KWS– animal and plant life declining at an alarming rate within Lake Nakuru national park-News Feature

 Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) is worried over declining wildlife populations and a wide range of plant species at the Lake Nakuru National Park.

Central Rift KWS Assistant Director Aggrey Maumo noted that continually growing human populations coupled with pollution and agricultural expansion is putting more pressure on the environment, with dire consequences for both flora and fauna at the once highly acclaimed wildlife refuge and international tourism site.

The lions and flamingoes at the park among other animals are under severe threat, and they have declined by more than 70 per cent.

“We are putting numerous resources and great effort into conservation. Nevertheless our current lion population stands at a mere 15 while that of flamingos has dropped to less than 2,500 birds” observed Maumo.

Making a presentation during KWS launch of a 100 day Rapid Response Initiative (RRI) Lake Nakuru National Park Recovery Strategy Mr. Maumo warned that loss of habitat and biodiversity, climate change, invasive species and increased human encroachment pose the greatest threat to conservation of wildlife within protected areas in the region.

Official Kenya Wildlife statistics indicate that there were 2,749 lions in Kenya in 2002 and their population dropped to 2,280 by 2004 and today the lion population has dropped to less than 2,000. In 1990s the Lake Nakuru Park was teeming with over 3 million lesser and greater flamingoes.

According to Mr. Maumo some of the birds classified as most threatened species in the International Union for the Conservation of Nature(IUCN) red list at Lake Nakuru include Madagascar Squacco Heron, Lesser Flamingo, Pallid Harner, Greater Spotted Eagle, and Grey Crested Helmet Shrike. It is also home to the endangered White Socked giraffe.

 

“The decline in the bird species in this region, including some of the rarest in the world, could hamper the multi-million shilling bird watching tourism industry. Birds are an important component of the eco-system because they play an important role in maintenance of the biodiversity. They are as important as any other wildlife

Some species of birds are Afro-tropical migratory, illustrating that they are rated as vulnerable while others are regionally endemic.

All these are major reasons why their habitats should be protected within the existing legislative framework,” observed Maumo.

He warned that habitat loss, which includes deforestation because of settlements, forest fires that burn bird nests and use of pesticide in underlying farming zones neighbouring the forest will decimate the Central Rift Region’s bird population. He said loss of biodiversity has been compounded by pollution of water-ways by industries.

Experts contend that toxic wastes that have found their way into the water body include fertilizers, agrochemicals from farms, heavy metal from industries in the densely populated Nakuru town and Njoro sub-basin.

Park Senior Warden Catherine Wambani said fires on Lake Nakuru had rendered a euphorbia forest completely extinct.

“It was the only vast euphorbia forest in East and Central Africa whose destruction was also a loss of habitat to various animal species. There is nothing humanely possible that can be done to restore this flora that was destroyed by irresponsible activities by man,” said Ms Wambani.

Due to its rich diversity of rare and endangered birds, the park has been accorded the Important Bird Areas (IBA) and World Heritage Site status by CITES Convention.

It is also designated as a centre of biodiversity for many mammals and reptiles classified as most threatened species in the IUCN red list including the black and white rhino.

Other resident mammal species on the IUCN red list comprise the leopard and Rothschild’s giraffe

MsWambani observed that despite the decline in the number of bird life, the park still retained its internationally distinguished status as an African-Eurasian bird migratory flight path.

 

“Despite decline in flamingo numbers the bio diversity is still high. A census done this year (2019) recorded 85 different bird species and a total of 26,415 water birds. This confirms that we still have a very big chance of reclaiming the park’s original status as a great ornithological spectacle,” she stated,

 

In the past five years, the extreme water levels have also walloped large swathes of the habitat including the acacia woodland, which is now submerged in water forcing buffaloes and other animals to migrate to higher grounds.

“Flamingos are moving to Lake Turkana and Bogoria for food. Some of our birds have relocated to Lake Natron in Tanzania. This phenomenon has been unfolding in the past few years. Low salinity of the water has reduced the growth of the blue-green algae, the flamingos’ main food” said Ms Wambani

Changes in the size and depth of the lake have been attributed to increasing human population, rapid land use changes in the lake’s catchment area and climate variability. It is estimated that the size of the lake has increased from 42 sq kms to 68 sq kms. Heavy siltation has been cited as another major factor choking the lake.

“Of the 188 square kilometers of the park, 24 square kilometers have been lost to rising water levels. The famous President Jomo Kenyatta’s Pavilion where the founding father of the natin used to watch animals and enjoy traditional dances is now completely submerged in water. This pavilion was also central to tourist attractions here,” said Ms Wambani.

Emergence of invasive plant species in the park, she noted, have also negatively affected the ecological balance of the park.

 

“The threats to the park’s catchment are mainly caused by rapid population growth which intensifies the pressure on the limited natural resources thereby accelerating their eventual degradation. In addition, there is change in land use and land cover due to cutting of trees for firewood, charcoal, opening land for cultivation, occurrence of forest and bush fires and excision of gazetted forest to create human settlement” stated the senior warden.

KNA by Anne Mwale