Featured Conservation Articles


By Brian Finch


As yet another year ends, it is traditionally a time to review the events of the past 12 months, take stock of what has been learnt and draw some comparison to what might be considered the norm.

What I have come to notice is that as far as the resident birds of the paddock, there is quite an unsuspected instability in population dynamics. Birds that have been here for what seemed always, have disappeared completely and whilst there has been no change to the area, replacements have not found the area as a currently vacant lot for their kind.

Lost species have been Black-collared Apalis which was omnipresent in the hedges and understorey, just the one pair then as of 24th October 2015….gone and apart from two single sightings of neighboring individuals wandering in since… never to return.


It’s a number of years since Grey-capped Warbler was a resident, on 27th April a bird came in and sang well, staying into July but failing to attract a mate moved on and did not re-establish itself as part of the local avifauna. However it left a legacy, and as I write this I can still hear Grey-capped Warbler, except it is because during its stay a Ruppell’s Robin-Chat has found this to his liking and uses it with convincing gusto! 0(See Swara Oct-Dec 2015).


It should be said that both of these species are fairly numerous locally. We lost Sulphur-breasted Bush-Shrike also some years before the study, in the first two years of the survey only two single birds were ever recorded but on 10th June a young male arrived with a very squeaky voice which gradually improved, he stayed through until early November, then vanished, the song still hadn’t the maturity of a territorial adult. Then just as suddenly 10 days later he was back!


The most amazing disappearing act though has been our (we thought) ever faithful Common Fiscals. They have successfully raised broods, and fed the young on the washing line. In July the female departed leaving the male alone, then suddenly on 10th August, was the last day he was seen.


Once again there is no obvious reason for the disappearance, maybe the female died, then maybe he did too, but with the species common locally it would have been thought that birds would have wandered in as the area has always been occupied by the species before. Then suddenly at the end of October he reappeared. I know it was the same bird, choosing the same perches, and extremely tame for a Fiscal, then a few days later he was attached, and the pair stayed on.


All of this has led me to the thought that as much as we take species presence for granted, there is an underlying instability, but were it not for the intensity of the survey who would have noticed? It becomes obvious when dealing with only one pair, as it is the

species that vanishes, but maybe it is also happening un-noticed amongst the species of which there are multiple pairs but with the constant presence of the species, it masks the real status of the individuals themselves.


The day before I sat down to write this article I was sitting waiting to see what was coming into the paddock in the evening, and to my delight an Eastern Honey-bird came in to the Shrebera next to me shortly after 5.00 pm and occupied the same perch as the bird I wrote about (Swara July-Sept 2015). This bird went through the process as previously described, of disheveling it’s plumage to reveal the whitish bases and transform itself into camouflage cloaking. The amazing thing is that it had not used this roost since the article was published, but now it has come back to the very same roost site! Even more amazing, it was present at the roost just that one evening, although the birds are present daily… and so am I!


In Swara April-June 2015, I reported on the presence of a third White-eye species in Langata gardens. The birds were identified as Yellow, and found in association with both Abyssinian and Kikuyu. In October 2016, I found a pair of White-eyes feeding two juveniles, but the shape and size of the eye-wattle (ring) is suggestive of a member of the Montane group to which Kikuyu is one.


However the extensive yellow on the front of the crown blending into the green on the top of the crown, bright yellow and green plumage and the large lower lobe of the eye-wattle confusingly suggests that there might be a fourth White-eye here and this is Mbulu White-eye which in Kenya is restricted to Chyulus and forest on Ol Donyio Orok (Namanga). So the White-eye story is far from over…watch this space!


Admittedly the only Paddock relationship for the next item is that the subject up to our rediscovery, had been considered a form of Tropical Boubou as are the two pairs we have around the paddock, but this is in the nature of updating a previous article. In Swara Jan-Mar 2010, Nigel Hunter and myself prepared a report on a black form of Boubou (Bushshrike) from Manda Island. This was the first place that the discovery of this potentially new species for East Africa was announced.


The task then fell on us to, not only supply the morphological details, but the theory to be further supported by genetic evidence. The paper was finally published in “Bulletin of the British Ornithological Club” (2) 2016. Clearly proving that the bird is not even related to the Tropical Boubou group where it had been languishing since it’s initial discovery in north-eastern Kenya over a hundred years ago.

It has now been renamed Manda Black Boubou Laniarius nigerrimus, and the story of its unraveling can be found under the title of “Redefining the taxonomy of the all-black and pied boubous (Laniarius spp.) in coastal Kenya and Somalia.”

In October Grey-headed and Giant Kingfishers, and Northern Wheatear were new for the Paddock, bringing the bird list to exactly 250 species on the very date the survey started but two years later on (20th Oct 2014-16). In November new additions have been Purple

Heron, Long-legged Buzzard, Ruff and Eurasian Rock Thrush, so the list continues to grow and more can be expected.

The wonderful Bat Hawks that have not been seen since March this year, have made another three appearances in November so are still living somewhat secretively in this area. (See Swara Jan-Mar 2016).




As the daylights end approaches after a day in the paddock, so we say goodbye to 2016 and revisit with updates on the discoveries.



This image of the pair was taken only days before their sudden disappearance never to return. What could be the reason for them suddenly leaving?


Decides to revisit its old roost for one night only. Where is it all the other nights, does it have multiple regular roosts?



Is this really the Mbulu White-eye feeding young in the paddock?


A wandering Grey-headed Kingfisher turns up in the paddock, but from where?



After being absent for seven months we again have Bat Hawks in the vicinity, but where did they go?



Now the Manda Black Boubou is officially recognised as a unique species. But with the threat of the Lamu Port construction it is in immediate danger from destruction of its habitat unless a reserve on Manda Island can be set up to ensure this enigmatic species survives.


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By Peter Fundi and Chantal Mariotte

Friends of the Karura Forest that nestles some of the more opulent northern suburbs of Nairobi have gone the extra mile in their efforts to conserve the woodland, whose proximity to the city was once seen by some as a prime piece of real estate for the expansion of the leafy neighbourhoods.

Restoration of degraded tropical forests generally focuses on replanting indigenous trees. It rarely includes the reintroduction of lost faunal diversity.

The Friends of Karura Forest (FKF) undertook to reintroduce the arboreal Mount Kenya guereza (Colobus guereza kikuyuensis), which presumably roamed the rich ecosystem in the years gone by.

Guerezas were chosen for the translocation due to their ability to thrive in regenerating secondary forests and subsist partly on eucalyptus young leaves and flowers. Being an arboreal primate, their translocation was a delicate exercise, requiring careful planning, long-term financial consideration and relevant expertise to ensure compliance with the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) primate translocation guidelines.

Peter Fundi, an ecologist at the Biology of Conservation Department of the Institute of Primate Research provided the necessary expertise as lead scientist and trained a team of local assistants in capture and handling of guerezas.

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By Femke Broekhuis

The cheetah is well known for being the fastest land mammal on earth, but few people realise that it is also racing to extinction. This is often overshadowed by the plight of other threatened species such as elephants, rhinos, gorillas and lions.

In the early 1900s it was believed that around 100,000 cheetahs roamed the Earth, but in the past century the population has declined by more than 90 per cent. The most recent estimate by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) puts the figure at 6,600, which is considerably less than the current estimate of 360,000 African elephants and 35,000 African lions.

Rightfully so, both elephants and lions have received a lot of attention as populations have declined drastically because of poaching and conflict with people. Sadly it is a modern-day threat that many species face.

Cheetahs, for example, are prized as pets in the Middle-East. In order to meet this demand, cubs are often taken out of the wild as they are difficult to breed in captivity. When cheetah mothers hunt, they temporarily leave their young cubs unattended, leaving them vulnerable to human capture. Sadly the majority of cheetah cubs never reach their intended destination and die due to starvation and malnutrition.

While some people aspire to own a cheetah as a pet, others consider them pests as they kill sheep, goats and calves. But these are the obvious threats that are easy to capture in a photograph, a lion killed for killing someone’s cow, an elephant, dead, with half its face removed for its valuable tusks, starving cheetah cubs huddled together in a cage on its way to a new ‘owner’. These are the images that pull on people’s heartstrings.

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By Harvey Croze

Half past four in the morning. Normally the quietest time of day in suburban Nairobi. And there it is again: the unmistakable guttural waking call of a male colobus monkey. Rawr-rawr-rawr… But we are not in Kakamega Forest or the Aberdare Range -- we’re six kilometres from the capital’s central business district.

The black-and-white proclaiming his territory in the pre-dawn could also be celebrating the restitution of his new home (see companion article), the 1,000-hectare Karura Forest Reserve, one of the few forests in the world fully within a major city limits and a shining example of successful community-based participatory forest management.

In seven years, since the formation of the Friends of Karura (FKF), the forest has become one of Nairobi’s most popular places to escape the mayhem of city life. It currently ranks number four of over 100 TripAdvisor attractions in Kenya; 70 per cent of its visitors are Kenyan citizens.

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In the wake of the recent controversial decision to route the second phase of the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) through the Nairobi Nation Park, representative the Kenya Railways, Kenya Wildlife Service and conservation organisations met on 27 October to discuss how to maintain a balance between conservation and the need for infrastructure development.

They came up with the following recommendations:

Participants agreed that Kenya needs the SGR as it will spur economic growth, poverty alleviation and bring great benefits to the country.

The vast majority of the attendees were in agreement that the SGR should not go through the Nairobi National Park, saying that routing it through the park would damage it and the Kenyan president’s reputation as a champion of conservation in Africa.

Technical and and financial solutions must be found to enable the railway to to be re-routed so that Kenya continues to njoy the benefits of both the park and the and the SGR, the participants asserted.

Engineers should work with Kenya Railways to conduct technical assessments of alternative routes. Financial considerations to address the additional cost must be addressed, they added.

Participants voiced concern over what they said was apparent non-compliance with Kenyan laws, insisting that the rule of law must be upheld.

There was consensus that the SGR construction must comply with the law and other environmental protection legislation, including the Environmental Management and Coordination Act (EMCA) that provides for Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA), the Wildlife Act, the constitution and international commitments such as the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The participants agreed that a major communications campaign through the media is needed to promote public awareness of the benefits of the Nairobi National Park and conservation in general.

As a first step, they proposed that an event be held in the park on 16 December 2016 to commemorate its 70th anniversary.

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