Category Archives: Poisoning wildlife

Leakey interview in SWARA and on NTV Wild Talk at 10 pm

NTV Wild Talk, broadcast an interview with Richard Leakey about the past and the present for wildlife and heritage in Kenya. It aired on Tuesday March 15 on NTV at 10 pm.
I also want to draw attention to the new article in SWARA here  in which he states

“Parks will only be sustainable if Kenyans want them to be sustainable. Middle class Kenyans who own TV sets watch international soccer, international vanity shows and news but none of them watch wildlife programmes because they’ve never been put on air in this country.”

Richard Leakey

This sentiment is the reason that we created NTV Wild. For those who have not been able to catch previous episodes, NTV Wild is a partnership between NTV, WildlifeDirect and KWS to broadcast wildlife documentaries made in Kenya and Africa on national Television for the first time in our history to inspire Kenyans to visit our parks and appreciate our spectacular wildlife heritage. The program airs on Saturdays and a discussion program on Tuesdays.
This is the list of all the NTV Wild documentaries so far on Saturday’s at 8 pm
1. Mzima Haunt of the River Horse – Mark Deeble and Vicky Stone
2. The Last Lions – Derek and Beverly Joubert
3. African Cats – DisneyNature
4. Here be Dragons – Alan Root
5. Battle For the Elephants – Nat Geo
6. The Queen of Trees – Mark Deeble and Vicky Stone
NTV Wild Talk on Tuesdays at 10 pm

 

Launching the series with Jonathan Scott

 

NTV Wild Talk S1 E1 “The mystery of Mzima”

 NTV Wild Talk S1 E2 “Kenya-US relations in protecting wildlife”

NTV Wild Talk S1 E3 “Stopping wildlife trafficking through Kenya”

NTV Wild Talk S1 E4 “Saving Kenya’s big cats”

NTV Wild Talk S1 E5 “Safeguarding Karura Forest”

 

TV Wild Talk S1 E6 “Wildlife Newbies & Champions”

In this episode: Kitili Mbathi shares the challenges & successes at KWS, Lena Munge tells of how she hopes to transform the Masai Mara, Najib Balala explains why he jumped off a plane for conservation & 12 yr old Luca Berardi stresses the importance of wildlife for future generations.

Both the documentaries and the talk shows have been trending on twitter since we began 7 weeks ago and people are telling us that they are setting their alarm clocks to catch the programs. We are already on week 7 and we have 45 more  to go! Enjoy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

http://www.theguardian.com/environment/africa-wild/2015/dec/09/the-marsh-pride-end-of-an-era#_=_

Sights from Hands Off Our Elephants Official Launch

Seated from left to right: Dr. Manu Chandaria; Mr Francis Kimemia (Secretary to the Cabinet); Dr. Evans Kidero (Governor, Nairobi County); Prof. Judi Wakhungu (Cabinet Secretary, Ministry of Environment); Her Excellency The First Lady, Mrs. Margaret Kenyatta; John Heminway (Chairman, WildlifeDirect)

Seated from left to right:
Dr. Manu Chandaria; Mr Francis Kimemia (Secretary to the Cabinet); Dr. Evans Kidero (Governor, Nairobi County); Prof. Judi Wakhungu (Cabinet Secretary, Ministry of Environment); Her Excellency The First Lady, Mrs. Margaret Kenyatta (Patron, Hands Off Campaign); John Heminway (Chairman, WildlifeDirect)

Here are some pictures from the Launch of Hands Off Our Elephants campaign. The event took place at Sankara Hotel in Nairobi and was attended by The First Lady Mrs. Margaret Kenyatta – Patron, Hands Off Campaign, Cabinet Secretaries, Members of the Diplomatic Corps, and many Heads of Conservation Organizations in Kenya.

There was also the Premiere screening of the documentary film “Battle for Elephants” which details the illegal ivory trade in Kenya and Tanzania.

 

Her Excellency The First Lady and John Heminway wearing Hands Off our Elephants mourning bands

Her Excellency The First Lady and John Heminway wearing Hands Off our Elephants mourning bands

 

From left to right: Prof. Judi Wakhungu; Her Excellency the First Lady (Patron of Hands Off Campaign), John Heminway, Dr. Titus Naikuni (CEO, Kenya Airways) & Dr. Richard Leakey

From left to right: Prof. Judi Wakhungu; Her Excellency the First Lady (Patron of Hands Off Campaign), John Heminway( Chairman, WildlifeDirect), Dr. Titus Naikuni (Group Managing Director & CEO, Kenya Airways) & Dr. Richard Leakey(Founder, WildlifeDirect)

 

 

 

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.

FMC TO PAY LARGEST RCRA SETTLEMENT IN ENVIRONMENTAL ENFORCEMENT HISTORY

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

Kenyan 65 tons of ivory stockpiled should be destroyed

I was interviewed on national television after last weeks ivory burn when local journalists began to ask the question – why was no Kenyan ivory burned on the 22nd of July along with the contraband Zambian and Malawian ivory?

This piece aired on Saturday and it obviously raised some ugly discussions – I had to explain my statements (don’t ask to whom but know it’s someone big?). I stand by my statement that legal ivory trade has triggered illegal ivory trade and killing of elephants leading. The trading status of China and Japan should be revoked, and Kenya should have burned at least 5 tons of ivory along with the Zambian/Malawian stocks.

embedded by Embedded Video

YouTube DirektIVory burned in Kenya

I asked the KWS Director why not a gram of Kenyan ivory was burned he said that the Kenyan Government recognizes the Kenyan stockpile as an asset and the process of destroying is rather bureaucratic. Mr Kipngetich said he does not see it being destroyed within the next 18 months. What a lost opportunity for us. A massive shame on all of us for failing to use the opportunity to make a much more dramatic statement.

PS. The day after the ivory was burned, KWS pilot Lelesit lost his life after conducting a patrol – his plane crash landed and he died on the spot. I met him in Galana when we rescued a shot elephant Akili a few weeks ago.  Lelesit was one of Kenya’s top conservation pilots and his death is a massive loss to conservation. We send our  heartfelt condolences to his family and friends.

Pesticide poisoning is wiping out Kenya’s Wildlife

Dear Friends,

This was in Toda’s Nation Newspaper

Pesticide devastating Kenya’s wildlife

Posted  Monday, June 20 2011 at 15:47

According to the law, it is a serious offence to misuse or abuse pesticides, and the Pest Control Products Board is meant to regulate the safe use of pesticides for food production.
Through my organisation, WildlifeDirect, I have been calling for a total ban on the deadly carbofuran pesticide locally known by its trade name Furadan in Kenya because it is devastating wildlife.

Carbofuran is intended to kill insect pests and is a neurotoxin that paralyses its victims. WildlifeDirect has documented abuse of this chemical, which may be the most serious threat facing wildlife conservation in Kenya today.
To raise awareness and get government help, we called a workshop to address the issue of pesticide poisoning of wildlife in April 2008. It wasn’t until late 2009 that a task force under the Ministry of Agriculture was created to address the issue of pesticide impacts on the environment.

The task force has achieved nothing tangible, and the agency has refused to acknowledge a single poisoning incident report submitted by Wildlife Direct.

The Board has not called a meeting since September 2009 or explained why they have not done so.

WildlifeDirect scientists have been consistently reporting that Furadan has been used to poison lions.

The pesticide is sprinkled onto livestock carcases to kill lions, which cannot detect its presence as it has no smell or taste. Any animal that scavenges on a laced carcass will die within minutes, and that includes jackals, hyenas and vultures.

We have also been reporting the large-scale bird poisoning in Mwea where tens of thousands of birds were killed by the lethal poison in the mid 1990s.

Farmers were reported to be eliminating birds to prevent damage to crops. A researcher documents the use of Furadan to poison wading birds in Bunyala where poachers kill thousands of wild ducks, geese, storks, doves and other birds.

Though produced in the USA by an American firm, FMC, Furadan is not permitted for use in that country after the Environmental Protection Agency declared it unsafe for users, consumers and the environment in December 2009.

After airing a shocking documentary showing the poisoning of lions in Kenya in 2009 on CBS’s 60 minutes, FMC announced a complete withdrawal of the pesticide in all East Africa where they admitted it was being misused.

The poison was removed only from Kenyan stores, and it was simply moved to Tanzania and Uganda. From there it has been coming back across the border and continues to be found in some Agrovet outlets.

We have consistently argued that the pesticide management system in Kenya needs to be revised. Deadly pesticides like Furadan should not be sold over the counter as users are not trained in safe use, and do not use any safety gear.

Given the obvious risks, it seems clear that our regulations and capacity to enforce the law are inadequate.

The Board itself is highly compromised. Located in the Ministry of Agriculture, it cannot be an industry watchdog looking out for the interests of human and environmental health when it is the industry itself that is the main user of these chemicals. No wonder it is allergic to any suggestion of pesticide product bans

For more information visit our Stop  wildlife poisoning blog

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.

Pesticide poisoning may be the greatest threat to wildlife in Kenya

According to Kenyan law, it is a serious offense to misuse or abuse pesticides in this country and the Pest Control Products Board is meant to regulate the safe use of pesticides for food production. Through my organization WildlifeDirect, I have been calling for a total ban on the deadly carbofuran pesticide locally known by its trade name Furadan in Kenya since 2009 because it is devastating wildlife in the country.  Carbofuran is intended to kill agricultural insect pests and is a neurotoxin that paralyses its victims. WildlifeDirect has documented the misuse and abuse of this chemical which may now be the most serious threat facing wildlife conservation in Kenya today.

To raise awareness, and get government help, we called a national workshop to address the issue of pesticide poisoning of wildlife in April 2008.  It wasn’t until late 2009 that a Task Force under the Ministry of Agriculture was created to address the issue of pesticide impacts on the environment. The Task Force chaired by the Pest Control Board however, has achieved nothing tangible, and the agency has refused to acknowledge a single poisoning incident report submitted by WildlifeDirect. The PCPB has not called a meeting since September 2010 or explained why they have not done so.

Wildlife Direct scientists have been consistently reporting that Furadan has been used to poison lions due to human wildlife conflict, and it is considered to be one of the main causes of the decline of population of lions in Kenya – now reduced to fewer than 2,000 individual animals. The pesticide is sprinked onto carcasss of livestock to kill lions which cannot detect its presence as it has no smell or taste. Any animal that scavenges on a laced carcass will die within minutes and that includes jackals, hyena’s and vultures. Go to the national parks and you will hardly see a vulture anymore. Vultures populations have declined nationwide  by between 50 and 80% due to pesticide poisoning targeting lions.

We have also been reporting the large scale bird poisoning came in Mwea (central-eastern Kenya) where tens of thousands of birds were killed by the lethal poison in the mid 1990s. Farmers were reported to be eliminating the birds to prevent damage to crops. Researcher Martin Odino of WildlifeDirect documents the use of Furadan to poison wading birds in Bunyala (western Kenya) where poachers poison tens of thousands of wild ducks, geese, storks, doves and other birds using Furadan-laced bait every year. The White faced Whistling duck has disappeared from the area completely. WildlifeDirect has documented in photographs and film, how birds are killed and sold for food to local people in markets. The PCPB has refused to acknowledge or investigate these reports despite the serious public health risk.

Though produced in USA by an American firm FMC, Furadan is not permitted for use in the country after the Environmental Protection Agency declared it unsafe for users, consumers and the environment in December 2009. After the airing a shocking documentary showing the poisoning of lions in Kenya in 2009 on CBS 60 minutes, FMC announced a complete withdrawal and buyback of the pesticide in all East Africa where they admitted it was being misused.

According to their website, “FMC Corporation has repurchased Furadan 5G from distributors and retailers in Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya.  The buy-back program remains open for any product that might still be in commercial channels.  Should any additional product be found in the marketplace, please let FMC know the location details so it can be repurchased.  FMC has no plans to reintroduce the product in these countries in the future”.

The poison was removed only from Kenyan stores, and it was simply moved to Tanzania and Uganda. From there it has been coming back across the border and continues to be found in some Agrovet outlets. Despite the global concerns concerns about the dangers of Furadan, the PCPB continues to permit its use of Furadan in flower farming. It is supplied locally by Juanco Ltd and is advertised on their website.

WildlifeDirect has consistently argued that the pesticide management system in Kenya needs to be revised. Deadly pesticides like Furadan should not be sold over the counter as users are not trained in safe use, and do not have or use any safety gear. Moreover, when poisoning incidents do occur,  rural clinics cannot handle them. In 2009, the Standard newspaper and WildlifeDirect reported that Nelson Kimutai, a three-year old boy from Kitale in Kenya, had died after consuming Furadan that his father had bought to rid his maize farm of rats and insects. He had stored the product in the kitchen and was using it with his bare hands. His son did not associate the chemical with danger and ate a little. Four hours later the local clinic was unable to save his life as they did not know how to reverse the effects of the pesticide.

In her best selling book “Silent Spring” Rachel Carson describes how the poisoning of the earth with DDT and other organophosphates in the USA threatened the lives of people and nature. She accused the agrochemical industry of being untruthful, and raised concern that public officials were failing to protect the public and environment by accepting industry claims uncritically.  The awareness that this book raised led to the banning of DDT in 1972. America has never looked back. Kenya is now experiencing her silent spring and it is time that the public questioned the governments decisions on which chemicals are used in food production. To date Kenya has no standards for pesticide limits in food, and conducts no testing of consumer products in shops. While the medical fraternity express concern about a cancer epidemic, nobody is examining the possible causes.

Given the obvious risks associated with the use and misuse of agrochemicals in Kenya it seems clear that our regulations and capacity to enforce the law are inadequate.   The PCPB its self is compromised by the fact that it is located in the Ministry of Agriculture therefore it cannot be an industry watchdog looking out for the interests of human and environmental health. Moreover, the PCPB is severely under resourced with only 9 inspectors and 2 vehicles nationwide. There are over 9,000 agrovets in the nation. This puts the tiny agency at the mercy of powerful agro chemical industry players who promise to “self regulate”. According to their annual reports, the PCPB’s meagre income is obtained almost entirely from the sale of agrochemicals. No wonder they are allergic to any suggestion of pesticide product bans.

We urge the government of Kenya to urgently address the human health and environmental risks by banning the use of carbofuran and removing the PCPB from the ministry of Agriculture where it is in a position of conflict of interest, and provide adequate resources to enable the PCPB to be effective.

Dr. Paula Kahumbu has a PhD from Princeton University and is the Executive Director of WildlifeDirect.c

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.

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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.

Pastoralists lose sheep while Britain debates ban on lion trophies

In an attempt to save Africas fast declining lions, conservationists have proposed banning the trophy hunting of this charismatic species. A heated debate is raging in Europe and the USA, but it’s hardly being noticed back here in the Lion heartlands.

In Africa, lion populations are declining rapidly due to loss of prey and land, and as a direct result conflict with people. People are killing thousands of lions using spears and poisons like Furadan. Loss of habitat and the use of poison could easily drive Africa’s lions to extinction. With fewer than 2,000 lions left in Kenya, ours may be the first to go.

Thanks to Ross and Nathalie Samuels of Screaming Reels, we recorded this video last week when a lioness killed a ram in a homestead close to Nairobi National Park. We thank Nickson for informing us of the incident soon after it happened.

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We hope that lion conservation groups like Born Free and Lionaid and others will support the work of local conservationists who are saving lions on the ground in Africa.

Our lion conservation work at WildilfeDirect is supported by the National Geographics Big Cat Initiative