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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