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The Peregrine Fund Notes From The Field
Naivasha Notes 4
Evan Buechley — in East Africa Project    Share

A one-legged bicyclist pumps athletically as we pull away from the crammed old-town section of Nairobi, weaving through stalled cars and honking horns. The word “bustling” conveys no sense of these streets- it is a storm: people running in all directions; carts laden with spare tires, sacks of maize, 5 gallon jugs of water, anything you can imagine are towed by men- young or old- but always with bulging shoulder muscles; stalls on the streets offer all in one- butcher/hotel/cell-phone top-up/convenience store; street hawkers demand the purchase of sunglasses, cd’s and dvd’s, hideous safari hats and cheaply made trinkets, peanuts, and yogurt jugs baked in the equatorial sun and covered with a complex of dusts; matatus honk with customized horns and flashing lights; and cars weave in and out amongst pedestrians, bikers, and towering, fearless buses, down the complex maze of pitted and potholed, sign-less and lawless streets.

Leaving the city is like a tooth extraction- suspenseful, tedious, painful, and, at last, oh such a relief. As we climb into the cloud-laden highlands, I anticipate arrival at the peaceful lakeside sanctuary of Elsamere and, a few hours later, a Nissan minivan crammed with nineteen people (a personal matatu experience record) drops me off at the gate. And so it is that I arrive back to Lake Naivasha to conclude my investigation of Augur buzzards, after a busy month of travel and study, including trips to the Masai-Mara, Tsavo parks, and the coast, all the while conducting raptor surveys and road counts (with 27 different diurnal raptor species seen), and opportunistically banding a few Augur buzzards and assisting with the tagging of a White-backed vulture to boot.

 Newly banded Augur

It feels good to be back at Elsamere, and to look over data collected on Augur buzzards over the last few months. For, while it is easy to be wowed by the beauty and diversity found in Kenya, those who know the country well express concerns that this biodiversity is under threat, and already a meager representation of what once it was. And, as I look through my data and make comparisons to Munir Virani’s study of Augurs around Naivasha in the mid-1990’s, I too see striking declines. My preliminary results for three of the four regions in the study area show a decrease from 24 active pairs to 16, for a loss of 33 percent. In an area that has experienced rapid land-use changes and a booming human population this may not be all that surprising, but it is nonetheless of significant concern. The Lake Naivasha area has the highest population density of Augur buzzards reliably recorded anywhere within their range (Virani, 1999). Such a sharp decline within this population in such a short period of time is therefore very concerning, especially for a species that is commonly regarded as highly adaptable to human habitat alterations.

Hell's Gate panorama

Over the next few weeks I will be finishing up surveys in Hell’s Gate National Park, and I will report back soon with those results. One of the key questions that remains to be clarified is whether declines are restricted to areas that have undergone significant land use and human population changes or whether they have also occurred in areas that have changed little since the 1990’s- like Hell’s Gate- and therefore may be indicative of a more widespread population collapse. I hope to have some insights in this regard in the next post.

Ruppell's vulture colony

Find more articles about Augur Buzzard, Rüppell's Vulture, White-backed Vulture, Africa

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