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Kenyan scientists formulate invasive species strategy

Date Published: 09 Dec, 2011
Kenyan scientists formulate invasive species strategy

Community involvement in mechanical control of Parthenium hysterophorus, an invasive species in the Maasai Mara National Reserve.

A draft strategy for the management of invasive alien species in protected conservation areas in Kenya has been completed. This was done by a team of scientists from Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service (KEPHIS) and Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) at a three-day retreat at the Sportsman Arms Hotel, Nanyuki.   The formulation process started in 2008 with various partners including the Commonwealth Agricultural Bureau (CABI-Africa) and World Conservation Union (IUCN). It aims at developing strategies that will curb the risk of invasive alien species that has been recognised as one of the greatest threats to the ecological and economic well being of the planet.  According to the Global Invasive Species Programme (GISP), invasive alien species are introduced species that become established in a new environment, then reproduce and spread in ways that adversely impact on both human and natural environments.

Kenya is endowed with diverse ecosystems and habitats that are home to unique and diverse flora and fauna. These diverse ecosystems and habitats are represented within the protected area system that comprise about 12 per cent of the Kenyan territory, including 23  national parks, 28 national reserves, 203 forest reserves, four marine national parks, six marine national reserve and four sanctuaries. Nairobi National Park and the Maasai Mara National Reserve are among many wildlife areas that have been adversely affected by invasive species in the country. Other affected national parks include Lake Nakuru,Amboseli and the Tsavos. Saiwa Swamp National Park is one of the success stories of controlled invasive alien species in Kenya.

The strategy shows how in new ecosystems, invasive alien species become predators, competitors and parasites thereby threatening ecosystems integrity  and native species of plants and wild animals. The World Conservation Union (IUCN), identifies invasive alien species are the second most significant threat to biodiversity, after habitat loss. In addition, the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) made observations of how invasive species can explode in numbers in their new homes ousting native species, clogging waterways and power station intakes, bringing novel infections including viruses and bacteria, poisoning soils and damaging farmland. Like the water hyacinth, a native of the Amazon basin, that was brought to continents like Africa to decorate ornamental ponds with its attractive violet flowers.
But there is nothing attractive about its impacts on Lake Victoria where it is thought to have arrived in around 1990 down the Kigera River from Rwanda and Burundi. Hyacinth can explode into a floating blanket, affecting shipping, reducing fish catches, hampering electricity generation and human health. Therefore, the strategy seeks to identify mechanisms that respond to the invasive alien species challenge in Kenyan protected areas. In addition, the strategy will encourage collaborative ventures on control and management of invasive species with other stakeholders on lands adjacent to protected areas and other biodiversity critical landscapes. Key to this will be approaches based on the application of appropriate scientific research focused on levels of biological organisation which encompass the essential processes, functions and interactions among organisms and their environment. This includes issues like maintenance of healthy ecosystems, since they are more resilient to invasive species. Prevention or minimisation of disturbances in any land use activities and restoration of disturbed areas and degraded ecosystems and landscapes.

UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner  in 2009 said “Improved international cooperation through the UNEP-linked Convention on Biological Diversity is needed and stepped up support for the Global Invasive Species Programme. Preventing alien species entering a new country is going to be demonstrably cheaper than the cure of trying to eradicate a well-entrenched species. Alien invasive species have for too long been given a free ride - raising awareness among policy-makers and the public and accelerating a comprehensive response is long overdue.”  The strategy aims to drive effective management of invasive alien species in Kenya, coordinate the development of standardised processes for the inventory of invasive plants, and the maintenance, storage and accessibility of this information. Increased public awareness of the impacts of invasive species and management strategies for their prevention, detection and control is also a key objective relevant to the target audience. Mobilising resources to implement the strategy from various stakeholders will facilitate a more feasible approach to the strategy’s action plan.
The Strategy for the Management of Invasive Alien Species in Kenyan Protected Areas will be launched mid next year.

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