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By Hannah Campbell

World Giraffe Day is celebrated annually on June 21st in order to raise support and create awareness of the challenges giraffes face in the wild.

The population of reticulated giraffe, one of the most iconic mammals on the planet, has declined by over 50% over the past 30 years – from 36,000 to just around 15,000 today. Poaching, loss of habitat, and land degradation are all pushing the giraffe toward an ominously named “silent extinction.”

A reticulated giraffe at Loisaba. Photo © Ami Vitali.

In 2016, San Diego Zoo Global launched a collaborative community-lead conservation effort in northern Kenya to help save the reticulated giraffe species from extinction. Work is currently focused at two sites: Loisaba Conservancy and Namunyak Wildlife Conservancy, where giraffe conservation research and community engagement programmes are conducted by Twiga Walinzi (which means giraffe guards in Swahili). The Twiga Walinzi all come from the local community, and conduct all the field research to study giraffe.

We asked Symon Masiaine, the Twiga Walinzi Conservation Coordinator, to tell us more:

Symon Masiaine, Twiga Walinzi conservation Coordinator. © Ami Vitali.

 

What are the main challenges reticulated giraffes face in northern Kenya?

“One of the main challenges here in Kenya is loss of suitable habitat due to clearing of land for agriculture, tree cutting for firewood and building, and infrastructure development. In addition, giraffe are still poached for meat, bones (which are burnt and the ashes used as medicine) and their tails (used as fly swats and the hairs for bracelets). ”

 

What data are the Twiga Walinzi collecting?

“The Twiga Walinzi carry out photo monitoring, camera trap placement, giraffe satellite collaring, human dimension surveys, school education visits and community awareness and engagement.

“Photo monitoring is carried out in order to gather systematic geo-located images of giraffe that can assist us in identifying, counting and tracking giraffe movements. Placement of camera traps across our study types also contributes to this, with over 1 million images captured so far.

Camera trap photo. © SDZG.

“In order to explore the movements of giraffes further, solar-powered GPS tracking devices have been fitted to reticulated giraffes in the study area. This has given us insights into giraffe movements in the region and utilization of different areas and habitats, what factors cause giraffe to move and whether giraffes move over long distances or stay localised (read more here).

“The team also spends time with local community members and school children in order to understand more about their relationships and interactions with giraffes and other wildlife species, as well as to spread knowledge of important conservation topics and learn about the work of the Twiga Walinzi. Perceptions are documented with surveys in order to help us understand and assess any changes in attitudes and beliefs in the communities who share their space with giraffes over time.

Lexson Larpei (Twiga Walinzi) teaching local school children about giraffes.

 

Why are the Twiga Walinzi Important?

“The Twiga Walinzi are a team of 17 researchers who are leading the work on the ground with pastoralists and communities to spread awareness about giraffes and build support for the protection of the tallest animal on earth. It is scientifically proven that 95% of the 15,000 reticulated giraffes left in the wild live outside formal protected areas – largely on pastoral land. The Twiga Walinzi is important as it focuses work outside of protected areas where people live side by side with giraffes.”

Reticulated giraffes at Loisaba. Photo © Taro Croze.

 

How do you identify individuals?

“Giraffe are recognised using spot patterns on their skin. No two giraffes have the exact same spot pattern, just like no one else has your fingerprints. At Twiga Walinzi, we started identifying giraffe using the pattern manually with our eyes, but in 2019 a pattern recognition software was launched called GiraffeSpotter. The software uses advanced coat pattern recognition technology to recognise individual giraffes and creates a database of sightings. This innovative technology allows researchers, as well as citizen scientists, to monitor giraffe populations throughout Africa and track individual movements.”

Camera trap photo. © SDZG.

 

Tell us about your best experience in the field.

“It was a one of the community survey days in Koija group ranch, going from one village to the next to gather information about giraffes. We met with one mama who identified us by name and said hello to both me and Lexson (another Twiga Walinzi). She gave us seats and started preparing tea for us, and started talking about the great job we as a project are doing in the community. She explained how valuable it was that we hold regular meetings with the communities to update everyone on the project, and how she loved that we took the time to educate school students about the conservation of giraffe and other wildlife in the community. She went on to tell us that her son (year 6) teaches them about the species of giraffe that are found in Kenya, their adaptations to the environment and the food web in the African savanna. She asked us to continue to educate the children and the community about conservation because wildlife and pastoralists need to live side by side, and thanked us for the work we are doing. I was so thrilled by the story and I saw that we are making an impact in the community through the community engagement meetings and school clubs visits.”

 

What are the Twiga Walinzi doing for world giraffe day?

“We are spreading the following message to community members and students in northern Kenya:

  1. Be the voice for giraffe in the communities.
  2. Say no to giraffe poaching in your communities.
  3. Say no to giraffe trade and trafficking.
  4. Share the knowledge you learn to your friends, family members and community.
  5. Stand tall for the giraffe!

Happy World Giraffe Day 2020!

By Hannah Campbell

Imagine waking up to find that you had lost your job and your life’s savings all in one night. You’d understandably hate whatever was responsible for your loss, and may even go out of your way to destroy it.

This is how a herder feels when he loses his entire herd of goats to a leopard or other predator attack during the night. As tourists and conservationists, we see these animals as magnificent cats that should be protected from extinction, but to the pastoralist communities that surround Loisaba, they are simply a huge risk to their livelihoods.

For the conservation of wildlife to be successful, it is vital that the people these species share their habitat with are also committed to their survival, and see a benefit and value to their existence.

A new coexistence model known as Baotree was recently trialed here at Loisaba, in partnership with Lion Landscapes. Designed and led by Dimitri Syrris, Baotree aims to provide local communities with a mechanism to actively earn community development goals, through carrying out conservation-based activities, thus engaging in the protection of their environment and their livelihoods. This approach keeps the responsibility for natural resource management firmly within the communities, whilst supporting and catalyzing the development of conservation-based activities.

“It is critical that, for conservation of wildlife and associated biodiversity to be successful, the custodians of existing ecosystems that support the magnitude of biodiversity required for the survival of large carnivores and other mega-fauna can benefit directly from that conservation. Loisaba Conservancy seeks to scale the impact of wildlife, livestock and community coexistence. What is needed is an inclusive approach that will promote diversity and achieve a credible, measurable result.” – Dimitri Syrris

The model works by assigning conservation tasks known as ‘gigs’ to communities, such as reporting a lion sighting to assist with research and strengthening their boma to help reduce human wildlife conflict. Each of these gigs is rewarded with a conservation currency, “bao-points”, which are then exchanged for a community benefit. The more important the gig for conservation, the more bao-points earned!

Invasive Species Removal

During the trail, the following steps were carried out:

  • The Baotree concept was presented to the chief, chairman and community members of Koija
  • Priority needs were agreed with the community members
  • Baotree community volunteers were identified and provided with a unique Baotree ID, registered to their community
  • In collaboration with Loisaba Conservancy and Lion Landscapes, the Baotree gigs were designed to support localised conservation efforts
  • Baotree printed a list of gigs that the community could complete in order to earn Bao-points (each gig had a specified evidence requirement) – the value of each gig was not shared with the community during this pilot to ensure there was no skew re which gigs were completed
  • The Bao-crew reported the gigs via phone call, which were then validated by members of Loisaba staff
  • On completion of the Baotree pilot, a community meeting was held to signify the end of the test period, and to discuss implementing the community project goals.

List of Community Gigs and associated Bao-Points

The pilot was a great success, with Koija community earning a total of 2,732 Bao-points after completing 125 gigs. Information from community meetings and a recent survey showed that within these communities, the men would like to see their livestock better protected and the women would like a better understanding of healthcare.

Installation of a predator proof boma

Baotree allowed the installation of 15 predator-proof bomas, along with a five day healthcare training workshop that covered prevention of disease, basic first aid, nutrition and health and the dangers of drug abuse.

Healthcare workshop

Dimitri is currently working on the next steps, with the success of the pilot pushing him forward.  A core focus is on scaling the solution through a technology facilitation platform –  where all stakeholders within conservation, communities and the international world will have a positive return on impact.  Dimitri is a strong believer in Baotree and his vision for coexistence to be key in unlocking a new type of digital independence within the African continent.

Follow Baotree on Instagram and Facebook for updates!

Baotree founder, Dimitri Syrris, with Baotree participants

 

© Phil Carter

By Hannah Campbell

Here at Loisaba, we use our BioDigester and Community Cooker to convert waste to energy. Disposing of waste is important, as it reduces risk of various diseases as well as ensuring cleanliness in the workplace.

Out in the bush, a similar process of converting waste to energy is happening with the help of animals known as scavengers, which consume decaying biomass to use as energy. Scavengers – sometimes referred to as ‘bio-bins’ – play an important role the food web and exist in a range of sizes, from beetles to bears. They keep an ecosystem free of the bodies of dead animals (carrion), as well as any infectious materials that could become a health hazard to other animals. Scavengers break down this organic material and recycle it into the ecosystem as nutrients.

Hyenas

© Phil Carter

While hyenas are one of Africa’s top predators while working together in a group, they are also able to scavenge older kills due to their strong stomach acid and ability to digest bone. Their jaws (which are among the strongest in relation to size of any other mammal) and digestive tract allow them to process and obtain nutrients from flesh, skin and bones. The only parts of prey not fully digested are hair, horns and hooves which are regurgitated in the form of pellets. The high mineral content of the bones makes their droppings a highly visible, chalky white.

Vultures

© Hannah Campbell

Vultures are the most specialised scavenging bird species and survive on carrion alone. Their excellent eyesight allows them to locate carrion up to six kilometres away while soaring high over the landscape. Vultures usually have no feathers on their head and neck, which prevents pieces of carrion (which can carry toxic bacteria) from sticking to and infecting the bird. Like hyenas, they also have a highly acidic stomach which kills any bacteria that is consumed with the meat.

If vultures disappeared from the landscape, the rotting meat would be consumed by disease-causing agents and carriers, causing a serious health risk to other animals as well as humans. Ecosystem services provided by wildlife and vultures in particular will be impossible or enormously costly to replace once they are lost. It has been estimated that a single living vulture is worth USD 11,000 due to the scavenging services they provide.

Critically endangered African white-backed vulture at Loisaba. © Tui De Roy

Worryingly, six of Africa’s 11 vulture species are now at a high risk of extinction. Four are now Critically Endangered, while two more have been added to the Endangered list.

Six vulture species can be found here at Loisaba; the palm-nut vulture (LC), the Egyptian vulture (EN), the lappet-faced vulture (EN), and the critically endangered hooded, African white-backed and Rüppell’s griffon vultures.

The biggest threat to vulture species is poison, which occurs when people try to eradicate predators such as lions, leopards and hyenas in order to protect their livestock by leaving poisoned cows out as bait.

Critically endangered Rüppell’s griffon vulture at Loisaba. © Hannah Campbell

We are helping to reduce the poisoning threat to vultures and other carnivores by supporting Lion Landscapes and The Peregrine Fund in offering ‘co-existence’ training to the communities surrounding Loisaba. The training is designed to teach communities about the dangers and negative effects of poisoning to humans and their livestock, whilst providing individuals with the skills and knowledge to better protect their livestock and to therefore reduce retaliation killing.

The training is part of the Coexistence Co-op, which is a partnership between Lion Landscapes and The Peregrine Find to reduce livestock lost to large carnivores, and stop the resultant use of highly toxic pesticides to kill ‘problem’ carnivores, and that indiscriminately poison critically endangered vultures.

By Hannah Campbell

As we reach the end of 2019, we would like to invite you to celebrate some of our key achievements over the past 12 months with us…

Zero Poaching

Loisaba’s K9 Unit out on patrol. © Alastair Boyd

Due to the increase in investment, National Police Reserve status and additional training programmes, poaching incidents at Loisaba have been reduced to zero, with no major security incident occurring in the conservancy this year.

Two Lionesses Collared

Collared lion at Loisaba Conservancy. © Hannah Campbell

In May 2019, another lioness was collared at Loisaba to allow the real-time tracking of the pride using an app, with a chip in the collar activating alarms that are attached to bomas. This ensures guards are on high alert when the lions are around!

In November, this lioness unfortunately sustained a serious injury to her leg, thought to be sustained by a zebra kick. After examination by a vet from Kenya Wildlife Services, it was concluded that recovery would not be possible and the difficult decision to euthanise her was made.

On the 19th December, a further lioness was collared to continue the important coexistence work of Lion Landscapes. Read more about how initiatives at Loisaba are addressing issues with human-wildlife conflict here.

Five Giraffes Fitted with GPS Tracking Devices

Reticulated giraffe GPS tagging operation. © San Diego Zoo Global

In the single largest GPS satellite tagging of giraffe in history, 28 solar powered GPS satellite tracking units were fitted to endangered reticulated giraffe in northern Kenya from 27th August – 5th September this year (five of which at Loisaba). This exercise was carried out in order to better understand their spatial movements and habitat use in the wild. Read more here.

Black Leopards Scientifically Recorded at Loisaba

Black leopard caught on camera trap at Loisaba Conservancy. © San Diego Zoo Global

In February this year, San Diego Zoo Global released a paper confirming the presence of melanistic leopards in Laikipia, with observations on five different dates and five different camera locations. Read more here.

Request for Loisaba to Become an Eastern Black Rhino Sanctuary Sent to KWS

Memory of Black Rhinos at Loisaba. © Down to Earth Films & Kathy Campbell

Loisaba has recently sent an application to Kenya Wildlife Services requesting permission to become a Rhino Sanctuary. Black rhinos were last seen on the property in the early 70’s, and it is our aim to make Loisaba a permanent home for rhinos again. Read more here.

Invasive Species Removal

JCB backhoe digging a pit for the invasive cactus. © Hannah Campbell

With the help of a generous donation through The Nature Conservancy, we have been able to purchase a JCB backhoe in order to help with the removal of the invasive cactus, Opuntia engelmannii. This investment has made a significant improvement to the efficiency of controlling the species, enabling removal of the cactus at over five times the rate of the previous method. The dug up cactus is now also being used to provide cooking fuel for our anti-poaching unit – read more here.

Community Engagement

© Ami Vitale

During 2019, 47 students have been supported through education, including full payment of school fees, books, uniform, school supplies, transport and school trips. The Loisaba team meets with all sponsored students every term to provide advice and support for their studies. We continue to hold education days at our Conservation Centre, hosting 18-20 students per event. The children take part in exercises demonstrating the importance of food webs and conservation of all species and basic mammal ecology.

Since 2017, Loisaba’s Community Liaison Officer has been visiting Ewaso Dispensary every Monday with our Clinical Health Officer who attends to patients, as well as restocking the dispensary with medication provided by the government. In addition to this, medical outreach clinics are held monthly in communities that have little access to medical care. Over 1,500 patients were treated in 2019. Read more here.

Thank you!

Whether you’ve been to stay at one of Elewana’s lodges here at Loisaba, supported us with a generous donation or simply followed our work on social media, you are a valued part of Loisaba’s network.

If you would like to support our work further, visit www.loisaba.com/donate.

Thank you for your support. Here’s to a successful 2020!

By Hannah Campbell

Lions are in trouble. Their population in Africa is estimated to have almost halved in the past 20 years, with as few as 20,000 estimated to be remaining across the entire continent. This is largely due to habitat loss and degradation, having lost 90% of their historic range. Other factors include reduction in prey, human-lion conflict, lack of incentives for communities to tolerate lions leading to a negative perception and ineffective lion population management.

© Hannah Campbell

In an effort to improve predator population monitoring, the Kenyan government, together with numerous NGO’s, are currently undertaking a comprehensive nation-wide lion survey using a standardised method called Spatially Explicit Capture Recapture Method. This involves teams regularly patrolling the conservancy and recording locations of lion sightings, as well as taking ID photographs, in order to estimate population size. Any other predators that are sighted are also recorded, with particular interest in cheetah and wild dog populations and distribution.

© Taro Croze

Loisaba is part of the 77,595km2 area that is being intensively surveyed to provide accurate estimates of lion numbers in all potential ‘source’ populations. Working closely with our partner Lion Landscapes, our conservation department has been trained on the standardised methodology in order to individually identify any lions that are sighted.

Map to show the areas that the lion census is taking place.

A further 580,367km2 will be surveyed through over 3,500 interviews with local experts. The results of these interviews will be analysed to assess the distribution of large carnivores throughout the country.

Guests staying at Elewana Collection’s Loisaba Lodo Springs, Loisaba Tented Camp and Loisaba Star Beds can help participate in this survey by reporting any sightings of lions, cheetahs or wild dogs to our conservation team.

© Taro Croze

Any photos that are taken of these predators are also useful! If you are staying at Loisaba and would like to contribute towards the database, please see the below guide for taking ID photos of the lions. The team will need to be able to distinguish between individuals, so focusing on one lion is best. If you manage to take all necessary photos of that individual, take a photo of the sky or ground as an indicator that you are now photographing another individual. Photos, along with the date, time and location (ask your guide for help with this if your camera does not have a built in GPS) can then be sent to [email protected].

Guide for lion ID photos.

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.

https://youtu.be/VQq_4oXYpRk

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