Tree farming business endangers Cranes conservation in Western Kenya

Mr Rudolf Makhanu, the Country Coordinator International Crane Foundation/Endangered Wildlife Trust/CANCO Partnership

NAIROBI, KENYA: Kenya has the largest population of Grey crowned cranes in Africa followed by Uganda and South Africa. It is estimated that more than three-quarters of the world’s Grey Crowned Cranes live in Kenya and Uganda in East Africa.

However, the Grey Crowned-crane is globally threatened, listed as Endangered in the 2012 IUCN Red Data List meaning that the species is likely to become extinct if no serious mitigation measures are taken.

It is also listed under Agreement on the Conservation of African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbirds (AEWA) as a priority species requiring urgent and dedicated conservation measures. It is estimated that the species’ global population has declined by 65- 80 per cent in the last 45 years.

Globally, the degradation of the Crane’s habitats is of major concern and is most often caused by agricultural encroachment, afforestation, mining and changes in hydrology.

A large number of Cranes are captured from the wild and sold as ornaments for private gardens or hotels, having their wings clipped, or broken, so that they cannot fly away. Electrocution and poisoning pose further threats.

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These threats fall in three categories; threats causing habitat loss, and degradation, threats causing reduced breeding success and reproductive rates, and threats directly causing reduced adult and juvenile survival.

In Western Kenya a key threat to Grey Crowned Cranes is degradation and loss of wetlands. This takes the form of eucalyptus growing in riverine areas and swamps, encroachment of sugar cane farming on wetlands, unregulated grazing and poor farming methods in watersheds.

Despite eucalyptus trees not being suited for wetland areas due to high water uptake, silvicultural operations such as weed control contribute to habitat degradation and loss. Poor farming methods in watersheds result to increased nutrient and sediment loads that compromise the integrity of wetlands to effectively provide the much needed ecosystem services and goods.

Eutrophication and Siltation contributes to invasive species menace which is wreaking havoc in several wetlands in Kenya.  For instance, increased agricultural activities around Saiwa Swamp that is an important breeding site for the cranes has seen occurrence of an invasive plant species in Saiwa.

Expansion of agricultural activities such as sugar cane farming into wetlands is associated with draining, and use of agro-chemicals which negatively impacts on wetlands and cranes.

Uncontrolled grazing in swamps and riverine areas trigger burning aimed at enhancing access to water, fresh pasture and fodder. Unregulated movement of livestock interfere with cranes nests while some herders engage in poaching of cranes eggs, chicks, and sometimes mature birds through snaring.

There are indications of illegal trade in cranes and their products (eggs) especially in Busia, along the border of Kenya and Uganda.

The ICF / EWT partnership has been supporting initiatives aimed at conserving Grey Crowned Cranes in Kenya over the last 15 years. This has been through partnership with local conservation organizations and individual.

Trans Nzoia County is one such organization through which the ICF / EWT partnership has advanced the cranes conservation agenda in Kenya with financial support from Sainsbury Trust and Dohmen Family Foundation.

Major interventions undertaken by KCWCG entails the following;

Monitoring of cranes and their breeding and feeding habitats aimed at generating data for enhanced management. Data is submitted to EWT on monthly basis. EWT manages a global database on cranes.

Implementation of conservation education program that has a school outreach component. A mini resource centre is based at Kipsaina centre. Over 100 schools have been visited and 200,000 children sensitised the need and basic actions of environmental conservation.

Wetlands rehabilitation project that entails raising of indigenous tree seedlings and distribution for planting on degraded wetlands in western Kenya. Over 800,000 seedlings have been planted over the last 4 years. A major tree nursery is based at Kipsaina. The project has also supported establishment of satellite tree nurseries in different parts of western Kenya, and distributed 100 energy saving Jikos (cook stoves) aimed at minimising deforestation.

Livelihood project, whose purpose is to strengthen the local communities’ adaptive capacity to negative effects of climate change, by enhancing household income through dairy goats rearing, fish farming and bee keeping. Beneficiaries of these enterprises are local cranes custodians whose land forms part of the cranes breeding or feeding habitats. Multipurpose trees and shrubs are being promoted to provide fodder for the goats while at the same time help to rehabilitate degraded swamps. Fifteen goats are set to be distributed this month.

Spring protection project that enhances access to safe and sufficient water to wetland adjacent communities. Six springs have been protected in Kipsaina area, serving approximately 100 households

Networking/partnership and advocacy initiative whose aim is to promote environmental stewardship and influence good governance and management of wetlands resources. For the first time, Kipsaina Crane and Wetland Conservation Group had the honour of hosting Kenya’s national celebrations to mark the World Wetlands day, 2017. This was in recognition of the group’s outstanding contribution towards conservation of wetlands and Grey Crowned Cranes in Western Kenya,

As from January 2017, ICF/EWT has partnered with Community Action for Nature Conservation (CANCO) aimed at upscaling cranes conservation initiatives in Kenya. A Kenya country cranes and wetlands conservation project has been initiated, which will be part of the African Cranes Conservation Program.

Development of an international single species Action Plan for conservation of Grey Crowned Cranes under AEWA at the international level, and the recent development and launch of National Wetlands Policy and Strategy for Kenya are among important steps towards harmonized conservation of cranes and wetlands in Kenya. Absence of a comprehensive wetlands legislation in keeping with the wetlands policy as well as lack of a single species conservation action plan for cranes are among priority challenges that require concerted stakeholder effort in Kenya.

International Single and Multi-Species Action Plans (ISSAPs/IMSAPs) are the key instrument developed under AEWA to stimulate and guide coordinated measures for the effective conservation of migratory waterbird populations across their entire range.

Uganda is among the few African countries that has developed a Single Species Action Plan for Grey Crowned Crane.

It is hoped that Kenya’s Single Species Action Plan for Grey Crowned Cranes, will among others lay out innovative measures of effectively securing cranes’ habitats from the increasing threat of unsustainable land uses such as growing of eucalyptus trees.

Writer is the Country Coordinator

International Crane Foundation/Endangered Wildlife Trust/CANCO Partnership

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