“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).
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