THE LOSS OF A SPECIES NORTHERN WHITE RHINO DILEMMA

 

The first time the full impact of the reality of the plight of the Northern White Rhinos was on a documentary “OL Pejeta Diaries” I was aware before on their decline but the magnitude of their extinction closing in this fast, its such a shame on humanity.

The sole threat to Rhinos is human greed! Rhino populations are facing serious threats from illegal trade, primarily poaching for ‘traditional medicine” from some far East countries, habitat loss and political conflicts, Humans have been the main driver of the population’s decline,

The first time I meet up with Sudan was during an educational field trip while in campus, I was excited and anxious to meet him but after I heard of his story from his keeper James Mwenda who know happens to be a very close friend of mine, I literally broke down, White Rhinos are social, friendly and have a charismatic charm in them that you can even pet and have a close picture with them as you pet their backs “only those in semi-captive environments and that are used to being in close contact with humans’ don’t you dare try this in the wild while on a game drive.

The gentle Sudan February 2018

“We cannot be the generation that wipes out Rhinos”

 The northern white rhinoceros, or northern square-lipped rhinoceros (Ceratotherium simum cottoni), is one of the two subspecies of the white rhinoceros. Formerly found in several countries in East and Central Africa south of the Sahara, it is listed as Critically Endangered. This subspecies is a grazer in grasslands and savanna woodlands. As of November 2015, there are only three rhinos of this subspecies left. They all belong to the Dvůr Králové Zoo in the Czech Republic but live in the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya and are protected round-the-clock by armed guards.

        HOW DID WE GET HERE??

 The zoo population is declining, and northern whites have rarely reproduced in captivity. There are now only three northern white rhinos left. They all belong to the Dvůr Králové Zoo in the Czech Republic but were transported to Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya, Africa.They arrived at the conservancy after an air and road trip on 20 December 2009.

The three rhinos (1 male and 2 female), under constant watch by specialists and staff, lived in specially constructed bomas with access to a 400×400-metre paddock area, allowing them to acclimatize to their new surroundings.

These three are:

  • Sudan, a 45-year-old male (as of 2018), who was caught from the wild in Sudan at 3 years old.
  • Najin, a female, was born in captivity in 1989. She is Suni’s half-sister and mother of Fatu.
  • Fatu, a female, was born in captivity in 2000. She is the daughter of Najin.

To prevent any unnecessary injuries they might inflict on each other while interacting in their fenced area, and give their horns an opportunity to regrow to a natural shape (as their front horns had grown bent by much rubbing against enclosure bars in captivity), all three rhinos were sedated and their horns were sawn off. This also made them less vulnerable to the poaching that drove their species to near extinction, as the horn is what the poachers are after. In place of their horns, radio transmitters have been installed to allow closer monitoring of their whereabouts. They are protected round-the-clock by armed guards. Poachers have been selling their horns for $50,000 per kilo.

Since May 2010, the northern white rhino male Sudan was moved from the initial holding pens to a much larger 700-acre (2.8 km2) semi-wild enclosure. There he roams among many African animals, including several southern white rhino females and many plains animals. On 26 October 2011, the females were coaxed into the larger enclosure. Because Najin was overly protective of her daughter Fatu’s chance at mating, one of the two moved back into the smaller enclosure two weeks later.

Until 2011, the progress of this attempt at saving the northern white rhinoceros was documented on the initiative’s website; and their life in Ol Pejeta Conservancy is commented on the Conservancy’s website. Several documentaries are in the works, including an episode of Ol Pejeta Diaries entitled “Return of the African Titans” for Oasis HD Canada fall 2010, and a follow-up half-hour episode to follow. This translocation is also the subject of a BBC Last Chance to See special entitled “Return of the Rhino, presented by Stephen Fry and the zoologist Mark Carwardine; the TV program reported at the end that the two pairs of rhinos were “flirting.”

On 25 April 2012 and on 27 May 2012 Suni and Najin mated. Pregnancy of the female rhinos was monitored weekly. gestation period takes 16 to 18 months, so in January 2014 the Conservancy considered Najin not pregnant, and a male southern white rhino from Lewa Wildlife Conservancy was put to Najin and Fatu enclosure in Ol Pejeta to at least intercross the subspecies. To achieve this, both female northern white rhinos were separated from their male counterparts, which prevents them, for the time being, from producing a pure northern white rhino offspring. In 2015, however, a test conducted by Czech specialists revealed that neither of the females is “capable of natural reproduction”.

At the end of 2015, scientists from the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research, San Diego Zoo GlobalTiergarten Schönbrunn and Dvůr Králové Zoo developed a plan to reproduce northern white rhinos using natural gametes of the living rhinos and induced pluripotent stem cells. Subsequently, in the future, it might be possible to specifically mature the cells into specific cells such as neurons and muscle cells, in a similar way in which Katsuhiko Hayashi has grown mice out of simple skin cells. The DNA of a dozen northern white rhinos has been preserved in genetic banks in Berlin and San Diego.

In 2017, Ol Pejeta Conservancy teamed up with Tinder to launch a fundraising campaign in order to recover this species. Therefore, they created a Tinder account for Sudan, the last standing male of northern white rhinos, and the app’s users could swipe right to make their donations for the development of breeding methods

 The biological clock is ticking, as this species is at the brink of #extinction he is carrying the fate of his species. Humans are 100 percent to blame for what’s happened to the rhino populations across the planet, rhino horn is worth more than cocaine in the far East #iworry #killthetrade #killthemarket #killthedemand #rhinohorn has no medicinal value it’s made primarily of keratin same as our fingernails


THE LAST MALE NORTHERN WHITE RHINO DIES


Monday, March 19th, 2018- Sudan passed on at age 45 while being treated for age-related complications that led to degenerative changes in muscles and bones combined with extensive skin wounds, he was unable to stand up and was suffering a great deal the veterinary team from Dvur Kralove Zoo, Ol Pejeta and Kenya Wildlife Service made the decision to euthanize him.

In memory of Sudan

 https://g.co/kgs/wB8VUA

,

RESCUING OWLS IN A SOCIETY THAT VIEWS THEM AS A BAD OMEN

 

Saving owls in a country that believe them to be harbingers of death seems impossible. But the Naivasha Owl Centre, founded in 2014, not only rescues and rehabilitates owls but Kenya’s biggest and most bellicose birds of prey the late Sarah HigginsSimon Thomsett, and Shiv Kapila, against all odds, set up the Centre and have successfully handled over 190 birds.

Throughout history and across many cultures, people have regarded Owls with fascination and awe. Few other creatures have so many different and contradictory beliefs about them. Owls have been both feared and venerated, despised and admired, considered wise and foolish, and associated with witchcraft and medicine, the weather, birth, and death. Speculation about Owls began in earliest folklore, too long ago to date, but passed down by word of mouth over generations.

Come to get up close with an Owl

In my culture, it was believed that owls were harbingers of death. If one saw an owl or heard its hoot, someone was going to die. In general, owls are viewed as harbingers of bad luck, ill health, or death. The belief is widespread even today, across various cultures and communities in Africa the story is quite similar and it’s going to take a while to change.

But owl mythology is very important today, especially to conservationists, because of myths and beliefs about
owls play a major role in the killing of owls today, especially in regions where the owl is considered evil

                      WHAT IT TAKES TO RESCUE RAPTORS

This all started back in 1986 with a little Barn Owl called Full stop. Sarah used to talk fondly of the first encounter with a giggling smile, He was brought to Sarah Higgins house in Naivasha with a badly damaged wing. When the vet said he could mend the bones but the bird would never fly properly again. Sarah build an owlery. From then, people started bringing in injured, sick and orphaned owls. And from there branched into treating raptors like eagles, kites and vultures, and other large birds such as pelicans and stocks.

Rescued fish Eagles

In 2014 Sarah, Simon Thomsett and Shiv kapila got together and formalized the Centre under a trust now known as the Kenya Birds of Prey trust.

The aim of the Trust is to rehabilitate all birds into the wild. The vet treats them, operates if necessary, and they stay there until they are fully recovered. There are a series of stages that birds pass through while they’re in their care, starting with treatment in the clinic and progressing to larger cages in which they can fly. They end up being trained in the rehabilitation area using falconry techniques.

It’s no easy job especially when it comes to releasing them due diligence has to be done, otherwise, it can be considered abandonment and neglect. These birds need to hunt and defend their territory to survive. The Trust’s falconers work with them, training them to hunt with the skill they’ll need to make a life for themselves.

Come meet Caro the First female falconer in East Africa

The Naivasha Owl Centre currently hosts 23 owls, 18 raptors (including three Crown Eagles), a vulture and two Marabou and Several of these will have to remain at the Centre but the majority will eventually be released once they have been brought back to total fitness. In many cases, falconry techniques are used to get them fit, as an unfit bird won’t be able to catch its food and will thus starve to death.

Rescued Vulture

The late Sarah Higgins lived on the shores of Lake Naivasha in Kenya’s Rift Valley, where she run a rescue Centre for owls and raptors, The Naivasha Owl Centre is one of the two arms of The Kenya Bird of Prey Trust. The Centre’s clinic is currently in need of medical equipment and the Centre would also like to build improved accommodation for the birds.

Please support her legacy, if you would like to donate, please do so through the Kenya Bird of Prey Trust, PO Box 358, Naivasha 20117 or you can email naivashaowls@gmail.com or visit

Website: www.naivashaowls.org for more information

I have been a regular visitor to the trust over the years and the amount of work the dedicated team carries out on a daily basis is phenomenal and outstanding, its actually open for the public feel free to walk in given that its conveniently located along the Moi south lake road next to the Lake Naivasha country club, a stone throw away from Karagita center, You can actually get a rare opportunity to hold an Owl see the beauty of the magnificent birds, it goes a long way into changing people’s perceptions of the species and actually their doors are always open for school groups they get to have a lecture on owls by the experienced falconers

Owl challenge, visit the rescue center tell us about your experience and don’t forget to send us a photo posing with an owl

ELEPHANT CALF RESCUE

 

            CONSERVATION IN ACTION! THE DAVID SHELDRICK WILDLIFE TRUST

Many Kenyans in the streets of Nairobi have no idea about the dedication and conservation work undertaken by the Sheldrick trust which is today the most successful orphan-elephant rescue and rehabilitation program in the world and one of the pioneering conservation organizations for wildlife and habitat protection in East Africa or even that there are elephants within Nairobi National Park, the park is too small to house wild elephants because they require quite a huge home range bearing in mind their destructive way of feeding and their huge appetites but there are elephants here, young little baby elephants this are orphaned elephants rescued victims of mainly poaching and human-wildlife conflict in terrible state of emaciation and distress, this one of a kind rescue center for orphaned elephants is called The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust (DSWT).

Mud bath at the Nairobi elephant orphanage

My encounters with the DSWT started back in 2012 while I was on internship at the African Fund For Endangered Wildlife (AFEW) commonly known as the Giraffe Center undertaking  Tour Guiding and administration from the Wildlife Clubs of Kenya on a weekly basis I would get to accompany young children for  fully funded ecological trips majorly from underprivileged schools in the marginal areas or children’s   home by AFEW, I used to look forward to bringing these young children and five years later I got to experience firsthand the phenomenal work the rescue teams undertake on almost a daily basis, It was on a Monday 6th March 2017 Tsavo East National park. I was in the company of students from the Wildlife Clubs of Kenya who were undertaking various diploma courses in the field of conservation ranging from wildlife, tourism and tour guiding. I was really enthusiastic to not only inspire but equip the trainees with knowledge, skills, and attitudes to enable them to identify flora and fauna in the various study areas. 

We had left the Voi safari lodge for our afternoon game drive when we noticed something quite peculiar at a water point. As we came closer I saw that it was an elephant calf trying to find its way out from the muddy water. For hours we watched as elephants came to drink water. As they left, the little one tried to follow but could not make he was out. His little feeble legs and the slippery edges could not allow him to come out by himself. The safari drivers who came by told us that the calf had been there for now almost two days, and as much as I was super angry at them for not reporting the incident I knew leaving him there was not an option.  

Bahati drowning in the muddy water, trying to breathe through his trunk as the rest of the body is submerged

I called Joyce Musimbi – a friend of mine who was my classmate back in campus, and an education officer at Tsavo east. I explained to her the situation on the ground, and she told me to stay put as she communicates with the patrol and rescue team from the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust. 

I called her after a few minutes later to check on the progress, and the call went straight to voicemail. This is quite the norm due to the poor network coverage in the wilderness, and my next speed dial was to Edwin Lusichi, the head keeper at the Nairobi nursery.  

Bahati after the rescue

He contacted the team at Tsavo and called back to tell me that Joyce had already contacted them, and that they are on the way by this time the little calf was now at the center of the pond and only the tip of the trunk could be seen emerging from the muddy water. It was then that I realized that the calf was drowning. I couldn’t just sit back and watch. It was an open water area and I sprang out and into the water and we got the calf out. 

Bahati after the arrival of the DSWT rescue team

At this point, the rescue team had arrived and by the time we got the little one out they were there to take over. I then received a call from Angela Sheldrick, who sounded quite shaken about the news, especially learning that the calf had spent a night alone in the pond. I assured her by sending pictures that though he was quite emaciated, and had very red eyes, he would survive. The vets and rescue team took over, and I felt some relief as they ferried him off as darkness fell. Knowing he was in safe hands. 

He was taken to the orphanage the next day, and I checked in on him regularly. In the company of David Wanyama – a senior lecturer at the Wildlife Clubs of Kenya College – we went to the orphanage to check on him in the late afternoon before nap time.  

Bahati at the Nairobi elephant orphanage

Together we discovered he had been given the name ‘Bahati’ which is Swahili for luck – for he truly was the lucky one to survive such an ordeal! He was already showing signs of recuperation though he was still feeble and his eyes were still reddish. He also had a blanket on him to keep him warm, and after taking his milk he was tucked in and he fell asleep.

Nap time for the little one

  

After each orphan rescue, the long and complex process of rehabilitating begins at the nursery (elephant orphanage) nested within Nairobi National Park.  It is here that the milk-dependent elephant calves are cared for and healed both emotionally and physically by the dedicated team of elephant keepers. Each elephant remains at the Nursery until they are ready to make the journey to one of two rehabilitation stockades at Voi or Ithumba in Tsavo East National Park, this is after the calves are no longer milk dependent. The Ellie’s are moved to Tsavo after three years.

This second phase of rehabilitation at the Tsavo stockades proudly proceeds and sees to each elephant orphan’s gradual transition back into the wild herds of Tsavo, taken at each individual’s own pace over a period of up to ten years, in which time they grow to be part a much loved human-elephant family, finally living their lives free in the wild.

To date, the DSWT has successful hand-raised over 190 infant elephants and has accomplished its long-term conservation priority by efficiently reintegrating the orphans back into the wild.

One of the rescued orphan with a spear wound on its head

The amount of work put in place by the dedicated team of keepers is phenomenal and since its inception the DSWT has delivered outstanding results by leading the way in single species conservation, and in doing so has evolved into a multi-dimensional conservation body ready to meet the growing challenges faced by Kenya’s threatened wildlife and habitats, with the value of ivory and rhino horn increasing due to an insatiable demand, both elephant and rhino are under threat like never before.

To combat these devastating poaching activities which are in a constant rise, the DSWT operates nine fully-equipped Anti-poaching units working together with the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS). It sustainably supports the Kenya wildlife service in managing and protecting the country’s wildlife and wild habitats through many different projects including electric fencing and infrastructure as well as water resource. DSWT embraces all measures that complement the conservation, preservation, and protection of wildlife. These include; enhancing community awareness, addressing animal welfare issues, providing veterinary assistance to animals in need.


The elephant nursery located within the Nairobi National Park is easily accessed through the central workshop gate opposite Multimedia University. At the moment it is home to around 28 orphans and is open to the general public and tourists for one hour every day strictly between 11-12 for only 500 Kenya shillings or 7 USD fixed rate for residents and nonresidents. Set a date to visit these orphans and hear the stories behind each of them how they became orphans ending up being hand raised by this team of dedicated keepers. If you take part in their journey by fostering one of them you will be posted on the keeper’s diary until it has been released back into the wild.


Education, awareness and global action are key to stopping the demand for ivory which is fueling the slaughter of elephants. Consumers of these ivory products (white gold) need to be engaged in such awareness campaigns for them to understand that the decisions you make of buying of these ornaments to impress someone as a gift affects the lives of ordinary people thousands of miles away in countries you may never visit.


TRIBUTE TO BAHATI


Though nothing can bring back the hour of splendor in the grass or glory in the flower, we will grieve not rather find strength in what remains behind. We have a unique status among things on this planet, and morality only applies to us. little Bahati who was less than two years months later at the orphanage we lost him, I feel disappointed and pissed off at  the tour drivers who saw the poor calf stranded in the pool as their clients took pictures of him and just left  had taken the initiative to report the incidence to any of the KWS rangers or call KWS Hotline number 0202587435 or to anyone at the lodges  where they spent the night he could have been rescued much earlier and have better chances of survival

Unless someone like you care a whole awful lot about the plight of elephants and rhinos, Nothing is going to get better it’s not, when we begin to see the animal kingdom as our kindred spirit to which we belong, we may then begin to love and care for it in our little ways, the sole threat to elephant populations is human greed, habitat loss and political conflicts in some parts of central Africa follows soot.

Success in conservation depends on how ready people are to do conservation: conservation cannot be left to conservation organization conservationists” conservation is far more than about wildlife.

Our wildlife is our heritage and it’s about time that we ordinary citizens take lead in matters of protecting our unique wildlife heritage.


BECOME AN ELEPHANT AMBASSADOR


Everyone has a stake in conserving elephants and rhinos, 40 years ago we had all the warning signs for the Rhinos today we have them for the elephants if we don’t stop the killings its eventually going to be just us humans left as the last animals, we must come together if we are to successfully educate and inform people as to the existence of the illegal ivory trade, the devastating toll it is having on elephant populations and through that, call on governments from around the world to take proactive steps to tackle this illicit trade and save  elephants.

We cannot afford to be the generation that wipes out elephants to extinction. The loss of elephants in the wild, an iconic, intelligent and social species, would not only make the world a lesser place it would have serious environmental and economic repercussions.

When the buying stops, the killing can too, you can become part of the change visit the nursery at Nairobi and once you hear their stories you will understand where my inspiration comes from, join our global community for wildlife warriors and ambassadors through petitions, public marches, joining conservation organizations and  social media 


If you are not radiant with joy and friendliness, if you are not filled with overflowing love and goodwill for all beings and all creatures and all creation, one thing is certain: You will never know true happiness.

OL PEJETA CONSERVANCY, AN IDEAL BIRD WATCHERS GETAWAY

Birds often take a back seat to mammals when it comes to popularity but there is one private conservancy that provides visitors with a front row seat to discover, learn and experience birding in an unforgettable way  OL Pejeta Conservancy conserves 90,000 acres of savanna and rangeland. Situated between the critically important Aberdare Range and Mount Kenya, the key habitats are found include open Themeda grasslands and Acacia dreponolobium all of which provide habitats for a wide range of birds, including resident species and an ever increasing number of migrants, nomads visitors from: southern Africa, Palaearctic, Malagasy, Oriental, Nearctic, Afrotropical regions as well as housing several endemic and rare birds of the magnificent Laikipia ecosystem

Get your front row seat for a rare opportunity to watch Somali Ostrich display their remarkable dance

The variety of birdlife is enhanced by its visibility. Vibrant Sunbirds flit from tree-to-tree, Weavers build their incredible variety of nests in the open, the Starlings shine, resplendent Widowbirds dance in the air, and bright Turacos are strangely camouflaged in the trees. Kingfishers, Rollers, Bee-eaters, Hornbills, Barbets and Woodpeckers are present in many varieties, and for a greater challenge, the Cisticolas and Greenbuls provide just that. Overhead, the sky is alive with a variety of Swifts and Swallows, and raptors are plentiful. Ground birds include several Bustards, Larks, Pipits and Gamebirds, and the world’s largest bird, the Ostrich. 

Best time for bird watching

The early bird is never disappointed

More than 350 recorded species makes the OL Pejeta Conservancy a spectacular birding destination this includes many north Kenya specials. There has been little birding research in the area, so it’s possible there are even more species present. OL Pejeta focus on wildlife watching, so is you don’t have a private vehicle you can book one of their cool open top land cruisers for a birding experience like no other.

Yellow-billed stork

The Laikipia Plateau offers good bird watching throughout the year, but the best time to come is from November to April when the migrants from Europe and North Africa are present. This partly coincides with the Wet season, when many species can be seen in breeding plumage as they are nesting.. The best time for general avifauna viewing is from July to September and January to March, the conservancy has strategic hides, designated birding trails along the river beds and on-site professional bird guides so gear up get your binoculars, spotting scopes and guidebooks for your magical encounter.

Grey heron and his unique umbrella stand

Whether you are an independent birdwatcher,  with a group, a bird lover or you only see and hear these creatures around your home, your trip to OL Pejeta and you will definitely fall in love with them. Wake up to the melodious tunes of birds on the trees around your tent if you are staying in the camps. They ensure you understand that you are in Africa, in the wild, and it is important that you get ready in time for the day’s host of adventures.

Kori bustard displaying

These creatures also end your day with their tunes as you watch the sun diving into the horizon from the private veranda of your tented camp,info@olpejetaconservancy.org  you may also submit your records to the OL Pejeta Ecological Monitoring Team including photos of birds with rings on their legs to improve the overall monitoring of the environment make a date with OL Pejeta Conservancy at at either www.worldbirds.org/v3/kenya.php or at www.ebird.org/content/ebird as you enjoy up-close encounters with  Lions, Rhinos, Elephants, Chimpanzees  and other wildlife spectacles that   OL Pejeta offers

APPRECIATING AND UNDERSTANDING OUR CRAWLING FRIENDS (OPHIDIOPHOBIA)

The fear of Snakes in Kenya is cultivated. We are not born with it. Children love snakes as naturally as they love dogs and cats. There are about 100 species including subspecies of snakes In Kenya, or indeed the rest of Africa, not all are venomous but they all bite as their defense strategy.

The mere mention of the word snake is enough to strike terror into the hearts of those who are afraid of them, and that will probably include a large portion of the Kenyan population, who generally hate and fear these magnificent reptiles in about equal measure, walk in a room folks relaxing and shout “nyoka nyoka” then you will wonder if its fair that every Kenyan qualifies for an Olympic gold medal.

This is one interesting country where snake handlers are more threatening than soccerers “wachawai” the number of visitors to the national Museums herpetology department will never get close to the huge flocks that visited Loriondo “kwa babu”.

To be honest, this attitude towards snakes is with good reason, particularly if you happen to live in rural areas (Excluding ukambani) where there are indeed many species of snakes to be wary of. While the majority of these snakes are harmless, the venomous species are amongst the deadliest in the world, which accounts for the fear and loathing! An unfortunate encounter with one of these creatures could be fatal, especially in remote areas without medical intervention which is normally the case in almost every village in our beloved country.

So, for the sake of outdoor visitors, residents how about we count down the list of some of the most venomous snakes in the 254 I bet you must have come across one or two at some point but was too quick to run that taking time to identify it was not an option.

The list is based on the potency of the venom, the aggression of the snake and the respect they command!

  1. The Green Mamba

    Green mamba

    This green slithering beauty is indeed a sight to behold if you ever get to see it! The Green Mamba is a shy and retiring arboreal snake which generally avoids the ground and stays up in the trees where it is perfectly camouflaged. It is also non-aggressive, preferring to slither away un-noticed rather than face a confrontation, which is why we have placed it at number five on our list. However, it is a very venomous snake and a bite can be fatal if not treated. 

    The venom contains a neurotoxin which quickly affects the nervous system and the brain, and immediate treatment is needed if you are unlucky enough to get bitten. So, avoid climbing trees and make a lot of noise as you walk in the forest……

    4. The Boomslang

As the name suggests (Boom is the Afrikaans word for tree) this tree snake also enjoys being off the ground. The male Boomslang is a most attractive green, while the female is a dull brown, but both blend into their arboreal background really well.

Boomslangs are one of the few snake species where sexual dimorphism is evident. Females are almost always brown, whereas males exhibit more vibrant coloration. It is difficult to understand why this sexual dimorphism should occur, as it is not seen in other arboreal snakes, such as bush snakes (Philothamnus) or mambas (Dendroaspis), that frequent similar habitat across some of the boomslang’s range

The interstitial skin (the skin between the scales) of the neck is black and most apparent when the snake inflates the neck region during warning displays. Young green-phase boomslangs may often be mistaken by the layman for green mambas

 Like the Green Mamba, the Boomslang is also shy and non-aggressive and will not attack unless it is cornered or severely provoked.  When it does bite, you could be in big trouble!  The venom contains a haemotoxin that stops the blood clotting process, causing the victim to eventually suffer internal bleeding and death after 2 to 5 days.  Contributing to the possibility of a fatality is the fact that symptoms sometimes only occur after 24 hours, by which time kidney damage could be well underway. Treatment with anti-venom should be as swift as possible.

3. The Cobra

The Cobra is infamous all over the world, and Kenya has been endowed with no less than 4 species of this lethal snake, making it inevitable that human and Cobra interactions are quite frequent, especially in the rural areas.  The four species found in Kenya are the Black-necked Spitting Cobra, the Red Spitting Cobra, the Forest Cobra and the Egyptian Cobra.  Did I mention that the largest species of Spitting Cobra was found in Kenya and measured a whopping 8.9ft long.  While wildlife enthusiasts were excited by this find, the locals were not impressed and just wanted it removed as far as possible from their lives!

  

Spitting cobra

The incidences of human and cobra encounters have been on the increase due to the Egyptian Cobra’s love of domestic fowl and rats, which is really bad news for the villagers.  The venom of the Cobra is neurotoxic and a bite is fatal if not treated.  In addition, the spit can cause blindness if it hits the eyes and the bite is excruciatingly painful.  So, although this is an impressive snake and watching it rear up and display its hood is quite a spectacle, a Cobra encounter is best enjoyed with a glass partition between you and the snake.

2. The Black Mamba

The mouth being black explains the origin of the name

I know you are wondering why the Black Mamba, one of the world’s most notorious snakes has been downgraded to number 2.  Being the longest and most poisonous snake in Africa, the fastest snake and most venomous land snake in the world and probably the most bad-tempered snake in the world have justly assured that the Black Mamba is one of the most respected and feared snakes in Africa.

The Black Mamba is actually quite shy and secretive, but when cornered or confronted it will react with incredible aggression, often striking repeatedly just to make sure that you get the point!  The reason that this snake features so close to the top of the list is due to increased human encroachment into the wild, which means that human encounters with the Black Mamba are on the increase.

Once bitten, the effects of the neurotoxins in the venom can be seen in minutes and death can occur in a very short space of time unless the anti-venom is administered promptly, which means that most victims in remote rural areas will not survive a bite from this snake.

 1. The Puff Adder

Be very wary when you hear a puffing sound in the bushes……

Coming in at a well-deserved number one is the Puff Adder, which is responsible for the highest rate of snakebite deaths in Kenya.  These very stunningly beautiful snakes tend to enjoy basking in the sun, and often choose to do so in the middle of well-worn footpaths.  They are also very sluggish, and do not bother to get out of the way when they hear movement, but rather seem to have a specific willingness to attack the unwary users of the footpath, and strike with lightning speed, and then withdraw and prepare for a second strike. 

An Adder’s venom contains a cytotoxin, which means that it destroys tissue, and necrosis sets in around the bite.  If not treated, the bite is fatal and the area around the bite will continue to die and this may lead to amputation of the affected limb.  In addition to the nasty effects, the actual bite is also excruciatingly painful.  In this case, there is truth in the saying the dynamite comes in small parcels.

Just so you know; Snakes are shy and deaf – they have no arms and legs so they don’t want to be stepped on. Instead, most will move away when feeling vibrations in the ground. The best advice when you see a snake, stop, turn around and go away. The snake will be happy to see you go away.” And if you do come close to a snake stop and don’t make any sudden movements snakes being deaf – will usually move as fast as you or faster.

African Rock Python “my personal favorite” 

Ophidiophobia challenge, post your picture embracing your fear for snakes………

Ophidiophobia challenge, post your picture embracing your fear for snakes………

I could not resist including this beast in the list!  It is the largest snake in Africa and the third largest in the world, and very deserving of a mention.  It is not at all venomous and it does not hunt humans, but an encounter with one will still be a very memorable experience.  The Python kills its prey by strangulation or suffocation and then swallows it whole.  It is known to be a bad-tempered species and will bite and constrict with great aggression if cornered or provoked.  It usually eats small mammals and reptiles, but has been known to kill children and even, occasionally, adult human beings.  It is a very attractive snake with beautiful markings and is much admired by snake enthusiasts, but be sure to keep your distance!

JACKSON’S HARTEBEEST – LAIKIPIA’S RARE AND FRAGILE ANTELOPE

Large antelopes called hartebeests, which were formerly widespread in Africa, have over the years declined in numbers with some sub-species being declared extinct, according to the International Union for Conservation and Nature.

Hartebeest is a large African antelope, also known as Kongoni, which has eight sub-species of which one is entirely extinct while others are facing imminent danger.

Jacksons Hartebeests grazing at Ol Pejeta Conservancy

Kenya is a home of Coke’s and Lewel’s hartebeests, which have cross-bred producing Jackson’s species, whose numbers are also declining. The conservation status of Coke’s hartebeest falls under least concerned and the numbers are noted to be decreasing while the Lewel hartebeest is categorized as Endangered. The numbers, according to the IUCN red list, is also in the decline for further reading about the five species of hartebeests https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hartebeest

Hartebeest are medium sized horse like antelopes, whose herbivorous diet is comprised mainly of grasses. Although they are mainly found in medium tall to tall grasslands, they are more tolerant of high grass and woods than other plains antelopes. They feed entirely on grass, but not very selective and quite tolerant of poor-quality food. Hartebeests are very alert and cautious in comparison to other plains ungulates and rely primarily on their vision to spot predators.

Typically Hartebeest cows and calves exhibit high site fidelity and, individuals within each heard are identifiable based on unique natural marks, thus sight-resight, estimators can be used to qualify abundance of herds. Females occasionally form small herds of 5-12 animals and strong dominance relationships between females define the social organization for the entire herd. Mature males are solitary and territorial while adult females do not form permanent associations with other adults but keep up to four generations of their young. Young are born throughout the year, but conception and breeding peaks is influenced by the availability of food. The hartebeest female isolates herself in scrub areas to give birth and leaves the young calf hidden for a fortnight, only visiting it briefly to suckle.

The hartebeest is one of the most sedentary antelopes (making it easy to hunt)

This is what has lead to their numbers plunging down from my own keen observations which to me makes this species the poorest ‘mother” because it’s during this times that the calf if taken down by predators

The hartebeest is one of the most sedentary antelopes (making it easy to hunt), but it does move around more when larger groupings form during the dry seasons or in periods of drought, to seek water and better grazing. At other times the females form small groups of five to 12 animals that wander around their home range. Most mature males become solitary and spread out in adjoining territories. Hartebeests go to water regularly, but in some circumstances, territorial males appear to go without drinking for rather long periods. The home ranges are usually densely populated. When a territorial male returns from watering, he may find another in his place.

Females are free to seek the best grazing in their home range, but males cannot leave their territories for long if they intend to keep them. Successful breeding only takes place within the territories-open, short-grass areas of ridges or rises on plateaus are the most favored spots. Males strenuously defend their territories; they often stand on open, elevated areas to keep a lookout for intruders. Should a territorial male be challenged, a fight may develop. Males are aggressive, especially so during breeding peaks. Like many antelopes, however, hartebeests have developed ways of fighting that determine dominance without many fatalities or serious injuries. A ritualized series of head movements and body stances, followed by depositing droppings on long-established dung piles that mark the territory’s borders, normally precede any actual clashing of horns and fighting. After the dominance ritual, one male may leave. If not, the hartebeest with its stout horns, short, strong neck, and heavily muscled shoulders, is well-prepared for fighting. If the dispute over a territory is serious and both males are prepared to fight over it, a severe injury may result.

The critically endangered category is the highest risk category assigned by the IUCN red list for the wild species. And while Jackson’s hartebeest has significant numbers and is largely found in the Mount Kenya region, with significant numbers in Laikipia, they are also found in the Ewaso region of central Kenya and Ruma National Park near Lake Victoria. The total population of Jackson’s hartebeest is unknown but in Laikipia, their numbers are estimated between 700-1000 individuals of Ol Pejeta contains an estimated 175 individuals (21%). The Laikipia population has fallen by 70% in the last 10 years. A study investigating different factors responsible for the decline, which included habitat/ Loss, competition with livestock, disease, and predation, indicated that predation was a major factor causing the decline.

It is presumed that Jackson’s hartebeest has significant numbers, with those in Laikipia having declined by more than 80 percent in the past 15 years a situation which researches are pointing it to predation, diseases and also habitat loss.

UNSUNG WILDLIFE HERO- TSAVO GUARDIAN

In 2009 the Tsavo ecosystem was hit by a long prolonged drought period that its parks lost a large number of its wildlife populations, Patrick Mwalua Kilonzo watched as the animals died same as everyone else and in 2016 when the drought hit again this time he felt he had to do something.

The Tsavo Parks are situated in an environment that is generally arid much of the year leading to perennial competition for water between livestock and wildlife

I got to hear him tell his story of how he ended up providing water for wildlife during the recent African conference for animal welfare2018 and was not only moved but also challenged because Patrick is an ordinary Kenyan not backed by any of the “Big-hearted” and “Non Profit” NGOs which actually turned his proposal off, he actually couldn’t stomach watching as the animals died gathered the few shillings he had and requested the KWS park officials to allow him provide water for the animals at the dry water holes and when the Park warden gave him the green light Patrick dashed to Voi town hired a truck and bowser filled it with water and what he felt as he watched the Elephants and other wild animals rush to him as he brought the water to them is what has motivated him over the years.

Moved by his sheer passion for wildlife and conservation for the last two years, Patrick has taken a personal initiative to help wildlife to have drinking water by ferrying 10,000 liters of water by truck to some of the dry bone water. The initiative has since supplied thousands of liters of water to a large number of animals thereby significantly reducing Human-wildlife conflicts where rogue animals stray out of the protected areas to community lands.

To make the initiative more sustainable, the project is now venturing into constructing water pans in the park and digging more waterholes which holds water for quite some time after the rains. This will be particularly critical in the long drought periods that are common in the park areas.

The project also seeks to involve the community in initiatives that will reduce the harsh environmental conditions prevalent in the Tsavo ecosystem and especially anthropogenic activities such as deforestation.

Patrick has done short courses in animal health care and community development, and from 2008 has been actively involved in wildlife conservation initiative programs around Tsavo area and Lumo Sanctuary. With the help of local and international volunteers and supporters who were inspired by his noble initiative, he has reached schools within Tsavo Ecosystem to engage children on sustainable eco-friendly practices such as tree planting and educating them on wildlife conservation within their surroundings.

What really inspires me about his cause is how much ordinary citizens can take lead in conservation Mother Teresa once said ” I alone cannot change the world, but can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples” well its know up to you and me to come up with our own ingenious little ways of giving back to mother nature. As Patrick has proved it doesn’t cost much the zeal and willingness to sacrifice either time or funds to make the world a better place in our capacity in our little possible way.

Take a peek at some of his online campaigns and please support this noble cause

Paypal account: patotsavo@gmail.com.

https://web.facebook.com/RTDocumentary/videos/1665997240123545/

Sacred Mijikenda Kaya Forests – A Culture like no other

The Mijikenda Kaya Forests consist of 11 separate forest sites spread over some 200 km along the coast containing the remains of numerous fortified villages, known as kayas, of the Mijikenda people. The kayas, created as of the 16th century but abandoned by the 1940s, are now regarded as the abodes of ancestors and are revered as sacred sites and, as such, are maintained as by councils of elders. The site is inscribed as bearing unique testimony to a cultural tradition and for its direct link to a living tradition.

A glimpse into one of the forests

There are today over 60 Kayas in Coastal Kenya, but since the 18th century, local communities have moved out of them to live in surrounding villages, continuing to use the sacred forest as their primary place of worship. Kaya Kinondo remains of great historical and cultural importance.

Kaya Kinondo is one of few makaya (sacred forests along the Kenyan coast) that visitors are allowed to enter. This 30-hectare forest located in Diani beach, just south of Mombasa, the seniormost forest for the Digo community. The forest is maintained by the Kaya Kinondo Ecotourism Project.

Visitors to Kaya Kinondo enjoy a guided walk into the forest during which the community shares information on the Kaya and other aspects of the local culture. They also get the opportunity to visit Kinondo village and interact with members of the local community, including the medicine man. Other activities that are available here include performances, sale of handicrafts and visits to the local school.

Every visitor to the forest has to tie a black cloth on them

Environmental conservation and cultural preservation

Today, there are 11 Kayas that are listed as UNESCO National Heritage Sites. Kaya Kinondo is not one of them since it is partially grabbed, but it is thanks to the ecotourism project at Kaya Kinondo that the others gained in exposure, attracting worldwide attention.

The project is also a great conservation initiative. There is minimal destruction since, according to their beliefs, spirits would attack anyone destroying nature. Insects are not disturbed. Even fetching firewood is not allowed according to local traditions. If a branch of a tree or the tree itself falls, it is simply left to rot, remaining part of the ecosystem. Needless to add, hunting is not allowed.

Kaya Kinondo Ecotourism Project carries out a wide range of environmental conservation efforts to preserve the forest. These include afforestation and raising awareness on the Kaya’s importance.

The community uses a set of rules both to safeguard the Kaya’s sanctity and to protect their culture. For instance, entry into the Kaya is allowed only on certain days, according to a traditional calendar. Visitors are not supposed to litter, smoke or take anything away from the Kaya. Moreover, there are still some sections of the Kaya that one is not allowed to venture into. 

Kaya Kinondo is reported to harbour 52 bird species and 192 plant species. The current pristine status of many Kayas demonstrates the important role that social taboos have played in biodiversity conservation over time; these forests have remained intact due to taboos that prohibited tree felling, livestock grazing and extraction of forest product.

 

The Digo people show us a beautiful example of environmental conservation and cultural preservation managed at the grassroots level.

 The next time you’re enjoying the sandy beaches at the coast take some time off to visit one of the Kaya forests, a culture that has survived modern day civilization without being changed or eroded. 

Saving Kenya’s rare mountain antelope “Bongo flavor”

The eastern (mountain) bongo is one of the world’s most striking antelopes, but also one of the rarest. Its cinnamon coat, robust horns and vivid white stripes and facial markings, make for a remarkable package.
The subspecies is found in central Kenya living in tropical jungles with dense undergrowth up to an altitude of 4,000 meters (13,000 feet). Officially listed as Critically Endangered, the Bongo Surveillance Programme, working alongside the Kenya Wildlife Service, using a combination of photos taken at remote camera sites and analysis of DNA extracted from dung, estimates that there are as few as 140 animals remaining in the wild spread across four isolated populations. Habitat loss for agriculture, uncontrolled timber cutting and hunting for meat have all contributed to its recent decline.

Fortunately, mountain bongos breed well in captivity and several institutions in Kenya, Europe, and North America have focused on creating a sizable backup population running into hundreds of animals should it be needed. We visited the Mt. Kenya Wildlife Conservancy which has itself produced over 70 mountain bongos.
Various options have been talked about. Reestablishing wildlife corridors that would enable mountain bongos to travel between the four isolated areas they occupy is one consideration but is not very realistic. Reintroducing mountain bongos using captive stock is another possibility not just to add to the total number, but to increase the genetic diversity within the existing wild population.

One reintroduction of 18 animals have already been made. A third consideration is to address the issues that caused the decline and are continuing to exist. These are not easy problems to solve.

Bongos grazing at the orphanage

THE FACIAL MARKINGS ON MOUNTAIN BONGOS ARE VERY PRONOUNCED

Nature seems to be full of contradictions. While so many wild species easily blend into their environment, which makes sense from a natural selection standpoint, others are adorned with attributes that one might think would make them more vulnerable.

While it is common for the males of many species to be much more conspicuous, males being more expendable when it comes to maintaining viable populations, among bongos both males and females are strongly marked and bear horns. The level of facial detail is especially amazing. While we have a general sense how natural selection operates, our understanding as to how the process works at this level is far from clear.

Bongo eyes are stunningly beautiful

Nocturnal and partially diurnal. Bongos are extremely shy and rarely seen expect to the various night-viewing lodges in the Aberdare forest, but wait! there’s one at the Nairobi safari walk make a date this weekend as you enjoy the serene environment as you walk on the boardwalk get to see this remarkably charismatic antelope up close, or better yet visit the Mt. Kenya orphanage for a front row seat to experience their charm.

Visit the Mt. Kenya wildlife orphanage for a more personal encounter with the magnificent species

AARDVARK THE UNIQUE EARTH PIG

I am almost certain you have no idea what an Aardvark is unless you are one heck of a keen and dedicated ecologist or conservationist if you have come across this peculiar animal count yourself in lucky to be in a very short list of people who have had this rare opportunity to see this magnificent animal.
Apparently, its Swahili name is “Mhanga” I’ve got no clue what relevance it has to the Swahili saying “Kujitolea mhanga” if you have the slightest clue please enlighten us by posting after you complete reading.
Strangely these shy animals live throughout Africa, south of the Sahara. Their name comes from South Africa’s Afrikaans language and means “earth pig.” A glimpse of the aardvark’s body and long snout brings the pig to mind. On closer inspection, the aardvark appears to include other animal features as well. It boasts rabbitlike ears and a kangaroo tail yet the aardvark is related to none of these animals.

LIFE OF AN AARDVARK

Aardvarks are nocturnal. They spend the hot African afternoon holed up in cool underground burrows dug with their powerful feet and claws that resemble small spades. After sunset, aardvarks put those claws to good use in acquiring their favorite food termites. (I guess you have know figured out why you probably have never come across one)
While foraging in grasslands and forests aardvarks, also called “antbears,” may travel several miles a night in search of large, earthen termite mounds. A hungry aardvark digs through the hard shell of a promising mound with its front claws and uses its long, sticky, wormlike tongue to feast on the insects within. It can close its nostrils to keep dust and insects from invading its snout, and its thick skin protects it from bites. It uses a similar technique to raid underground ant nests.
If you ever wander off during a game drive a hit an Aardvark hole my friend I bet you will never ever drive off-road, some of their burrows are extensively deep Hyenas are so fond of them as their bungalows because of their various compartments