Conservation Characters

The Government of Kenya announced today a ban on the use, manufacture and import of all plastic bags, to take effect in six months. This announcement comes just three weeks after the United Nations declared a “war on plastic” through its new Clean Seas initiative, which has already secured commitments to address major plastic pollution from 10 governments.

Some 100 million plastic bags are handed out every year in Kenya by supermarkets alone. Long identified as a major cause of environmental damage and health problems, they kill birds, fish and other animals that mistake them for food, damage agricultural land, pollute tourist sites and provide breeding grounds for the mosquitoes that carry malaria and dengue fever.

“Kenya is taking decisive action to remove an ugly stain on its outstanding natural beauty,” said Erik Solheim, Head of, UN Environment. “Plastic waste also causes immeasurable damage to fragile ecosystems -- both on land and at sea -- and this decision is a major breakthrough in our global effort to turn the tide on plastic.

“Kenya should be commended for its environmental leadership. It's a great example that I hope will inspire others, and help drive further commitments to the Clean Seas campaign.”

Plastic bags are the number one challenge for urban waste disposal in Kenya, particularly in the poorest communities where access to disposal systems and healthcare is limited.

They also contribute to the 8 million tonnes of plastic that leak into the ocean every year. At current rates by 2050 there will be more plastic in the oceans than fish, wreaking havoc on marine fisheries, wildlife and tourism.

Kenya today is the 11th country to take action in support of the UN Environment campaign. In Africa, Rwanda and Morocco have already banned plastic bags and other countries are set to announce measures in the coming weeks.

Further afield, Indonesia has committed to slash marine litter by 70%, Canada has added microbeads (tiny particles of plastic) to its list of toxic substances, and New Zealand, the UK and the US have annouced bans of microbeads in cosmetics.

Source: UN Environment

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By Jackson Bambo. 

The United Nations General Assembly proclaimed 21 March the International Day of Forests (IDF) in 2012. The Day celebrates and raises awareness of the importance of all types of forests. Countries are encouraged to undertake activities involving forests and trees, such as tree planting campaigns. The theme for 2017 is Forests and Energy.

Forests have provided us with wood for cooking and heating for thousands of years – but today the relationship between forests and energy is more critical than ever. Cheap, easily accessible fossil fuels are running out, and their use releases huge amounts of greenhouse gas into the atmosphere, driving climate change and acidifying oceans and posing threat to human wellbeing.

Kenya Forests Working Group’s mission to promote sustainable forest management in Kenya through research, advocacy, networking and partnerships development for improved livelihoods for all Kenyans, is at risks, as the country’s population grows and competition for land becomes more acute, producing more bioenergy could increase food and water shortages, and destroy natural habitats. Pollution and climate change, along with the harmful impacts of drilling, mining, and transportation of these fuels, pose a very serious threat to the natural treasures we work to protect. It is critical that the Kenya moves away from fossil fuels and swiftly toward renewable, non-polluting, and environmentally sustainable sources of energy.

Given the enormous growth in energy use and consumption of fossil fuels over the last century, KFWG recognizes that it is unrealistic to expect an immediate shift to renewable energy. However, a conservative strategy based on improved energy efficiency, transitions to cleaner fuels, and the investment in and the rapid adoption of renewable energy technologies, such as wind and solar power, offers enormous promise.

The need for renewable energy, and the economic opportunities it presents, must be tempered by a realistic evaluation of its impacts. Poorly designed or sited renewable energy projects can have serious negative environmental impacts. KFWG urges policy makers, project developers and others to carefully consider the following issues when evaluating renewable energy proposals.

What social and environmental safeguards are needed to manage these risks? And can we produce more energy and still achieve our goal of zero forest loss and degradation?

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By Charlotte Beauvoisin


Hidden in the dense rainforests that stretch across Uganda’s southwestern border with the Democratic Republic of the Congo dwells a gentle giant that has intrigued and amazed the world for hundreds of years.

Uganda is home to half of the estimated 880 mountain gorillas alive today, but the great apes are critically endangered. Their home in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site and biodiversity hotspot, is a fragile habitat under threat.

People living around Bwindi are among the poorest and most marginalized. They have inadequate access to basic social services, including healthcare and a means to provide for their families. This forces them to depend on the forest for basic needs such as food and fuel wood. But every time people enter the forest, they interfere with the gorillas’ habitat and could transmit human diseases to the gorillas. But lacking viable alternative livelihoods, people continue to poach and cause deforestation in the park.

Conservation Through Public Health (CTPH), a Ugandan non-profit organization featured in the January-March 2017 edition of Swara is supporting biodiversity conservation by enabling humans, wildlife and livestock to coexist while improving the health and livelihoods of people in and around protected areas. It is CTPH’s mission to save the endangered mountain gorilla by improving rural public health and community attitudes towards conservation.

Working with communities, CTPH discovered that there is a growing local economy around coffee farming. Coffee is of vital importance to Uganda’s economy. The commodity accounts for 22 per cent of the country’s export earnings. While there is great potential to benefit from the coffee industry, CTPH found that the impoverished communities that grow coffee on the slopes of Bwindi Forest lacked the resources and the reliable coffee market required to increase their income, improve their way of life and hence reduce encroachment on the gorillas’ habitat.

CTPH has partnered with World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF-Switzerland) to create Gorilla Conservation Coffee, a social enterprise that is saving gorillas ‘one coffee sip at a time.’ Some 75 small-holder coffee farmers in Bwindi have come together to form the Bwindi Coffee Growers Cooperative. They are being taught sustainable farming practices and good post-harvest coffee handling techniques, in addition to being paid a premium for their coffee and having a steady market for their product. Coffee farmers in the cooperative are already reaping the benefits. Hundreds more farmer are expected to join the cooperative in the near future.


The Gorilla Conservation Coffee will not stop there: With every purchase of a bag of coffee, consumers help ensure the survival of the critically endangered mountain gorilla. As a social enterprise of CTPH, sales from Gorilla Conservation Coffee provide sustainable financing for CTPH programmes.


The primary goal of Gorilla Conservation Coffee was the protection of mountain gorillas and their habitat through inclusive growth and support for the local the economy around Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. Gorilla Conservation Coffee connects the growing economic prosperity of the farmers with gorilla conservation. With the right support, farmers are less likely to damage the gorillas’ habitat.


There is no one solution to gorilla conservation, but Gorilla Conservation Coffee is a community-driven solution that supports local coffee farmers and their families to reach their full potential. Gorillas are unlikely to survive without the support of the local communities with whom they share a fragile habitat.

Gorilla Conservation Coffee is on sale at tourist lodges across Uganda, at Entebbe Airport’s 

Duty free shop and the website

For more on Conservation Through Public Health visit

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By Felix Paton

photo: The dental clinic

Conserving rhinos creates employment and tourism opportunities which become a vehicle for transforming lives and livelihoods.

In the early 1980s, a partnership between Anna Merz and the Craig family led to the creation of the Ngare Sergoi Rhino Sanctuary, a black rhino refuge at the western end of Lewa Downs. The conservation work soon attracted tourists anxious to see some of the last remaining rhinos in Kenya.

From the outset it was determined that the benefits of wildlife protection and the resulting tourism should be channelled back into the communities, helping them to develop and improve their own quality of life. The community conservation approach has been widely embraced by other private wildlife conservancies including Ol Pejeta, Ol Jogi and Borana, generating direct and indirect benefits for local communities mainly through employment, healthcare, education, water development and enterprise.

The programmes aim to sensitize the communities neighbouring the conservancies on the benefits of wildlife conservation so that they recognise that it is the rhino and other wildlife that have given them a plethora of benefits. In return, the communities take ownership of conservation initiatives and support the aims of the conservancies.

For example, in the case of Lewa, they have fed children in school, provided bursaries for quality education from primary school through to University (424 to date), built classrooms, kitchens and libraries, provided desks, writing and reading resources, teachers and volunteers. Adults have been taught how to read and write and skills such as crop farming, poultry farming, civic education and the basics of business have also been offered. Students have been able to start and operate a bakers, sew uniforms for local schools, rear poultry and sell chickens and eggs, among other projects - benefits which have come directly from the protection of wildlife.

Training communities on sustainable and efficient farming techniques, as well as methods of diversifying crop production has resulted in a wider variety of farm produce both for their own needs and surpluses to earn income. With irrigation, fruit growing and horticultural production has been possible.

Women’s economic empowerment is an essential element of poverty alleviation. Lewa Women’s Micro-Credit Programme has enabled more than 1800 women to start their own businesses supported by soft loans. Types of enterprises range from crochet, bead works to small farming operations.

Lewa’s four medical clinics shoulder up to 90% of the needs of staff and over 20,000 people from neighbouring communities. The clinics offer diagnosis and treatment in reproductive, preventative, and general health; including HIV/ AIDS counselling, testing and treatment, family planning and hygiene. Lives have been saved, hundreds of children have received immunisation against diseases and mothers have delivered safely in the clinics and child mortality has been lowered. Mobile clinics offer healthcare to communities living in remote areas and visit schools to carry out anti-jigger and de-worming campaigns. School children have been treated for minor diseases and ailments, screened for developmental disorders and teenagers have received teen education and counselling.

Most recently, in 2010, two Lodges based around Laikipia’s most southerly rhino conservancy, opened. Both Solio Lodge and Rhino Watch Lodge have since contributed to the local economy and to many individuals in the local community.

Through a wide range of community projects, rhino conservancies are sharing the benefits of tourism, employment, security, and donor funding whilst leveraging a conservation agenda to meet the compelling needs of surrounding communities, contributing directly towards transforming lives.


Some successful outcomes from bursary programmes

Richard Mbaabu became a senior accountant at Uchumi Supermarkets in Uganda. Dennis Kasoo ran a research consulting company. Fides Mwenda became a highways engineer, Catherine Mugure, a correspondent for a local radio Station, Osman Hussein the Administrative Officer of the Northern Rangeland Trusts, Lucy Kanorio a Clinical Officer, Fridah Gatwiri and Renet Karendi practicing nurses, James Kijuki a teacher.

Stephen Kasoo obtained a bachelor’s and a master’s degree became the Conservation Tourism Manager of the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy. Joses Muthamia, obtained a bachelor’s and a master’s degree and became the Coordinator of the Soy and Climbing Beans Project at Kenyatta University. Robert Munoru joined Kenya Airways, Ochen Maiyani the Manager Il Ngwesi Group Lodge, Ruth Naitore started a stationery shop, Mercy Ataya graduated with a bachelor’s degree in education and taught languages.

Eliud Gilisho is one of Lewa’s sponsored students. Eliud and his school team developed a ‘project’ or app able to detect an explosive or weapon in any vehicle, sending an automatic signal to the police upon detection. It won the award for the most innovative project in Kenya’s science week, 2015. The team represented Kenya in the Diamond Challenge Africa, an international competition held in Delaware University in the USA. Several people wish to purchase the innovation.

Johnson Leteiyo Rana

Johnson Leteiyo Rana, 23, from Il Polei village was brought up in a family of very limited means. Johnson, the first born in a family of six worked very hard in school and wanted to be a pace-setter for his siblings. However, it was a daily struggle for his parents to ensure the chldren ate and dressed well and that each would get a good education.

Successful completion of secondary school education in Dol-Dol Secondary School in 2011, brought joy followed by sorrow as his parents could not afford to pay for a course in a career of his choice. Ol Jogi came to his rescue through sponsorship to join Kenya Medical Training College in Nairobi in September 2013 to pursue a 3-year diploma course in Orthopaedic Technology.

Mobile Clinics

Mobile clinics help diagnose life threatening conditions and diseases not previously detected. A 16-year-old teenager had given birth at home the night before to a baby girl, Lucy. The 18-hour-old baby had low birth weight, an occipital hematoma (collection of blood in the occipital region which is at the back of the head) and was breastfeeding poorly. The crew did initial first aid and urgently transferred young Lucy to St. Theresa, a mission hospital in Kiirua.

An examination of 10-year- old Karen Kinanu revealed she had an undiagnosed childhood heart disease so was referred to a hospital for further cardiac tests. These indicated she had Patent Ductus Arteriosus (PDA), a condition which a child is born with, and known in layman’s terms, as a hole in the heart.


Jimmy Gichuki

Jimmy is a driver and safari guide for Rhino Watch Lodge. Ten years ago he was a struggling farm labourer when he was employed to guard a forest area at the site on which the Lodge was to be built. When building started, materials were sourced locally which Jimmy collected. When the Lodge opened to tourists, Jimmy helped the guides and learnt about wildlife becoming a driver/guide in his own right.

Increasing responsibility meant increasing income from which he has built his own timber house, acquired land and irrigation equipment to switch from crop to more profitable vegetable farming employing local labour while also being able to educate his two children at a higher standard.



Cataracts are responsible for 43% of blindness in Kenya and trachoma accounts for a further 19% of cases, both of which can normally be cured with simple surgical procedures.

In 2014, The Safari Collection, the managers of Solio Lodge located in a rhino conservancy, partnered with Medical and Educational Aid to Kenya (MEAK) to bring free ophthalmic services for the surrounding community. A ten-day campaign on the three biggest radio stations in the area promoted the clinic and conservation in the local Kikuyu language.

A team of 12 worked at Mary Immaculate Hospital in Mweiga, the nearest small town to Solio Lodge, using their consultation rooms and surgical theatre. They screened/treated 1759 patients, performed 170 cataract surgeries, visited four local schools and screened 600 hundred children of whom 171 required treatment for a variety of eye infections, especially conjunctivitis.

The nearest dentist to the Lodge is located about 30km away. Few people are able to afford the costs of the service or even the travel to meet the dentist. SmileStar brought a team of four dentists, three dental nurses, a doctor and two support staff plus all the dental equipment and medicines they needed. Mary Immaculate Hospitals again provided the facilities where over 600 patients were examined, 200 teeth extracted, over 80 root infections treated and over 200 toothbrushes and toothpastes handed out.

Solio Lodge staff assisted with translation, registration and conservation education.


Simon Gikunju

Livestock farmer Samuel Gikunju used affordable artificial insemination from Ol Pejeta to change from indigenous breeds to quality dairy breeds. From 4 litres of milk per day he now gets 40 litres and saves money on disease-treatment.

Anthony Gakuru

Anthony Gakuru was orphaned at an early age and lived with his elder sister and grandmother. He obtained an Ol Pejeta bursary from 2007 enabling him to focus on his secondary education, graduating with a final grade of A- earning direct entry to Moi University, where he completed a degree in Business Management majoring in Civil Aviation Management.

Tabitha Munoru

Tabitha Munoru acquired a water tank with the help of the Lewa microcredit programme. She can now store more water essential for her farming and domestic use.

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By Karl Ammann

In Sept 2009, towards the end of a very serious drought spell, I wrote a feature for SWARA magazine of what I had been seeing in the Samburu and Buffalo Springs Reserves. Livestock had taken over these protected areas with camels and donkeys often moving without herdsmen in all parts of the reserve. The ground was already littered with rotting cow carcasses which originally were brought in only at night and later in the autumn, openly during the day.

The grazing resources for wildlife by this time were so depleted that some of the few Cape Buffaloes left came to the area around our camp to lie down and die and the rangers then pulled them out of sight of tourists and their noses. There were about sixty buffalo in the Samburu reserve prior to the drought. They were all wiped out and never came back (some remain in Shaba which is another totally degraded reserve). The warthog also took a beating and pretty much all disappeared but their numbers have recovered in the years since.

At the time I went to see the warden and asked about the official policy on livestock overrunning the reserve while tourists were still being asked to pay to see wildlife. With a lot of livestock perishing after the last grass had been consumed, the remaining wildlife soon started to go the way of the cattle. A situation which could have been largely avoided -- at least in these protected areas -- if the wildlife and with it tourism had been given priority, with tourism the biggest employer in the county.

I was told by the warden: “These are our people and their livestock is their livelihood. We cannot give priority to wildlife.”

It looks like 2017 could turn into another 2009 with no change in policy and no new measures to deal with the excessive livestock: no apparent campaigns in those parts to buy up excessive animals by the authorities or the NGOs, while a new abattoir exists at Isiolo there supposedly is no water to run it. No canning facilities have been set up to process the meat to possibly give or sell to the starving human population. This at the time when local papers report that Mt. Kenya governors are looking for 770 million shillings for draught relief.

As of last week the sheep and goats could be seen on the Samburu and Buffalo springs side of the river all day long in their hundreds if not thousands. They are taken down to the river for a watering session towards midday. At night the cattle comes in which was evident the next morning based on the fresh droppings.

On our last morning we found two lions feeding on a camel which had clearly been brought in at night and the lions had taken advantage of the opportunity. We photographed the lions feeding and went back a few hours later. The lions had left but there were no vultures or any other scavenger at the carcass. In fact we had not seen any vultures during our three day stay, as on many previous occasions.

The white cliffs above the Shaba Sarova Lodge where a large vulture colony used to nest is deserted. It seems all these clean up agents have disappeared. Supposedly -- like pretty much everywhere else -- they have been indirectly poisoned by pastoralists lacing carcasses like the camel we had found that morning: An act of revenge by the herdsmen.

Returning to our camp we looked for a phone number on the poster advertising the Samburu lion conservation project which asks tourists to report lion activities. There was none, only a link to a web page. We were going to ask the conservationists in charge to monitor the camel carcass we had seen in the centre of the reserve and ensure it was not going to be laced with poison.

Next to the poster on the lion conservation project was another one showing ways of constructing proper predator-safe bomas for cattle and other livestock. The donors listed for this campaign included a range of US Zoos.

It seemed kind of ironic to create awareness among tourist visitors of what pastoralists could and should be doing to avoid conflict with the type of predator each tourist hoped to see, while at the same time the area reserved for wildlife, including these predators, is overrun with cattle, camels and donkeys moving around tempting the remaining predators into going for an easy meal. The sturdiness of their bomas not being an issue at all.

Big areas around these reserves have now been cultivated and promoted as community based conservation areas with local communities having signed on to projects which would yield jobs and assistance with a wide range of infrastructure investment. Projects which are all fundraising on the basis of local communities now fully engaged with a range of conservation efforts. Except who owns all the thousands of head of livestock? Who was ignoring the Reserve rules and regulations? Who was jeopardizing the tourism industry and driving the wildlife into even more marginal areas? None of the guides at the camp had an answer to this question.

The friends we had taken on Safari were asked to pay U$ 470 in park entry fees for their three day stay in the Reserve. The tickets were not sold at the gate as we originally entered (as in the past) but we were asked to pay at the camp we stayed at. The rangers promptly came. Our resident tickets were in order and paid for. Our friends paid for their foreign visitor tickets.

These had clearly been stamped for previous visitors in January. It was now February and they were stamped over again with a new date. Clearly a lot of this embezzlement was going on and I was pretty confident our friends could have resold their tickets at a heavily discounted rate at the end of their stay so they could be used and stamped a third time. Sadly the council which is meant to take care of the reserve infrastructure and assist communities with income from revenue streams such as the Reserve entry fees will have its effort curtailed by their staff on the ground involved in these corrupt practices.

I complained to the camp management and was told that the warden would come and see me to discuss these issues. Nobody showed up but I was given the phone number by the camp management which I had made very uncomfortable by voicing my concern in such a way that other tourists could follow the conversation. I called him after we got home to again ask what the priorities were as far as giving the tourists the product they were looking and paying for.

After several attempts I got the deputy warden who told me that the warden was out of post and he did not know when he would be back. I asked him if he could answer some of my questions to which he agreed. When I asked him about the official policy regarding livestock grazing in the park and ticket control measures he said that only the warden could provide an answer and he would send me his direct mobile line by SMS. Despite several reminders I never got it. So I feel I have provided the right to respond.

No easy solutions here either it would appear. An increasing number of people and livestock, in marginal habitats, putting life supporting ecosystems and the wildlife in them under ever increasing pressure. Combined with changing climate patterns and potentially drier conditions, the laissez-faire approach to environmental management can only lead to a lot more heartache and suffering down the line. These protected areas seem to be a typical example illustrating where it is all going. We thought the term Reserve meant the area was reserved for wildlife.

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