Flamingo Conservation and Ramsar Site Management at Lake Bogoria National Reserve, Kenya


Flamingo Conservation and Ramsar Site Management at Lake Bogoria National Reserve, Kenya

The University of Leicester, in association with Earthwatch Institute (Europe), has received Darwin Initiative funding from the British Government for three years from July 2003 to further the conservation of lesser flamingo and the Lake Bogoria National Reserve Ramsar site. Dr David Harper, project leader, has been leading teams of ecologists to study Rift Valley lakes for 20 years (see Hydrobiologia volume 488, 2002 for Lake Naivasha). He started working at Bogoria in 2000 and Baringo in 2001.

In 2000, Lake Bogoria (0° 11'-20' N, 36° 06' E) was designated as a Ramsar wetland of international importance. One of the requirements of this status is the development of a conservation management plan, but there is almost no scientific information concerning the lake's ecology to aid this process. The lake is a vital feeding site for the near-threatened lesser flamingo (Phoeniconaias minor) and an important Kenyan site for the black-necked grebe (Podiceps nigricollis) and Cape teal (Anas capensis), often holding > 90% of the total individuals of both species found in Kenya. Understanding the interaction between these species and between them and the lake ecology is critical to their conservation and development of a sound management plan for Lake Bogoria.

The Darwin project will identify the essential lake ecosystem properties that sustain these important populations of water birds and collect the baseline data needed to help understand the birds' response to changes in these properties. The project, with the establishment of a field laboratory, will support the ongoing Earthwatch Institute programme at Lake Bogoria National Reserve (LBNR) designed to gain a sufficient understanding of the whole reserve's ecosystems to enable the development of a sound conservation management plan. The results will also be translated and disseminated to local communities living around the lake who will be responsible for its conservation.

The Darwin Initiative provides a means of mobilising British expertise, in partnership with conservationists from developing countries worldwide, to help safeguard the earth's biodiversity. Darwin funding will allow the research to develop into new areas not possible on the Earthwatch format alone as well as an extension of ground-breaking work initiated on the 2002 Earthwatch teams. Perhaps more importantly, it provides a means of clearly linking the research of Earthwatch scientists with the education and training of Kenyan scientists and students and for linking the studies of biodiversity to the livelihoods of the local people.

The cornerstone of the scientific research is the provision of monthly research expeditions to the three key flamingo lakes in Kenya - Bogoria, Nakuru and Elmenteita. The research will be carried out by staff from the scientific partners in Kenya - Lake Bogoria National Reserve, National Museums of Kenya Ornithology Department, University of Nairobi Zoology Department, Kenya Wildlife Services Naivasha Training Institute, WWF and Delamere Estates.

The work will be unique because never before has the ecology of these three lakes been studied concurrently. Lake Nakuru was intensively studied during the 1970s; Lake Elmenteita for two years during that decade and Bogoria visited only occasionally. Theories about why lesser flamingos move between lakes in an unpredictable manner can now be tested. Some scientists think that it is a decline in food quality at one lake that triggers movement; others think it is a change in environmental stressors. One famous ornithologist, Leslie Brown, the first biologist to study flamingo objectively in the 1950s and the discoverer of its breeding site at Lake Natron, wrote in 1979 - "Personally, I hope that no one ever will fully rationalise flamingos, and that they will remain the supremely beautiful, elusive, opportunistic, unpredictable beings I like to think they are".

Over the next three years, the project will have a good chance of at least partially rationalising them.

The second area of research in which the Darwin Project will aid biodiversity conservation is in the satellite tracking of lesser flamingos. Dr Brooks Childress, a Research Associate of the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust, who is leading the flamingo study, successfully tagged 3 male lesser flamingos aided by the 2002 October Earthwatch volunteers and in Team III of 2003 he will tag 4 more. Dr Childress is also a Research Associate in the Department of Ornithology at the National Museums of Kenya in Nairobi. More information about the funding partnerships that have led to satellite-tracking of Kenyan lesser flamingos, as well as the individual birds' movements, are on the WWT website at http://www.wwt.org.uk.

The third area of new science supported by Darwin will be trying to understand why lesser flamingos die in large numbers at irregular intervals. The approach to this is to build up an understanding of the biology of the bird in health, so that a date-base of knowledge exists when another mortality event occurs, to help explain its causes and suggest ways to mitigate its impact. Key indicators are collected on each Earthwatch team and the list is being extended continuously as knowledge improves. Examples are body mass, blood cell volume, proportion of different white blood cells and total parasite load. The Darwin Initiative will fund the more expensive analysis, both of blood and environmental samples such as water and sediment from the lakes, in the UK.

The training component funded by the Darwin Project can be seen as an educational pyramid, with formal university training of a few core partners at the pinnacle, leading down to a base stretching out to all the inhabitants of the area of Lake Bogoria through their schools. Five individuals will receive university training under the Lifelong Learning programme at Leicester. Two will be trained to Masters level in Biodiversity. Three more will be trained at undergraduate level in Ecology and Conservation.

Nine Kenyans will be invited to apply to fully participate in the Earthwatch research teams at one per team.

One hundred and twenty Kenyan undergraduate students and scientists will be invited to apply for 1-week workshops, at the end of two (out of three) teams per year. The scientists who have led the Earthwatch teams will stay on to conduct the workshops. The first will be in the new discipline of 'Ecosystem Health', as applied to Bogoria and the flamingos. David Harper and Professor John Cooper, a wildlife veterinarian, will teach this in July 2003, from 14-18th. The second, entitled 'Taxonomy for Biodiversity Management' will take place in April 2004. Each workshop will take 20 participants so by the end of the Darwin Project knowledge will have been shared with 120 Kenyans (as well as up to 108 international Earthwatch volunteers).

Readers are invited to contact David Harper at the address or email below to inform him and ensure collaboration about -

a) research or biodiversity conservation work in the Bogoria/Baringo area and the results arising from it
b) research on lesser flamingos and their mortality problem
c) research on aquatic ecosystem health
d) linkages which you think can arise from this work and others
e) Kenyan institutions and individuals who should be involved in the work
f) publications of earlier work in the geographical or scientific area.

Thank you.

Dr David Harper
Senior Lecturer in Ecology
Department of Biology
University of Leicester
Telephone 0777 9622082
Biology Office 0116 252 3344

Email: dmh@le.ac.uk

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