said, the first batch of illegal settlers started leaving the forest a couple of days ago. This, in environmental terms is good as the government has promissed to plant 100-million trees to replace those felled by the settlers. It is a good start but it will definitely take decades before the rivers of the Mau can once again flow as they did before the 1990s.
This eviction however introduces a sad humanitarian crisis since many of the evictees have nowhere else to go. Many have resigned to a life of squalor on the outskirts of the forest, along major roads. The government says it has plans to resettle those who are genuinely homeless in the same fashion it is assisting the IDPs who resulted from the violent fallout from the disputed 2007 presidential elections. We however know how these things work.
To really know how the government is likely to deal with this huge humanitarian burden, you just need to reflect back to the case of evictees that came from the Mount Kenya Forest. This particular group had been living in the forest when the colonial government demarcated the forest reserve in 1950. In 1989 however, they were evicted after they started encroaching further into the forest. Since then, they stayed by the roadside until July 2009 when they were allocated land in Laikipia area north of Mount Kenya. They had been on the roadside for 20 years.
Is the eviction of 20,000 humans out of the forest a good thing? I would say yes. They need to get out so that the work of rehabilitating the forest can start in earnest. But, the government should act with haste to find alternative agricultural land to settle these people so that they can once again engage in economic activities that help in building the nation.
Evictees cannot be allowed to go back to the Mau. That would make matters worse. They should not be relocated to another protected area. There are still large tracts of land owned by a few rich Kenyans. Such land is lying idle and underutilized despite the fact that it is in prime agricultural areas. The government should force these greedy landowners to sell this land and use it to settle the landless.
In a previous story about cattle dying in the Nairobi Park We have been going purple in the face trying to raise awareness about the public health, ecological and economic threat facing Kenya as a consequence of uncontrolled movements of cattle during the current drought.
This is Dauti Kahura story published in today’s East African Standard
A week ago, a man died of anthrax in Nyeri after eating infected cow meat. A week earlier, although not reported, two rhinos from Nairobi National Park died of anthrax. The Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) confirmed the cause of deaths.
The death of the man should raise the red flag. There is great fear that some of the meat being sold in and around Kitengela and Ongata Rongai butcheries could be contaminated with anthrax, foot and mouth and east coast fever. Investigations by The Standard on Saturday revealed that sick and dying cattle are slaughtered on the roadsides and expose nearby communities to outbreaks.
Last week, five kilometres into Masai Lodge Road in Ongata Rongai where herders have set up temporary bomas, The Standard on Saturday team found sickly cattle being slaughtered for distribution to neighbouring butcheries.
Mr Rolf Schmid, a restaurateur who has lived in the area for almost two decades, raised the alarm.
“My first instinct was to contact the Ministry of Health and veterinary officials to come and witness the slaughter of dying cattle,” he said.
The Ministry of Public Health officers and vets from Kajiado concur that some of the cattle appeared sickly although not all were emaciated. The Government health officials, who sought anonymity because they are not authorised to be quoted, confirmed that the animals pose danger.
Due to drought, Maasai herders drive the cattle up to the city and many of them are kept in bomas along Mombasa Road. Tens of thousands of cattle that have been migrating from Loitokitok, Tsavo West, Kibwezi, Sultan Hamud and Kajiado are also being held in bomas on the northern and southern sides of the Nairobi National Park.
By day, these cattle are hosted on the local ranches around the park and by night driven inside it for grazing. Early this week, The Standard on Saturday observed hundreds of cattle being driven into the park on the southern end from the Masai Lodge Road. Tired and exhausted, they walked in a profile, with some not completing the journey.
herding in parks
According to a KWS senior warden, herders have been cutting the fence to allow large numbers of cattle into the park. KWS impounded 1,000 cattle and when the herders came for them the next day, they said some of the animals belong to “well connected Kenyans”.
Due to severe drought and exhaustion of grazing fields, Nairobi National Park is the only location in city with ample grazing field.
But now it is also massively threatened with decimation. More worrying is the fact that the wild animals are also at great risk of being infected with diseases. KWS officials say some antelopes have been infected with foot and mouth.
In a meeting this weekend with the warden of Nairobi National Park, Mr. Michael Wanjau of KWS and some other government officials as well as residents of the area, it was revealed that tens of thousands of cattle are grazing in the Nairobi National Park as a result of the ongoing devastating drought.
Mr Wanjau admitted that the numbers of cattle in the park has reached record levels. So weak from walking hundreds of kilometers in search of grazing, many do not make it.
Some herders are cutting the fence of the park to let cattle in. Some are being herded across rivers.
The southern part of Nairobi park is littered with cattle carcasses and vultures, hyenas and lions have eaten their fill.
Out on the staging grounds in Kitengela adjacent to the park where cattle are gathering, hundreds are dying and nobody is removing carcasses. The Kenya Meat Commission tried to buy up the herds for Ksh 8,000 per cow (about 100$) but herders have refused to sell, they say they are hoping for rain.
Some dead and dying cattle are being butchred on the roadsides which poses a horrific public health situation. The Ministry of Health is being informed as I write this blog post.
Many cows affected by foot and mouth disease simply cannot walk anymore like this calf. She lay down by one of the entrances to KWS and just died right there. It broke my heart that no one would touch her or put her out of her misery for fear of whatever disease she was suffering from.
The meeting on Saturday felt that the situation is a crisis and are demanding that the governmetn conduct compulsoray purchase of cattle to avert a public health and environmental disaster. But it is being whispered that these cattle are owned by rich and powerful Kenyans, a challenge that few Kenyans are willing to take head on.
A race against time
Published in the East African Standard
By Dauti Kahura
Conservationists and wildlife experts have sounded alarm bells over declining numbers of wildlife, which contributes 70 per cent of the country’s tourism earnings.
“What is happening with the wildlife is worse than the degradation of the Mau complex,” says Dr Joseph Ogutu, an ecologist with the International Livestock Research Institute (Ilri) based in Nairobi. “The decline of wildlife is real and frightening and we need to act fast,” he says.
Ogutu says the decline is in the protected and non-protected areas. Protected areas are the national parks and game reserves while the non-protected ones are pastoral lands and group ranches that surround parks and reserves. Two weeks ago, a conference in Beijing, China heard that the number of wildlife in East Africa is being depleted.
Dr Paula Kahumbu of Wildlife Direct, who attended the conference, says Kenya’s wildlife is at greater risk of eradication.
The country loses between four and five per cent of its wildlife annually. The Department of Remote Sensing and Resource Surveys (DRSRS), a Government department formerly known as Kenya Rangeland Ecological Monitoring Unit, says wildlife has declined by more than a third over the last 25 years.
Kenya has 23 parks, which fall directly under the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) and 26 national reserves, which are under the district administration.
The country also has the largest bio-diversity of large animals in the world. Masai Mara has the largest concentration of wildlife and hosts 25 per cent of the national total, underscoring its importance.
With this resource under threat, conservationists say the Government should use all means to preserve it. Ogutu, who has been doing research in the Mara ecosystem since 1989, says drought, changing land use, climate change and poaching are a threat to the resource.
“KWS is in denial of what’s happening,” says Ogutu.
He says the organisation is only present in the national parks and the game reserves but absent at the group and private ranches. The unprotected areas hold about 65 per cent of the total wildlife and hence hold the key to the future. KWS has refuted claims of wildlife decline. Corporate Communications Manager Paul Udoto says KWS cannot conclusively say whether the animals are decreasing or increasingly generally. Udoto says one could only talk of specific species.
Ogutu lists the most affected parks as Masai Mara Game Reserve, an area that covers 5,600sq km, Tsavo East and West, Meru National Park, Nairobi National Park, which includes the Athi Kaputiei ecosystem. Lake Nakuru National Park has also been affected. The Athi Kaputiei, for instance, had one of the most spectacular migrations of wildebeest after Mara but the migration has all but fizzled. At the height of the migration, the animals ranged between 10,000-15,000 in the early 1990s.
“Today, it would be a spectacle if you spotted 300 wildebeests,” says Ogutu.
The situation at the Nairobi National Park, the only park within a 10km radius of a metropolis in the world, is severe. This is because of the drying up of its only permanent river, Athi River.
“Many crocodiles, hippos and fish have died,” says Ogutu. Poaching has also been cited as one of greatest factors leading to the decline. Richard Leakey, who is the founding director of KWS, says poaching could be on an unprecedented scale perhaps not experienced since the days of Wildlife Conservation and Management Department, the KWS predecessor.
“When former President Moi asked me 1989 to redirect the conservation of wildlife, poaching was rampant,” recalls Leakey.
He says black and white rhinos have been lost in large numbers in the protected and unprotected areas and KWS does not know the exact number of the species so it cannot quantify the loss. Leakey believes rangers could be abetting poaching. KWS senior wardens who sought anonymity concurred.
“Our rangers have become demoralised and demotivated, it is true they are abetting the wildlife poaching especially the big mammals like elephants and the rhino, said a senior warden at the KWS headquarters.
Tsavo East and West national parks have one third of the total number of all the elephants in the country. There are currently 38,000 elephants. Although the numbers have been on the increase, about 400 elephants are lost yearly, says Leakey.
Another major crisis that is threatening the existence of wildlife is the cattle incursion in the parks. Udoto concedes KWS is aware livestock owners are encroaching on the parks to the detriment of wildlife.
In the Nairobi National Park, it is estimated about 20,000 cows graze there at night.
Some livestock owners claim to pay Sh10 per cow to the rangers to be allowed into the park. Besides depleting food resources, livestock could carry diseases that are harmful to the wildlife.
The drought situation in Kenya has reached critical levels far worse than I reported earlier. The government has finally admitted that livestock have invaded the national parks. Kenya has always had droughts but rarely this serious.
“This drought may be at least as bad as the drought of 1964 when 90% of Kenya’s livestock perished”. Richard Leakey
In Nairobi Park the herders are increasingly brazen – a sure sign that enforcement is failing. I’ve watched herds of cattle entering the park in broad daylight and within sight of the KWS rangers and gates. Reports are ignored and it often feels like patrols are sent in the other direction.
The herders don’t bother hiding what they are doing and cattle are no longer kept to out of sight valleys, but are being taken right across the plains reducing habitat for wildlife and forcing herds of zebra, wildebeest, eland and buffalo to move further west close to the KWS main gate and very close to the bustling city.
In my experience, KWS are not keen to answer tough questions so I stopped to talk to the Masai herdsmen in Kitengela as they cooked a pot of tea on a 3 stone fire, beside their makeshift plastic tarp tent. They had over 300 cows in an area 30m x 30 m. The cows had been brought here from Kajado, near the Tanzania border. They are held in tiny fenced plots to sleep on top of their own dung, then herded out to graze and get water. There is no regard for land ownership – most trails lead to the park.
I asked if they were allowed in the park to which they said No, we get chased but we have no choice.
The cattle have devastated the land outside the park and are dying on the road side. A few have even been slaughted for sale to local residents before succumbing to natural death.
These herders know it’s illegal to use the park and they claim that KWS are arresting them. This we’re told leads to a night or two in cells before being released. It’s not a nice experience and the cattle suffer in their absence. To avoid getting arrested the herders are now sending women and children into the park with the cattle. It’s impossible to arrest a child, and women claim that they are starving themselves and can’t control the cattle.
The Kenyan government is meeting today to discuss this urgent issue. But as one person on twitter commented ‘the cows need water and hay, not more cabinet meetings’.
The current situation is bad in Nairobi, but it’s a picnic compared to what’s happening in Samburu.
We have been told by authoritative sources that Shaba National Park in Samburu is not only full of livestock and people, but that they are actually settling there. I suspect that this is happening because the government has been promising to compensate all the settlers in the Mau and other Forest. While it might sound compassionate, this will lead to perverse incentives. I predict that in coming weeks and months, we will the aggressive invasion of our national forests and parks and reserves. Those now settled in Shaba National Reserve are unlikely to move, even after the drought ends, unless they get a hefty compensation. Where the money will come from is any ones guess, tourism revenue here is probably a shadow of it’s former potential, and no normal tourist will agree to spend 40$ to see starving and dead cattle in a degraded overgrazed park.
The problem is not unique to Kenya but is also affecting Tanzania and Ethiopia where over 200,000 Kenyan cattle have migrated from northern Kenya into southern Ethiopia, the largest migration in over 10 years.