Conservation and Environment in Kenya: Monthly Updates
Conservation in Kenya Update October and November 2013
Kigio Wildlife Conservancy was once a cattle ranch, which has since been transformed into a wildlife conservancy. The conservancy is home to a wide variety of wildlife, including 4.5% of the world’s wild population of the rare and endangered Rothschild’s giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis rothschildi). It also offers refuge to two of Africa’s big five – the leopard and buffalo. Projects Abroad has partnered with the conservancy and Giraffe Research and Conservation Trust (GRCT) to counteract the decline of the Rothschild’s giraffe by monitoring and researching the ecology of the sub species to understand its requirements in the wild along with the factors causing their decline.
Projects Abroad – Rothschild’s Giraffe
Our monitoring programmes have all been running smoothly with the aim of providing accurate and scientific data of the ecology of the Rothschild’s giraffe. The on-going giraffe research in Kigio Wildlife Conservancy is monitoring a total of 22 adult giraffes and five calves. The two youngest babies (Nduta and Mess) are doing very well, the female giraffe who had the dyrostica condition (abnormal birth leading to death of the baby) recovered well.
Our monitoring programme also provides information on the principal browsing behaviour and a detailed overview of the diet and the key ecological requirements of the Rothschild’s giraffe. How do we do it? A research team of three to four volunteers are driven through the conservancy to cover as much ground as possible during each monitoring period. The monitoring team records a set of standardised parameters for each individual sighting, including: identity, time and date, GPS location (UTM Coordinate system), group composition, behaviour, age and sex.
We submitted some materials to the International Union Conservation of Nature for the Giraffid (Okapi and giraffe newsletter) newsletter formerly known as the Giraffa. Projects Abroad has a regular feature in this newsletter which acts as means to offer the most up to date information on giraffes and okapis in the conservation and scientific world!
While the IUCN recognises the Rothschild’s Giraffe as a vulnerable species, hardly any research has been done on this sub-species in the wild. A study on the feeding preferences and long-term habitat suitability for Rothschild’s giraffe in Kigio Wildlife Conservancy was conducted by our volunteer, Renate de Boer from Netherlands.
”With less than 1000 individuals, who remain in the wild, it is necessary to carry out conservation measures. One of the measures taken is the introduction and closely monitoring of the Rothschild’s giraffe in protected areas. In 2002, 7 Rothschild’s giraffes were introduced to Kigio Wildlife Conservancy, Central Rift Valley, and Kenya. By now the herd has grown to 27 individuals. The effects of the introduction and population growth of this species on the ecology of this small conservancy are not yet known. To be able to make long-term predictions about the effects, it is firstly important to fully understand the feeding behaviour and feeding preference of the giraffes.”
Renate conducted her studies from November 2012 until the end of October 2013 during which feeding behaviour was observed. A total number of 1696 feeding observations were recorded and we found that nine plant species were utilised by giraffes during the observations.
The number of observations differed greatly between plant species. Acacia gerrardii was the most browsed plant species and made up for a significantly big part (68.3%) of all feeding behaviour. Other observed browsed plant species were in order of number of observations: Solanum incanum, Tarchonanthus camphoratus, Acacia drepanolobium, Acacia xanthophloea, Rhus natalensis, Euphorbia candelabrum, Maytenus senegalensis and Psiadia punctulata.
None of these species proved to make up a significant part of all feeding behaviour. However, in total, 76.9% of all feeding behaviour was directed to Acacia species. Her parting statement was that “In order to be able to make thorough predictions about the maximum size of the giraffes herd that Kigio can support further research is necessary”.
Our research on the activity pattern Rothschild’s giraffes with the objective of discovering how they spend their days without real predation has been ongoing. Each research, each session takes 12 hours, divided into four shorter shifts, with a two hour delay in between. In total, each shift takes 4 hours and 30 minutes. During the shifts, the behaviour of the giraffe is recorded every 5 minutes using a technique called “scan sampling”.
Remote Sensor Cameras
Volunteers have been tasked with the development of the database and extracting all the data that each camera captures in the field e.g. date, time of the day, temperature. Our volunteers input this data with the name of the species captured in the field.
The leopard has been very elusive and our hypothesis of the leopards leaving the conservancy and coming back each night could not be proven so more surveys are needed to a test this. Camera traps has been a valuable means by which to survey secretive wildlife. This technique is of great importance in the study and inventory of nocturnal and shy animals, especially our target, leopard.
Recently we discovered that the hyanea (Crocuta crocuta) clan in the conservancy now has separated into two clans, which was reflected on the cameras traps. This is very rare phenomenon and what we want to know is how they use the conservancy. We want to explore the possibility if collaring members of the clans to see their ranges.
There have been cases of very many road kills in the highways which lead to the question; could members of our hyena population be going out of the conservancy at night and getting run over by vehicles? We can work closely with the Kenya Wildlife Service to provide substantial evidence to try and also stop this menace of speeding vehicles killing wildlife along the highway. I didn’t know aardwolf exists in this area until I saw one killed on the highway run over by a car, same as the hyenas which I have seen 3 killed in the last 3 months. To find a lasting solution more studies are needed along with more camera deployment whilst investigating the possibility of collaring some individuals to gauge their movements.
Our tree nursery project, which started last year, is running extremely well and we hope to cultivate more trees for reforestation efforts in surrounding communities and local schools in a project entitled “Project Green”. Due to the approaching of the dry seasons we focused more on the preparing trees for the onset of the long rains. The two months the rains has really helped us in the watering of the saplings but on the other hand the weeds sprout really fast hence we had to visit the nursery very often to take out the weeds. The volunteers have been very instrumental and they work on the nursery a minimum of 3 sessions in a week with efforts of more than 3 hours per session. These activities get us involved with the local community and, more importantly, with young children whose generation will be responsible for the conservation of the area for many years to come.
We purchased the indigenous seeds of Acacaia xanthopholea which the giraffe most preferred species and the seeds have been put on the ground in 5 beds and they are be constantly watered by our volunteers. This will be a long term project in ensuring that the declining population of this important tree is checked. The trees will be planted in the conservancy to provide browse for the endangered giraffe, the volunteers and the field team will be plant these tree and they will be fenced. This is critical in keeping off browsing intensity from the herbivores up to certain height. The growth of the fenced trees will be fastened by putting manure from our waste disposal pit. Weeding will also be performed by volunteers this is crucial to ensure they competition with other plants is detached.
These two months has been a success we have plenty of work covered on the project site and as we collect more data, we look forward to volunteers to help in our various programs. Students and volunteers who want to conduct research studies are encouraged and needed to help with the various research areas in our project site .
Conservation Manager, Kenya