Orchids find new home

Reijo Hakanen a long time member of KFWG delighted us at the last monthly meeting on Friday with a nice gift: Orchids. Reijo, found the Orchids (pictured below), dumped at the Agricultural Society of Kenya showground on Ngong Road. Reijo thought he would bring them to this meeting where forest lovers congregate, convinced they would find a home. And they did, not only did KFWG take some to be nurtured by the East African Wild Life Society’s Cape Chestnut and Jacaranda trees, but two other members took others home.

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Photo: The Orchids at the base of the Jacaranda tree that will host them, they don’t look pretty yet, but they will!

Reijo, and indeed, all of us were however not happy about the reason the Orchids came to be in the back of his pick-up (it was full) in the first place. It seems someone had asked and received permission to cut down some trees, which were holding the Orchids. They were granted permission to do so, as long as they moved the flowers first. They didn’t. That’s sad I think. I wish people would be more careful and mindful of the environment.

Meanwhile, we will enjoy this gift.

Liz

Correcting an Imbalance

Translocation of “predominantly females” to Chawia forest will help avert imminent local extinction of the Taita thrush population there, conservationists say

I remember last year when someone remarked rather dramatically, “I hear they have a shortage of females in Taita”. Seeing the confusion on our faces he added, rather cheekily, “The birds, the Taita Thrush”. I chuckled, thinking, “The birds and the bees didn’t prepare us for this!”

Later, I learnt that the females of Taita Thrush had not been seen or captured in the Chawia forest fragment of the Taita hills for the past four years – despite intensive mist netting – posing something of a problem for the thrush subpopulation there. I filed that fact away, until today when an email announced a translocation initiative to re-stock the forest with females.

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Photo: Thrush with transmitter and inset, being ringed. Courtesy of Mwangi Githiru (species guardian)

The Taita Thrush, Turdus helleri, is a forest-dependent endemic bird confined to three forests in the Taita Hills (in the south east of Kenya): Mbololo, Chawia and Ngangao. The forests cover a tiny 342 ha. BirdLife International, which championed an IUCN red listing of the species says in its fact sheet: “The bird is considered Critically Endangered because it has a tiny occupied range, within which its montane forest habitat has been severely fragmented and continues to decline in both extent and quality”. Conservationists are using birds – with the thrush as the flagship species – to champion the conservation of the Taita Hills forests.

According to a previous study by Edward Waiyaki and others (unpublished) on this thrush, Chawia forest was estimated to have a population of 38 individuals, while Ngangao and Mbololo had 250 and 1,060 individuals respectively. Another analysis based on molecular work by Galbusera and others in 2000 gave effective population size estimates of 3-30 in Chawia, 15-150 in Ngangao and 75-750 in Mbololo. In addition to a genetic bottleneck, Chawia’s population shows what ornithologists call “a highly male-biased sex ratio” – only 10% of birds were found to be female.

Now a team is correcting this imbalance by translocating several individuals of the thrush (predominantly females) from Mbololo, which has a larger population – and even sex ratio – to Chawia. Since 2005 the Critical Ecosystems Partnership Fund (CEPF) has been funding conservation projects in Taita Hills, which involved rehabilitation of the forest by the local communities and the government. Optimism is high that the ongoing reforestation and planned improvements of connectivity with other fragments and populations of the Taita Hills forests will improve Chawia. However, given the current trend, it is unlikely that the thrush subpopulation in Chawia will survive long enough to benefit from these restoration efforts, making this translocation both necessary and timely.

I have also since learnt that the birds are likely to suffer from genetic inbreeding if they don’t have more numbers of mates. Amazing what you can learn from the birds!

Liz

The East African Wild Life Society (EAWLS) has been running a Taita Hills Project which is focusing on conservation and management of the Taita forests through community participation.

Post election violence: Impact on forests in western Kenya

We are involved in mapping the impact of post election violence on forests in western Kenya. This is part of a project funded by the Finnish Embassy in Kenya, through the WWF East Africa Regional Programme, that is being carried out by five NGOs – WWF, KFWG, Nature Kenya, IUCN and Forest Action Network – and the Kenya Forest Service (KFS).

Last month we traveled to North and South Nandi forests and parts of the Cherengany ecosystem where the impacts were most felt. There we witnessed destruction of forests plantation through illegal clear – cutting and burning. There were also instances of burning of forest stations and displacement of forest staff. Things are more or less back to normal. However, KFS still has to deal with lack of housing and offices for some of its staff.

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Photo: What remains of the Cerengoni forest office

After the mapping, the team will embark on community forums and peace building efforts.

Liz

Kieni Forest’s Huruma village needs attention

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In the early nineties about 521 families who had been stopped from farming in the Kieni forest near Thika in Kenya were moved onto a plot within the forest as a temporary measure. More than a decade later the temporary settlement, with its desperate inhabitants, is still in place. It’s called Huruma, the word for pity in Swahili.

The group had fled political unrest in the Rift Valley in the early 90s. They were allowed by Forest officials to participate in the Non Residential Cultivation (NRC) programme, also called the Shamba system – which allows farmers to plant crops and trees on forest land while tending to the young trees – until it was banned by the government. All farmers were asked to leave. Being landless the families had nowhere to go. They lived on the roadside near Thika until the government settled them within the forest while awaiting resettlement elsewhere. They have been here since.

A recent visit by KFWG to Huruma found the squatters still living in hope of re-settlement. Many promises have been made in the past, but none have come to fruition. Politicians have visited and shed tears. Human rights activists have promised immediate action. But the squatters are still here. They can’t farm and are dependent on odd jobs from their neighbors and relief food.

The one thing I learned about the residents of Huruma is that they don’t want to be pitied. They don’t want handouts. They do want to farm and feed themselves. Its time the government looked for alternative settlement for the people of Huruma. And indeed for others elsewhere living as squatters in forests.

Postscript: Modern technology failed us completely in the past few months, hence the scarcity of news on this blog. We have however been visited by the technology fairy and all seems well in forestland for now (well at least on the www). Please feel free to also stop by our brand new website www.kenyaforests.org in the next couple of days. And if you find the fairy hasn’t completed the magic of uploading it yet, go back again the following day, and the next and the one after. It will be up. Promise.

Liz

Making conservation just a little be more “sexy”

That’s what Kijabe Environment Volunteers have been doing!

KENVO as they are more popularly known is a group of young, totally into the environment youth that works around the Kijabe escarpment, with a focus on the Kereita forest. Kereita forest is the southern most part of the Aberdare ranges of Kenya. The group came together in 1994 as Kijabe Young Volunteers to address environmental and forest degradation and other wider social issues such as poverty and HIV.

But its their novel way of approaching environmental conservation that has earned them admiration of their peers and the community in general.

Among the activities that KENVO carries out is celebration of the annual World Environment Day (June 5). But unlike many organizations, KENVO has found ways to involve the public in these celebrations in ways that are not connected to the traditional tree planting and clean-ups. Those do eventually take place, but amid much more excitement.

First it was a marathon. For the past couple of years, members of the community have been encouraged to run in a World Environment Day marathon while also taking part in other activities like music, dancing, exhibitions, tree planting and clean-ups.

This year KENVO introduced a beauty contest – the Miss Environment from Kijabe. I couldn’t believe my ears when team leader David Kuria told me this. But whatever works, this group will use it. I am yet to get pictures of the event but as soon as I have some, I will be sure to post them.

Meanwhile, go on over to the KENVO site and read up on this interesting group.

Liz

East African lawyers sue government over Mau

The East African Standard reports that East African lawyers will next week sue the Government over the destruction of the Mau
They are drafting papers for a case they will file at the East Africa Court of Justice in Arusha. They have accused the Kenya Government of contravening the East African Community treaty provisions on environment.

Read more here

More on the Mau

KFWG would like to show its support for government efforts to save the Mau. We hope this resolve will not wane.

Read more on the developments in the Mau here and here

High profile attention on the Mau Complex forests

The Government has sworn to act to save the Mau Complex forests. Prime Minister Hon. Raila Odinga who chaired a meeting over the Mau said the Government was treating the matter seriously and was determined to come up with a solution.

“We are concerned about the situation in Mau and want to find a solution to the increased human activity there,” the East African Standard quotes him.

KFWG member and UNEP Policy and Programme Officer, Mr Christian Lambrechts, gave a presentation on the status of the forests and raised alarm over the future of projects that depend on the Mau Complex.

Read more on this latest development here at the East African Standard online edition.

A copy of a report from an aerial survey of the Mau forest complex authored by UNEP, KFWG and Ewaso Ngiro South Development Authority can found on the KFWG website at this link.

National tree planting season to be launched tomorrow

Tomorrow, 30th May 2008 the new Minister of Forestry and Wildlife, Hon. Noah Wekesa will launch the 2008 national tree planting season at a ceremony to be held at Gathiuru Forest Station. The event is used to encourage Kenyans to plant trees throughout the country. It coincides with the long rains.

In connection to this, if there is anyone who wants to contribute tree seedlings to a youth group which wants to plant trees in the Ngong Forest, kindly contact us.

Happy planting.

KFS and communities can learn from Duru Haitemba

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A community member explains how CBFM is carried out

As part of a Natural Resources Management and Governance course I am attending in Tanzania, I have been fortunate to visit the Babati area to see how communities are managing forest resources. Unlike in Kenya where Participatory Forest Management (PFM) is just being formalized under the Forests Act 2005, Tanzania is way ahead in this area. In Babati we witnessed forest areas that are under full management of communities and those that are under joint management with the Government.

It’s the nature of people to resist change. Although PFM in Kenya has been met with a high degree of enthusiasm, there have been cynical quarters – those people who are convinced that communities are not good managers. I wish everyone had the opportunity to visit Babati. Although there are still challenges, the communities are a good example of what benefits can come out of entrusting a community with the responsibility of looking after its own resources.

Duru Haitemba Community Based Forest Management was the first initiative we visited. Duru Haitemba is one of the few remaining Miombo woodlands in the Babati District. They are located approximately 20km from Babati town. In the early nineties the forest was earmarked for gazettement. The local community representative explained that the forest had become degraded and the forest authorities decided to take action. However, the gazattement caused discontent among the locals. After much dialogue, the situation was resolved by allowing eight (currently nine) villages to take the responsibility of managing the forest.

What we gathered from the local representative was that the community took responsibility for the state of the forest then. However, they collectively decided to look after the forests once they were given authority. This positive attitude caused the government to suspend gazettement. It is also this positive attitude that has resulted in the good the progress made by the community. They came up with structures that have helped them to exploit and reap benefits from the forest while at the same time protecting it. The Tanzanian Government was also willing to devolve powers. The community was empowered and motivated to become the managers of their own resource. This is what PFM in Kenya is proposing and I hope it takes root as it has in Babati.