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!
“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.”
Learn more at bit.ly/RareBlackLeopard
Paul Wachiras’ days are very varied at Loisaba. One day he can be in Ewaso organising a medical clinic and another discussing grazing plans with morans and community elders in P & D. Below he gives us an account of his work, the main focus of which is assisting our neighboring communities with healthcare and education.
Every Monday I take Kaltouma, Loisaba’s clinical officer to Ewaso Dispensary to attend to patients there. On average, there are 25 to 30 patients at the clinic for Kaltouma to attend too. In partnership with Ewaso Dispensary, we also conduct medical outreach clinics in areas where access to healthcare is limited. The last clinic held at Sagumai was attended by 80 patients.
In partnership with Loisaba Community Conservation Foundation, Kimanjo Health Centre and Ewaso Dispensary, a training session on the negative effects of undergoing FGM was held in October 2017. Many parents were willing for their girls not to undergo the cut so an alternative rite of passage was developed.
In December, sixty girls took part in this alternative rite of passage ceremony thereby becoming women without having to undergo FGM. Interestingly the girls’ circumciser was present at the meeting and has vowed never again to do the cutting, she is now employed at the Ewaso Dispensary and her salary is funded by LCCF.
A very important aspect of my work is ensuring good relationships with neighboring communities, especially in terms of grazing. I spend much of my time with morans and community elders discussing the importance of rangeland management. If there have been any issues in the local area I will also attend the meetings.
Another part of my work which I love is the education days that we hold at Loisaba with schools from the neighboring communities. These days are held in partnership with the Nature Consevancy, LCCF, Elewana, Space for Giants and San Diego Zoo. We teach the students about the importance of conservation and make them appreciate at a tender age about the environment. I think these days are really important because the children are the next generation so they will help to conserve for future generations. So far 90 students have attended these days from 5 different schools accompanied by 15 teachers.
By: Izzy Parsons
© 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!
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.
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.
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
Center Raises Awareness of Challenges Facing Elephants and Giraffes
As poachers continue to kill thousands of elephants across Africa and an increasing number of giraffes, organizations throughout Kenya are banding together to develop strategies to help curtail the illegal killing of these iconic animals. Education is one of these key strategies. To share information about the challenges that wildlife is facing in the highlands of Kenya, a team of conservationists and specialists in interpretive educational messaging—from Loisaba Conservancy, The Nature Conservancy, Space for Giants and San Diego Zoo Global—have created a one-of-a-kind conservation facility.
The Loisaba Conservation Center is located on a 56,000-acre wildlife conservancy in the Laikipia area of northern Kenya, a critically important wildlife habitat. The Center’s main space is decorated with graphical information about conservation and the threats to wildlife. Its aim is to become the hub for conservation education in Laikipia for Laikipia’s community, tourists, partner organizations, government agencies and students. The ultimate goal is for the Center to help inform those who visit Loisaba about community-based conservation and how this model, with their support, will help preserve the area’s habitat and the endangered animals that live here.
“One of San Diego Zoo Global’s goals is to raise awareness of the extent of international wildlife trafficking and its impact on threatened species,” said Debra Erickson, Director of Communications for San Diego Zoo Global. “Community-based education is a key tactic we are using to address this challenge, and we are honored to be included in developing a Conservation Center that is interpreting this issue and making a real difference in Africa.”
The Center was made possible by a generous donation from conservationist Sue Anschutz-Rodgers. She worked closely with architect Jim Archer on the design of the building, and San Diego Zoo Global designed the Center’s interpretive elements.
“The goal of the Loisaba Conservancy is to provide a long-term environment for the preservation of megafauna, such as giraffes and elephants, as well as to a diversity of endangered species,” said Tom Silvester, Chief Executive Officer of Loisaba Conservancy. “By building the Conservation Center, we now have a place to bring our guests, members of our community, staff, rangers and neighbors, so we can clearly show how the conservation work being done benefits both wildlife and the community.”
The first group of students from a village neighboring Loisaba toured the Center in December. Students were excited to not only learn more about the animals, but also the role of their community members in Loisaba—including wildlife ranger and bloodhound handler Joseph Ekaran, whose specially trained dogs are deployed not only to track down elephant and giraffe poachers, but also to help find lost children who have gone missing from nearby villages while herding their family’s livestock.
Loisaba Conservancy was established in 2014 by The Nature Conservancy, Space for Giants and the Loisaba Community Trust, to ensure that a migratory corridor remained for Kenya’s second largest elephant population. It also protects one of the largest remaining populations of reticulated giraffes, as well as endangered Grevy’s zebras, African wild dogs and hartebeest. Space for Giants has been involved in elephant conservation for more than 10 years in Loisaba and has established a multipronged approach for its work here. They are conducting a long-term research study of the family structures and spatial movements of the area’s elephants, as well as working closely with the Kenya Wildlife Service to monitor the illegal killing of these elephants and reduce human-elephant conflict. These partnership efforts have greatly reduced elephant poaching—not only in Loisaba, but in the whole of Laikipia.
“I have greatly enjoyed working with the experts at San Diego Zoo Global on the design of the Conservation Center,” stated Matt Brown, Director of Conservation, The Nature Conservancy in Africa. “It’s another excellent example of how partnerships are vital to success, as not one organization ever has all the skills required to address the challenges and opportunities in a diverse landscape like Laikipia.”
San Diego Zoo Global has been working in Loisaba for more than four years and is trying to develop a basis for better understanding of reticulated giraffes. This socioecological research project is examining giraffe population levels, movements and ecology, as well as traditional ecological knowledge, and attitudes, beliefs and behaviors of local herders living alongside giraffes. This interdisciplinary approach includes community outreach and education programs, and staff will be using the Conservation Center for some of these programs.
San Diego Zoo Global has also created Wildwatch Kenya, a citizen science website (at wildwatchkenya.org) that allows individuals to help review photos from motion-activated cameras at more than 100 sites in Loisaba. The public’s efforts to identify and count the animals in the photos from these trail cameras are already helping wildlife researchers sort and catalog thousands of images. Visitors to the Conservation Center will be asked to participate in the program.
“Loisaba Conservancy is a great example of what effective conservation strategies look like,” said Shamini Jayanathan, Director of Wildlife Law and Justice at Space for Giants. “The Conservation Center provides a window into the world of the conservancy, and allows visitors to gain an understanding of elephants, their behavior and what needs to be done to protect them. It also continues to solidify our strong relationship with the local community—because elephants’ futures are very bleak if the community is not invested in their protection.”
A colorful day of celebration was held at Morijo Primary school last week. Despite being the school holidays, students, their parents and the Morijo community all gathered to celebrate the arrival of 38 desks and text books, generously donated to the school by San Diego Zoo Global.
Moijo Primary School is situated in Kirimon Conservancy a newly formed Community Conservancy. The formation of this Conservancy was a joint collaboration of work with NRT, Loisaba and The Nature Conservancy.
Prior to the arrival of these desks and books the 60 students who attend Morijo Primary School aged three to seven years old had had no education materials. All 60 students are taught by just one teacher – John Serenoi Lenkirikai. John has followed in his father’s footsteps and achieved his diploma in Early Childhood Development immediately after leaving school. Representing San Diego Zoo Global at the event was Kirstie Ruppert, Senior Research Coordinator, and Jenna Stacy-Dawes, Research Coordinator. San Diego Zoo Global currently have two ongoing projects at Loisaba Conservancy.
One project focuses on reticulated giraffe, whose populations have experienced drastic declines over the past few decades. In the year and a half that the project has been active, 135 camera traps have been placed throughout Loisaba over 5 rounds capturing a total of 586,483 images! In addition to the camera trap data, the Twiga Walinzi (which means Giraffe Guards in Swahili), also conduct photo monitoring to help estimate giraffe movements and to build a database of images for every individual giraffe. This monitoring has resulted in 3,112 separate encounters of giraffe with the largest tower size observed at 48 individuals. The camera trap and photo monitoring data is combined with human dimensions work in the areas surrounding the conservancy as well as tracking data from 6 GPS tracking devices that were affixed to individual giraffe in June earlier this year.
The second project, which is in its pilot phase, focuses on leopards and to read more see here: https://loisaba.com/living-with-leopards-community-conflicts-in-northern-kenya/
Celebrations began with an opening speech by the school committee chairman, followed by two community elders and Tom Silvester, Loisaba CEO. Ambrose Letouliaa, SDZG’s on the ground researcher, along with Kirstie and Jenna gave a presentation to the audience on their work and the importance of co-existence with wildlife. Their most important finding to date from the giraffe project is that the estimated use of giraffe parts and product is at 30%! Following this, we were treated to some dancing from the Morijo community and a presentation of gifts to the visitors from the community. The celebrations then continued into the day.
We want to thank San Diego Zoo Global for their wonderful support to Morijo Primary School – these desks and books will not just help to educate the current 60 occupants of the school but many, many more to come. Thank you!!!
By: Izzy Parsons
Photo: © Hannah Campbell 2016
By: Kirstie Ruppert (San Diego Zoo Global)
“Do leopards cause you any problems?” Your answer to this question likely depends on where you live in the world and your primary source of income. When this question was asked to community members around Loisaba Conservancy, 75% of people said yes, that leopards kill or injure their livestock. Such experiences can influence community members’ attitudes towards leopards and decisions when they come across leopards in the future. These connections are important to understand for conservation because leopard populations are in decline across their range. Leopards are listed Vulnerable by IUCN, with human-leopard conflict listed as the greatest source of direct mortality.
Pastoralism is the dominant lifestyle in this region, so negative interactions charge the dynamics between people and wildlife. 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, San Diego Zoo Global is working in partnership with Loisaba Conservancy to conduct social and ecological (see “Luring Wild, Camera-Shy Leopards into Getting their Photo Taken”) research on the local leopard population.
In the summer of 2017, Ambrose Letoluai conducted close to 90 interviews in communities around Loisaba. Ambrose completed his secondary education with support from the Loisaba Community Conservation Foundation, recently graduated from the Kenya Wildlife Service Training Institute, and was eager to return home and apply his new skills and passion for conservation.
He collected data so we can test the relationship between livestock loss, risk perceptions, attitudes, and behavioral intentions towards leopards. Another key aspect was getting information on the ways that people are currently protecting their livestock. People have reinforced their bomas (corrals) with wire mesh, put out solar lights, and fixed wind chimes or propellers to create noise and deter predators at night.
Photos © Ambrose Letoluai 2017
These measures may help prevent livestock loss to leopards, but we couldn’t know that until we started collecting this information and monitoring human-leopard interactions over time. Moving forward, we hope to combine what we learn about the leopards living on Loisaba with the information gathered in these interviews (like where the most livestock loss is occurring) to find solutions that work for communities and help protect leopards in the spaces that they share.
This research is a collaborative effort between San Diego Zoo Global and Loisaba Conservancy, and project investigators are: Nicholas Pilfold (SDZG), Ambrose Letoluai (Loisaba), Hannah Campbell (Loisaba), Megan Owen (SDZG), Symon Masiaine (Loisaba), Dino Martins (Mpala Research Centre), David O’Connor (SDZG), Matthew Brown (The Nature Conservancy), and Jenny Glikman (SDZG).
No day is ever the same!
For the sake of this blog let me try and break it down into the main thematic areas of my work. As the sun rises I am on my way to the security office to check up on the patrol teams. While their jobs include collecting data on wildlife sightings and threats to the conservancy as part of the SMART project, it is my job to check up on their progress and ensure that the phones are all working and collating data correctly.
Once I have that sorted, I jump in the plane with Michael, Loisaba’s new pilot on his morning flight patrol to see if we can locate any elephant groups. Elephant monitoring, as part of my role supporting Space for Giants, is one of my most important jobs. After hopefully spotting a couple of suitable groups I go out by vehicle to locate and start identifying them. We are still at the beginning of this elephant ID project so usually they are new elephants but it is always exciting to see if I recognize an old friend. Over time we hope to identify all the individuals that pass through Loisaba to build an accurate picture of demographics and population size. I always keep an eye out to see whether any elephants are in trouble (e.g. signs of injuries) and alert the KWS vets when necessary. The cow elephant that was treated a few weeks ago on Loisaba for an arrow wound I had already identified in August, a female by the name of Esther.
Morning over, I head over to the Cactus Removal Team working in the south of the Conservancy. Loisaba, unfortunately suffers from an aggressive invasive species called Opuntiae engelmanii, a variety of prickly pear cactus. The elephants love it and it spread it across the Conservancy in their dung. It is critical for the health of the rangelands that it is removed. I check up on the team, monitor the work done and mark out new plots for its systematic removal.
Back to the office I sit down to collate the elephant sightings, draft the SMART management reports, enter the cactus removal data and catch up on emails.
Living and working on Loisaba Conservancy is unique. The incredible beauty of the place, the friendly colleagues and the exciting work. I love it!
By: Izzy Parsons
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. Loisaba Conservancy recognizes the importance of creating stewards of the natural environment to safeguard this spectacular country. Consequently, we have developed a programme to connect children from the surrounding communities, who already live alongside wildlife (i.e. sometimes having to wait for an elephant to cross the road before continuing on their journey to school) to come to Loisaba to be immersed in the arena of wildlife conservation.
Last week Loisaba Conservancy facilitated an educational school trip for 18 Ewaso Primary School students. Accompanied by three teachers, the students who had been selected from classes 1-8 (ages eight to fourteen years of age), were taken on an exciting trip around the conservancy. It couldn’t have started better!
Upon entering the Conservancy, one of the resident prides of lions treated the students to a carefully executed morning hunt. From there the students visited the new Conservation Center at Loisaba HQ, where they were exposed to different ongoing research projects at Loisaba. Amos Chege our Conservation Officer and resident elephant researcher for Space for Giants and Lexson Larpei from San Diego Zoo provided fascinating presentations on their work in studying elephants and giraffes respectively.
From the classroom they went to the security Operations Room and were briefed on the work that the rangers do, how patrols are conducted and what the threats are to the conservancy. Mike Purchase, the new pilot at Loisaba then explained the role of ‘Kathy’, Loisaba’s new Piper Super Cub generously donated by The Nature Conservancy and her use for security, conservation efforts and monitoring the wildlife within the Conservancy.
After lunch, the children were introduced to Warrior and Machine, our resident sniffer dogs and given a demonstration on how they track down suspects. A group of six students peeled off with Dog Handler Ryan and ran off into the bushes, whilst Ekaran, in charge of the K9 unit kept the rest of the students back and explained how one can give the scent of the suspect to the dogs from their footprint. Having given Ryan and his team sufficient time to hide, Ekaran gave Machine Ryan’s scent and the remaining students ran after Machine and Ekaran in hot pursuit on the trail.
The students had the most wonderful day on the conservancy. If we can create even one future conservationist from this initial group we will have succeeded in our mandate. Special thanks to Loisaba Community Conservation Foundation; Elewana; The Nature Conservancy, Space for Giants and San Diego Zoo for making this day possible.
By: Izzy Parsons
On Thursday morning Amos Chege, our Conservation Officer, received an urgent report from the Starbeds Lodge manager, a malnourished looking elephant calf had been spotted. He immediately rushed to the scene, easily located the calf and carefully observed the situation – to avoid making any rash decisions.
Amos observed the elephant calf try to join a nearby elephant herd but watched it being repeatedly rejected by the matriarch. It was clear that this calf did not belong to this herd and had become separated from its mother elsewhere. It was not clear how this had happened but he looked in bad shape and a decision needed to be made quickly. After brief consultation, we called the dedicated staff at Reteti Elephant Sanctuary on the nearby Namunyak Conservancy. The first community run elephant orphanage in Africa specifically established to rescue and reintroduce abandoned elephant calves in the vast northern Kenya landscape.
Reteti chartered a plane from Tropic Air Kenya without delay and they arrived with the professional staff of the North Kenya Veterinary Service. The calf was expertly darted, loaded onto the plane, strapped in and whisked away to safety. While it is terribly sad that this calf became separated from its mother, elephants are an incredibly resilient species and we hear he is doing well at Reteti. We are confident he will make a full recovery and maybe some day he will find his way back to Loisaba.
By early next morning there was yet another report involving an elephant. This time, the ever vigilant conservancy rangers had spotted an elephant cow with what looked to be an arrow wound. By the time Amos got to the scene to confirm the report, light was fading and all efforts to locate it failed.
At the crack of dawn Amos and a team of rangers generously funded by The Nature Conservancy were once again on the trail of the elephant. It took three hours of patient tracking to locate it, amongst all the confusing footprints of other elephants. Eventually, in thick bush they caught up with her. She was indeed badly wounded and required urgent medical attention. The Kenya wildlife service Vet team led by Dr. Dominic Mijele in collaboration with DSWT were informed and arrived from Nanyuki within a couple of hours.
Unfortunately, the elephant cow was not cooperating and had strayed into very difficult terrain. It took over half an hour for Dr. Mijele to get into position to comfortably take a shot with his dart gun. True to his aim the dart found its target and the elephant cow went down. The wound was thoroughly cleaned and disinfected. Dr. Mijele was confident that she would make a full recovery over the coming week as the antibiotics take effect.
We can only speculate on what events led to her injury at the hands of a bow and arrow as well as the circumstances that led to the calf being abandoned. Regardless we feel incredibly lucky to work in landscape with such dedicated partners, all working tirelessly to look after Kenya’s wildlife: Kenya Wildlife Service; Space for Giants; Reteti Elephant Sanctuary Community United for Elephants; North Kenya Veterinary Service; DSWT; The Nature Conservancy; Tropic Air Kenya; Save the Elephants and Northern Rangelands Trust.
By: Izzy Parsons
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