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Conservation hits and misses of 2018

Evelyn Makena @evemake_g

From hosting the first global conference on the sustainable blue economy to losing the remaining male Northern White Rhino, the year 2018 brought mixed fortunes for the Kenyan conservation sphere.

There were big blows to the conservation efforts across the country but there were also events worth celebrating. Here are the highlights of the conservation stories that stood out.

The blue economy conference

For three days in November last year, an estimated 11,000 delegates from over 180 countries converged in Nairobi for the blue economy summit. The event co-hosted by Canada, Japan and Kenya was the first of its kind globally with a focus on solutions for the sustainable blue economy – the seas, oceans, lake and the resources they provide.

The summit set the momentum for Kenya’s quest to harness the potential of rivers, oceans, seas and reap economic gains beyond the land-based resources. It also intensified debate on how best to tackle threats facing water bodies including plastic pollution, illegal fishing, climate change and maritime security.

Sudan bows aged 45

Sudan, the world’s last male Northern White rhino breathed his last in March after several months of ill health. His death at the Ol pejeta Conservancy, Laikipia was a huge blow to the attempts to save the subspecies that are nearing extinction due to intense poaching.

A rhino during translocation. Photo/FILE

Northern white rhinos were once found in large numbers in the grasslands of East and Central Africa but sharply declined due to poaching, habitat loss and war.

There were 2000 of them in 1960. Sudan left behind the only two female Northern white rhinos, his 27-year-old daughter Najin and 17-year-old granddaughter Fatu, with whom attempts to reproduce had failed.                                                        

China’s ivory ban

The fight against elephant poaching received a boost in early 2018 after a ban on ivory sales in China, the largest importer of elephant tusks took effect. Conservationists hailed the move as one that would decrease the demand for ivory and eradicate elephant poaching.

International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) estimates that elephants have declined by 108,000 in the past 10 years largely due to poaching. Up until January 2018 when the ban of all ivory sales took effect, the move had led to an 80 per cent decline in seizures of illegal ivory getting into China and 65 per cent decline in raw ivory prices. Over 150 ivory carving factories would also be closed under the ban.

Kenyan wins the Green Oscars

Munir Virani, a Kenyan raptor biologist was one of the six recipients of the prestigious Whitley Award 2018. The award also referred to as the ‘Green Oscars’ feted outstanding conservationists from across the globe. Munir was honoured for his initiative to save endangered Kenya’s vultures whose numbers had sharply declined due to habitat loss, starvation, persecution and revenge poisoning.

Vultures play a critical role in cleaning up the ecosystem and preventing the spread of disease. In 2016, Munir’s initiative helped reduce the annual incidences of poisoning in the Masai Mara ecosystem by 50 per cent.

Revenge poisoning occasioned by unresolved human-wildlife conflict in Masai Mara has largely contributed to declining vulture populations. Across Africa, vulture populations have declined by 2/3 over the past three decades due to poisoning.

Lake Turkana Wind Power Plant

Kenya made a significant stride towards achieving its target of 100 per cent clean energy by 2020 when the Lake Turkana Wind Power project became operational a few months ago. The project based in Loiyangalani, Marsabit is Africa’s largest wind power plant.

It is injecting up-to 310 MW of clean energy into the national grid approximately 17 per cent of the country’s installed capacity. The energy from the plant is low cost and will lead to a reduction in power costs. But beyond cutting down power bills, renewable energy is crucial in fighting climate change.

Death of endangered black rhinos

A translocation exercise of 14 critically endangered black rhinos turned tragic after 10 of them died. The animals were being transported from Nairobi and Lake Nakuru national park to Tsavo East reserve.

This was a huge blow to the black rhino population that stands at 5,053 globally with all of them in Africa and 750 in Kenya. Preliminary investigations indicated that the animals had died of salt poisoning after drinking water from the saline environment and getting dehydrated.

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