Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) and partners has initiated a program to assess lion numbers and distribution throughout the country. According to KWS Head of Species conservation, Dr. Shadrack Ngene, the country has been divided into five blocks for the purposes of this exercise.
Once this spatial distribution of lions is obtained, he says, it will be possible to identify areas where there is a concentration of carnivores and take mitigating action especially if there are communities residing in the vicinity.
He spoke during the 12th Annual Carnivore and Conservation Conference held at KWS headquarters in Nairobi. The conference brings together research scientists from conservation bodies and universities whose focus is carnivores. Key issues raised by scientists during the conference included the rationale for translocating problem carnivores to other conservation areas. Some felt that this was a silver bullet solution, transferring the problem as opposed to finding permanent solutions.
Those in favour of the exercise suggested that such carnivores be collared after translocation, for tracking. The question of how to ‘re-wild’ formerly captive wild animals meant for release back to the wild posed a challenge to scientists.
The role of veterinaries in carnivore conservation was cited as vital, because they intervene when animals are snared or injured. Some felt that intervention when an animal has been injured by another contravened the jungle rule of ‘survival of the fittest.’
The conference was told that threats to carnivores, such as rabies and canine distemper, can be mitigated by vaccination of domestic dogs found in communities adjacent to protected areas. The dogs are conduits for transmitting these deadly diseases to carnivores.
The widespread cases of wildlife poisoning are a worrying trend and great challenge for wildlife conservation. In 2015, disgruntled communities targeted the Marsh pride of lions in retaliatory attacks that are common in human predator conflicts. Two lions were poisoned, but 15 vultures and some jackals died as a result of eating the poisoned carrion. In October 2015, IUCN up listed six species of African vulture because they were being decimated by poisoning. There was consensus that vulture research can add value to carnivore conservation.
The conservation of cheetahs, leopards, wild dogs and the hyena was also cited as of critical importance. The use of genetics to assess the sustainability of cheetahs in Kenya is a positive move toward the conservation of this unique carnivore, the conference was told.
A discussion on a proposed program to use ungulates as sentinels in the detection and prevention of the poaching of mega fauna in Kenya elicited some interest among the scientists.
The conference participants agreed that the way forward is for scientists the world over to share data and information. KWS will also share all protocols and guidelines for stakeholders to input pertinent facts to improve these guidelines.
There is a need to revive the large carnivores’ task force, and to initiate the process of reviewing the cheetah and wild dog recovery plan, the scientists agreed. KWS is in the process of developing a national list of threatened/endangered species which may not be recognized as so by the IUCN. Participants also agreed that there is need to enhance research for leopards and vultures to build databases to be used to come up with recovery plans.
Dr. Patrick Omondi, KWS acting director of biodiversity, research and planning, said Kenya is in the process of developing online authorization permit to ease research on wildlife. He said the process is being developed in collaboration with National Commission on Science Technology and Innovation and National Environmental Management Authority.
"We want to make it easier for researchers from outside Kenya to access the application forms and be able to undertake their research work in the country within a given period of time," he said.
Other issues that Dr. Omondi highlighted included: Forming a partnership with universities and other conservation partners to develop a recovery plan for small carnivores; he advised scientists to interact with KWS area managers and to adhere to requisite government processes in case of change of scope in research, as well as declare their findings to their host managers.
He said KWS was honored to be associated with the formulation of strategies on carnivores and to be a part of sharing research findings, making new connections with researchers, who in turn got an opportunity to interact with KWS management.
Mr. Julius Kimani, Director Parks and Reserves, who opened the conference on behalf of acting Director General Prof. Charles Musyoki, stated that KWS was working closely with partners to construct carnivore-proof bomas in communities adjacent to carnivore-prone areas. He added that the organization will continue to upgrade electric fences in Lake Nakuru and Nairobi National Parks to guard against wildlife straying into residential areas.