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Conservation update from Rhino Ark

Chargers, Sponsors and Friends of Team Bundufundi - please take the time to read this update from Rhino Ark on its vital conservation work in the Aberdares, Mt Kenya, Eburru and the other water towers. Year of progress and consolidation Last year – 2016 – saw consolidation and progress. By year end, a total of 144 kilometres of the electric fence around Mount Kenya had been constructed as well as three kilometres of two-strand fence. Eventually the Mount Kenya fence will total 450kms in length – the largest electrified fence in the world. A phase two of the fence has been extended from 60kms to 74kms with the inclusion of Thunguru Hill – although obstacles include a number of privately owned tea fields that cut across the forest boundary. A second 20kms electric fence section in the Imenti Forest (Mt. Kenya), launched in July, has been completed, except for a 3.3kms gap due to a dispute in the forest boundary alignment. This gap has proved a major challenge with human-wildlife conflict in the area. Just before Christmas, an elephant came out of the Imenti Forest through the unfenced gap causing havoc with the farming communities in the area. Sadly the elephant was poisoned and died. “To avoid these situations is one of the reasons why we are building a fence,” says Christian Lambrechts, Executive Director of the Rhino Ark, “which, in fact, goes back to the very beginning of the Rhino Ark in the 1980s. Thanks to the Imenti Electric Fence built so far, no casualty has been recorded within the community last year, as to compare to nine deaths over the previous two years. The one elephant lost last year is regrettable but the situation is improving significantly as to compare with 2014 and 2015 during which we lost an average of five elephants yearly. We are confident the boundary alignment obstacle will be surmounted as they were with the Aberdare Electric Fence and other parts of the Mt. Kenya Electric Fence”.

Imenti Electric Fence: in some areas, the fence build process triggered the re-alignment of the boundaries, enabling to bring back in the protected area a 20 metres wide area.

Capacity Building Nor does the project end with the fence construction. Capacity building is an essential part of the ongoing relationship between Rhino Ark, the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) and the Kenya Forest Service (KFS). For example, Rhino Ark and the KWS recently organised a two day training session on the prosecution of wildlife crime for 20 KWS rangers involved in law enforcement on Mount Kenya. Training focused on the management of the scene of the crime such as handling incriminating exhibits, drafting witness statements and the final appearance in court. Training was conducted by two senior magistrates, Florence Macharia and Thomas Muraguri. Training was structured on the basis of success and failures in the prosecution of wildlife crime on Mount Kenya. A “court” was set up with the rangers participating as witnesses in a case involving the illegal possession of wildlife trophies. These training sessions will now be held on a quarterly basis.

Wildlife corridor The importance of elephant movement and migration in and around the Imenti Forest area was emphasised by a workshop, organised by Rhino Ark at Lewa Conservancy last September. The meeting discussed land use in the corridor frequented by elephant between Mount Kenya and the Upper Imenti and between the Upper Imenti (near Ruiri) and Chaba National Reserve. KWS, KFS, Lewa Conservancy, Northern Rangelands Trust, Marwell Wildlife and the Wildlife Conservation Society participated. The proposed strategy for fencing the Imenti Forest was endorsed – with the recommendation that an elephant gate be built for elephants approaching from Chaba. The meeting also identified a number of interventions to address possible inference with elephant crossing the Gathika River and in the forest corridor linking Mount Kenya with the Imenti Forest. Meanwhile further efforts have been made to unlock the impasse which is currently preventing the completion of a wildlife corridor linking the Mount Kenya and Aberdare ecosystems.

Participants in the Mount Kenya - Imenti Elephant Movement Workshop held on 30 September 2016

Aberdare ecosystem The Aberdare Electrified Fence was commissioned by President Kibaki, with the then Prime Minister, Raila Odinga, in 2009. “But management of the fence on a day-to-day basis, law enforcement activities and the operations of the Aberdare Trust, designed to protect the fence in perpetuity, must continue,” comments Christian Lambrechts. Sometimes local development clashes with the long term interests of the fence. At Wanjerere, in Muranga County, 295 meters of fence was damaged by the expansion of a road by the Muranga County Government. At Mundoro, in Kiambu County, 260 meters of fence were damaged by the construction of Theta Treatment Plant. At Gacharage, in Kiambu County, 40 meters of fence were affected by the need to expand Gacharage Gate following the construction of a tarmac road. These fence sections are rehabilitated as part of the on-going fence maintenance work in the Aberdares. Surveillance of the pristine uplands of the Aberdares is constant. Rhino Ark, KFS and KWS carry out joint patrol flights above the Aberdare forest ecosystem. Senior officials from KFS and KWS take part in these exercises. Last November, 22 sites where cedar trees were logged were identified prior to action being taken on the ground. Mau Eburu ecosystem Supporting and sensitising local communities at grass roots level is a key part of Rhino Ark’s work around the Mount Eburu electrified fence which was completed over two years ago. For example, Rhino Ark has facilitated the establishment of an information platform through which local farmers can receive useful advice from experts – such as government officials in the Ministry of Agriculture – on such subjects as improving farm yields and income. As a direct result, 69 local farmers in Eburu location have formed and registered the Eburu Fruit Farmers’ Association. Forty members of the group have taken part in four training sessions on the use of best practices to improve their fruit trees. The Eburu schools’ model tree nurseries project is also ongoing. The Songoloi primary school tree nursery is complete, but water supply problems held up the actual sowing of seed into the seed beds. Plans are moving ahead to resolve this problem and launch similar projects with Eburu and Loldia primary schools. Sensitising the local community on the importance of the wildlife corridor is part of the information process. The first section of the western boundary of the wildlife corridor electric fence has been fully constructed and powered up. This 851 metres long section – starting from the main Eburu forest fence – has now secured a key part of the corridor along the western boundary, which was once a transit point for illegal activity. However, it has now provided for the opening of a wider section of the main fence between Eburu forest and Loldia Farm – thus allowing for improved movement of wildlife. Buffalo are now using the wildlife water point adjacent to the corridor. Eburu’s wildlife diversity also is being recognised through a poster and an information kit on the ‘birds of Eburu’. The bird mapping survey of Eburu carried out in 2016 by Rhino Ark and the Kenya Bird Map Project identified 188 species of birds in Eburu Forest and its adjacent areas.

Map of the Eburu Forest - Lake Naivasha wildlife corridor.

South Western Mau Quarterly surveillance flights above the South Western Mau Forest Reserve have led to plans to build two KFS outposts along the north-eastern boundary of South Western Mau; the purchase of equipment for KFS and KWS rangers to undertake patrols in the forest: and training for the KWS and KFS law enforcement officials – similar to the Mount Kenya training programme. Finlays Ltd have been generous contributors to these planned activities. Last September and October, 32 rangers and scouts undertook the most intensive forest elephant census and forest health survey ever carried out in the Mau Forests Complex. The census revealed the presence of an estimated 650 elephants in the southern part of the Mau Forests Complex. The census was conducted through a partnership involving involving WWF, Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), KWS, Rhino Ark and the Bongo Surveillance Project. It was primarily funded by WWF and WCS, with support from other project partners, including Rhino Ark. A similar survey was undertaken on Mount Kenya last February – with the Aberdares planned in this coming year. Apart from monitoring elephant, other endangered species, and the overall health of the forest, these surveys – to be held every three years – will review the impact of conservation efforts in these protected areas. Mountain Bongo Experts from the US and Canada – including bongo breeders from Florida and Texas – joined Kenya colleagues last year to discuss the recovery and conservation of the gravely endangered Mountain Bongo antelope . Meeting under the auspices of the National Bongo Task Force in a visit organised by Rhino Ark, the bongo specialists travelled to Eburu Forest, the Aberdares and Mount Kenya. They also visited the Mount Kenya Game Ranch which holds 62 Mountain Bongos. Conclusions – after a one day workshop – included new directions for bongo recovery and conservation and the improvement in the health of the bongo in the Mount Kenya Game Ranch. Meanwhile potential sites are being surveyed in Eburu Forest for the establishment of a Mountain Bongo antelope sanctuary.

Overseas and Kenyan experts participating in the Mountain Bongo Recovery and Conservation Workshop held on 9 December 2016

Postcript: a site has been identified and prepared to receive a fence post blessed by his Holiness Pope Francis during his visit to Kenya in November 2015. The site features stone structures on which commemorative plaques will be placed during a formal commissioning ceremony. The site is to be found along the north eastern boundary of Eburu Forest. Two other posts, blessed by the Pope, will be placed in the Aberdares and Mount Kenya respectively.

Further information:

  • Rhino Ark, the charitable trust that supports conservation in Kenya, is building lasting benefits for the forest edge communities of the Aberdares, Mount Kenya and Mau Mount Eburu.

  • Following the successful completion of the 400 km Aberdare fence in 2009, Rhino Ark is expanding its conservation work to protect and preserve the forests of Mount Kenya and Mau Mount Eburu, with the construction of electrified fences around these critically important conservation areas. The Mount Eburu fence has been completed.

  • Rhino Ark was established in 1988 by the conservationist and engineer, the late Ken Kuhle, in response to the threat of poaching in the salient of the Aberdare National Park and to mitigate human-wildlife conflict affecting the farming communities of the area.

  • The Rhino Charge in Kenya and Rhino Charge UK, two unique off-road motor competitions, take place annually to raise funds for, and awareness about, Rhino Ark. Rhino Ark’s conservation work also receives support from the Kenya Government and the private sector.

  • The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) report on the impacts of the Aberdare Fence Project is available at: http://www.unep.org/PDF/PressReleases/Rhino_Ark_Main_Report.pdf