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Bees and other pollinating insects play an essential role in ecosystems, with third of all food depending on their pollination. A world without pollinators would be devastating for food production.

© @beemagickenya

Since the late 1990s, beekeepers around the world have observed a sudden disappearance of bees, and reported unusually high rates of decline in honey bee colonies.

In Kenya, bee-killing pesticides in particular pose the most direct risk, with habitat destruction and disease also contributing to their decline.

Bee keeping is well practiced throughout Kenya and local honey is delicious, filled with beneficial enzymes and probiotics that commercial heating processes destroy. The honey varies throughout the year as different tree species flower, each with a unique aroma and flavour. Harvesting this honey however can be extremely problematic, both for bees themselves and for other species.

Kenyan bees are extremely protective over their hives, and have been known to swarm and kill invaders. Traditional beekeepers use fire to smoke out the bees, which can often set trees alight and cause the destruction of huge expanses of forest. If a fire is avoided, the wild bee hive is usually destroyed as everything is taken – including the honeycomb and brood (eggs, larvae and pupae).

BeeMagic’s safe smoking device

Here at Loisaba, we have partnered with Beemagic Limited in order to source honey. Beemagic have developed a design for a hive and method of extraction that not only reduces the risk of fire, but leaves both the brood and the honeycomb for the bees, so they can continue reproducing and making honey in their hive without having to build a new one.

BeeMagic Brood Boxes

Brood boxes are made first, which are set up on cleverly designed hanging tables to protect them from notorious honey badgers. Once a bee colony has moved in, additional boxes are added for the colony to expand into. When the honey is collected, only these extra boxes are harvested using a method that leaves behind the waxy structure, meaning the bees do not have to waste energy starting from scratch and the bee larvae are protected in the brood box.

© @beemagickenya

As well as providing these hives at Loisaba, Beemagic are working to improve bee-keeping methods across Northern Kenya by proving the training and equipment needed to produce sustainable honey. This puts a value on protecting wildlife habitat, as more trees mean more forage for the bees, resulting in richer honey harvests and a financial incentive for maintaining an ecosystem. Our tourism partner, Elewana Collection, have also partnered with Beemagic by helping to create a market for this organic, raw honey, which in turn provides income for beekeepers in Northern Kenya.

© @beemagickenya

Bees can even be used to help mitigate human-wildlife conflict. “Beehive fences” have been successful in places where elephants and humans co-exist. A study in Kenya by Save the Elephants looked at hives which are positioned around a field of crops. When an approaching elephant disturbs the hives, it aggravates the bees which prompts a hasty retreat. A beekeeping villager not only benefits from honey and pollination services, but protection of their crops, which in turn reduces retaliation killing of elephants.

Follow @BeeMagicKenya on instagram to find out more about their work in Kenya!

By Hannah Campbell

by Dr. Nicholas Pilfold

The last two weeks have seen worldwide coverage of the black leopards recorded on San Diego Zoo Global remote cameras in Laikipia, and has resulted in intense interest in the sighting and science behind it. As the research is ongoing, we are continuing to watch our cameras for more observations, so we can unravel some of the mystery behind these black cats, including their range and movements.

When we started our research to scientifically confirm black leopard sightings (see: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/aje.12586), we focused on a small area to the south of Loisaba Conservancy to acquire imagery. We had always had suspected that the black leopards from our study ranged across several conservancies in the area including Loisaba. And now, we have our first recordings on our remote cameras on Loisaba! It is very exciting to start to record black leopard activity at a larger scale.

There are many questions that remain about the black panthers in Laikipia. How many are there and what is their frequency in the population? Why do black leopards live here in a semi-arid environment with little dense forest for camouflage? What other advantages does being black provide to leopards that may allow this trait to persist in the population?

While some of these questions may take years to answer, finding these individuals ranging at a broader scale is a step in the right direction for our research.


Most of the wildlife in Kenya lives outside of government parks and reserves, so it is critical to work with communities that are sharing land and resources with the wildlife that we want to protect. To better understand the ways that people are interacting with and perceiving leopards, in June 2017 a collaborative partnership between San Diego Zoo Global and Loisaba Conservancy was set up to conduct social and ecological research on the local leopard population in and around Loisaba.

Researchers from San Diego Zoo Global have been using camera traps at Loisaba Conservancy and neighbouring properties in order to understand population dynamics of leopards, and the mechanisms that drive human-wildlife conflict to assess the efficacy of management decisions aimed at mitigating conflict.

We are very excited to hear that these camera traps have captured rare footage of melanistic leopards, otherwise known as black panthers!

Female black panther pictured on San Diego Zoo Global’s camera traps at Loisaba Conservancy’s neighbouring property, Lorok

“Regionally we’ve heard reports of black leopards living here in Kenya, but high-quality footage or imagery to support these observations has always been missing,” said Nicholas Pilfold, Ph.D., San Diego Zoo Global scientist. “That’s what we’ve provided here with our cameras, and now we’re able to confirm what has been long suspected about black leopards living in Laikipia County.” 

“Black panthers are uncommon, only about 11% of leopards globally are black. But black panthers in Africa are extremely rare. Our new paper confirms black leopards living in Laikipia County, Kenya, and our observations in the paper are collectively the first confirmed cases in Africa in nearly 100 years. It is certain black panthers have been there all along, but good footage that could confirm it has always been absent until now.”

Click here for full paper.

Learn more at bit.ly/RareBlackLeopard

Huge influxes of cattle during the drought in 2017 meant that many of the African wild dogs in Laikipia were wiped out by canine distemper virus (CDV) spread from the herdsmen’s domestic dogs.

However, after nearly a year of no sightings, staff at the Loisaba Star Beds were excited to hear the unique calls of a pack of wild dogs on Monday! Before hunts, wild dogs often engage in a ‘greeting ceremony’, where many sounds are produced by the dogs including whimpers, whines and high pitched twitters, which are unique and easy to identify.

© Hannah Campbell

The African wild dog (Lycaon pictus), also known as the cape hunting dog or painted wolf, is one of the world’s most endangered carnivore species. Once found widely distributed across sub-Saharan Africa in woodland, savannah, shrubland and grassland, they are now listed as an endangered species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as they have sadly disappeared from over 90% of their former range. They are now only found in fragmented populations mainly in southern and eastern Africa, and are thought to number fewer than 6,600 individuals.

This alarming decrease in population size was due mainly to shooting and poisoning in livestock areas. Although wild dogs have been known to take sheep or goats in areas of low prey density, the reason for persecution has also been due to wild dogs’ reputation as ‘cruel and bloodthirsty killers’, unfairly earned by their killing methods of tearing prey apart.

African wild dogs disappeared from Laikipia at the start of the 1980s due to the combined effects of persecution and disease, but were recorded back in the area during 2000. In 2003, the minimum population estimate was 150 wild dogs in 11 packs, comparable to populations in national parks.

© Hannah Campbell

Although wild dogs are now a protected species, they remain at risk of extinction due to increased conflict with humans in competition for space. Their ranging behaviour in pursuit of prey means they require very large areas to support viable populations.

Increased use of land for farming and the expanding human population means that wild dogs are being forced into small, unconnected areas. As a result of their extensive territories, even large fragments may only contain very few individuals; too small to sustain a viable wild dog population as not enough genetic variation is present to provide a sustainable population, leading to localised extinctions.

The highest priority for the conservation of African wild dogs is dealing with habitat fragmentation. A crucial part of the work we do at Loisaba is to help protect vital wildlife corridors for all species to safely cross. Last weekend’s episode of Dynasties showed just how important this connectivity is to the conservation of African wild dogs.  (https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/p06mvrr0/dynasties-series-1-4-painted-wolf)

 

Land connected. Life protected.

 

If you would like to help us conserve some of our planets most important habitat, please visit www.loisaba.com/donate

 

© Hannah Campbell

 

Fun Facts

African wild dogs are highly social, usually forming packs of between six and 20 individuals (although packs as large as 30 have been observed!).

BBC – Dynasties

The females rather than the males are the ones to leave the family group in search of new packs, a unique behaviour among social carnivores.

Dominance hierarchies are established by showing submissiveness, with the dogs rarely showing aggression to one another.

Wild dogs give birth to the largest litters of any other dog species, usually between seven and 10 pups but they can number up to 20. Due to the size of these litters, only the dominant pair of the pack breed, and other members help to bring up the young. As other members of the pack are usually related to the dominant pair, looking after their offspring also ensures the passing on of their own genes as they are likely to share at least half of their genetics with the dominant female.

BBC – Dynasties

Wild dogs do not fight each other for access to food, and meat is divided between pack members after a successful hunt. When there are puppies in a den, some dogs will remain behind on hunts to guard them, and will beg for food from other members when they return. The dogs that have returned from a successful hunt will regurgitate food for the adults as well as the young, another unique behavioural trait among carnivores.

BBC – Dynasties

They are primarily crepuscular hyper-carnivores, meaning they are active at dawn and dusk and rest during the hot hours of the day (although they are known to hunt at night when there is sufficient light from the moon!) and they get all of their dietary needs from protein and therefore eat only meat.

Unlike cats which rely on stalking their prey until they are close followed by a short sprint, African wild dogs rely on out-running their prey over distances as far as 5km (2km on average), reaching speeds of up to 66km per hour.

Their hunts are highly successful, around 80% of all hunts end in a kill (lions having a success rate of only 10%). This high success rate is primarily due to their cooperation during hunts.

By Hannah Campbell

Loisaba Conservancy is a hub for applied conservation research in the north Kenya landscape.  Our research partners San Diego Zoo, Space for Giants and Lion Landscapes are constantly on the lookout for high quality images that can be used to identify specific individuals. As a result, Space for Giants and San Diego Zoo have developed a project to engage guests at Elewana’s luxury Loisaba Star Beds and Loisaba Tented Camp in a Citizen Science Initiative.

For the past year Loisaba has been using the Spatial Monitoring and Reporting Tool (SMART) to monitor wildlife numbers throughout the conservancy. Data is collected using an app called Cybertracker and analyzed using SMART to show wildlife encounters and human activities across the conservancy.

Grevy’s zebra © Amos Chege

As part of the new Citizen Science Initiative, every game drive vehicle will be equipped with a tablet installed with the simple data collection modelThis will allow guests to record sightingsfor seven key species of wildlife; elephants, leopards, lions, giraffes, Grevy’s zebras, cheetahs and wild dogs during their game drives. Every sighting is automatically geotagged meaning that the data can be easily mapped after the drive. This data will then contribute meaningfully to the research objectives of each of the respective research partners at Loisaba.

© Amos Chege

For example, locations and images of leopards taken by guests will allow SDZG researchers to identify individual leopards and track populations and their status through time. SDZG researchers use remote cameras to identify leopards by their unique coat patterns. Each leopard has a distinct set of rosettes, much in the same way a fingerprint is unique to every human. Researchers use these coat patterns on each flank of the leopard to verify their identification.

The pilot project has been tested on Loisaba Conservancy over the past few months with the brilliant Elewana guides having been trained on the data collection app by our Conservation Officer, Chege Amos.

Loisaba is at the forefront of adaptive management through scientifically informed decisions that will help inform appropriate rangeland management, and with endangered species conservation. This Citizen Science Initiative will encourage guests to become budding scientists contributing meaningfully to ongoing research projectsand management of Loisaba’s wildlife, which is in line with our management plans.

By: Izzy Parsons

© Hannah Campbell

Last week, our brilliant security Manager Daniel Yiankere was invited to KWS Headquarters in Nairobi to celebrate #worldrangerday in recognition of being one of the 50 rangers to have won an award in the 2018 African Ranger Awards by Paradise International Foundation.

© Izzy Parsons

On July 21st 2017, Jack Ma, the founder of Alibaba and co-chair of Paradise International Foundation, announced in Kigali that a 10-year award program would be set up to support 500 wildlife rangers across Africa. The Paradise African Ranger Award will be given annually to 50 rangers in Africa who have made outstanding efforts to combat poaching, habitat loss, and the illegal wildlife trade. Today in Cape Town, some of the 50 winners will receive their awards in recognition and celebration of their achievements.

Daniel became a ranger for KWS in 1992 and during his 24 years’ service worked all over the country, in the Mara, Meru, Tsavo, Amboseli, Mt Elgon and Nairobi National Park. Daniel states, “serving as a Ranger makes me happy and gives me a sense of duty and pride – I feel that I have and still continue to make a great contribution to wildlife conservation.” He has been at Loisaba for over a year leading Loisaba’s security team of 64 Rangers and canine unit comprising four bloodhounds.

Daniel chose to become a ranger 25 years ago to protect Kenya’s wild animals for future generations. “One of my greatest successes was the interception of 81 pieces of ivory – at that time the person received a low fine but I am glad that today the penalties are steep after the enactment of the Wildlife Act – it helps discourage people from poaching our wildlife”, Daniel Sotian Yiankere.

Congratulations Daniel for this well deserved recognition for your incredible hard work and diligence protecting Kenya’s wildlife over the years! Find more on the 50 amazing African Rangers on http://bit.ly/2Oc9q99

 

Since October, 144 students and 24 teachers from our surrounding communities have attended conservation education days at Loisaba’s Conservation Centre. These days aim to connect those children living alongside wildlife with the conservation projects that are ongoing at Loisaba. The days allow the students to have fun whilst learning about the value and importance of wildlife conservation and habitat preservation on Loisaba.

Learning about Ol Pejeta conservation practices.

In culmination to these education days, an essay competition was held last month discussing the importance of conservation. Prior to the task a brainstorming session on the essay question was held with all the students at their respective schools. Over 100 students aged 12-15 years old at Kirimon, Ewaso and Labarishereki primary schools took part! The main benefits of conservation mentioned in the essays were the opportunities of employment and scholarships that conservation offered and income generated from the sale of beads to tourists. Protection of endangered species was touched upon lightly. This is unsurprising given that many of these students have never seen many of the endangered species first hand. Consequently, Loisaba arranged for the top 3 scorers from each school to head to Ol Pejeta for a day.

Last week, the nine essay prize winners, accompanied by three teachers set off to Ol Pejeta to witness conservation first-hand. The first excitement of the day was seeing Ol Pejeta’s Ankole cattle herd, the students were amazed by their iconic, sweeping horns having never seen this breed of cattle before. It was the first of many new sights for the students!

© Paul Naiputari

Next stop was a visit to the Sweetwaters Chimpanzee Sanctuary, home to 39 chimpanzees. The students learned about what the chimps feed on, the ecology they live in and how they have been rescued from the illegal bush meat and pet trade. Given that chimpanzees are not native to Kenya, it was the first time any of the students and teachers had seen one before. They simply could not believe that people would use chimps for the illegal bush meat trade.

On then to meet Baraka, a tame blind black rhino and pay a visit to Sudan’s grave. The students spotted two lioness’s snoozing in the midday sun and giraffe, elephant and impala were out in force providing a wonderful game drive though out the day for the students.

It was a day of firsts for these students learning about the importance of the animal species themselves as well the multitude of benefits conservation provides. The future of Laikipia, Kenya and the continent as a whole lies firmly in the hands of the new generation and the decisions they will make in due course. We want to thank The Nature Conservancy and Loisaba Community Conservation Foundation for making this memorable day possible.

A day of firsts for the prize winners!

 

© Mikey Purchase

In May, Loisaba Conservancy hosted a ‘Fly In’ organised by the Aero Club of East Africa, an event normally held once every two years. Participants enjoyed a weekend of flying fun whilst staying at Elewana Collections luxury Loisaba Tented Camp and Loisaba Star Beds.

Eight aircrafts participated in the event including, two Cessna 206’s, one X-Cub, one Cessna 180 and four Cessna 182’s with pilots ranging from commercial pilots, recreational pilots to aviation enthusiasts.

The activities of the ‘Fly In’ included challenges such as the shortest take off distance; flour bag bomb dropping from a height of 200m into a large target on the airfield and spot landings onto a line on the airstrip. The pilots also enjoyed scenic flights around Loisaba Conservancy with elephant sightings in the hundreds.

© Michelle Purchase

The highlight of the flying fun was a flour bomb landing on the spectator tent during morning tea and biscuits! Once the flying was finished, guests spent the rest of the day lazing by the pool and going on game drives where they were lucky enough to spot lions and a leopard! A brief awards ceremony was held after dinner on Saturday night which was followed by an entertaining quiz.

We’re really looking forward to seeing all the participants and more back here at Loisaba next year!

By: Mikey Purchase

 

 

Current estimates are that over the past 20 years the reticulated giraffe population has declined by over 70%, from 36,000 to less than 9,000 today. It is thought the main drivers behind the decline are habitat loss and fragmentation, land degradation, and poaching. However, relatively little is known about reticulated giraffe movements, or their ecology.

Young life © Isabelle Parsons

To help address this, in May 2016 a collaborative giraffe conservation initiative was launched between: The Giraffe Conservation Foundation, The Northern Rangelands Trust, Loisaba Conservancy, Namunyak Wildlife Conservation Trust, The Nature Conservancy and San Diego Zoo Global. Beginning with a two-year pilot project centered on two sites (Loisaba Conservancy and Namunyak).

The project is a community-led conservation and research effort that uses both social and ecological methods to help sustainably preserve the reticulated giraffe species in the wild. At Loisaba Symon Masaine is the Head Researcher, he is currently studying at the University of Michigan under the MasterCard Scholarship. Whilst he is away Lexson Larpei, the Assistant Researcher is managing the project.

Silhouette at sunset © Amos Chege

In June 2017 seven reticulated giraffe were fitted with GPS satellite tracker units on Loisaba Conservancy. These units made by Savannah Tracking are solar powered and are attached to giraffe’s ossicones. The data collected from these units will allow greater insights into giraffe movements in the region, especially wet season-dry season movements, and utilization of different areas/habitats, space requirements. It also has the potential for the movement data to inform decisions around future infrastructure and settlement decisions. A further 25 GPS units will be fitted with the Kenya Wildlife Service in September 2018 across Loisaba Conservancy, Mpala Research Centre, Buliqo Bulesa Conservancy, Melako Conservancy and Leparua Conservancy. These units will provide insights into numerous localized questions, e.g. the dynamics of giraffe between Leparua and Lewa/Borana, where do the giraffe on Biliqo and Melako go?

In conjunction to the GPS data, camera traps are deployed across the conservancy to help track and identify giraffe. A total of 135 cameras traps have been deployed creating over one million images – all these images need analyzing! Here is how you can help: https://bit.ly/2IDzHih

The final essential element to this project is gauging human perceptions and attitudes towards giraffes and poaching. Consequently, over 400 interviews have been conducted in Kirimon, Ol Donyiro, Koija, P&D, KMC and Ilmotiok producing startling results. It is estimated that giraffe part and product use is at 30% within these communities and knowledge on giraffe species, ranges, and population was found to be very low. Through education and outreach within these communities, the project aims to reduce that number while also raising awareness of the overall decline and building community pride in the uniqueness of northern Kenya’s giraffe species.

A lovely old bull with very unique markings © Isabelle Parsons

Land Connected; Life Protected

Migration is an essential element in sustaining viable wildlife populations. Today, many of Kenya’s wildlife populations exist in isolation, having been separated completely by increasing human populations and infrastructure development. Wildlife corridors are critical in connecting habitats, protecting life and maintaining diversity.

Simon Gitau opening the fence between Kitenye and Mugie

Through a partnership between Mugie and Loisaba conservancies, a new migration corridor now links together more than 100,000 acres of managed conservation land in the north of Laikipia County, helping to keep the landscape open and, most importantly, connected. The Kitenye Wildlife Corridor, which at its narrowest point is 800 meters wide, was created by removing more than a kilometer of fencing and securing four small plots of land for conservation.

Beisa oryx, common zebra & Laikipia hartebeest

Wild animals need the freedom to migrate, and this corridor spans across several different habitats: from Loisaba’s dry Ewaso acacia scrubland, through the vast open plains of Kitenye, and finally rising to the olive forests of Mugie and the Lorogi plateau at 7,000 feet.

Both conservancies are home to threatened keystone species such as elephants, Grevy’s zebra, reticulated giraffe and Laikipia hartebeest, and carnivores, including wild dogs, cheetah and lion, many of which suffered considerably during last year’s drought and political strife.

With this new corridor in place, Mugie and Loisaba conservancies hope to see game moving freely between the two conservancies and the greater Laikipia landscape, connecting wildlife and allowing for a more diversified gene pool. This is especially important for cheetah, the endemic Laikipia hartebeest and Grevy’s zebra, whose numbers have declined to critical levels over the years through poaching and habitat loss.

The Kitenye Wildlife Corridor, will be managed by Mugie Conservancy and was created with support of The Nature Conservancy, which will play an important role in the ongoing protection and monitoring of the corridor.

A big thank you to The Nature Conservancy for making this possible!

Kitenye eastern views. Below, the inhabitants of the plains at Kitenya, an oryx at sunset and a Grevy zebra on alert