Community's efforts to conserve bird species bear fruit

Samuel Bakari sighs, let’s loose the telescope around his neck and points to the breathtaking, sprawling tussock grass dotted with sheep.

Mr Bakari lives near the plains of Njambini in Nyandarua County. He is always armed with a telescope and a notebook.

He animatedly points at some movement in the grass. “There! By the tall tussock grass. The bird is usually shy and is trying to monitor the situation before coming out from its nest, which is just by the ground,” Bakari says.

Bakari is a bird expert with Birdlife International. He has been championing for the conservation of Sharpe’s Longclaw, a bird only found in Kenya and lives on the grasslands.

Here, almost everyone knows the bird, a major symbol of Kinangop. Most products from this area bear its image, indicative of efforts residents are making to conserve the bird and its habitat.

“Efforts to conserve the bird started in 1997. The community started by conserving the grasslands to boost their survival and increase their population. Currently, we have four groups in Magumu, Njambini, Engineer and Murungaru, which are raising awareness about the bird,” said Bakari.

“There is also a joint committee of a group called Friends of Kinangop, which oversees grassroots groups involved in conserving these birds,” Bakari, who chairs the committee, says.

Habitat loss

However, there had been a decline in the population of the birds, which was attributed to habitat loss after residents converted the grasslands into farms, thereby displacing the birds.

“The bird is very shy and cannot adapt anywhere else apart from the grasslands. Over the years, due to increase in population, grasslands have been converted to agricultural lands. This has displaced a sizable population of the birds,” Bakarai says.

Later, a wool-spinning factory was established in Njambini to woo residents into sheep rearing to save the grasslands. “We started Njambini Wool Crafters as a cooperative society in 2004 to conserve Kinangop Plateau grasslands by offering farmers an alternative to crop farming,” Bakari says.

The grasslands, mostly the tussock grass, he says, is a preferred home for the birds estimated to be between 6,000 and 16,000 Sharpe’s Longclaw.

“The efforts are bearing fruit, almost every household owns sheep. They also supply wool to the factory and the grasslands are conserved for the birds. The population of the birds is also believed to have gone up,” says Ruth Gathura, a member of Friends of Kinangop Plateau.

Conserving the birds also birthed Murungaru Community Resource Centre, established by Nature Kenya and Community Development Trust Fund.

“Interested parties, including conservationists, students and government officials visit the resource centre to learn about the Sharpe’s Longclaw,” Bakari says.

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Birds conservationBirdlife InternationaltussockBird species