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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Can science help rural traditional communities protect their livelihoods? Or, does revealing the true value of natural resources to rural communities lead to their use, misuse and eventual destruction?
These are some of the questions we discussed when I visited an expedition in the remote and isolated Mathews range in Northern Kenya, a region where communities live an isolated existence, and have been left behind in time.
In a lively campfire discussion, three Kenyan scientists on a scientific expedition debate how scientific knowledge can help these communities to join the 21st Century without losing the natural wildlife diversity of the region.
Dino Martins from Harvard University,
Judith Mbau from the National Museums of Kenya and Sammy Lesaita from the Samburu community who is studying in Hawaii Pacific University, share their discoveries, views and predictions about the effects of development to the wilderness.
Rare cycads found only on the Mathews may be as old as 1,000 years
While Dino finds impressive diversity of butterflies, Judith finds very few mammals. Sammy reveals the cultural practices and traditional knowledge that could explain some of these findings.
CASE STUDY: NJEMPS OF LAKE BARINGO
Njemps refers to a small maa speaking tribe found in Lake Baringo, sharing some features with the Maasai, Samburu and by extension Turkanas.
Some of the closely shared features include:
The Njemps tribe deviates slightly from the Maasai and Samburu for having adopted fishing as a way of life; this may be attributed to their closeness to the lake.
Unlike Turkanas, they circumcise and practice FGM as do the sister tribes as well as the highland nilotes (kalenjin) and others.
Initiation is done sequentially at intervals of approximately 10 years referred to as generations, boys are initiated between the ages of 15-20 years.
Ladies on the other hand have no specific age, it depends on body size as well as demand for marriage.
There are various activities aligning with the initiation period. These are proof of manhood. Some of the activities sadly, impact negatively on the environment and conservation.
Relative wanton vegetation destruction
Usually a large number of initiates gather all over the region and it is not a surprise to have a group of 800 at once as witnessed in 2007.
Initial stage entails construction of large bomas, whip-fighting amongst the initiates from various villages over girls during pre-circumcision dances. This requires that every candidate equips himself with many canes prior to the dance.
The boma erection and canes result in bush destruction within their proximity; eventual dislocation of animals and birds is inevitable, therefore.
Relative decimation of birds
It is a requirement that prior to initiation each village of initiates has two or more leaders that need to be adorned with guinea fowl and ostrich feathers, towards the end as they heal up it is mandatory that birds are hunted down and more so the rare/illusive ones become targeted most. Before targets are met, many various species are exterminated and worn round the initiates’ heads. It may take up to 20 birds to round-up the head, which will definitely be discarded if the target is not pinned down.
There is heroism with killing of some birds and those who fail to present them go through some demoralizing exercises such as touching their own mothers’ breasts which equates to shame and curse.
Such activities result in reduction of birds and habitats that sustain some birds hence leading to their relocation. In some events, this aggression on birds instills fear and you realize that within such areas during such times and after birds’ flight distances increase.
Now that Lake Baringo is a popular bird watching paradise, friendly atmosphere should prevail throughout, otherwise photography, bird watching, bird ringing etcetera will be quite challenging.
It is therefore of significance that campaign against adverse elements in such cultures be introduced harmoniously.
-Presence of LAKE BARINGO BIODIVERSITY CONSERVATION GROUP is of advantage though reinforcement is vital. This group which has been carrying out occasional conservation awareness campaign in local primary schools can incorporate such initiative. This will serve to gradually change the younger minds.
-The above mentioned strategy is not enough because elders have more powers regarding cultural practices. The more effective way could be educating the elders in barazas using their own. I am glad we have members of this community who are willing to campaign.
-Establishment of eco-tourism activities that directly serve such communities, this will deeply enable them to understand the importance of birds/animals/vegetation and of course the impact their activities have on the environment.
– Training of people to handle such initiatives and monitor it impacts.
– Finances for allowances, equipment and access. Lake Baringo Biodiversity is tightly tied and with little financial capability as it acquires from members and friends on occasional basis which hardly covers its activities sufficiently.
Chair person (L.B.B.C.G.)
NAIROBI, Kenya – 10 June 2009. While Kenyans have decried the unprecedented killing of more than 75 lions by pastoralists using Furadan as was recently highlighted in the local and global media, Conservationists now say that the plight of wild birds, which are being poisoned in their thousands, has been overlooked.
The conservationists, who convened in Nairobi on 9 June 2009 at the invitation of the Nairobi-based NGO, WildlifeDirect, said that despite raising the alarm in April 2008, the Pest Control Products Board, which is charged with licensing of pesticides, has not responded. The Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) has however agreed to investigate the matter immediately.
Furadan, a carbofuran-based pesticide and nematicide is among the most lethal pesticides known today. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has already revoked all food tolerances due to the alarming mortality of birds it caused when used on crops. Furadan was banned earlier in the EU, and Canada is considering a total ban.
The most noticeable bird deaths in Kenya have been those of vultures. The KWS records show that 252 vultures have been confirmed dead due to Furadan since 1995. ‘This is just a tip of the iceberg’ said raptor expert Munir Virani of the Peregrine Fund. ‘We have already lost the Egyptian Vulture’, he adds.
Vultures, which consume almost 70% of all dead animals, are in real danger of going extinct. ‘In Laikipia District these days, I see carcases lying out in the sun and in plain view but without vultures feeding on them’ said Laurence Frank of Living with Lions, ‘the carcases can remain rotting out there for days’.
On 25 May 2009, 40 vultures were killed in the world-renowned Masai Mara National Reserve in an incident that also resulted in the death of an 8-month-old lion cub and several hyenas. Scores of other bird species are also dying in their thousands in Kenya’s irrigation schemes. KWS reports that birds such as Fulvous ducks, White-faced Tree Duck, Knob-billed duck, Egyptian Geese, Ibis, Egrets, Spoonbills, Back-winged stilts, Storks, and many raptors have been poisoned in quantities that they only describe as ‘pickup truck loads’.
A Kenyan researcher Martin Odino has documented that wetland birds are being poisoned in rice growing areas for human consumption. Preliminary results from Odino’s ongoing survey show that large quantities of birds are being poisoned and sold as food. Dino Martins, a Harvard PhD candidate has also reported Furadan use in fishing on Lake Victoria. These situations expose humans to this deadly chemical.
Back in the mid-1990s widespread poisoning of ducks in the Mwea rice scheme in easern Kenya gave rise to protests by bird conservation groups were leading to the ban of furadan use in Rice. ‘We stopped using Furadan in Mwea in 1998 after we witnessed its residual effect and its high instances of abuse’, Raphael Wanjogu, the Principal Research Officer at the Mwea Irrigation Agricultural Development center, told WildlifeDirect. ‘We told our farmers to use Sumithion instead’. Despite this, Odino says that deliberate bird poisoning using Furadan is a daily occurrence.
In the US, millions of birds have been poisoned in areas where Furadan was used. Recently, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) banned all tolerances of carbofuran on food. Canada is also looking to outlaw the use of Furadan. ‘Canada reported 70-100 million birds being poisoned by carbofurans’, says Laurence Frank.
Due to lion poisoning, many Kenyan Members of Parliament (MP) supported Navasha MP, Honourable John Mututho’s call to ban Furadan when the issue was discussed in parliament on Tuesday, 2 June 2009. The Minister for Forestry and Wildlife said that Kenya was going to ban this lethal chemical. The question remains whether the government will ban it in time – before the wildlife of Kenya becomes extinct and human fatalities emerge.
The MPs also asked the government to sue FMC for compensation for lions killed with Furadan. Although the Minister was noncommittal on this issue, he said the ministry would assist individuals who have plans to do so.
Now conservationists are calling to call for a total ban on Furadan. ‘We are being bogged down to produce forensic evidence of Furadan poisoning, but we have sufficient confessions to show that carbofuran, and specifically Furadan, is responsible for this poisoning,’ says Darcy Ogada, a researcher with Nature Kenya.
‘Human consumption of Furadan-poisoned birds in Bunyala rice scheme represents a ticking time bomb’, said renowned Kenyan conservationist, Dr Richard Leakey, ‘let’s get Furadan banned before we start losing people.’
NAIROBI, Kenya – 2 June 2009. A Kenyan legislator, Honourable John Mututho, is today expected to ask for total ban on Furadan in parliament. Hon. Mututho, who represents the Naivasha Constituency and is Chair of the Parliamentary Agricultural Committee, will ask the Minister for Forestry and Wildlife to effect a total ban on this pesticide that is reported to have killed more than 30 lions, hundreds of vultures and other animals.
Furadan is the brand name of Philadelphia-based FMC Corporation’s formulation of carbofuran-based pesticides considered to be the most lethal in their class. Available cheaply in Kenya, the pesticide is being used by local herdsmen in retaliatory poisoning of lions and other carnivores blamed of predation on their livestock.
It is more than a year ago when Kenya’s conservation icon, Dr Richard Leakey started calling for a ban on the lethal chemical that was recently the subject of a documentary by American broadcaster CBS.
On 29 April, after American broadcaster, CBS, aired a documentary about lion poisoning in Kenya in their 60 Minutes programme, the pesticide manufacturers, FMC Corporation, immediately announced the withdrawal of Furadan in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania and instructed the local distributor, Juanco Limited to immediately begin a buy-back programme in Kenya to remove all available stock from the shelves. There are only about 2100 lions left in Kenya.
The buy back programme is considered by local conservationists to be largely effective but some agro-vet stores are still hiding old stock and selling it under the counter. As a result, more than one month later, the pesticide is still reported to be causing wildlife deaths in various locations in Kenya.
On 25 May, one lion, a number of hyenas and 35 vultures are reported to have died at Olololaimutiak gate in the Masai Mara Reserve from retaliatory poisoning from a cow carcase that had been laced with poison suspected to be Furadan. The cow had been killed inside the reserve where they were grazing illegally.
These recent cases have prompted a group of Kenyan conservation organizations, including Nature Kenya to launch a campaign to push the government to ban this deadly chemical. They support of this campaign from the Naivasha Member of Parliament, Hon. Mututho is welcome. His push for the hearing of his proposal for a total ban has been postponed twice already.
On 18 March 2009 the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) concluded that “dietary, worker, and ecological risks are unacceptable for all uses of carbofuran” and hence cancelled all tolerances for carbofuran in in food. On 11 May, they announced the total ban on these tolerances. In December 2008, the EU also effectively banned carbofurans. Canada is expected to follow suit in the near future.
American scientists concluded, in as far back as the late nineties, that there is no foreseable way that carbofurans can be used on crops without killing birds. The EPA also concuded that ‘all products containing carbofuran generally cause unreasonable adverse effects on humans and the environment and do not meet safety standards’
The Furadan problem in Kenya is therefore not only a wildlife issue but also a human health issue. A researcher, Martin Odino, who’s been monitoring Furadan use in Bunyala Rice Scheme in western Kenya reports that birds are deliberately poisoned and sold in the local market as human food.
A study on the effect of pesticide-fishing on dragonflies on Lake Victoria by a Kenyan PhD candidate at Harvard University, Dino J Martins, has also revealed that Furadan is being used widely to fish in the lake. Martin reports that HIV/AIDS orphans from the lakeside are allowed to collect the immature fish bycatch for their food thereby exposing them to this health risk.
Cases of inadequate monitoring of health risks in Kenya are not unusual and Martin Odino believes that it is just a matter of time before human deaths are reported.
WildlifeDirect has collected a wealth of background information. Anyone who needs to support Hon. Mututho on his call for the ban either by giving this issue media prescence or otherwise can get the information from us. We believe that when there is concerted effort from all those who care, Kenya’s parliament and government will be inclined to at least listen to one of their own – Hon. John Mututho.