A stakeholder’s validation meeting on the National Wildlife Conservation Status Report 2015-2017 was held at KWS headquarters on December11, 2018.
A wildlife conservation status report is a time-bound report of the audit of all factors human or otherwise that affect species health in totality in a defined area.
In his opening remarks, KWS Acting Director General Dr. Charles Musyoki said that it was a crucial occasion for KWS and wildlife stakeholders because it is the first Report of its kind to be released in this country. “There have been quite a number of strategies on wildlife, but none on its status. One of the measures used to determine wildlife is population numbers and by the end of the day Kenyans deserve to know how much wildlife we have; it’s distribution and challenges being faced in conservation. It also measures successes in conservation.”
The Wildlife Conservation Management Act WCMA, 2013 in schedule 6 lists 245 wildlife species under various categories of threats ranging from critically endangered to protected species. The Act requires that the status of these species be reported to the National Assembly every two years, as well as the recovery measures being implemented to restore the said species be indicated. This 2015-17 wildlife status report is a response to this requirement.
Attendees were walked through the threats and challenges facing wildlife, such as; habitat loss, invasive species, pollution, poaching, wildlife diseases, fires, drought, livestock incursions, unsecured wildlife corridors, among others.
A rating of 1-5, with one being most severe and five being ‘safe,’ was used to rate the effects of these threats. For encroachment in conservation areas, for example, the report indicated that Arabuko Sokoke National Park had a ranking of one (1). This means that encroachment is absolute – and the park therefore exists only in name. Five national Parks faced severe livestock incursions and two others – Hell’s Gate being one – are floundering under acute pollution.
The report states that wildlife corridor should be identified, mapped and gazetted. Several corridors have been mapped, but are yet to be gazetted. For example, Mt. Kenya-Lewa-Samburu-Marsabit corridor is mostly used by elephants and is mapped but not gazetted. The Athi-Kapiti-Amboseli corridor hosts zebras, wildebeest and giraffes and is reeling under severe sub-division of land. Other corridors are located within conservancies and therefore stand a higher chance of being left untouched.
The IUCN lists 463 Kenyan wildlife species as endangered, while the WCMA 2013 lists just over 200. It was noted that a new category – Protected Species - exists in Schedule 6 of the Act, which is not found in the IUCN list. The Act does not, however, define what constitutes a Protected Species.
Out of the 36 carnivore species listed found in Kenya, only nine are listed in the WCMA 2013 as endangered or vulnerable. These are; lion, cheetah, leopard, African golden cat, African wild dog, Spotted and striped hyenas, Spotted-necked otter and Jackson’s mongoose.
Lion population numbers were listed as 1,970 individuals in the Report, which data was derived from a 2008 National Survey.
Participants expressed dissatisfaction about the gaps in species population statuses and lack of any surveys for some species, such as the spotted-necked otter, African golden cat and Jackson’s mongoose. The question arose as to why more recent data was not employed in the Report.
Data derived from more recent triennial aerial censuses in Kenya commonly cover all large mammals in different habitat pockets, thus not suitable because it does not have a national feel to it. In addition, lion surveys are not reliant on aerial surveys. There is, however, an on-going national survey for large carnivores, the results of which will be included in subsequent Reports.
Queries arose on the formula used to for picking which species qualified to have a recovery plan. It was also felt that the ‘remarks’ section needed to be more comprehensive. For example, instead of writing ‘no surveys undertaken,’ as has been done for some species, the remarks should give comprehensive status of all species to the Parliamentary Committee on Environmental and Natural Resources, who will then be able to lobby for the provision of more funding.
Not all participants at the Stakeholders validation meeting could authoritatively visually identify all the species listed in the Report. It also emerged that same species sometimes had different terminologies, e.g. Coke’s Hartebeest is also identified as Lelwel hartebeest or Jackson’s hartebeest in different regions of the world, which could potentially hinder data collection if it was mistakenly understood that these synonyms represent different species.
The black rhino was identified as one of the well-managed species, with population numbers at 745 as at the reporting time; located across nine parks, one reserve (Maasai Mara) and five conservancies.
The IUCN does not list the Roan and Sable antelopes, found in Ruma and Shimba Hills National Parks, respectively. The former has a paltry population of only 17 individuals, while the latter are only 34. There are concerted attempts at sexing the remaining Roans with a view to fast-tracking population recovery.
Other species that elicited concern with attendees were: The Blue Whale, which is not listed and whose last sighting was 2016; sightings of dugong are increasingly rare. DNA sequencing is being carried out on the dugong to identify if recorded sightings are those of the Australian dugong – which is not endangered; there have been no sightings of Soemmerring’s gazelle since 1999 in Juba, Somalia; Du Toit’s Torrent Frog was last sighted in 1962; 95% of the crevice tortoise are found outside conservation areas.
Participants suggested that the report should not go by absolute numbers, but rather by estimates, because uncertainty around numbers is a reality that researchers grapple with. There was need to give a context in order that those reading the report understand that a wildlife status report is not the same as a human census report and that data given in the wildlife report is not the exact representation of the actual numbers on the ground.
The Report also delves into the status of bush meat. The forensic laboratory handled over 150 bush meat cases from 21 counties, which included listed species such as elephant, green sea turtle, lesser kudu, leopard, rhino, aardvark and many more. The question arose as to why Kenyans seem particularly inclined towards the consumption of listed species.
The Report contains no information on diseases affecting aquatic animals, which could be a potential risk to humans who consume marine products. It was noted that frogs are dying en masse from fungal diseases and encroachment. Dr David Ndeere explained that KWS does not currently have the capacity to do an in-depth study of marine life diseases.
On the status of human-wildlife conflict, the Report stated that snakes are the major cause of human deaths and not elephants as is widely surmised. Compensation is only warranted for listed species. It was clarified that any compensation made was for completed cases, regardless of the year they took place. Participants wanted to know the percentage compensation rate for injury/death cases, saying that the Report should indicate how many victims are in line for payment, if any.
The Report indicated major successes in the status of wildlife security. Mr. Edin Kalla, KWS Director in charge of Parks and Reserves suggested that the vast resources KWS expends on livestock drives when handling incursions be clearly indicated on the Report
The Report also highlighted the status of rhino horn and ivory stockpiles, as well as the status of wildlife utilization. It was felt that the latter should also include non-consumptive utilization. Kenya’s proposal in COP 17, to transfer all pangolins from Appendix II to Appendix I was successful, while a similar one for elephants was not.
The Report was lauded as a step in the right direction for wildlife conservation. There is need to diversify focus on below-ground biodiversity (decomposers, etc) as well as non-listed species.
The way forward for the Report was to be presented to the Principal Secretary, Tourism and Wildlife, followed by presentation to the Parliamentary Committee on Environment and Natural Resources, after which final editing and reporting will be done.