Posts

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!

© 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!

Earlier this year, an aerial census was carried out across Loisaba Conservancy and Mugie Conservancy to estimate wildlife populations, and to form a basis for population trends in order to influence wildlife management.

Transects were flown using Loisaba’s Piper Super-Cub aircraft, and any wildlife that was present within the aircraft mounted guide wires was counted.

A total area of 424km2 was covered over a total flight time of 8 hours. At Loisaba (230km2), a total of 2,341 individual animals were counted, with a species density of 10 individuals per km2.

The number of individual species of key herbivores counted are shown below:

Common Zebra: 741 individuals – a density of 3.22 per km2 (photo Phil Carter)

 

Impala: 464 individuals – a density of 2.02 per km2 (photo Hannah Campbell)

 

Elephant: 411 individuals – a density of 1.79 per km2 (photo Taro Croze)

 

Grant’s Gazelle: 177 individuals – a density of 0.77 per km2 (photo Hannah Campbell)

 

Beisa Oryx: 137 individuals – a density of 0.60 per km2 (photo Phil Carter)

 

Buffalo: 110 individuals – a density of 0.48 per km2 (photo Taro Croze)

 

Reticulated Giraffe: 75 individuals – a density of 0.33 per km2 (photo Taro Croze)

 

Grevy’s Zebra: 68 individuals – a density of 0.30 per km2 (photo Phoebe Belcher)

 

Hartebeest: 28 individuals – a density of 0.12 per km2 (photo Hannah Campbell)

 

In addition to the pictured herbivore species, five lions were counted along the transects. The on-going lion census activity has so far identified 36 individual lions at Loisaba Conservancy, which equals to one lion per 6.4km2!

 

Lion: 36 individuals – a density of 0.16 per km2 (photo Hannah Campbell)

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.

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