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International Vulture Awareness Day 2009: Celebrations in Nairobi, Kenya
Munir Virani — in East Africa Project    ShareI knew immediately when I was talking to Siddhanth, that he was unusually interested and knowledgeable. He came up to me and asked, “Does the range of the Rüppell’s Vulture and the Lammergeyer overlap?” I was stunned. This was a ten-year-old boy asking me questions about the distribution of vultures. “Yes, I replied, although the Lammergeyer is a high-altitude species and we are probably left with only two individuals in the whole of Kenya.” We also call them Bearded Vultures, which is a more widely accepted name for the bird.

There was a look of disbelief on his face, more like confusion, as he gazed at the dead vultures on display. He looked at me and waited for a response. “Poisoned,” I said, “every single one of them.” “By the time you have kids, there may not be any vultures left,” I added. “They are being poisoned by a deadly pesticide called Furadan and we have lost nearly half of our vultures.” He looked at me, smiled and said, “I like vultures, I think they are really cool. They help maintain the cycle of life.”

This was the theme for our Raptor Working Group’s “Vulture Awareness Day” Art competition for children in Kenya as part of the celebrations for International Vulture Awareness Day www.ivad09.org, (IVAD). The aim of IVAD is to help increase public understanding and awareness about the need to not only conserve vultures, but also to appreciate them. We piggybacked this special event alongside Nature Kenya’s annual Nature Fair, which was held last weekend (September 5-6) at the newly refurbished courtyard of the Nairobi Museum and attended by over 2,000 people. And what a weekend it was.

Proud vulture enthusiasts at our booth
Proud vulture enthusiasts at our booth
Our booth was a 3 by 3 meter stall where we displayed a giant poster that showed all eight species of vultures that occur in Kenya. We also exhibited some vulture specimens for people to marvel at. One in particular, a Rüppell’s Vulture was collected in 1936 and ironically was poisoned. Laila baha-el Din, despite not feeling well on that day, put up an excellent performance by dressing up as a vulture and entertained children with her vulturesque antics. Titus Kaai, a Masai from southern Kenya turned out in full traditional regalia and talked passionately to hundreds of visitors about the need to conserve and appreciate Kenya’s vultures. Titus lives near Magadi, at the base of the Kwenia cliffs, home to one of the largest colonies of near-threatened Rüppell’s Vultures in southern Kenya.

The highlight of the day was a painting done by children of the Watoto wa Kwetu Trust, an organization founded by Kenyan artist Jacob Njoroge. These children live in the slums of Mathare, on the outskirts of Nairobi and their work depict scenes of aspirations and struggles, achievements and expectations of people in and around Mathare as seen by the young artists. Themes between the extremes of social experience are painted with acrylics on large canvases on which they work in groups. Under the mentorship of Mr. Muruka, the kids put together a dramatic masterpiece of “vultures at a kill.” I reiterate the word “dramatic” because these children have never seen vultures before and yet put so much heart and soul in to the painting.

Children react to a puppet show depicting poisoning of vultures.
Children react to a puppet show depicting poisoning of vultures.
There was also an interactive puppet show and story telling by David Kahindi’s group, where impassioned children reacted vehemently when the “wicked farmer” laced his cows with the deadly poison Furadan, responsible for large scale mortalities of vultures and other large carnivores in Kenya. There was a section devoted to art and painting where children had the opportunity to demonstrate their artistic prowess in drawing birds. Not surprisingly, many of them drew vultures, which was extremely satisfying. Even more gratifying was seeing the comments in our “Vulture guest book.” One in particular from Hillary Koech stood out – “I have learned the importance of vultures – I will do my part.”

It was comforting to know that Kenyans from all walks of life embraced vultures and were sensitized about the problems facing them. International Vulture Awareness Day 2009 in Nairobi was successful beyond our imagination. It showed Kenyans about the value of appreciating and conserving vultures and their habitat. Many people said that would help towards this important conservation goal by talking to their elders, teachers, friends and family about vultures and from discouraging people from using Furadan. We drove in the point that it was not that long ago when we looked at sharks and crocodiles with disdain. We have begun to appreciate these wonderful animals and we are hopeful that Kenyans will also appreciate just how wonderful and fascinating vultures are.

Acknowledgements

International Vulture Awareness Day, Nairobi 2009 would not have been possible without the support of the following organizations and corporations: African Bird Club, Nature Kenya, National Museums of Kenya, Wildlife Clubs of Kenya, Lewa Wildlife Conservancy, Northern Rangelands Trust, Birdlife International, Para Print Ltd, Imagin, and The Peregrine Fund. Many people have contributed tirelessly to ensure the success of International Vulture Awareness Day. Special thanks are due to: Darcy Ogada, Peter Njoroge, Indi Bilkhu, Titus Kaai, Martin Odino, Rupi Mangat, Margaret Otieno, Mahmud Nanji, Muruka, Simon Thomsett, and Laila baha-el Din.

More photos from the event

Titus Kaai, the ambassador for vultures.
Titus Kaai, the ambassador for vultures.

Titus Kaai being interviewed on National Radio<br />about the importance of vultures.
Titus Kaai being interviewed on National Radio
about the importance of vultures.

Children painting.
Children painting.

Children from Watoto wa Kwetu Trust in the Mathare slums of Nairobi painting vultures.
Children from Watoto wa Kwetu Trust in the Mathare slums of Nairobi painting vultures.

The painting blossoms.
The painting blossoms.

Children drawing vultures.
Children drawing vultures.

A vulture smiles and overlooks kids painting.
A vulture smiles and overlooks kids painting.

Laila the vulture in full resplendence.
Laila the vulture in full resplendence.

Children enjoying a puppet show about vultures.
Children enjoying a puppet show about vultures.

The final masterpiece of "vultures at a kill" being auctioned - proceeds for Watoto wa Kwetu Trust.
The final masterpiece of "vultures at a kill" being auctioned - proceeds for Watoto wa Kwetu Trust.

Kids admire the vulture painting.
Kids admire the vulture painting.

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