CELEBRATING A HARD-WORKING CONSERVATIONIST-GABRIEL KATANA

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“I was introduced to Gabriel Katana in 1998 by his brother Safari as someone who would be good to take over the House Crow control fieldwork that Safari was no longer able to do. A tall, quiet and very respectful young man, Katana quickly proved himself to be a very dependable, honest and hard-working conservationist who, despite not having completed primary school, was easily able to understand and carry out the important work of surveying crow numbers together with careful and proper use of a highly toxic avicide to control the alien pest species of crow in Malindi and Watamu. Known to many as ‘bwana Kunguru’ and regularly seen riding his bike through Malindi or Watamu with his binoculars and note book, Katana was single-handedly responsible for reducing numbers of the pest House Crow to five or six birds in Watamu and c.25 in the larger Malindi (which, since the programme was forced to stop, have risen to over 5,000 crows between them). This was achieved by Katana to his credit with no record of any death of other non-target species.

With the ending of the crow control work and at the same time a greater interest being shown in the conservation of the Dakatcha Woodlands which was Katana’s home area and given his clear integrity and passion for conservation, it made total sense to employ him as A Rocha Kenya’s field staff member of our science and conservation team in Dakatcha. Initially he directly assisted the Nature Kenya conservation officer stationed in Dakatcha and was involved in the start up of the Dakatcha Conservation Group. He then expanded his birding from just House Crows to all birds and became a key member of the Conservation Group bird monitoring team and more recently was almost solely responsible for mapping the birds of Dakatcha through the Kenya Bird Map project submitting no less than 45 species lists to the project. Katana furthermore became a key reference person for me to discuss Dakatcha conservation issues with and it was a result of these talks highlighting that people living in Dakatcha primarily needed to be able to feed themselves if they were to stop cutting trees down that led to A Rocha Kenya introducing Farming God’s Way into the area to help boost food production and reduce forest destruction. Katana took to FGW like a duck to water and was incredibly enthusiastic, implementing it in his own shamba and demonstrating just how well it worked – as described and shown in this blog post in 2011.

When a small but critical population of the Globally Endangered Sokoke Scops Owl was discovered literally just down the road from Katana’s village – Africa’s smallest owl and previously only known from Arabuko-Sokoke Forest and a few in northern Tanzania – then Katana went all out to see how to protect the Cynometra forest thicket they depended on. It was he who came to me saying 200 acres of this thicket were for sale and could A Rocha Kenya either buy it – or help him buy it to protect it from destruction. This eventually led to the purchase of the block of forest which Katana took a crucial lead in the negotiations, mapping, discussing with local community members that resulted in the successful formation of the Kirosa Scott Reserve (funded by a kind donation from the Bob Scott Appeal).

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Katana was a unique man in his ability to understand the real issues at stake in the local community and conservation scene – understanding that throwing large amounts of cash at people does no good in the long term and rather knowing the benefits of working alongside people to grow in their appreciation of God’s creation and how to care for it. Katana also had a remarkable thirst for knowing God better and a deep passion for Jesus and all that he had done for him over the years and for studying the bible to learn more about him. His quiet, respectful character of real integrity was something we really appreciated and his love and concern for his family of five was very evident whenever we visited him at home. It is therefore with deep regret that we have lost a treasured and key member of our A Rocha Kenya team but rejoice to know that he is with his Lord Jesus who gave him purpose for living and hope for the future. We are grateful to God for the privilege of being able to know Katana and become his friends and colleagues and give our sincere condolences to his wife Elizabeth, their five children and the wider family.”

By Colin Jackson

STRATEGIC MANAGEMENT OF INTERTIDAL ZONES

People and nature are interlinked. We have always been dependent and interacted with the environment for centuries, obtaining both economic and ecological benefits. Within the marine environments, the Inter tidal zone stands out as among the areas with the most interaction with humans and human activities. While the other habitats are very vital providing fishing grounds and sea routes, the Inter tidal zone is where all the action begins. The zone is easily accessible for multiple human use, such as Inter tidal fisheries harvesting, harbor and recreational activities. These areas have been endowed with rich diversity of species that contribute to the provision of these ecological and economic benefits. However when it comes to their management, the coin turns and they seldom receive the same attention. The multiple human uses and their location at the transition between the land and the sea suggest that, these areas might be facing more pressure originating from both the sea and land. A closer look around, points to probably a higher rate of declining biodiversity in these areas than other areas due to over-exploitation of resources, pollution and other natural pressure such as the rising sea level. This calls for urgent re-look at the management of strategies currently being used in these areas.

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We start by asking a few questions; are the current threats facing this zone too obvious or do we need to understand them better? A recent report on natural resources management pointed out that one of the hindrance to ecosystem-based management is lack of proper understanding of cumulative human impacts on the environment. This sounds a familiar case in the Inter tidal zone. They have been used for many years but never seemed to be perturbed by these disturbances at least in the short term. And that’s where we should start.

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For effective management of these areas, we need to understand how they are working. For example; them being a transition between land and sea makes it really difficult to point out a few sources of threats that are causing the pressure. With the multiple stresses and the shifting baseline trends in the state of ecosystems, it can be easily but wrongly concluded that particular drivers are responsible. Additionally, emerging threats that are threatening the environment globally are also contributing to the decline of these systems. So do all these factors act synergistic-ally or are they additive? A clear understanding of these factors will provide an effective evidence-based management strategy.

This year the ARK marine team will be studying some of these issues and try to suggest management measures for the Inter tidal zone of Watamu Marine National Park and reserve. Join us as we seek to better understand this zone in one of the oldest marine protected areas in the world.

THE YEAR 2015, THE HOPE AND PROMISE OF 2016

Conservationists of all persuasions have embarked on a quest for environmental sustainability but in the face of an acutely difficult task we all need to consider what would motivate us to achieve it”- Peter Harris (Kingfisher’s Fire).

In retrospect, the motivation for the previous year for the A Rocha Kenya team can certainly be traced to the reinforcement of the Christian principles already upheld by the staff. This was instilled and fueled by the bible studies conducted every Monday morning which inspired and rallied the team to take care of God’s creation as alluded to in the book of Genesis, despite their job descriptions. It was further propelled by the visit of the A Rocha Founder- Peter Harris and his wife, Miranda Harris. They were able to be involved in the A Rocha Kenya’s activities and in turn they motivated the team and inspired many more in churches at Nairobi and Malindi through preaching the gospel of care for creation, by emphasizing the need for Christians to reconcile with God and his creation and ensuring restoration of God’s creation

Focusing on the Science and Conservation team, they were able to get a lot of research work going on. Despite being a team of two, they still soldiered on with support from numerous volunteers, interns and even the rest of the staff members. The terrestrial research team was able to conduct several bird ringing exercises held at Mwamba, Gede Ruins, Arabuko Sokoke Forest and Mida Creek. The annual water fowl counts were successfully carried out followed by many others at Mida Creek. One of the major highlights was mapping of the newly acquired Kirosa Scott Reserve and the monitoring of the endangered Clarke’s weaver breeding sites in Dakatcha Woodland. The team was also able to host several researchers.

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Moving on to the marine side of things, the year marked a beehive of activities for the team ranging from research in the intertidal rock pools to the coral gardens of Watamu Marine Park. The major highlight of the year was the presentation of marine research work that has been conducted by A Rocha Kenya since the year 2010 until the end of 2014 in the Watamu Marine Park. This was spearheaded by Benjamin Cowburn and Peter Musembi. They organized workshops at Watamu, Mombasa and Nairobi where several stakeholders were invited including Kenya Wildlife Service, Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute, National Museums of Kenya, Watamu Marine Association, Watamu Turtle Watch and boat operators. However, it was not all hard work and no play for the marine team, there was always the occasional recreational snorkeling and swimming for anyone willing to join.

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The larger Community and Conservation team worked to bridge the gap between the research team and the community at large, getting them to understand the need to restore the threatened habitats and ecosystems. The team was able to oversee the implementation of two projects into fruition, with one targeting empowerment of community forest associations (community groups who are actively involved in management and conservation of forests) through building their capacities and the other targeted empowering communities in Dakatcha Woodland through a livelihood project that promoted the adoption of Farming God’s Way (a conservation agriculture model). On the other hand, the pioneer program of the department-ASSETS, which has stood the test of time, was able to disburse scholarships to the many bright and needy students that come from the villages adjacent to Arabuko Sokoke Forest, amid a difficult year for the tourism industry since most of the funds are sourced from the ecotourism facilities at Mida Creek and Gede Ruins. Lastly, the vibrant environmental education team was able to conduct many lessons that were taught in schools around Dakatcha Woodland, Arabuko Sokoke Forest, Watamu Marine Park and Bamba.

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The mother of all- Mwamba Field Study Center, was able to host numerous guests throughout the year. They included researchers, volunteers, holiday makers, kite surfers and honeymooners. The year saw the center introduce a restaurant which is up and running, offer accommodation to water sports enthusiasts, host numerous workshops and to crown it all hold a kids festival followed by a successful fundraising dinner for the ASSETS program.

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Karara Field Study Center-which acts as the national base of A Rocha Kenya at Karen in Nairobi did not lag behind. The team was able to conduct numerous Farming God’s Way training, host several schools for environmental education lessons plus carry out various outreach activities to various community groups and churches.

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In order to instill and reinforce the spirit of team effort. The two teams from Nairobi and Watamu were able to participate in a team building exercise that saw them go on a blue safari that involved snorkeling at the Watamu coral gardens, lunch at the pristine Sudi Island and participate in beach games thereafter.

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It is my belief that there is no blueprint for a perfect course of action, since it is our job to identify it. The idea that there is such a blueprint reduces the whole business to a kind of a celestial game show with dire consequences for wrong guesses, but sadly it seems to be widely believed. However, this demonstrates our path for the New Year filled with uncertainty but promising with hope as written in Jeremiah 29:11 and Mathew 6:23-33. Certainly, I am convinced, the team will able to achieve even more than the previous year and continue ensuring nature is conserved while people’s lives are transformed.

NOTE THE RESULTS; THE HARD WORK PUT IN SPITE THE HARDSHIP TO BE ENDURED IS WHAT COUNTS…2016 WATERFOWL COUNTS

Our just concluded waterfowl counts for 2016 saw us record sixty one species. The 23rd and 24th January 2016 started on a high note when we started off with Malindi harbor, Gongoni, and Sabaki River Mouth. Day 2 covered counts in Lake Jilore, Lake Mbaratum and Lake Chemchem. We endured long moments of standing under the heat and on the tiresome but fun mud in Sabaki. Climbing up and down the steep mountains in Lake Mbaratum and Lake Chemchem did not make us stop at anything rather we diligently counted the birds, with a dedication that can only emanate from the heart. However, the difficulties were nothing compared to the electrifying moments that characterized the spotting of rare bird species, among them Green Sandpiper, Osprey and a very rare species at the coast, the Grey-headed Gull.

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With a crew of 12 people on day one and 7 people on the second day, 5 species with the largest numbers were counted. They were Curlew sandpiper-3751, Common ringed plover-921, Greater sand plover-540, lesser sand plover-773 and Crab plover-656.

A whole year has completely changed Lake Mbaratum and Lake Chemchem. It was sad to notice how population growth and effects of global warming have dried up the two lakes and chased away the birds. The communities have taken over by firing up the grass that was grown around the lakes with reasons of farming, and the too much hot weather has dried up the lakes. The places look like deserts now and it’s sad to say that not unless we experience very long and heavy rains in the near future, there is nothing that can be done to them.

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All in all, the exercise was completed on 24th evening and as we left Lake Chemchem very tired and worn out, we still were very happy that we recorded a good number of species. We thank the whole crew that joined us during the exercise, including Kenya Wildlife Service (Gede Station) Mida Creek Guides, Arabuko Sokoke Forest Guides Association and Turble Bay who supported us with means of transport and providing us with snacks and water.

LEARNING AND EXPLORING THE UNIQUE BIODIVERSITY OF ARABUKO SOKOKE FOREST

Arabuko Sokoke forest reserve lies between Kilifi and Malindi on Kenya’s North Coast. It was gazetted in 1932 as a crown forest and in 1943 as a forest reserve. Within the forest area 2,699 hectares were designated as a strict nature reserve in 1977 and extended by 1,635 hectares in 1979. Arabuko Sokoke forest covers an area of 420 km2 with 382 km2 being constituted of indigenous forest. There are over 230 birds’ species and over 50 mammal species in the forest reserve. Six birds’ species are considered globally endangered while others are endemic to the forest and six mammal species are endangered. A Rocha Kenya together with Kenya wildlife Service (KFS) and other forest stakeholders like Nature Kenya have identified a knowledge gap where most of the KFS staffs are not able to positively identify some important wildlife species and habitats found in the forest reserve. In collaboration with these stakeholders a program was developed to build capacity among the interested staff members and stakeholders. The program has three volunteer guides and is open to all the staff and any other people willing to gain general knowledge of the Arabuko Sokoke Forest Reserve habitats and species. The first session was conducted in the plantation area (an area approximately 500m from the forest office with a group of eight participants. The group gathered at Arabuko Sokoke Forest reserve education hall at 0615 hrs and proceeded to the plantation area. The session lasted for approximately four hours ending at 1030 hrs.

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The participants walked for 2kms recording the bird species seen or heard along the way and they were given a lecture on the general habitat and other species such as butterflies, beetles and ant lion. The group rested at the 500m stretch to make birds’ observation and references from the guide books.

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These were the major observations: Zanzibar Sombre Greenbul, Yellow-fronted canary, Chestnut fronted helmeted shrike, White-browed coucal, Black-bellied starling, Black-headed oriole, Eastern Bearded shrub-robin, Yellow bill, Collared sunbird, Common drongo, Trumpeter hornbill, Ashy fly catcher, Scaly Babbler, Yellow-bellied Greenbul, One cut stump, One bushbuck and several families of Sykes monkey. Butterflies observed were: diadem, Dark blue pansy, African queen and Junonia, Apart from the species observed 31 birds’call were recorded.

The session ended at 1030 hrs and the participants gathered at Arabuko Sokoke Education hall for brief discussions and every participant was given a chance to give their observations. The next session will be on 19th December 2015 and the participants will meet at the ASF education hall at 0615 hrs and proceed to the mixed forest area. The group will like to express special gratitude to Mzee Ngala, Albert Baya and Kirao Lennox for volunteering to teach the group and also A Rocha Kenya for providing binoculars for use to all the participants.

A FARMER WAKES UP FROM DREAMLAND!

On a chilly Thursday December morning, individuals with passion in farming start streaming in at Karara- A Rocha Kenya’s (ARK) Nairobi office. With excitement and curiosity expressed on their faces, they are all eager to learn this new concept of faming; Conservation Agriculture (Farming God’s Way). Having held a series of Farming God’s Way trainings in 2015, this was therefore the last training this year.

As A Rocha Kenya, we are dedicated to conservation and restoration of biodiversity and for this fact, agriculture is one of the key critical sectors of interest. Being the mainstay and the most important economic activity in Kenya, agricultural productivity is however stagnating due to climate change (because Kenya’s agriculture is mainly rain-fed), pests and diseases and soil-nutrient deterioration, among others. Consequently, these pose critical challenges like food insecurity, environmental degradation and in the long run demoralization in farming. Due to the challenges mentioned above, ARK’s driving force is restoring the lost hope to farmers through organizing farmers training’s that seek to address biodiversity conservation and increase food production. Is this not everyone’s wish?

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As the training progressed, farmers were keen, inquisitive and excited throughout the whole process. Taking notes, getting their hands dirty through practical demonstrations and learning how to use fire less cookers are some of the activities they engaged in. ‘Cooking God’s Way!’ is one of their exclamations as they get to learn on energy conservation practices.

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Evidently, the farmers were satisfied at the end of the training. Their hope was renewed in farming by the use of natural ways to boost soil fertility, controlling crop pests and diseases as well as incorporating agro-forestry trees. This was a clear indication of low farm inputs and increased productivity which every farmer is yearning for.  One participant commented, “This training just woke me up from dreamland. All along I have not been farming correctly. I will do a total change in my farming ways” All in all, as A Rocha, we were convinced that the message was home and our sole purpose of CONSERVATION and HOPE was achieved.

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We are grateful for all the 2015 farming trainees and wish them all the best in their farms.

 

CORAL REEFS AND CLIMATE CHANGE

As world leaders gather in Paris, France for the #COP21 to discuss on climate change and hopeful come up with a new deal to address the climate change challenge, many agree that we have had enough science and research pointing at climate change not happening in the next few years, but now it is happening and though a bit too late, it’s time to act.

The impacts of climate change are well known and it’s not something to smile about. Among the habitats where climate change has had the most impact is the ocean ecosystem especially the near-shore habitats which have direct benefit to millions of people. Release of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases through burning of fossil fuels are causing global warming. Global warming results to increased sea surface temperature that causes coral bleaching in tropical areas where coral reefs occur. Corals thrive near their upper temperature tolerance and therefore any slight increase in temperature breaks down the symbiotic relationship between corals and microalgae and hence bleaching. Coral bleaching affect not only the corals but if it persists and corals die all the biodiversity depending on them for survival will perish.

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Bleaching in April 2013 on a permanent quadrant

The Ocean plays a role in reducing the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere but this also comes at a cost further threatening these systems. The ocean absorbs the CO2 from the atmosphere but the increased amount of CO2 in the atmosphere means more is or has to be absorbed than the ocean can take causing ocean acidification.

Coral bleaching and ocean acidification are deteriorating coral reefs conditions all over the world and jeopardizing all ecological and socio-economic values that they provide to millions of people depending on them directly or indirectly. Global warming is also causing rise in sea-level damaging coastal states and people’s livelihoods. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), in its recent (2013) report had predicted that there will be 26 to 82cm rise in the sea level in the next a hundred years. What does this mean for islands states such as Maldives?

The impacts of climate change and their associated consequences are already being felt both at global, regional and local level and paint a bleak picture to people and livelihoods. We are hopeful that all leaders and nations present at the COP21 meeting will come up with a deal for climate change and a commitment that will reduce carbon emissions. While this is very important, what can we do at a local level? How do we build the ability of both society and ecological system to adapt to climate change as we buy time for recovery of these systems with low carbon emissions?

In a small town in the North coast of Kenya, Watamu, we are working in a small marine protected area to try to understand and build the resilience of the coral reefs and the communities here. Watamu Marine National Park is one of the oldest marine park in the world and was seriously impacted by the 1998 El Nino event that caused up to 80% coral loss, and has experienced slow rates of recovery ever since. There was a minor bleaching event in 2013 which we recorded relatively good recovery. Some coral reefs have been reported to develop tolerance to thermal stress. The good recovery in 2013 could be argued that the corals are adapting to thermal stress but a more weighted argument could be that the thermal stress was not as intense as that one in 1998. Whichever scenario is correct, we are working to have a better understanding on this at a local level.

Scientific predictions are pointing at a stronger El nino event, that might cause bleaching early next year, we are preparing to monitor the bleaching event within the protected area and surrounding areas. With marked quadrats and corals that we used in 2013, we will be going back to the same spots and checking the response of the corals in the event of bleaching. This will give us an understanding of whether these corals are adapting to thermal stress and which sites are more resilient and hence need more protection.

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Recovery in October 2013 on a permanent quadrant

We are also working with local reef users and the government agencies to raise awareness on coral reefs and climate change and influence reduction of local stressors. Our overall goal is to ensure everybody understands these threats and come up with appropriate management strategies for continued structural and functional existence of the coral reefs.

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Remarking permanent quadrant in October 2015

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In a workshop explaining bleaching

 

THE CHRONICLES OF AN EXPERIENCE SHARING FORUM; NGONG HILLS FOREST EXPERIENCE

One of the critical aspects about empowering a community is exposure which will actually convince them that what you are trying to teach them is actually applicable and practical as seen in certain communities in other parts of the country. However, this does not necessarily mean taking a community group for the usual luxurious field excursion. It is supposed to be about experiential learning and more so about sharing of various experiences the different community groups have undergone (in this context) their pursuit and quest for conservation.

Factoring the reality above, A Rocha Kenya has been organizing these forums aiming to empower Community Forest Associations around Arabuko Sokoke Forest and Dakatcha Woodland in Kilifi County and Ngong Hills Forest in Kajiado County. Earlier in the year, these forums have seen the Community Forest Associations from Kilifi County visit Wildlife Works at Kasigau, where they were exposed to the REDD+ Project (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) which involved learning about the carbon credit business including calculating the value of an ecosystem as carbon sinks. In addition they have led the Ngong Metro CFA to visit Arabuko Sokoke Forest to explore the ecosystem. This provided a good experience of the different opportunities offered by the forest. The major highlight being the visit to the elephant hole at Arabuko Sokoke swamp and a boat ride through the Mida creek that exposed the group to the potential of exploring ecotourism opportunities.

Flash forward to November, the forum was set to be held at Ngong Hills Forest, where the Kilifi County CFAs were supposed to visit and share with their counterparts of Ngong Metro CFA. The group from Kilifi consisted of a total of 32 people, eight members from each of the four CFAs which were Gede, Sokoke, Jilore and Dakatcha. Day one saw the group visit Oloolua forest which is one of the three forest blocks of the Ngong hills forest. Here, they were met by members of Oloolua Forest Environmental Participatory Group (OFEP), which is one of the user groups in the Ngong Metro CFA. Oloolua forest is an indigenous forest covering 671ha, gazetted by the Kenyan Government and under the management of Kenya Forest Service. It used to team with a variety of wild animals, however due to human pressure they have since disappeared with only a few spotted sporadically. The core reason for the immense pressure thrusted on the forest can be traced to politics in the 1990s; where 18ha of the forest was licensed to business men and cleared for quarrying, all in the name of gaining political mileage for the Member of Parliament at the time. The un-rehabilitated quarries were left behind characterized by huge depressions which left the forest precariously without any outstanding warning signs. They have posed a great risk not only to animals in the forest but also humans with several deaths and injuries reported.

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Despite these challenges all was not lost, the OFEP group committed themselves to restoring the forest into its original form as if heeding to Theodore Roosevelt words, “To waste, to destroy our natural resources, to skin and exhaust the land instead of using it so as to increase its usefulness, will result in undermining in the days of our children the very prosperity which we ought by right to hand down to them amplified and developed.”  They therefore embarked on replanting trees in the area cleared for quarrying covering 5ha out of the 18ha without any financial assistance from external sources. Surprisingly also those who had devoted themselves to this work were old women who were clocking half a century and beyond having seen it all, which really challenged the group from Kilifi County who consider themselves still young and energetic but had yet to reach such milestones. “These women were working hard to restore the forest for generations to come,” these were words confessed by their Chairman. The main challenges that the Kilifi group learnt their counterparts were facing were inadequate funds, lack of political good will and an ecological challenge in the name of lantana camara an invasive species in the forest which had colonized the cleared areas that were meant for quarrying. Most of the challenges were similar to what the other groups were facing and they motivated each other to continue with their passion for conservation.

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The afternoon was scheduled for the group to visit the forest at Karara Field Study Centre which is A Rocha Kenya’s National base in Karen, Nairobi. The forest is intact characterized by many species of trees most of which are of great medicinal value and in addition it is home to various species of birds such as the black cap, thrush nightingale and marsh warbler. The community members were able to find out more about the work of A Rocha Kenya at the Centre such as Farming God’s way, a form of conservation agriculture.

The second day commenced by climbing the picturesque Ngong Hills, polka dotted with wind turbines, and the peak offering a magnificent aerial view of both Nairobi and Kajiado counties with a slight hint of Narok County further in the horizon. It was evident that indeed it is the highest point in Nairobi.

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Led by Bedan Leboo an official of the Ngong Metro CFA, the CFA members were taken to the third block; Empakasi Forest or locally known as Kibiko, the second having been the forest on the Ngong Hills. The forest is mostly characterized by plantations of Eucalyptus sp but highly significant to the locals since it was the crushing site for a plane that had carried the late Honorable Prof. George Saitoti who was once Kenya’s Vice president and a tough, vocal legislator who hailed from that region.

The major highlight of the experience sharing forum came in the afternoon when the group was taken to Kerarapon forest, still part of the extensive Ngong Hills Forests which acts as the source of River Sabaki also known as Athi and Galana. The forest, typical of any water tower had a resemblance of a rainforest characterized by chirping birds, tall, broad-leaved and gigantic trees, with small springs at the bottom, supplying water to a river dependent upon by most parts of the coastal areas before it pours its waters into the Indian Ocean. It was breathtaking but no! scratch that, it was wildly exhilarating for the community members from the coast with one Mzee David Chivatsi who lives right at the mouth of river Sabaki delighted at the sight of the springs and who could not contain his excitement evident by how ecstatic and frenzied he became such that he had to call home just to inform his loved ones what he was witnessing.

After such an eventful experience the trip came to an end with the CFAs having been exposed to a whole new world of conservation and how the Ngong Hills Forest is intricately interrelated to the Sabaki River.

BIRDING EXPLORATION IN PWANI UNIVERSITY

“Am so sorry for the poor turnout, members have not yet arrived because of communication issues”, said Jackline, the chairperson of the Pwani University Environmental Club when we arrived at their campus for a long planned bird-walk. It was still very early (around 0600 hours), with only two club members and so we gave members more time before we started off. We were taken to the botanical garden for introduction and before we were halfway, ten enthusiastic members joined us. In five minutes time, we had flagged off our session with almost fifteen energetic members.

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The botanical garden is blessed with a seasonal water pool that was once a dumping site for the Institute of Agriculture and Technology. African Golden Weavers could be seen perching on plant twigs, displaying  their beauty before they get into their nice grass-weaved nests and coming  out, while White Browed Coucal sun basking from a well perched bamboo edge near the pool. It was a hustle for the first few minutes as we adjusted the scopes and demonstrating how to use them. And of course, everyone wanted to be the first one to see through, which required a bit of strictness and direction which did not take long before they realized that cooperation is required. Speckled mouse-birds were the most common sun bathing from Neem trees (Azadirachta indica). “These birds are somehow inactive when it’s raining and when the sun comes out after raining, they hang on tree branches with their chest facing the sun. They actual do that for the heat from the sun to break down their food to give them warmth”, noted Albert Baya of Spinetail Safaris.

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“See that thick orange-billed bird on that tree! Its actually blue on the wings and grey on the chest”, exclaimed one of the members. On a Terminalia catappa calmly sat a well decorated Mangrove Kingfisher. We had to work extra fast to make sure that it is actually in the scope and everyone had seen it. “Wow, it so beautiful”, expressed another member. We walked for about half a kilometer into the bushes and open farms as we followed closely a group of Common Waxbill. “These guys are tiny but see how beautiful they are”, said Kafulo of Gede Community Guide.

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No one realized how time flew, it was already Ten o’clock, having recorded almost forty species within a distance of only two kilometers. As we turned and headed back to the botanical garden, we were joined by Red Cross members who wanted to know what was happening. The crowd was now quite big as new comers became more excited, either by just using the telescopes and binoculars or learning new things.

Young environmentalists from Moi University and Technical University of Mombasa were eagerly waiting for us at the botanical garden. The expert in charge of the botanical garden had also arrived to give out a brief talk on the same. We had actually gone back to wind up but that couldn’t happen until mid day as late comers asked questions and wanted to know almost everything about birds and bird-walks. “It was actually an experience I had never imagined in my life. I did not know that birds are very special and could be used to tell a lot about the status of the environment”, sighed one member.

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The whole team vowed to start organizing frequent bird walks to learn more about birds and adopting a bird each for conservation concerns. It was such a nice moment to get to reach such a strong youth group to interact and share God’s love for His creation and our role as humans who were mandated to care for the creation.

TRANSFORMATION THAT BRINGS SATISFACTION

On an early Tuesday morning, Kilonzo Masyuko, a farmer and businessman from Chamari village received us with a smile on his face and a Bible in his hand, a trademark of him being a staunch Christian and an assistant pastor. A father of five, Kilonzo educates and feeds his family from farming. We hurriedly get into the car with his 3 year son to see his Farming God’s Way (FGW) crop at his farm some 7kms away.

Kilonzo is one of the many farmers from other parts of the country who have bought large pieces of land, cleared the forest by burning it down and practiced traditional farming. However, Kilonzo is a transformed man as a result of intensive Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA) discussions, Farming God’s Way (FGW) and care for creation training. He is now a better farmer who used to burn his land every planting season and grew only maize by broadcasting but now commits his farming to the Lord, mulches his land as much as he can, plants maize, green grams and cassava.

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Kilonzo and son on his 2 acre green gram plot

As we reached the farm, we were greeted by long, tall and neat rows of a healthy maize crop. Kilonzo’s smile widened in an ‘I told you’ fashion when he saw our surprised and exited looks. Kilonzo took us through his 7 acres of farmed land and to the half acre of FGW plot beautifully mulched from last season’s Stover. There, we hold hands and blessed his land over prayer, a job well done. He told us rather apologetically that he could not have managed to mulch and fertilize the whole area but he did manage to do the proper spacing for all crops. We squeezed past the rough maize leaves to his 2 acre green gram plot, a dense vegetation of healthy green crop, and later to his new poultry structure he made after a farmers’ visit  to Yatta.

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Kilonzo putting mesh on his poultry house

Kilonzo is a beacon of hope, transformation and a model to many who need change of their attitudes and practices. For his hard work and faithfulness, we salute Mr. Kilonzo.