Thursday, December 30, 2010

Hyena that hunts birds

The spotted Hyena (crocuta crocuta) of Africa has been known to be a greedy scavenger who largely feeds on left-overs from kills of other predators, mostly depicted as cowards and poor hunters.

You must have heard of this common myth which says that ‘if you are taller than the hyena it will not attack you but if you are shorter it will attack you’, which many of us have believed without even seeing a Hyena itself.

The real truth is that, these strong jawed creatures have crudely proved in many occasions to be aggressive and intelligent hunters. The spotted hyenas of Lake Nakuru have proved this point beyond any shadow of doubt, they hunt flamingos.

A kenya safari to Lake Nakuru will take one to the Commorant lakeshore for a stopover that presents a panoramic splendor of water fowls, the flamingos, pelicans, gulls and a host of other birds. One is most likely to spot the hyenas outside their den basking in the sun or wallowing in muddy pools with their young ones.

Adult hyenas hunt solitarily, mostly between dusk to dawn. When approaching flamingos the hyena lowers its head to a reasonable distance, dashes and grips the flamingo as they scamper for safety. It has become apparent that this new delicacy is increasingly being preferred by hyenas in Lake Nakuru. In most places, hyenas, like other carnivores adapt to feeding what is available to them in that particular reserve/park.

The state at which the lure for this strange action has been observed is just unique. In the past few years you would rarely spot hyena's along the shores, especially the Cormorant shores, but today, you can easily find them in big numbers lying sluggishly on the beach as they await for any opportunity to pounce.

Seeing is believing or so they say, a visit is inevitable for who knows how long this spectacle will last before the hyenas switch to a different delicacy that will send them deep into the forest and make them hard to see.

PKP-Kenya safari desk

Natural Track Safaris

Tale of African Snakes - affirm the traditional dilemmas

Many people are scared of snakes and to many, a snake is a snake, all are dangerous and deserve death. However, most snake species are completely harmless! In fact, about 80% of all snakes’ species in the world are non-venomous and perform important ecological functions as controllers of rodent- pest populations. Thus knowing how to identify snakes is a vital part of our lives and conservation education

The wilds of Africa are often associated with snakes and rightly so, but, unfortunately, usually for the wrong reasons. Africa is well known amongst herpetologists and snake lovers for the interesting variety of species of which some are unfortunately highly priced in the pet trade.

Although many of the African snakes’ species are completely harmless to humans, this region also hold some of the worlds most deadly snakes. The Black and Green Mamba, Puff Adder, Cobra, Boomsland, and Saw-scaled Vipers are some of the worlds most deadly snakes and deserve a great deal of respect.

In east Africa, there are close to 200 species of snakes. Of these 200, 47 are considered dangerous to humans, 45 are venomous and two are large constrictors (two species of pythons very similar in appearance). Of the 47 dangerous species mentioned, 18 species are known to have killed people.

Kenya is home to several of the most dangerous species for example, the Puff Adder (Bitis arietans), Black-necked Spitting cobra (Naja nigricollis) and Black Mamba (Dendroaspis polylepis). However, Kenya is also home to many harmless species that feed on rats and mice that consume maize, millet and rice, the stable diet of the people of Kenya.

The simplest way of describing snakes is whether a snake is Harmless, Mildly Venomous or Dangerous. Some snakes have no venom and are completely harmless like the Brown House Snake. Others like large pythons may be non-venomous but are still considered dangerous.

Sand snakes (genus Psammphis) are considered mildly venomous. This means that the venom is strong enough to subdue or kill its prey, like a small lizard, but not strong enough to kill an adult human. However, one should still be careful around these fast moving serpents. Young children or adults that have allergic reactions could suffer severe symptoms from the bite of a sand snake!

In general, African is home to an abundance of different snake species. From its deserts to savannahs, the African landscape is home to an enormous variety of extremely beautiful and potentially dangerous snakes. Below are some of the most popular snake classification;

Colubridae / Colubrids – A Colubrid is a snake that is a member of the Colubridae family. It is a broad classification of snakes that includes well over half of all snake species on earth. While most colubrids are non-venomous (or have venom that isn't known to be harmful to humans) and are normally harmless, a few groups, such as genus Boiga, Coluber and Rhabdophis, can produce medically significant bites. In addition, the Boomslang and African Twig Snake have both caused human fatalities.The venom-injecting fangs associated with venomous colubrids are almost always in the back of the mouth, compared to vipers and elapids. In North America, all snake species in the colubridae family are generally harmless to humans. Please note: This list does not currently include sub-species.

Elapidae/ Elapids (Venomous) – The cobra family is thought to have evolved from Colubrid snakes and many appear very similar in appearance with long, slender bodies and large scales (plates) on the head. They differ in having more advanced venom delivery systems than the venomous Colubrids. Elapids have fangs that are "effectively tubular" in that the fangs contain grooves that are enclosed by an infolding of the edges. The fangs are in the front of the mouth rather than the rear as is seen in venomous Colubrids. The Elapidae contains some of the world's most dangerous snakes including cobras (Naja), mambas (Dendroaspis) and sea snakes (Hydophinae and Laticaudinae). Elapids are found worldwide and in Ausralia is the predominant family. In North America, three species of elapids are found, two species of coral snakes and one sea snake. The coral snakes are relatively small snakes that spend most of their time underground. Their primary food is other snakes. Despite their small size and small fangs, their venom is extremely toxic.

Viperidae / Vipers (Venomous) – The vipers are generally considered to be the most advanced family of snakes since they possess a very sophisticated venom delivery system. Large tubular fangs are placed in the front of the mouth and they are hinged, allowing them to be folded back when not in use. Their heads are covered with numerous small scales and their eyes have vertically eliptical pupils.

What to do when you meet a snake?

First of all, except for the slow-snakes like puff adders, you will generally see a snake swiftly pass by you, not even enough time to take a photo. That being a general rule, always leave snakes alone, don’t touch them unless you are a professional snake handler. Like all wildlife, they deserve their respect and distance from our interference. Except for cases where human-pet life is in danger, leave them alone, unless it is absolutely necessary to have them moved.

PKP- Kenya safari desk

Natural Track Safaris

Rhino protection enhanced

The Black Rhino is listed in Appendix 1 of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species and Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) and is also listed as Critically Endangered in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. In 1987, Lake Nakuru was set up as the first Black Rhino sanctuary in Kenya.

The park has been used as a successful breeding habitat and the surplus species reintroduced in the former natural ranges and to stock other sanctuaries. It is recommended that the population is maintained at optimum level where density shall not limit reproduction due to sparse distribution nor, shall it inhibit breeding due to congestion or food shortage.

Lake Nakuru Black Rhino ear notching exercise / fitting of transmitters and translocation to Intensive Protection Zone (IPZ) was successfully undertaken from 12th-19th October 2010. A total of 10 male black rhinos were translocated to IPZ Park and 1 of the rhinos named Nganga was very hostile such that upon release in its new home it knocked the bumper of a KWS vehicle nearby causing a serious damage to the vehicle.

The exercise was also in line with realizing the objective of the Black Rhino Management Strategy (2007-2010) of having at least 60% of all the Black Rhino’s ear notched to enable positive identification. After this exercise 72% of the Black Rhinos in Lake Nakuru national park are now ear notched and this is expected to improve individual identification and sightings. There is need to further conduct another ear notching exercise within the next 2 years to enhance monitoring.

The activity was sponsored by World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and participants were drawn from KWS Airwing, Vet/Capture Units, Rhino Programme, Species Conservation and Management, Central Rift Conservation Area; Assistant Director, Lake Nakuru National Park Management, WWF and Maasai Mara National Reserve Staff also participated in the exercise.

According to Ben Okita Head of National Rhino Program, the expensive exercise was a big success to the general conservation of black rhinos which are endemic in Kenya.

PKP-Kenya Safari desk

Natural Track Safaris

Tanzania great Islands, the epic getaway

The coast of Tanzania is perhaps most famous for the Zanzibar Archipelago, a cluster of islands that saw the growth and survival of Swahili civilization and trade until the mid-twentieth century. Throughout the Swahili Coast, diving, swimming, and snorkeling offer superb vistas of thriving coral and marine life. Whether you’re content to stay on the mainland coast, or want to venture off into the atolls and islands of the Indian Ocean, the Tanzanian coast is a place of untouched beauty and enchantment.

Pemba Island

In Pemba, villages steeped in culture and tradition preserves the Swahili way of life, almost oblivious to the world around them. Traditionally part of the Zanzibar Archipelago, Pemba is fast becoming a unique destination in its own right. For centuries, Pemba’s clove plantations and spice fields provided the Omani sultanate in Zanzibar with money for trade and military dominance over the surrounding areas.

To this day, the island is still a major spice producer in the archipelago. Visitors flock to Pemba’s shores, dotted with desert islands and throngs of coconut palms, for some of the best diving in the Indian Ocean. The Pemba Channel drops off steeply just off the west coast and the diverse species of marine life and coral are truly exceptional. Because tourism is still in its early stages, a trip to Pemba’s unspoiled shores and pristine waters is an adventure of a lifetime.

Rubondo Island

Rubondo Island national park is on the southwest shores of Lake Victoria. The park includes Rubondo Island and several other smaller islands. A diverse collection of butterflies and bird life can be seen from the lake shore.

The different habitats on Rubondo Island include open woodland, dense forest, swamp and savanna. This variety provides for an array of wildlife. Many of the animals found in Rubondo Island National Park were relocated here in the 1970’s because the Island was considered a safe haven from poaching.

Hiking, bird watching, wildlife viewing or relaxing on quiet beaches are some of activities to enjoy in Rubonda Island National Park.

Mafia Island

On the islands of Mafia, old trading towns line the walkway to abandoned ports and the gentle sea. For centuries, the island was a trading stop for Shirazi merchants travelling up towards Persia and under the rule of the Omani sultanate in Zanzibar, vast coconut and cashew plantations flourished.

Today, all that remain of the island’s prestigious past are the coral ruins on Chole Mjini, the small island just off Hore from Mafia where the Arab landowners lived a sumptuous life removed from their plantations and slaves.

Mafia Island is a popular destination for visitors to relax after their safari and the island’s relaxed and secluded beaches offer privacy and comfort for discerning travelers. Mafia’s incredible and unspoilt dive sites have remained a well-kept secret of diving aficionados and beach recluses for years, but now the island is fast becoming a preferred destination.

These days, Mafia’s remote location means it receives only the most selective visitors, but things are changing. The recent gazetting of Mafia Island Marine Park – the largest protected area in the Indian Ocean – to include surrounding villages in its conservation efforts means that the millions of fish and coral species that thrive in the warm waters of Mafia’s beaches will survive for decades to come.

There are other Islands in Tanzania that are equally enchanting and we will endevour to bring you the best selections of inland water mass islands.

PKP-Kenia safari desk

Natural Track Safaris

The newest wildlife sanctuary in Kenya

As you drive on the Nakuru-Nairobi highway the sight of Lake Elementeita will certainly catch your attention especially with its pink coloured islands and shorelines. You may as well spot gazelles and zebras grazing on the open plains. This is Lake Elementeita, a soda that is the newest wildlife sanctuary in Kenya today.

Lake Elementeita is the only breeding ground for the great white Pelican in Kenya and neighbouring countries. These fish-eating birds nest on rocky islands in the lake. In addition, the lake attracts visiting flamingos, both the Greater and Lesser varieties, which feed on the lake's crustaceans and insect larvae and on its suspended blue-green algae, respectively.

The lake surroundings have a rich history. Nearby is the Kariandusi Museum, which is an important prehistoric site where stone hand-axes and cleavers were discovered in 1928 by Louis Leakey. Elementeita Badlands is a lava flow to the south of the lake covered in bush and including some spectacular scenic peaks in the nearby Utut area

The survival of Lake Elementeita and its environs have been threatened by incompatible land use practices. KWS has been working with the stakeholders around Lake Elementeita and its catchment area to come up with mitigation measures. This led to the formation of an organization called Greater Lake Elementeita Conservation Area (GLECA) to push for the enhancement of conservation status of the area. After a series of consultation with stakeholders including the local communities, it was finally agreed that Lake Elementeita be accorded the status of protected area.

The Minister for Wildlife and Forestry Hon. Dr. Noah Wekesa formally gazetted it on 6th July 2010 as a Wildlife Sanctuary. The sanctuary is approximately 2533.9 hectares.

Following the gazettement, KWS and GLECA are now working towards completion of the sanctuary’s Management Plan which will chart out issues to do with environmental conservation, tourism, and community enterprise and business development among others. KWS and GLECA are in the process of demarcating the boundaries, developing infrastructure and stationing personnel in the area to ensure illegal activities that are detrimental to the ecological integrity are checked.

With this new development it is expected that tourism activities will be improved and diversified for the benefit of the local community while at the same time securing space for wildlife.

Lake Elementeita together with Lakes Nakuru and Bogoria has also been nominated for enlistment as World Heritage Site. We look forward to that. Have a nice visit in these Rift Valley lakes.

PKP-Kenia Safari desk

Natural Track Safaris

Giraffe Rothschild – Now Endangered species

The Rare and Gorgeous Rothschild giraffe has joined the ‘red list’ of the endangered species in the world. Driven from its wide-ranging West African habitats, the Rothschild giraffe is evidently in peril but now, its plight has been officially recognized thanks to great conservation dedication, efforts, and research. The world's largest environment network, the International Union for Conservation of Nature, has added it to its red list of endangered species.
Attaining a height of nearly 20ft when fully grown, the Rothschild’s are the tallest giraffe species. This therefore qualifies them as the tallest mammals in the entire world! It is also the only giraffe species without patches on its legs. In fact, its legs are white from the knees to the feet and its looks as if it is wearing white stockings. Its other peculiar feature is that of having five ‘horns’ instead of two.
Named after the banker and zoologist Walter Rothschild who first described it, the species joins the West African giraffe on the list, making it the second most threatened of the nine giraffe sub-species. While giraffes overall are ranked of "least concern" by the IUCN, partly due to a lack of data, there are far fewer Rothschild giraffes remaining than there are endangered African elephants. Conservationists say farming developments are largely to blame for the animal's decline.
Giraffes are browsing animals which use their huge necks and prehensile tongues to strip the leaves and bark from trees on the African savannah. They also graze and have a series of special valves and a complicated network of elastic blood vessels in the neck, not only to prevent the animal from passing out when it bends down to drink or graze, but also to ensure that the blood is successfully pumped along its long neck to the brain.
Despite their great height and gangly appearance the giraffe is one of the fastest species of animal, reaching top speeds of 35mph (56km/h) when running over open ground. For longer distances, the giraffe can lope along at about 10mph (16km/h). They have one of the longest and most mobile tongues reaching an average length of 45.6cm and their coat patterns are as unique as human fingerprint.
Fewer than 670 Rothschild giraffes now live in the wild, in isolated populations. Some 40% live in national parks and private land in Kenya and the remaining 60% in Uganda. Isolation of the species' remaining populations and a lack of understanding about how it lives and feeds are hampering efforts to restore its numbers.
There are very few locations where the Rothschild Giraffe can be seen in the wild, with notable spots being Lake Nakuru National Park in Kenya and Murchison Falls National Park in Northern Uganda. There are various captive breeding programmes in place—most notably at The Giraffe Centre in Nairobi, Kenya, and at Woburn Safari Park in Bedfordshire, England—which aim to expand the genetic gene-pool in the wild population of the Rothschild Giraffe.
While giraffes in general are classified as Lower Risk: Conservation Dependent, the Rothschild Giraffe is at particular risk of hybridisation, as the population is so limited in numbers. Its current classification is highly hoped to highlight to the world the critical state its tallest creature is in.

PKP-Kenia safari desk

Natural Track Safaris