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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

 

© 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

© Chege Amos

Lion Landscapes #collaringforcoexistance program is developing a new innovative method to help save both livestock and lions lives. We are hopeful this new initiative will allow the human and lion residents of Laikipia to live in peace together.

Following last years’ land invasions for some of the lions in Laikipia, the killing of livestock has now become routine. If this trend is to continue retaliation will undoubtedly occur and we will see the lion populations of Laikipia suffer as a result.

Savannah Tracking have developed boma alarm stations to help deter lions from attacking livestock at night, these are currently being field tested by Lion Landscapes on Loisaba Conservancy. These alarms are triggered if the stations detect one of the collared lion approaching the livestock enclosure within a threshold distance of 200m. Flashing lights and noise are automatically activated causing the lions to bolt.

This new system was first put to the test at the camel boma on Loisaba Conservancy. Narok, (whose pride has been collared for the past ten years) and her pride approached the camel boma under the cover of darkness triggering the alarm and in turn getting quite a shock – the camels looked a little surprised too!

We are hopeful that this method will help re-educate the lions of Laikipia and they will go back to killing the plentiful wild prey. In conjunction to the boma alarm stations, real time data transmitted from the collars help livestock owners avoid the prides, helping to protect the lions and local livelihoods too. A big thank you to The Nature Conservancy and Tusk Trust for supporting Lion Landscapes with these collars.

A mother and cub relax around the remains of a large male impala. Only meters away, a male and female leopard were mating in thick shrub © Nicholas Pilfold

With some notable exceptions (e.g. lions, hyenas, wild dogs) most large African carnivores live a solitary existence. They hunt for food, raise young, and fend off rivals all on their own. This is particularly true for the species that I research at Loisaba Conservancy: the African leopard.

It is already a rare sight when more than one leopard is found in the same location, even more so with multiple individuals. But it does happen. The circumstances for why it happens can be as interesting as the event itself.

This past February, I had the chance to experience a leopard congregation (aka “a leap”) around a kill site. A large male impala had been killed by an equally large male leopard, and once he had his fill, other leopards moved in for leftovers. In many cases, this tolerance for sharing food would not have been allowed by a dominant male still at the kill site; but in this circumstance, he was distracted by a female looking for a mate.

An adult female looks back towards the direction of her departing male mate © Nicholas Pilfold

While the male consorted with the female within the privacy of some dense shrub, a mother and cub moved in on the leftovers. They were extremely relaxed around the kill, recognizing that the adult male was not a threat. Four leopards in a such a tight setting was a surprise and was only surpassed when the next morning a fifth leopard showed up to work on some of the last scraps high in a Boscia tree. The fact that the fifth leopard showed up so quickly likely meant she was in the vicinity when the kill happened the day before.

While leopards spend much of their lives in solitude, events like these remind us of their capacity for sociality in the right setting.

By: Nicholas Pilfold, Ph.D., San Diego Zoo Global

© Ambrose Letoluia

The first #Lionlandsapes #collaringforcoexistence collars were deployed last month on Loisaba Conservancy and Sosian Ranch. The matriarch of the Narok pride, one of the largest prides in the area was fitted with an iridium collar on Loisaba Conservancy after two nights waiting and watching. This pride has been collared consistently for over ten years allowing us a wonderful insight in to their family dynamics. The pride currently consists of the matriarch, and two younger females with six young cubs. A coalition of 4 adult males has also been seen associating with this pride!

© Isabelle Parsons

A collar was also deployed on Sosian Ranch on a lioness that is part of a pride that has been collared intermittently since 2007. The original lioness collared in 2007 was sadly killed by pastoralists on community land leaving behind a two year old son. Having been presumed dead he re-appeared after two years as a handsome male, forming a collation with another older male and taking over the pride. This young male was collared in 2015 for a collaborative research project and he became incredibly habituated, offering wonderful sightings to guests. Sadly, he was killed in February 2016 when the main Sosian pride males – five in total crossed the river and killed him in a territorial fight. The other male survived but the pride was rarely seen. After considerable patience from KWS vet Matthew Mutinda and the Lion Landscapes team, they darted and successfully collared a four year old lioness from this pride now named ‘Labai’. Her pride is made up of the old male who is very impressive, a younger male, two or three lionesses and two groups of cubs.

© Sean Outram

We can’t wait to keep you updated on these two prides and the cubs they are rearing but these collars are not fitted purely to monitor the populations. Following exposure to weak and poorly guarded community livestock last year, conflict between lions and humans has escalated in the Laikipia ecosystem.

It is imperative to collar the misbehaving lions who have learnt to kill livestock so that real time movement data transmitted from the iridium collars can allow lions to be monitored closely, and teams on the ground respond if lions move into areas where they may get into trouble. Because this is so imperative, other projects (Living With Lions and University of California) are joining Oxford University based Lion Landscapes in contributing collars. Save the Elephants have developed a user-friendly app that maps the lion on google earth giving livestock owners the ability to avoid lions, or increase protection efforts in response to actual lion presence, thus better defending their livestock from lion attacks.

© Isabelle Parsons

In conjunction with the app, Savannah Tracking have designed a Boma Shield System. This system responds to chips in the specially designed lion collars by setting off alarms and lights when the collared lion comes within 200 meters of a boma.  The harmless deterrents used are currently being field trialed by Lion Landscapes on Loisaba Conservancy, Sosian Ranch and Suyian Ranch.

Thank you very much to our wonderful partners The Nature Conservancy and Tusk Trust who have supported Lion Landscapes with these collars. We hope that the combination of the real time movement data and boma shield system will reduce the number of retaliatory killing of lions by informing and engaging livestock owners directly and also help to retrain livestock killing lions into thinking that livestock is off the menu!!

By: Izzy Parsons

Managing a conservancy as vast and diverse as Loisaba in a challenging landscape with limited resources can be tough, really tough. To do so effectively we have to be ‘Smart’ – literally. SMART also known by its longer name (Spatial Monitoring and Reporting Tool) is a specifically developed protected area management tool designed to measure, evaluate and improve the overall effectiveness of law enforcement patrols. In doing so protected area managers, such as Loisaba Conservancy CEO Tom Silvester are provided with the necessary information at their fingertips to make adaptive management decisions.

In April we started the SMART journey with assistance from our partners Space for Giants and the Zoological Society of London. Amos Chege and Redempta Njeri spent several months gradually training rangers in the use of a simple mobile phone App called Cybertracker, which is essentially the data collection vehicle for SMART. Some of the rangers got the hang of it straight away while others struggled, but by the end of June we had identified and trained sufficient rangers to have one competent user per patrol group on the conservancy.

Today, every patrol group on the conservancy is hard at work collecting critical information on wildlife sightings and potential threats (e.g. snares and/or poaching) to wildlife. Because the phones that the rangers use are GPS enabled, we are able to view their patrols on a computer giving us an indication of the patrol effort (e.g. distance patrolled, hours patrolled etc.) where they recorded sightings and threat and possibly most importantly, what the blind spots are on the conservancy.

Every week, Amos Chege, Loisaba’s Conservation Officer visits each patrol base and downloads the data onto his computer. Together with input from the Space for Giants team a weekly report is created giving us a spatial view of what is happening on the conservancy and this is then discussed by the management to take appropriate action. SMART is proving to be a ‘game-changer’ and is going to help Loisaba develop into one of the leading conservancies in the landscape.

By: Izzy Parsons