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The Peregrine Fund Notes From The Field

"Notes from the Field" provides frequent updates and pictures from our biologists and students who are working in the field or at our headquarters, the World Center for Birds of Prey.

Found 152 entries matching your request:

A day in the life of a Raptor Researcher in Africa - Adam Eichenwald

Munir Virani — in East Africa Project

From the sun-drenched savannahs of Kenya comes this exclusive, in-depth look at the life of a raptor biologist. Having lived for 2 months at the Elsamere Field Centre, along the shores of Kenya's Lake Naivasha studying African Fish Eagles and Augur Buzzards, Peregrine Fund volunteer Adam Eichenwald brings us a never-before-seen-except-for-that-one-time window into his ongoing research. His mission: to boldly go where no man has gone before (barring those 20 prior years of Fish Eagle/Buzzard research from other biologists).

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On the road and in the rain: northern Kenya raptor surveys 2014

Darcy Ogada — in East Africa Project

Rain along the road

This year was our 5th successive annual survey and certainly no two years have been the same.One of the main reasons we survey in February is to eliminate weather-related road hazards, which on some Kenyan roads can be severe.It never rains in February.Well, never say never…. and just like the blistering cold temps and snowfall that hit the US this winter, it rained in February!Though fortunately not enough to stop our survey.

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The Peregrine Fund Provides Expert input for Africa-Eurasia Migratory Raptors Conservation by Munir Virani

Munir Virani — in East Africa Project

“It's the action, not the fruit of the action, that's important. You have to do the right thing. It may not be in your power, may not be in your time, that there'll be any fruit. But that doesn't mean you stop doing the right thing. You may never know what results come from your action. But if you do nothing, there will be no result.”

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Maasai Mentors Workshop - Mentoring for conservation and Kenya's Heritage by Munir Virani

Munir Virani — in East Africa Project

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”

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Identification of migration routes of Eleonora's Falcons breeding in Cyprus, eastern Mediterranean. By Thomas Hadjikyriakou

Munir Virani — in East Africa Project

The following account is by PhD Candidate Thomas Hadjikyriakou who is studying the migratory patterns of Eleonora's Falcons that breed in the eastern most region of Cyprus. The Peregrine Fund is proud to be supporting such an exciting project that will unravel the migratory routes of this charismatic species. - Munir Virani

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Monitoring the endangered Sokoke Scops Owl in the Arabuko-Sokoke Forest

Munir Virani — in East Africa Project

The Arabuko-Sokoke Forest is classified as the second most important forest in mainland Africa for bird conservation. I had the pleasure of studying the Sokoke Scops Owl, Africa's smallest owl, for my Masters dissertation project nearly 20 years ago. How time flies? Over this period of time, the forest has remained relatively intact although the human population living around the forest edges has substantially grown. This has no doubt put a lot of pressure on the forest resources and especially its inhabitants. The Peregrine Fund has documented that the owl population has declined by about 25% over the last two decades. It is critical that we continue to monitor this flagship species as a barometer of the health of this remarkable forest.

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Audio from Tsavo National Park raptor survey

Munir Virani — in East Africa Project

Podcasts recorded in Tsavo National Park in Kenya during a raptor survey.

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Steve Lewis: My Perspective of the Kenya Raptor Safari 2013

Munir Virani — in East Africa Project

I had the immense pleasure of sharing ten days with Steve Lewis and other exceptional people during our inaugural African Raptor Safari in Kenya. For a 72-year old man, Steve looked no more than 58 and exuded passion, enthusiasm and a zest to enjoy life and nature. I invited Steve to write about his experiences in the field with me and am privileged to be able to share this on our website. Munir Virani

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Find more articles about Bateleur, Sokoke Scops Owl, Africa


Cassin's Hawk Eagle in Kenya – second confirmed record since 1926!

Darcy Ogada — in East Africa Project

Cassin’s Hawk Eagle is not a bird on my radar. It is primarily a central and West African forest raptor.There is very little known about it.It does not appear in the Kenyan field guide and regional guides show its eastern-most reach as the forests of extreme western Ugandan.So imagine my glee when African raptor guru Simon Thomsett called to inform me that our ‘bird’ was a juvenile Cassin’s Hawk Eagle!‘You are NOT serious!’, I said.Simon assured me he was and that he was 100% certain of the identification.Further confirmation came from another African raptor guru, Rob Davies.

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Lost amongst Swallow-tailed Kites and swimming holes in Meru National Park, northern Kenya

Darcy Ogada — in East Africa Project

Elsa and Joy Adamson

Half of our team of four had never been to Meru National Park before, including me. Meru NP is famous for Elsa, the orphaned lion cub cum movie star who was raised by George and Joy Adamson largely in this park. In recent decades the ‘big five’ of Meru NP would have consisted of the top leaders of the infamous ‘shifta’ that once ruled this area of northern Kenya and poached most of its wildlife. But thanks to intensive restocking and improved security, the current ‘big five’ no longer carry automatic weapons and are much more photogenic. Our mission was to count raptors and to determine the importance of this once famous park for birds of prey in this vast area in Kenya.

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Raptor Safari with Munir Virani - The Masai Mara

Munir Virani — in East Africa Project

"I believe there is no sickness of the heart too great it cannot be cured by a dose of Africa. Families must go there to learn why they belong together on this earth, adolescents to discover humility, lovers to plumb old but untried wells of passion, honeymooners to seal marriages with a shared sense of bafflement, those shopworn with life to find a tonic for futility, the aged to recognize a symmetry to twilight.

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Kenya Forest Service Director Presents David Ngala with the Disney Conservation Hero Award

Munir Virani — in East Africa Project

He came on an overnight bus from Malindi, a journey that usually takes up to 10 grueling hours. No frills but lots of thrills along the way. The buses are known locally as “flying coffins”. But David Charo Ngala braved the bumpy journey from the coast to arrive in Nairobi this morning to collect his Disney Conservation Hero Award that was to be presented to him by the Director of the Kenya Forest Service (KFS), Mr David Mbugua.

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Close encounters of the elephant kind by Munir Virani

Munir Virani — in East Africa Project

On Wednesday 23rd January, Teeku Patel, Shiv Kapila and I left for our 4th annual raptor road survey of southern Kenya. Over a period of five days we cover a distance of nearly 1300 km that also incorporates three of Kenya’s premium protected national parks – Amboseli, Tsavo West and Tsavo East. The latter two Tsavo parks collectively form one of the largest national parks in the world and comprise nearly 5% of Kenya’s land area. Tsavo also hold the largest population of African Elephants in Kenya.

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Amazing Ethiopia

Darcy Ogada — in East Africa Project

‘This is our Grand Keenyan’ explained the entrepreneurial young Ethiopian guide, describing the magnificent cliffs and views below us.In the second that followed I tried to think how he knew I had come from Kenya.Then my brain fully engaged and I realized he was actually talking about the Grand Canyon.

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When things come full circle

Darcy Ogada — in East Africa Project

In 2009 I was based at Mpala Research Centre in central Kenya conducting research on vultures and how declines in their populations would affect other scavengers.On a hot and dusty afternoon I visited the nearby Mpala primary school.My mission was two-fold, to talk to their wildlife club about the importance of vultures and to award three of their students with prizes from our recently concluded art competition.

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The Maasai Wedding - Part 1

Munir Virani — in East Africa Project

The Maasai wedding - Part 1

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The Eagle's Snatch - A poem about the African Fish Eagle by Munir Virani

Munir Virani — in East Africa Project

The ear-piercing call of the African Fish Eagle shatters the dawn silence

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Birds, Bees and Busy at Baringo

Munir Virani — in East Africa Project

Munir's note: This is part two of Seren Water's blog about his African Fish Eagle study at Lake Baringo

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Peregrine Falcon strikes at Lake Baringo

Munir Virani — in East Africa Project

Note from Munir Virani, Africa Program Director

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The Bumpy Ride

Munir Virani — in East Africa Project

Editor's note: Eric Ole Reson is a Maasai student that we have provided a grant to conduct a study on Perceptions of Maasai towards vultures and birds of prey. His story follows.

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Two Units in the Hand

Corinne Kendall — in East Africa Project

When something miraculous happens you don’t really expect it to happen again, so when we found another bird with a backpack that had given up the ghost I didn’t really think we could trap it. In fact it seemed fool-harden to even try, but the Ruppell’s vulture in question was already panting from its fights at the carcass and was very very full. The backpack in question had also slipped into a rather uncomfortable position and so I felt anxious to trap the bird not just to release it from the weight, but also from the discomfort of the unit. Plus catching it would mean one more unit that could be refurbished and thus a bit more information that we could gain about these amazing birds. So with no further adieu we were off and chasing the bird. It didn’t take long until I found myself outside the car running alongside it as it turned its snake-like neck in my direction. Ruppell’s vultures are considerably more aggressive than Lappet-faced and I gave it some distance before finally throwing the blanket over its head. I pulled out my Swiss army knife and with four swift snips the backpack was off and the bird was on its way.

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Adventures in the Triangle

Corinne Kendall — in East Africa Project

It is always an adventure to go to the Triangle. It is also rather far away. So we started off early and travelled to the two hours to the entrance along the Mara Bridge. There is only one bridge to cross the Mara and this is it (unless you dare to travel the long rocky roads to the north of the park which will take you out and around the mighty river). On our way to the bridge, we came across a carcass and we drove off the road to get a closer look. As we neared the rowdy flock of vultures, we heard a small bleating shriek, the noise of an animal making one last plea for life. Oh God, I thought, we ran it over. We looked left to see a reedbuck doe leaping from the brush and with eyes squinted closed in disgust, I looked right to see the inevitable – the calf we had run over. The brown fuzzy mass was more adorable than I could have imagined and lay flat tucked into a small sedge behind us. We reversed for a closer look. With a deep breath of despair, I looked at the small creature but there was no blood and no sign of a track mark. Was it dead? Suddenly the ears wiggled and I assumed the worst – we had injured it severely but not killed it. A friend joining us for the day stepped from the car and lay a hand slowly and gently on the animal’s back. The same mournful bleat emerged from its body and it pushed itself up on the wobbly legs of an infant designed for hiding and promptly, decisively, ran away. We hadn’t killed it after all. We had run over it, but hadn’t actually hit it, just covered it with the car for a few frightening moments. My feeling of relief quickly returned us to the task at hand and the observations at the carcass began.

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An Unusual Carcass Consumer

Corinne Kendall — in East Africa Project

Carcasses are not just for vultures. In fact, a huge number of animals eat carcasses. Hyenas and jackals are regular connoisseurs but lions and mongoose will also partake. Warthogs often show a lot of interest in carcasses and even baboons will get in on the meat when they can. On one particular interesting occasion, I watched a hippo play with a drown wildebeest, grabbing it by the tail and flinging it around in an unsuccessful effort to break it apart. Today’s carcass consumer takes the cake.

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A Birth at a Carcass

Corinne Kendall — in East Africa Project

I was admiring the usual hoopla of twenty vultures grappling for a small kill when a few of the Marabou storks wandered behind the vehicle. They seemed to have found something more interesting than the meat in front of them and I turned around to see what they were up to. A small black lump sat on the ground about 100 meters behind us and the Marabous rushed it in their usual excitement to have found a new food source. But their joy was short lived as an angry Thompson gazelle mother, tail still raised from the pain of having just given birth, came rushing at the much larger birds. Tiny horns pointed forward she chased the birds away from her very new calf. As the Marabou storks scattered, a Lappet-faced vulture landed to see what the commotion was about. It too was chased off within moments. Predators evaded, the mother now stood licking her newborn, pushing it to stand as she cleaned it of the afterbirth. The calf seemed tired but alert and tried straightening its little legs in a hapless effort to get up. It took nearly forty minutes, but the calf finally found the strength, motivated it seemed by the swollen teats of its mother that hung just behind its reach, and stood wobbly for the first time. It latched on and suckled as its mother continued her cleansing.

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The brutal life of an African Fish Eagle: the tale of a catch and release... and eventual recapture.

Shiv Kapila — in East Africa Project

Bulrush (as she later became known, for her tendency to rush into situations without thinking them through) was ready to go. Just desperate to go. She had been holed up in rehab after sustaining horrific injuries in a fight. After two weeks, and a massive dose of long lasting antibiotics, she felt it was time. Bulrush, by the way, is a big female African Fish Eagle.

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Happy Reunion

Corinne Kendall — in East Africa Project

For the past three years, I have been adamant that it would be impossible to re-trap a tagged vulture. The birds simply go too far – spending much of the year outside of the Mara in areas where I can’t trap – too quickly and are thus difficult to locate even when a backpack is sending you their location. Today I proved myself wrong.

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Wild Tsavo

Corinne Kendall — in East Africa Project

Based on our movement work, we know that vultures from the Mara spend about five percent of their time in the two Tsavo National Parks. For this reason, I decided that it might be worth exploring the area one more time to get a feel for this unique ecosystem during the dry season as well. If the Mara is the land of plenty, then Tsavo is the world of giants. Huge red-dusted elephants walk silently upon the dry earth and dig incredible holes in their constant search for water. Beautiful baobabs are scattered around, their fuzzy fruits littering the ground as their impressive trunks and finger-like branches cover the landscape. Hyraxes can be seen in the many rocky outcroppings and we were lucky to find one climbing a small branch reaching hopefully for some tiny green berries. Pale chanting goshawks were the bird of plenty here though we saw only a handful of vultures.

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Pile of Vultures

Corinne Kendall — in East Africa Project

It isn’t often that you get to watch a carcass from start to finish, but I got lucky. We came upon a single lioness finishing off a fresh wildebeest kill. On her own, she was only able to consume perhaps a quarter of the carcass and with vultures, hyenas, and jackals gathering around the lion was beginning to feel the pressure. So she left. Two hyenas moved in first feeding for a half hour they ate the bulk of the carcass with the occasional jackal or vulture rushing in to steal a soft piece of organs. Then it was the jackal’s turn. The pair rushed the vultures viciously, leaping and snarling to keep them away. The little dogs fed greedily, but their small stomaches were soon rounded and they slowly moved away. Down to the last half, the vultures swarmed, forming perhaps the most perfect pile I am yet to have seen. The wriggling brown mass of wings bounced above its prey as all fifty heads vanished into the food. Occassionally a full bird would eject itself from the mass standing on top of its comrades to gain enough leverage to leap away. Even with the mammals gone, the feeding frenzy of White-backed vultures was soon interrupted by their larger brethren, the Lappet-faced vultures. A pair jumped onto the mass, biting down on the backs of the birds beneath it. Once removed, the damage to the carcass was clear, perhaps only ten percent remained. The Lappet-faced vultures fed slowly and laboriously, ripping and tearing the last few tough pieces of tissue, while Hooded vultures wandered the edges of the carcass finding small treasures in the intestinal remnants. A pair of Tawny eagles made a brief appearance, but could do little more than steal a small piece of organs to fly away with as the vultures so clearly dominated the scene.

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In a Tree

Corinne Kendall — in East Africa Project

Carcasses can be found almost everywhere. Over the course of the migration, thousands will be found in the river. Lions and hyenas often enjoy dragging their kills into the darkest recesses of the bush but more often then not, carcasses are lying out in the open plains just waiting for the vultures to find them. On rare occasions, dead animals can get dragged into trees. In my first year, I had the pleasure of watching two White-headed vultures feed on a treed Thompson gazelle carcass before being pushed off by some tourists who seemed more interested in the carcass than the birds.

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Balloon Safari

Corinne Kendall — in East Africa Project

A balloon ride seems like a quintessential part of the Mara experience, yet I have never taken the time to experience it. Every morning I watch 10 to 20 balloons take off and soar above the Mara like a chain of Christmas lights they flicker on and off as the burners lift them higher into the sky. Today I finally got a chance to see what it is all about. Ballooning makes for an early start and I was up and excited at 5:30 AM. After a quick drive in the park I found myself standing next to a turned over basket and a huge green and yellow balloon slowly being inflated with a small fan. I’d seen this done before – a sideways take-off – but I wasn’t really sure how it would work.

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Banded Attack

Corinne Kendall — in East Africa Project

Carcasses are interesting because you never quite know who will show up. This morning I found a nearly finished carcass with a few jackals gnawing away at the bones and some vultures waiting nearby. The jackals looked full and I knew that soon it would be the vultures turn to eat. In the distance (and seemingly unrelated) were a small group of banded mongoose. The loose knit group of mongoose were wandering and foraging as one often sees them doing and appeared to be unaware of the birds just ahead of them. Martial eagles and other raptors will happily feed on mongoose and typically the “sentinel” mongoose who is keeping watch is quick to sound the alarm is such dangerous predators are seen nearby. But can mongoose tell the difference between an eagle and a vulture? Certainly Lappet-faced vultures are of comparable size to Martial and somewhat similar in coloration and shape. I was about to find out.

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Snake in the Grass

Corinne Kendall — in East Africa Project

As I watched the squabbling vultures at a nearly finished wildebeest carcass, I noticed a Marabou stork behaving strangely. It jerked from side to side and leaned close to the ground as if about to pick something up, only to jump back again wings spread. I focused my binoculars on the bird to get a pick at what was happening. Lying in front of the cunning Marabou lay a long slim green snake, head raised in attack as the bird reached for it again. The snake lunged but the Marabou still got in a nice bite to the back and easily avoided the fangs. Again and again the snake lunged and the Marabou ducked until finally the Marabou grabbed the snake by the head. By this time another stork and an inquisitive African white-backed vulture had come to see what their friend might have. Given that sharing such a meal was unlikely, the disappointed birds walked way, shrugging their shoulders (as vultures always do) as they raced back to the carcass.

Snake in beak the Marabou shook its prey and the snake writhed, coiling its mass with little way of escaping. Within minutes the battle was over but the war was not yet one. The Marabou now held in its mouth a three foot snake that hung limply, but how to swallow such a beast would be a bit of a challenge. The first attempt the Marabou managed to get the snake about two feet down its throat before spitting it up again to try a new position. The second attempt went much smoother and like a magician pulling a long colorful line of scarves from his sleeve, the snake disappeared into the gullet of the stork.

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Anecdotes

Corinne Kendall — in East Africa Project

The focus in the Mara is generally on the carnivores (and in my case the vultures), but there are so many other fascinating little creatures to behold in this amazing savannah. Banded and dwarf mongoose are common and I often stop to watch the antics of these social little creatures. Most recently I even saw a small group of banded mongoose at the crossing, darting among the vultures and Marabou storks in search of some wildebeest meat. Then while over in Musiara marsh I had some great views of this dwarf mongoose. The tiny creature wandered around in search of its small insect prey only to find a nice hollow tree to scavenge through.

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Love Bite

Corinne Kendall — in East Africa Project

Vultures aren’t generally known for their affection, but on rare occasions you do see acts of kindness. Merely the fact that vultures spend so much time at the carcass long after they are full is perhaps a sign of how much they enjoy each other’s company. Allopreening, when one animal cleans another, is surprisingly common and I have know seen it between members of the same species for all five species present in the Mara. Lappet-faced vulture pairs will lovingly comb through the feathers of their mate and juvenile White-backed vultures will preen each other as they stand on a mound near a carcass waiting their turn to feed. Today was the first time I had seen “preening” between species. A full juvenile Lappet-faced vulture stood next some other successful birds of the White-backed variety. She tilted her head and eyed them carefully as if this was perhaps her first close glance at one. She inspected the neighboring bird with interest. Then she reached towards it, gently, not in the typical aggressive style of feeding birds, but simply so that she might touch the other bird with her beak. The White-back stood by calmly, closing its eyes during the tender embrace. But then the inspection got a bit too personal. Perhaps enticed by the red (carcass-like) patches on the White-backs shoulders, the young Lappet went in for a nibble, testing to see if these “pieces of meat” might come off. In offense, the White-backed scooted back just out of reach of the next love bite.

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Another Day at the Crossing

Corinne Kendall — in East Africa Project

Nearly 600 wildebeest have drowned in the last week. It isn’t so much that the water is high as the fact that the wildebeest are stupid. After watching the crossing, it really is the only impression one is left with. Why, why do they cross that way? You sit as the herds approach, anticipation building as they near the beckoning water, filled with crocodiles and completed with a cliff. The wildebeest have reached the edge and take a drink before beginning what will likely be the hardest part of their journey.

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Super Mom

Corinne Kendall — in East Africa Project

Carnivores have it easier in the Mara, especially this time of year when the park is filled with wildebeest. As I drive around searching for carcasses, the number of lion, leopard, and cheetah kills has been staggering (though the number of vultures at these carcasses is usually minimal). Thus it shouldn’t be too surprising that some carnivore moms are atypically successful. For no animal could this be more true than the cheetah I saw today. We drove up to see just one cheetah sitting in the short grass under the shade of a small Orange Leaf Blossom bush. She didn’t have a kill and I was just about to head out when I realized there were many more spots in the bushes. In the fact, the spots of not one but seven cheetahs were clearly visible. Although cheetahs can often have large litters it is unusual for more than two or three of the cubs to survive. Yet lying in a heap of freckles were six healthy nearly full grown cheetah cubs. Super Mom had made it happen. Having had a short rest, Super Mom was back to business and got up with a large stretch and a yawn before ducking low to get a closer look at some nearby Thomson gazelles. The cubs took interest too getting up one by one to see if it was time to hunt. Mom had decided they better wait and returned to a bush near the cubs for another much deserved nap.

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Long-crested Eagle study in Uganda

Munir Virani — in Pan Africa Conservation Program

Note: The following was written by Nicholas Gardener MSc. Candidate, University of Exeter U.K. - To describe Uganda’s capital as a bustling, buzzing city would be an absurd understatement. Kampala is a truly fascinating place to be. I find myself incapable of adequately describing the melee of the streets, bursting at the seams with matatus (sardine-like jam-packed minivans for public transport), yet miraculously squeezing in swarms of boda-bodas (motorsycle-taxis), cyclists and pedestrians, all of them abiding by an unwritten set of rules, or otherwise following no rules whatsoever. One particularly earnest taxi driver told me with a grin: “if you can drive in Kampala, you can drive anywhere”. On top of all this is the inescapable ubiquitous presence of the almost comically large police force. With teargas trucks on most roundabouts, and hordes of armed officers crowding every major street corner, I’ve been advised that taking any pictures in Kampala itself is a no-no. It’s a pity because there has been ample opportunity for some unique and often humorous shots (today’s example being a sign reading: “development nose no boarders”). Needless to say, when I first arrived I was somewhat overwhelmed. Having only ever been to a very rural part of Africa once before, I attempted to prepare myself for the culture shock prior to my departure from the U.K, but still felt a certain sense of removal from reality, of being in a different dimension for the first few days of my stay. Luckily, I had a focus.

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Meet Lucy, Lucifer, and Linnaeus

Corinne Kendall — in East Africa Project

Trapping Lappet-faced vultures is never easy. Yet this time it was. We caught three birds in just four days and I have never been so happy or relieved in all my life. In the past we have trapped several Lappets, but because two of them were poisioned in the first few months and three of them had GSM-GPS units that happened to fail in the first month, we still know very little about their movement. It is certainly less than that of the African white-backed or Ruppell’s vultures, but just as variable with some birds leaving the Mara to spend a month in Ngorogoro Conservation Area, some hanging out in Athi River, and others just sticking close to home in the Mara through almost the entire year. Unfortunately almost all the Lappets we have trapped in the past seem to spend an enormous amount of time in the areas bordering the park – the exact areas where so much of the poisoning seems to take place. I guess it is no surprise that of four Lappet-faced vultures tagged our first year, we lost 50% to poisoning.

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Bird's Eye View

Corinne Kendall — in East Africa Project

How does a vulture see the world? So much of my research involves the belief that I have some understanding of this, yet how could an animal that spends its entire life on the ground, possibly understand the perceptions of one that spends its entirety in the air. Others have recognized the err in trying to study vultures from the savannah floor and have taken to the air. In fact so much so that when I first decided to study vultures one of the first things my previous advisor said to me was “just promise not to use an ultralight.” Several brilliant and dedicated field researchers have lost their lives in airplanes. Even one of the people with whom I work who has used planes to study vultures has been in several crashes of his own, so its no wonder the concern. Still while studying the foraging behavior, habitat use, and movement of vultures has worked quite well from the seat of my car, I am still curious as to what the landscape must look like from the air. So when I got the chance to fly up in a two-seater plane I was very excited.

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The Red Park: Adventures in Tsavo

Corinne Kendall — in East Africa Project

If I’ve learned anything from following the movements of GPS-tagged vultures, it is that vultures get around. Masai Mara is clearly a very important area for them, but when the wildebeest aren’t here many of the vultures try out some new locations. One area that about a third of the tagged individuals have used over the years is Tsavo. Tsavo actually consists two parks – two of the largest in the country – divided by the main highway leading from Mombasa to Nairobi.

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The Ultimate Kill

Corinne Kendall — in East Africa Project

All the tourists had been seeing leopards but with my focus on vultures and their nesting trees I hadn’t had many opportunities to enjoy the cats and I was beginning to get jealous. Today we came upon a beautiful, though small, leopard non-chalantly cleaning itself on a small mound in broad daylight. After a good wash, it was time for a good meal and the leopard immediately went into stalking posture as it moved through the tall grass around the vehicles. As it crossed the road it did a full roll (as I had seen another leopard do last year) and continued the hunt. Moving into the tall grass, it found a comfortable spot and decided to wait. Prey options abounded with a small ground of topi lying down in the distance, a small family of waterbuck walking past near by, and a young giraffe stumbling around about 200 meters from its unconcerned mother. The leopard just waited though, recognizing that with the road nearby something would pass on its own. And so it did. Two topi walked along the open path and were totally unaware until they got within about 50 meters of the leopard. When one of them spotted the spotted cat it began leaping and huffing and the two antelope raced off at speed.

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C.A.R. Blog 3: Deeper into Dzanga Ndoki

Munir Virani — in Central Africa Project

Editor's note: The following article is from Rebecca Johnson and Gus Keys, volunteers working to begin The Peregrine Fund's project in the Central African Republic. — When our BaAka tracker turned to us in the forest and yelled, “Run! Big Daddy coming!” we didn’t wait about to find out who Big Daddy was. When we came to a halt ten minutes later, after a series of stumbling sprints through the rainforest, we found out that Big Daddy is one of the biggest Forest Elephants that live in Dzanga Ndoki National Park, Central African Republic, where we are currently carrying out a bird of prey survey for The Peregrine Fund.

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Jack of Cubs

Corinne Kendall — in East Africa Project

Every lion pride seems to have at least five cubs and some have closer to ten. Cubs bring out the kitten in a lion with their playful antics. The cubs spend much of the day crouching behind clumps of grass so they can pounce on their siblings or being kicked by an unwilling mother as they attempt to suckle. Tourists stare in amazement as the cubs move from mother to mother trying to find a willing victim from whom they can get some attention or milk. When the pride makes a kill, the cubs find that they are not alone. As the adults lay down for a nap, the cubs chew on the remaining shoulder bone of a topi as scavengers gather. I watched as jackals tried to sneak up to the cubs only to find themselves chased by a lion only slightly bigger than themselves. Despite their small size, a lion cub could still give quite a whack and the jackals remain wary rushing in and away as the cubs come after them. The lioness paid no attention but for the cubs the chasing jackals appeared to be a fun game though they were cautious not to get too far from the pride.

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The Grass Seed and the Spider

Corinne Kendall — in East Africa Project

My fascination with arachnids continued as we sat in the grass having lunch. I noticed a small animal float before me and suddenly wiggle its way onto a grass stalk. Intrigued I took a closer look and discovered my first Kenyan crab spider. Crab spiders are amazing. They use very little silk and instead rely on their stealth to catch insects. Usually they can be found on flowers, waiting for an unsuspecting pollinator, such as a fly or a bee, to come to the flower. Some crab spiders can even change colors to blend in with the flower of their choosing. These small spiders get their names from the way they hold the two pairs of front legs, spread wide and ever ready to give some insect prey an unwelcome hug. This particular spider was camouflaging so well that it took me nearly touching it for my field assistant to see it. Initially it had been climbing around the grass stalk unaware, but when it noticed the attention it was receiving it went into hiding mode. It looked just like a part of the grass stalk with its legs stretched out like tiny seeds.

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The Unexpected Carcasses

Corinne Kendall — in East Africa Project

It is the wet season (although we haven’t actually had any rain yet) so I wasn’t really expecting to find many carcasses – and I haven’t. But what I have found has been particularly interesting. A zebra carcass with three dogs and a handful of vultures, a hyena carcass with eight Lappet-faced vultures, two lion kills in a day (both of which got eaten by lions, not vultures), and the mutilated mass of a cow that was partially eaten by hyenas, then slaughtered for human consumption, and finally nibbled on by the birds.
With all of these it has been reassuring to find that my observations and my predictions are coming closer together. First, vultures are much more afraid of dogs than jackals, so the implications of having more dogs or dogs in certain areas are very different than more natural predators. Second, vultures will eat anything including hyenas. I have to say watching them eat the hyena did make me a little nervous as you never know how such an animal has been killed. Given the proximity to the villages, though it was in the park, I was a bit concerned the hyena could have been poisoned. But none of the vultures dropped dead and upon closer inspection once the hyena researchers arrived (they gather the heads of hyenas to study the jaws, so I gave them a call when I realized what the carcass was; bit of a conflict of interest since we had to chase the vultures off to salvage the hyena, but seemed like it was going to be more valuable data for them than me) we found that the hyena had huge claw marks around its neck and was likely killed by lions. Third, vultures get very little food from predator kills, especially this time of year when food is so valuable. A large pride of lions (with eight females and seven cubs) killed a zebra and a topi in the same day. They totally abandoned the topi so they could all work together to finish the zebra. Despite this both animals were entirely consumed by the lions by morning meaning that the patiently waiting Hooded vultures got very little to eat. Finally, certain species of vultures are more likely to avoid feeding in settlement areas than others. The cow had been killed just outside the park, right next to my camp (in fact on land owned by Ilkeliani). Herders were thus passing it frequently throughout the day and actually took most of the meat for their own consumption. As a result the carcass was mainly consumed by the less shy species – Hooded vultures, Tawny eagles, and Marabou storks. A few white-backs landed but they hardly ate anything with all the disturbance and Lappet-faced vultures and even a pair of the rare White-headed vulture passed over but were unwilling to land in such uncertain territory. Interesting indeed!

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Endurance Training Part 2: The Test

Corinne Kendall — in East Africa Project

I usually dread the long drive from Nairobi to the Mara – six hours at least two of which are usually on bumpy roads and the constant prospect of getting lost given that I tend to travel alone is not my cup of tea. This year it was different. Having driven an average of eight hours a day for four days in a row I was ready. So I finished up my supply shopping and final meeting and headed to the Mara with no hesitation.
Entering the Mara I felt immediately relieved. Finally away from the bustle of Nairobi and the rows of settlements I had reached an area saved just for wildlife. Zebras and gazelles abounded and in the hour long drive to get from one gate to another I had seen more scavenging raptors than on the four day trek through the North. With recent rains the Mara was looking green and lush – with long grass covering much of the plains. As I pulled into the driveway of Ilkeliani the magic of the Mara swept over me as the sun dipped mercifully beneath the horizon. I was home.

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Too close for comfort – a close encounter with Tsavo's Lions

Munir Virani — in East Africa Project

Last week, volunteers Teeku Patel and Shiv Kapila assisted with our annual raptor surveys. We drove from Nairobi via the Kitengela plains and onward towards the foothills of Mount Kilimanjaro at Amboseli National Park, and then to the rugged Tsavo West before entering the vast plains of Tsavo East National Park. The drive was spectacular and we observed 311 individual raptors comprising 30 species (we actually saw 34 species but couldn’t include the four as they were “off the transect”.

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C.A.R. Blog 2: Raptors, Rivers and Rainforest

Munir Virani — in Central Africa Project

Editor's note: The following article is from Rebecca Johnson and Gus Keys, volunteers working to begin The Peregrine Fund's project in the Central African Republic. — Week two in the Dzanga-Sangha Special Reserve in the Central African Republic and our bird of prey survey for The Peregrine Fund is going well. Although forest-dwelling raptors are notoriously difficult to find, due to the dense habitat they choose to make their home in and their secretive habits, we have been getting some interesting records.

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Endurance Training

Corinne Kendall — in East Africa Project

1000 km. Two drivers. Four observers. Just under 300 raptors.

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An historic meeting at Kwenia-Olorgesailie that aims to conserve this unique ecosystem and benefit Masai communities

Munir Virani — in East Africa Project

Every journey begins with a small step. Over the last nine years my colleague Simon Thomsett and I have been monitoring populations of Rüppell’s Vultures at the Kwenia cliffs in Kajiado district, about a three and a half hour drive south of Nairobi. This colony is the largest breeding colony of the species in southern Kenya and should be considered a national asset. Unfortunately, Kwenia has no conservation status whatsoever. The surrounding areas of Olorgesailie, Kilonito, and Oldonyo Nyoike also have no conservation status. These regions are harsh, arid and water deficient. In contrast, and by virtue of being in the southern Rift Valley, the region also contains some of the most diverse species of vertebrates on earth. Notwithstanding the importance of this very important vulture colony, other species such as Lesser Kudu, Gerenuk, Wild Dogs, Cheetah, Hyena and a myriad of raptors and other prolific birds abound. Olorgesailie is also an important prehistoric site, recognized globally as one of the places where early hominids used hand axes. Hominid fossils go back nearly nine hundred thousand years based on work conducted by Dr Rick Potts and his colleagues from the Smithsonian Institution. The species of animals unearthed at Olorgesailie and other locations in southern Kenya changed over time as environmental conditions shifted time and again. Species of baboons, elephant, zebra, pigs, and hippopotamuses that had been very abundant in the region went extinct. They were replaced by closely related species that still survive in East Africa today.

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Central African Republic entry 1: Destination Dzanga-Sangha

Munir Virani — in Central Africa Project

Editor's note: The following article is from Rebecca Johnson and Gus Keys, volunteers working to begin The Peregrine Fund's project in the Central African Republic.

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Secondary Poisoning and Persecution - A Masai Perspective

Munir Virani — in East Africa Project

Editor's note: The following article is from Rebecca Johnson and Gus Keys, volunteers working in the Masai Mara as part of our East Africa Project

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Three days at Ol Ari Nyiro, Laikipia

Munir Virani — in East Africa Project

I wasn’t sure what to expect when David Waters (also known as Maji) invited me up to Ol Ari Nyiro Conservancy on the western edge of Kenya’s Great Rift Valley. Maji is a long-time friend of mine, both of us having played cricket together for one of Kenya’s finest clubs as well as having toured India in 1988. Maji is currently involved with the task of helping to further develop Ol Ari Nyiro at an education and scientific level that will hopefully see this massive 100,000 acres of untouched Africa remain the way it is. Ol Ari Nyiro belongs to the legendary Kuki Gallmann, an Italian writer and poet who has written several books about her life in wild Africa. Her most famous one – “I dreamed of Africa” has inspired many writers and travelers to write about and visit Kenya.

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Two weeks on the edge. . .of the Masai Mara

Munir Virani — in East Africa Project

Editor's note: The following article is from Rebecca Johnson and Gus Keys, volunteers working in the Masai Mara as part of our East Africa Project

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Why we need vultures

Darcy Ogada — in East Africa Project

Let’s face it, most people are not smitten by vultures.In fact people often describe them as disgusting birds.

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To the South

Corinne Kendall — in East Africa Project

Another Ruppell’s vulture has moved far to the south, travelling out of Serengeti National Park and over next to Lake Manyara. Having travelled through the gorgeous Manyara Park, famous for its hippos, bird life, and tree-climbing lions, I have to wonder what the appeal is for a vulture. The area is hardly known for its dense wildlife and one would expect that the Mara and Serengeti where most of the wildebeest are still hanging out would be a better place for a scavenging bird. These long distant movements at a time when food distribution should be fairly apparent with highest concentrations in the Mara always bring to question the motivations of the bird. What drives such long distance movements? Competition continues to be the resonating answer in my mind, but only further research will tell. Take a look at the bird's latest location - see the red dot.

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To the North

Corinne Kendall — in East Africa Project

2009 was a very dry year and perhaps as a result the vultures really didn’t need to move that far. That said, the movement data from 2009 was impressive with several of our tagged vultures travelling long distances and using large areas, sometimes more than 100,000 km2 in an eight-month period. 2010 has been rather different – with lots of rain from February onwards and one of the most amazing wildebeest migrations seen in years, at least from the Masai Mara perspective – with these ungulates coming in large numbers and staying in the Mara for a long period of time. The vultures appear to be responding accordingly. Although the bulk of the birds are still sticking close to the Mara, we have had some interesting long distance travels. Just in the past month, the vultures tagged this year have moved farther north and farther south than any individual during our first year of study. Perhaps most exciting are the northern movement with one Ruppell’s vulture going past Nanyuki and Meru appearing to head towards Lake Turkana. So far we are yet to have any birds travel out of Kenya-Tanzania, so with just 200 more miles to go to reach Ethiopia to the North and only about 100 miles to the west to reach Uganda, this bird might be getting its passport stamped any day now. Take a look at the two maps at slightly different scales to see what I mean – look for the read dot that represents the bird.

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Photos from vulture field work

Munir Virani — in East Africa Project

Munir Virani, Shiv Kapila and Teeku Patel attached four GSM-GPS units on Ruppell's and African White-backed Vultures in the Masai Mara last week (October 17th, 2010). This is part of Corinne Kendall's PhD study where she is looking at how land-use changes in Kenya is affecting vulture diversity and abundance.

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Home and Back

Corinne Kendall — in East Africa Project

Ruppell’s vultures travel almost as much as I do. These enormous birds nest in cliffs rather than trees. Cliffs are great from the standpoint of the chick – they are well protected from predators and the elements. But they make for a lot of extra work for the parents. Most cliffs in Kenya are very far from protected areas and other places of high wildlife density where the vultures will find most of their food. As a result, Ruppell’s vultures have to travel from their feeding grounds and back to the nest every few days. These can be distances of over 100 km (70 miles) so it is a good thing that vultures use a special method of flying called soaring that allows them to travel great distances while using very little energy.

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Another one bites the dust

Corinne Kendall — in East Africa Project

Another year, another set of birds. During our first year using GSM-GPS telemetry we were able to tag 14 vultures. The GSM-GPS units allowed us to follow the vultures for nearly a year, learning valuable information about the areas they use, the speeds and altitudes at which they travel, and sadly the places where they are dying.

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Final adventure

Corinne Kendall — in East Africa Project

Though the wildebeest have started crossing again (and drowning as well), I still find myself leaving the Mara. My third field season has come to end. It is always amazing to be here in this time of plenty – plenty of wildebeest, plenty of predators, and plenty of vultures. There has been so much to see and it has certainly been a busy field season. So with my data gathered and my birds tagged, it is time to head home to the other rather overlooked portion of scientific research – the analysis. So I will return to my university to teach and to analyze. The Mara and the vultures will still be present as I watch them through my own descriptions of their behavior and through the blinking blue dots (which represent the current position of each tagged bird) that I will now follow across the East African plains over the next year. When I write to you next, it will be to describe those movements – so that we can all follow these amazing birds as they have their own adventures.

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The Last Bird

Corinne Kendall — in East Africa Project

With three units to go and not too much longer in Kenya, I was starting to get nervous. Would we be able to catch all the birds in time? I had my hopes set on one more Lappet (at least), one more adult African white-backed vulture, and perhaps another juvenile Ruppell’s. For this last set of trapping I was to work with a Ugandan student who wanted to learn how to trap vultures. Hoping to begin a large research project (possibly the makings of his PhD) on Lappet-faced vultures, Richard wanted to know how to trap, handle, attach units, and draw blood from these majestic birds. I had explained to Richard that Lappet-faced vultures could be quite difficult to catch and that I couldn’t guarantee we would get one during his stay, given my ever-tightening schedule. I was soon eating my words.

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Lions who Act like Tigers

Corinne Kendall — in East Africa Project

lions at play

Lions at play

Anyone who owns a cat knows that most felines don’t like water. The tiger is perhaps the one exception – famous for its love of swimming. Lions on the other hand are generally known to avoid water. So most of the time when you see them near a river or small pool of water they are looking for a drink and nothing more. That’s why I was incredibly surprised to see not one but four female lions playing in the Talek river. The cats began by chasing each other around. Hiding in the bushes only to leap out and run full speed into the glistening river as they grappled at their pridemates. With all the ruckus you’d imagine that most animals would be aware of the danger nearby, yet all the noise didn’t stop two foolish Egyptian geese. As the four lions had moved off onto alternate sides of the bank, the geese landed in the middle only to notice an enormous female lion jumping from the bushes directly at them. It wasn’t much of a chase and the geese were soon airborne as the lions went back to playing with each other.

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Small visitors

Corinne Kendall — in East Africa Project

I’ve become accustom to a small visitor in my bathroom. Every night a small toad appears. He works hard, eating the crickets that have also weaseled their way into my tent while I brush my teeth. Occasionally I rig things a bit, urging the crickets in the toad’s direction. He seems to appreciate the favor and is willing to eat even with me nearby. I can always tell when he has eaten since a loud smack precedes each attack as his tongue comes snapping out and in.

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Cats

Corinne Kendall — in East Africa Project

lion with cub

Lioness carrying cub

It is unusual to see a lion running. So we stopped. The lioness was on the road with no animals in front of her, so it clearly wasn’t a hunt. So why was she running? Her speed seemed one of urgency and determination, though she would jog along and then slow back to the more typical concerted steps of a lion. Eventually she found herself next to a small bush. As she approached I noticed that there was a near-lion sized hole in the branches surround the base of the little tree. When the lion arrived she squeezed herself in between the limbs and twigs of the plant and through the bramble I could see the yellow fur of another lion – a small one. Within seconds, the lioness had picked something up turned around and emerged from the small hole. In her mouth was a tiny cub. It looked so uncomfortable and unhappy to be in her mouth, but it didn’t make a sound. It just hung limp in her gentle grip with its eyes squinted shut. The lioness wandered off stopping occasionally to readjust her grip on this tiny treasure. She seemed exhausted for her efforts, struggling to breathe with this ball of fuzz in between her lips. Nonetheless she continued her hurried pace with little jogging spurts in between her walks – all the time with the cub’s body swaying beneath her.

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Naivasha Notes 5

Evan Buechley — in East Africa Project

As I last posted, I had noted significant declines in the number of active Augur buzzard territories in three of the four survey areas around Lake Naivasha, Kenya. In the last few weeks of July, I finished surveys within Hell’s Gate National Park (HGNP), to conclude the census. Results indicate that there has been a decline from 36 to 24 active Augur buzzard territories overall since the 1990’s, for a loss of 33 percent. While territory abandonment has tended to be most extreme in areas of highest human disturbance (up to 60%), it is notable that declines have also been significant in control-like sections of the study area, including HGNP and Mundui. Both of these areas have remained largely unchanged over the past 15 years, as they are managed for land and wildlife preservation. Declines in the numbers of active territories in these areas have been documented at 33 percent and 29 percent respectively, roughly reflecting the overall trend. All in all, there have been striking declines in the number of active Augur buzzard territories around Lake Naivasha since the 1990’s. These declines have occurred in both horticultural areas and natural reserves. The question that remains is: Why?

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Excerpts from Vulture Trapping (Part 3)

Corinne Kendall — in East Africa Project

It was the last carcass of the day. Our last chance, but also our best chance. This Lappet looked hungry. We put down the traps and within minutes, I was shouting with joy as we raced towards our second Lappet-faced vulture of the season.

biologists with vulture

Keith and John handle our second Lappet-faced vulture

The bird was so pre-occupied with feeding and attacking the White-backed vultures surrounding it that it didn’t seem to notice the blue beast sneaking up on it. The noose was clearly on its leg, so there was no need to wait. When we finally came up on the side of the carcass and jumped out of the car, the Lappet finally reacted. Wings stretched it was only able to move a few feet away, its foot firmly entangled and attached to the dead wildebeest on which it had been feeding.

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Excerpts from Vulture Trapping (Part 2)

Corinne Kendall — in East Africa Project

We awoke early. Today had to be the day. After so many near misses, I couldn’t imagine us going another day without trapping a Lappet-faced vulture. The evening before we had managed to stag an adult Lappet, but with its brute strength (and probably poor snaring), it had been able to pull the noose and get away before we could grab it. With one unit left, at least from our initial delivery of five (10 would arrive later in the week), I really wanted to get this one on this most elusive of vultures.

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Excerpts from Vulture Trapping (Part 1)

Corinne Kendall — in East Africa Project

In any field project, there is nothing more exhilarating, exhausting, and time-consuming than trapping animals. Vultures are no exception. Two and half busy weeks and I am still three vultures short. That said, it has been an amazing time and we have been able to put out 12 GSM-GPS units onto seven Ruppell’s vultures, three African white-backed vultures, and two Lappet-faced vultures. As usual, the Lappet-faced vultures continue to be the trickiest to trap. Not only are there fewer of them, but they prefer smaller carcasses (which are more difficult to trap at), they arrive late (which means you are more likely to catch someone else first), and they are a bit more shy. The key with Lappets is to find some really hungry, aggressive individual, but in and of itself that is rather tricky.

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The Crossing Continues

Corinne Kendall — in East Africa Project

We watched the crossing again today and what a crossing it was. After counting nearly four hundred vultures at the main crossing we headed down to one of the trickier crossings. As before, the shore was lined with dead wildebeest and the vultures were feasting. The wildebeest were stacked into a few rock crevices across the river as if they had been wedged in while trying to reach the other side. Their bodies now ripe from the sun were finally being broken into by the vultures. The stench was overwhelming. Meanwhile, vultures waiting their turn lay wet and cold on the riverbank across the way, probably from earlier attempts to eat the floating corpses. As the sun rose over the valley, the birds stretched out their long wings and absorbed the warmth. The wings spread like beach umbrellas gave the riverside a look not so unlike that of the Jersey shore.

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Two distant kills

Corinne Kendall — in East Africa Project

It is amazing what you can find even when you aren’t really looking. On our drive to set up some sheep meat for another carcass observation we passed not one but two kills. The first was more of a massacre than a kill. Over forty hyenas were prowling around, several with blood soaked faces, so we knew something was up. We followed the cries of a few Tawny eagles to the site of the actual kills. Almost fifteen hyenas, many of them still cubs, crowded around what presumably was once a wildebeest. Honestly though there wasn’t even enough left to know that for sure. When hyenas make a kill, the meat goes fast. Though a few vultures had gathered I highly doubt that got anything.

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Lappet Attack

Corinne Kendall — in East Africa Project

I was watching some vultures at a carcass as I so often do, when three birds broke off into a separate group. Two Lappet-faced vultures had been feeding on the head of a carcass for about thirty minutes when a new pair of Lappets arrived. There wasn't much left and both feeding Lappets moved off the carcass and flew away without any confrontation. One of the Lappets that had been feeding landed about fifty meters away from the carcass.

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The Action

Corinne Kendall — in East Africa Project

          This time of year everyone knows the action is by the river. With thousands of wildebeest and zebra crossing Mara river every few days there are sure to be some casualties. Some animals will drown in the rushing water, some will be trampled in the mad rush of the crossing, and some might even fall from the steep riverbanks as their comrades urge them forward. That’s not what people come here to see though. On the top of every tourists list is watching a wildebeest or zebra be consumed by a crocodile. With crocodiles longer than a giraffe is tall, this is the time of year to see what these prehistoric beasts are really made of.

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Naivasha Notes 4

Evan Buechley — in East Africa Project

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.

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Another victim of poison: Lolly, a Lappet-faced vulture

Corinne Kendall — in East Africa Project

LollyCatching a Lappet-faced vulture is always a struggle. At a typical large carcass you often find that these red-headed birds are outnumbered by their smaller white-backed cousins, sometimes with a single Lappet-faced vulture trying to fight for a scrap of wildebeest meat with over fifty African white-backed vultures. This makes capturing one a rare event. You can improve your odds by focusing on small carcasses or by putting the trap near the head of the carcass (a favorite area for these strong, large beaked scavengers), but even then you just have to get lucky.

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Naivasha Notes 3

Evan Buechley — in East Africa Project

This last week has yielded quite a mixture of experiences. It started last Monday, when I awoke at 10pm with a strong fever after having felt sluggish all day- never a good sign in malaria country! So I decided to make the midnight journey to the local clinic- not an appealing prospect at this moment. But the friendly crew here at Elsamere got the van rolling, we jostled an uncomfortable fifteen minutes down the bumpy road, and I was heartily comforted by the local medic- “no malaria in Naivasha…you’ve certainly eaten something bad…” And so a few days in bed, comfortably coinciding with a few very rainy days that would have inhibited much activity anyhow, resulted in a rejuvenated and refreshed self. After this sedentary interlude, I felt ever more energized to capitalize on my time here in Kenya, so I’ve been busy back with the Augur buzzard surveys, albeit a bit behind schedule.

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Heading home

Corinne Kendall — in East Africa Project

Sitting in Nairobi as I prepare for my flight back to the US, I can hardly believe it has been three months. The Mara and its vultures have once again kept me busy with too much to see and do. I already miss the rolling hills, expansive plains, and forested rivers that have surrounded me throughout the stay. I miss the cries of the African white-backed vultures, the gentle chirp of the massive Lappet-faced vultures, and the giggles of the hyenas that have come to steal the vultures’ find.

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Naivasha Notes 2

Evan Buechley — in East Africa Project

Having become familiarized with the study area and with the biking legs warmed into prime shape, data is starting to pour in regarding the Augur buzzard presence around Lake Naivasha, Kenya. With 85 independent visuals on the buzzards in as many as 23 different territories over the past 16 days, a picture of the species’ presence in the area is starting to come into focus. So far, I feel highly confident about the existence of 7 different active breeding territories, while an additional 10 territories are very likely active, pending further observations. At least one territory documented by Munir Virani in the mid 90’s seems to have been abandoned by the buzzards. However, with so many territories still being observed, it is too early to draw any conclusions regarding the affects of habitat alterations on the population in the area.

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Masai Mara Vulture Workshop

Munir Virani — in East Africa Project

It was quite a frantic week planning ahead for the 3rd Vulture Workshop (the second in the Masai Mara) funded by The Peregrine Fund, which took place at Basecamp Explorer in the heart of the Masai Mara National Reserve in Kenya. The Basecamp Foundation and the Explorer Camp were extremely generous to provide subsidized accommodation while Vintage Africa provided a vehicle for participants attending from Nairobi (National Museums of Kenya, Kenya Wildlife Service, and Nature Kenya’s Raptor Working Group) and neighboring Masai villages. The Masai Mara National Reserve provided free entry to workshop participants.

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Vulture workshop

Corinne Kendall — in East Africa Project

workshop participants
Participants listen intently
I have always felt that education and community involvement are essential for effective conservation. Today I got to do both as we held the second Vulture Workshop in Masai Mara National Reserve. The turnout was amazing – teachers from each of the local schools, leaders for the various conservancies that have been created to try and stave off habitat destruction around the reserve, Kenya Wildlife Service representatives, community outreach workers, researchers from Michigan State University’s Mara Hyena Project, guides from some of the larger lodges, game wardens from Mara Triangle Conservancy and Narok County Council, community liasons and chiefs from the two neighboring community areas that I have been working in, researchers from the National Museum of Kenya and photographers to record the entire event. Over 65 attendees in total!

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The Last Bird

Corinne Kendall — in East Africa Project

So with only a Tawny eagle to show for our efforts after three long days of trapping, we still had work to do. We had a test unit that needed to get deployed, so I could decide which units we would be using during our July trapping session. We really needed one more bird.

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Eagles versus Vultures

Corinne Kendall — in East Africa Project

Trapping vultures is hard. It takes almost as much patience as watching vultures. After our amazing day of two birds at once, we had three days of nothing. We caught one Tawny eagle, which was interesting, but not quite what we were going for. The Tawny managed to snag itself on one of the nooses just as ten vultures were feasting around it – what are the odds? We quickly drove up to grab it. I carefully secured both feet before removing the noose. Wilson, who up until this point had only ever handled vultures, went to secure the head. He sort of pinned the bird to the ground. I quickly explained that with this bird we really didn’t need to worry about that end.

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Mara Moments

Munir Virani — in East Africa Project

I have just returned from a visit to the Masai Mara where I had gone to help Corinne Kendall (see Tracking Mara’s Vultures) tag and release some more vultures. Corinne has now been in the Mara for two and a half months and has been working incredibly hard on her transects and carcass watches. Last week, with the help of her field assistant, Wilson Masek, she managed to trap and attach two more GSM units on Lappet-faced Vultures, the largest and heaviest of the vultures in Africa. The reason for my trip to the Mara was to carry a newly designed unit that Corinne will test that has been kindly donated by Henrick Rasmussen, from Savannah Tracking Ltd (a company based in Nairobi that makes telemetry equipment).

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Naivasha Notes

Evan Buechley — in East Africa Project

As I am experiencing Kenya for the first time, I am in a constant state of awe. There is a complex, teeming ecology here, more diverse and vibrant than any I had imagined- with roughly 72 species of diurnal raptors and vultures ranging within the country alone, not to mention the amazing diversity of other birds, and the famed complex of large mammals, my binoculars have barely left my neck over the past week to sleep. The scenery is dramatic, too, with rich ochre soils, verdant grassy plains, and cumulus clouds billowing over the volcanic features of the Great Rift Valley. And then there’s the frantic Nairobi traffic; the matatus packed with people and strapped with goods- chairs, bags of maize, and lumber, to name a few; and the calls of “Hello, how are you?” (with the tone rising distinctively on the you) by the smiling and waving children in the street…

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What a day!

Corinne Kendall — in East Africa Project

What a day! Let me start from the beginning. I woke up this morning at 5 AM. It was day two of trapping. Day one had been less than successful and I was beginning to wonder if I had been crazy to think that I could trap vultures during the low season. You see when the wildebeest come to Masai Mara in July so do the vultures. For three months, the park is overflowing with carcasses and scavengers. Trapping is made easy during this time, at least trapping African white-backed and Ruppell’s vultures, which are exceedingly common with upwards of sixty birds at each wildebeest carcass. But trapping Lappet-faced vultures is tricky. Only a few birds come to each carcass, they come late which means they are less likely to get trapped (since you have to put the trap down at the beginning and can’t go back and add it to a carcass without scaring all the birds), and they just tend to be a bit more cautious. So I had the “brilliant” idea that the low season would be the ideal time to trap Lappet-faced vultures with fewer African white-backs and Ruppell’s around. But after spending all of yesterday trying to trap with no success, I was starting to worry if I could trap anything this time of year. Nonetheless I awoke with a feeling of mixed panic and hope and set out to trap.

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Elephant, hippo, and spiders, oh my!

Corinne Kendall — in East Africa Project

Today an elephant charged us. Usually this would be an event of great concern, but today it was just cute. The elephant was a baby, pretty little guy. We could see him coming from a while off as he started his great stompy rush towards the road. By the time we were perpendicular to him he was coming fast, trunk up and trumpeting with all his little might. You could almost see the older elephants rolling their eyes at this foolishness. No one followed him or even acknowledged his distress. Everyone else stood ripping off pieces of grass and shoving them in their mouths as the little elephant came chasing after us. We stopped near him and he kept coming and coming – like a mini game of chicken. This probably felt safer on the driver’s side, where Wilson sat securely. The elephant was only a few feet from my door when it came to a stop. “What are you doing?” I chided him. His trumpeting stopped and he stood still a bit afraid and somewhat fascinated. I kept talking to him and he continued to stare at me curiously. I find talking to elephants always calms them or at least changes the mood – I often talk at charging elephants and it seems to change the identity of the vehicle in their eyes - no longer a hurdling mass but a sweet-talking entity. (This technique does not work on rhinos though). When no one had come to his rescue, the little elephant finally high tailed it back to mom, quite literally with his bushy little tail swung high in the air.

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A trip down memory lane in Hell’s Gate National Park

Munir Virani — in East Africa Project

Last year, when Chris Parish, The Peregine Fund’s California Condor Director wrote to me about Evan Buechley (a staff member on the California Condor Project) wishing to volunteer in Kenya, I jumped at the opportunity. Having worked on Augur Buzzards in the south Lake Naivasha area for my PhD in the mid 1990s, I revisited these sites in 2005 and documented marked declines in Augur Buzzard territories that ranged from 18 to 50% over different land-use areas. The southern Lake Naivasha area is the hub of Kenya’s horticultural industry with annual revenue close to five hundred million US dollars a year. Naturally, with the prolific growth of the horticultural industry, comes loss of foraging ground for the Augur Buzzards. Also, the human population has increased fifty fold from 7,000 people in 1969 to nearly 300,000 people presently. Given the changes that have taken place in Kenya especially over the last five years, I was interested to know whether the species has further declined or remained stable.

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Unusual sightings

Corinne Kendall — in East Africa Project

bat-eared foxOther fun and unique sightings for the week included a rare close-up with a small group of bat-eared foxes. Usually these little carnivores head right for their burrows when you drive near, but this group sat calmly and itchily as we approached. The whole group went through an immense scratching session as we watched with each individual using this back leg to scratch its giant ears (just like a dog) and then proceeded to groom its companions.

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Lions, lions, and more lions

Corinne Kendall — in East Africa Project

lion yawnIt has been a week of lions. Everywhere we turned we saw one or the other. Unlike last week’s scrawny injured lioness, the big cats we have seen the last few days have been healthy and well-fed. A 12-member pride with two adult males, a juvenile male, and a female that resembles “Scar” from The Lion King (thanks to a warthog tusk that nearly removed her eye) sat happily with a buffalo kill. Then we saw a lioness with three large cubs – two girls and a boy. We stopped to watch them as they slept along the road. The male cub decided to cross right behind the car and I had a moment of panic as I absorbed the fact that I was only a few feet from such an impressively large animal with the windows open. He stopped just to the right of the car and lied down in the road. With the roof popped open, I stood staring into his deep yellow eyes while snapping a few shots. He yawned – big and I got a nice look at his teeth. When he finally went to join the girls on the other side of the road, his affectionate head rub was welcomed with a snarl from one of the other cubs as he collapsed onto his side for a further nap.

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Hidden treasures

Corinne Kendall — in East Africa Project

I’m sitting on the veranda by the dining tent, looking out at the Mara. The rolling hills of green can be seen in the distance merging with the golden yellow of the tall grass plains below. The Talek river babbles slowly beneath me, the rains have slowed, though not quite stopped and the river still manages to flow around the rocks. It is cool and calm this morning, though the sun is up and soon its warm rays will warm the earth.

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Rumble in the Jungle

Corinne Kendall — in East Africa Project

Large carcasses are scarce this time of year. With the tall grass, the herbivores have plenty to eat and the big cats and hyenas have a hard time catching their prey, who have freedom to roam wherever they please. The cheetahs seem to be the only ones having any great success, perhaps because they rely more on speed than stealth. There also aren’t a lot of animals dying this time of year, precisely because there is so much lush food and water to go around. There are still calves being born, some of whom won’t make it and the occasional diseased or injured animal that might keel over. Needless to say, the vultures have to work hard to find their food and when they do discover something, they work even harder to ensure they get a bit.

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A Bad Day to be a Topi

Corinne Kendall — in East Africa Project

Cheetahs on topiWhen we arrived they were already attached. All three of them, the brothers were back in action. I couldn’t believe it at first, how could cheetahs be hunting topi. You have to understand a topi is a large animal – similar size to a wildebeest or a small horse – it is the kind of animal I would expect a lion pride or hyena clan to bring down, but not cheetahs. Yet there I was watching it for real. Each cheetah had grabbed a leg and they were doing everything they could to bring down the topi. The cheetahs gnawed and clawed as they fought to stay attached. I wasn’t sure how they were going to actually kill the animal. Cheetahs generally have to strangle their prey. On a small gazelle that isn’t so complicated, but none of these boys were even near the windpipe. Then one went for it. With a lunge it wrapped itself around the neck and grabbed on. Horns near its delicate limbs, the cheetah scrambled to twist the topi and finally toppled it over. After the fall, the two brothers moved their chewing from the legs up to the soft belly. They were starting to eat before the animal had even expired. They had made a nice hole in the topi’s belly, just above the hindlimbs as the topi gave its last spasms of life. Its head came up in one last attempt at an escape, but it was no use. As the cheetah tightened its grip around the throat, the topi finally died. Then all three cheetahs sat momentarily in exhaustion, blood dripping from their furry lips.

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The Mara

Corinne Kendall — in East Africa Project

I’ve reached the point where I really know the Mara. Everyday we drive through different areas and I look for the elephant herd with the little calf or the warthog family with the six piglets that have somehow made it through the last two months. Each geographical entity – each river crossing, fig tree, and termite mound – has significance – that was where I saw the cheetah kill a few weeks ago or there is the tree where I trapped my first Lappet-faced vulture (I couldn’t stop smiling as I held the soft, feathery beast). I know all the landmarks and the hiding places of each little herd or creature.

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Big Five

Corinne Kendall — in East Africa Project

When people come to Africa they come to see the Big Five. I’ve always found it a bit odd how the five most important species for hunting have somehow transferred their significance to the camera-wielding tourist crowd of present day. Most people aren’t even sure what the Big Five are, they just know they want to see them. Masai Mara has amble populations of all of the big five and occasionally people will see a rhino, buffalo, elephant, lion, and leopard all in the same day. Leopards are usually the hardest to find and although I have been fortunate enough to see one this trip in over a month that is exactly how many I have seen – one. But the leopard hasn’t been the only spotted carnivore avoiding me. I’ve seen surprisingly few Martial Eagles this season. Martials are your quintessential majestic eagle with deep yellow eyes, huge talons and a small grey crest at the back of their regal heads. They are mostly grey with a creamy white chest that is speckled with grey spots. Over the summer, I saw quite a few and one had even taken up residence in the nearby group ranch area of Koyiaki. On my drive back from Nairobi a few weeks ago I saw a Martial eagle like never before.

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Sightings

Corinne Kendall — in East Africa Project

I have had some really good sightings, especially last week when I had some visitors (a modeler from France and a biologist from London who were interested in my vulture work). We managed to see five cheetahs in one day and completely miss the leopards (which have been hiding from everyone for almost a week now). We first came upon a mother and her cub. When we arrived they were still sleeping, but soon the cub was up and playing. He started by pouncing on his mother’s head. She lifted her tiny skull up, keeping the rest of her body completely flat with the ground. The cub tried again. She stood up and pounced on him, rolling him on his back while she play-bit his stomach. Then she tried to clean him as if this would appease his childishness. He was quickly up again, attaching her twitching tail as if it were a tiny bird. He grabbed a hold of the black fluffy tip and the female batted him away with her paw. This quickly digressed into more tumbling and pawing as the two had a full out wrestling match. I’ve never seen an adult cheetah so willing to play, but I suppose with no siblings, Mom had to step in a bit more as this little guy’s play mate.

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Nasha returns

Corinne Kendall — in East Africa Project

Just like the Ruppell's Vulture, the individual differences between the African white-backed Vultures is huge. Homer took an S-shaped flight—moving from Tsavo West National Park, briefly darting down into Serengeti and then up to Masai Mara once more. He probably traveled more than 300 miles just this week.

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Music of the Night

Corinne Kendall — in East Africa Project

toad on tent
Back in the Mara, I had yet another unwelcome tent guest to join me in the evening. It took me quite a while to find this one as it was also in between the two layers of tent cover and lining. We had just had a heavy rain and the sounds of crickets and frogs had taken over the night. Then there was the scratching. It is just a dung beetle I told myself, but I still couldn’t sleep with the sounds of an intruder rustling near my bed. I finally turned the light on. Nothing. Then the sound. I turned the light on again. Nothing. Finally I turned on the light and pulled out my flashlight. As I got out of bed, I could see a white mass in the upper right corner of my tent door – toad belly. He had managed to wedge himself almost all the way to the top. I opened the tent lining and slowly pulled the heavier layer back. The toad pulled his legs in and let himself slide, like a child on a waterslide he hit the ground with a soft plop, but he was fine. Then he immediately began hoping towards the tent opening. “Oh no you don’t,” I thought. I put my hand over the lower opening as I zipped myself in and the toad out. Disappointed at his inability to explore the interior of my home, the fist-sized toad turned himself around and headed back out into the rainy night.

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Meeting the chiefs

Corinne Kendall — in East Africa Project

I have met chiefs before. My first chief was the chief of Bouchipe in Ghana. He was frail man with withered skin and unbelievably thin legs. Yet his face add the wisdom of someone who had absorbed so many years – someone who had seen it all. He always seem most at peace when he sat in his chieftancy chair a folding chair that leaned back a little too far for my comfort, it suited him though. He would speak with such great passion in his native tongue that I imagined myself sitting in front of some great leader of old, preparing us for battle. His gratitude was amazing as he thanked us for taking an interest in his people, his place, and his environment. My favorite moment with him came towards the end of the trip. I was watching a school procession in an open field not too far from the once-clinic where we stayed. The children were marching with great pride and their voices rang clear and loud. I noticed the chief walking towards us and lowered my head. I began to give my best attempt at the local greeting as I offered my hand, one arm holding the other as was a customary sign of respect in these parts. I just uttered up the courage and memory to begin the pronunciation of this foreign tongue, when the chief who spoke not a word of English to my knowledge, let out a very loud “Good morning!” He smiled as he said it, proud to have communicated with me and just looked at me cheerfully, disinterested in my efforts at formality. Instead he stood calmly next to me and the Ghananian mamas, who had gathered around to watch their children practice.

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The world is a scavenger’s stage

Corinne Kendall — in East Africa Project

We sat at a carcass for nearly five hours yesterday. Not because nothing came, but because the vultures refused to leave. Jackals found our carcass early and I’m afraid the birds didn’t get much, but it didn’t stop them from coming. We had 11 African white-backed vultures, 5 Lappet-faced vultures, and a couple of Hooded vultures. The white-headed vultures have been noticeably absent but the Hoodeds seem to be coming back this year.

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In the tree

Corinne Kendall — in East Africa Project

Leopard in treeWe had almost reached home when I looked into a familiar tree and saw something a little less than familiar. “A leopard,” I exclaimed and the car slowed to a stop. Wilson couldn’t believe it. The leopard was only a few hundred meters from the entrance to the park. It was a small leopard, so I assumed it was female. She seemed to lounging very calmly in the tree, one foot hanging down. She looked at me with her large yellow eyes and I took a few photos. Then the mood changed. She growled at us, baring her teeth and I looked around to try and figure out what had upset her. We were pretty far and if anything I imagine she was enjoying a rare moment of piece with only 1 car watching her. The tree she was in was surrounded by bushes and it was difficult to see what was past it. Then Wilson remembered that when we had driven around the other side we had seen a hyena. The hyena must have spotted the leopard too. The leopard moved uncomfortably, looking below with anxiety. Then she moved upward and I noticed something else that isn’t normally in trees – an impala carcass. Hanging delicately from the upper branches was the leopard’s kill. Something the hyena would just love to have. She moved up towards it and ate greedily as if it might fall to the hyena any minute. As the leopard chewed down we could hear the crunching of bones. She pushed and pulled the carcass around trying to position herself to eat better. I kept imagining that the carcass would fall as she pulled it from its stabilizing limbs. Even worse, in her precarious predicament, I worried that the leopard might fall too – though this would be highly unlikely. After a half hour of eating and maneuvering the leopard seemed to calm down and we soon returned home only a few minutes from the park’s entrance.

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The Little Guys

Corinne Kendall — in East Africa Project

I love the little guys – the insects, the spiders, the millipedes, even the ticks. It is these small invertebrates that go unnoticed by the masses but which have the power to show us behavior just as complex as the largest mammal and for me at least, remind us of how we got into this mess in the first place. Most children don’t go out and watch elephants playing in their yard. Instead, as a child growing up in the densely packed city of New York, I grew up watching the slugs that seemed to erupt from nowhere after a heavy rain. In my few days in Nairobi, I noticed the same was true there as slugs – giant ones longer than your finger – seemed to take over the front yards of each Nairobi villa. In the Mara, the insects and spiders are many to choose from, especially at night when the lights attract them to the human domain. Even now I sit watching a jumping spider with impressively fuzzy pedipalps (or front arms, if you will) launch itself from one spot to another.

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The Hunt

Corinne Kendall — in East Africa Project

Today was a crummy day for research. We sat with our carcass for five hours this morning and nothing came. Around 11AM there was a whirlwind of bird activity with vultures and eagles alike flying over, but no one landed. Then we got over run with sheep and singing Masai children, who curiously asked us if we poisoned the meat, which they noticed we had put out. Interestingly, this is the general sentiment when people see what we are doing, they assume we poisoned the meat. We explain that we are doing reasearch and assure them that we haven’t poisoned anything and are in fact trying to learn more about the wildlife so that we can help conserve it. Cheetah and cub
In the afternoon, we were driving along searching for future places to put carcasses when I noticed something rushing through the grass. We were driving on an elevated part of the road. Usually when you see something moving fast it turns out to be the top of another car, so I didn’t get too excited. Then I looked ahead – the gazelles were quickly fleeing, spreading wide across the plains. Looking back at the rushing form and ahead to the gazelles, it was clear who was about to die. The singled-out gazelle leaped wildly and swerved, but it was no hope the cheetah was fast on its tail. Within seconds, the two had vanished in the grass ahead of us. Did she get her? As we moved forward to see, I noticed another smaller cheetah with a large tuffed mane, obviously a cub, following as well. She stopped looking desperate and lost as were we. Then she chirped. I’ve heard it before but it really is an odd and unflattering sound for a cat to make. Like a chick, she spread her mouth wide and made the noise again. A low growl could be heard up ahead and we followed the cub to her mother. She had gotten the gazelle. It lay flat and immobile in the short grass. The mother was heaving, breathing so hard she looked like she might collapse, eventually she did. The cub dug in. Ripping and chewing with its canines it made a delicate incision and was soon covered with blood. Then the bone crunching started. As the cub ate, the cars started to come our moment of solitude with the cheetahs was over. Amazingly, we were the only ones that actually witnessed the kill but like vultures to a carcass, the tourist vehicles were soon pulling in everywhere around the cheetah. Desperate for a tasty morsel of the action and perhaps a good photo, they crept closer and closer. The mother looked on nervously and then Wilson noticed a new arrival. A hyena was wandering the grass ahead. With all the cars around it was sure to realize something was up. The mother cheetah joined her offspring and ate as much as she could.

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Lions, hyenas, and dogs, oh my

Corinne Kendall — in East Africa Project

The sky is speaking. It grumbles and rumbles and crackles, squealing with rage like a toddler unable to get its way. Then finally it breaks like the thunder that accompanies it, the rain crashed to earth and splatters the floor. Luckily, I am done for the day. For some reason, it has been raining mainly in the afternoons. This is good news for me since the rain virtually shuts down vulture activity. As is I have time for my carcass experiments and transects in the morning and seem to get done just as the sky is threatening to fall. It is a hard rain and I sit outside under canvas surrounded by the droplets. Within seconds pools of mud form and I can only wonder what the roads will be like tomorrow. Oh my God, it is hailing!! I can’t believe it. At first, it looked like little frogs were jumping around magically erupting from the soil (which they are, one just joined me under the tent), but that was actually hail. I just got up and grabbed a piece to confirm and indeed, ice just fell from the sky in Africa. Be amazed! But now it is just raining again.

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Unwelcome guest

Corinne Kendall — in East Africa Project

Sleeping in a tent never really worries me. I know and trust the bush and enjoy the exhilaration of knowing a hippo could be standing just outside my bedroom door. Despite that I must admit that on the walk back from dinner, I often find myself jumping at shadows, but that is usually because I am distracted by the stars. An African once asked me why Westerners always stare at the stars, don’t we have stars at home. Of course I told him, we have stars. . . just not like this. In the Mara the stars fill the sky, like little drops of dew across a window. Orion’s belt shows clear and I always find myself searching for the bow and arrow, but lack the imagination to find them.

Today the moon had greeted me on my arrival and it lit my path for the journey to bed. After a gloriously warm shower, I tucked myself in. I had the usual surprise of feeling something warm and rubbery beneath the covers, but was quick to remember that it was only a water bottle. It hasn’t been nearly as cold in the evenings here since I have returned and I actually pulled it aside. The drive in was exhausting and I fell asleep without even a single toss or turn, the mournful call of the hyena singing me to sleep.

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Home Sweet Home

Corinne Kendall — in East Africa Project

After six months of work in the university, I have finally returned to my home in Masai Mara National Reserve, Ilkeliani. On the drive in I was taken aback by how much had changed. The roads have been largely repaired; the dust of the dry season has been replaced with the mud of wet season; everything seems brilliantly green.  The ride was mostly uneventful and I took the time to stop and have a proper meal of greasy noodles at my favorite restaurant in Narok. On the final leg of the journey I found my car dragging as I went through a mud puddle. It reversed out just fine, but when I went to lock the tires for the four-wheel drive I noticed that the entire metal cover that usually protects the engine from underneath had swung forward. Acting like a giant shovel it had scooped up a large clump of mud, which weighed it down even more and it sunk nearly to the ground. Through the ingenuity of my companion we were able to fasten it up with a stick and part of a plastic bag, but I wasn’t feeling to comfortable as we drove over several more rocks and bumps. Nonetheless I made it to Talek unscathed and all the car needed was a few bolts.

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Rukinga's Raptors

Munir Virani — in East Africa Project

Immature Bateleur
Immature Bateleur
Having spent a productive full two days at Tsavo surveying birds of prey, we were quite excited to explore Rukinga ranch, an 80000 acre private piece of land just south of the Taita Hills, a world renowned biodiversity hotspot. I was particularly ecstatic because of the possibility of seeing another Taita Falcon (I saw my first ever Taita Falcon in the wild in Tsavo West a couple of days ago). For those unaware of what exactly a Taita Falcon is, it is the avian equivalent of a wild Amur Leopard. The rare Taita Falcon is a winsome, yet powerful little falcon with huge feet, and capable of attaining speeds of up to 160 miles per hour at full stoop, leaving its prey no chance of survival. The Taita Hills was where the first specimen was discovered. My colleagues on this survey - Teeku Patel and Karim Kara are avid raptorphiles and we were invited by Dipesh Pabari (Manager of Kenya Camps International) on the last day of our survey to Camp Tsavo to document the ranch's raptors and look at the possibility of assisting with specialized raptor training courses.

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Roger that

Corinne Kendall — in East Africa Project

We last watched Roger, on of our Ruppell’s vultures, two weeks ago. At that time, he was darting back and forth between Amboseli National Park and Shompole Conservancy. More recently, Roger has been hanging around the towns of Maji Moto and Narok, surprisingly he has continued to stay just north of Masai Mara National Reserve, not entering the park a single time this past week. His scattered distant movement suggest that his search for food has been trying and unlike many of the birds which seem to stick to one small area, he has been on the move constantly. Roger has also been taking advantage of the incredibly efficient soaring flight that vultures are known for. He reached top speed of 88 km/hr (55 mph) this week, probably catching a nice thermal in the air. It is difficult to imagine travelling that speed outside a vehicle with nothing to block your face from the wind, but Roger managed it several times.

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Home range size

Corinne Kendall — in East Africa Project

The GSM-GPS transmitters have now been on the vultures for over six months. With over 8000 data points, we can learn a lot from the movement of these fourteen birds. Today I calculated the home range size or the size of the area that a single bird has used based on every location point that we have. The home range sizes are astounding. A single bird, an African White-backed vulture to be exact, can have a range size of up to 97,000 km2 (37,500 mi2). That is almost the size of Pennsylvania, about 1/6 the size of Kenya, and nearly twice the size of one of the largest protected parks in Africa (Selous Game Reserve in Tanzania). In just six months, a single bird can thus span far beyond the entire Serengeti-Mara ecosystem, using many of the other protected areas scattered around southern Kenya and northern Tanzania. If just one individual needs such a large area to survive, it is easy to imagine why the conservation of these species is so complicated. No park will ever to large enough to protect the entire range of even a single individual for most vulture species. Instead we must hope that the birds can travel safely over cities, towns, villages, farms, and livestock pastures. Sadly with people poisoning carcasses, we know that safe passage isn’t guaranteed. With such huge range sizes we know something else. The vultures have a lot to tell us about ecosystem health. Their survival and population numbers give us information not just about a single park, but about the entire system of protected areas in East Africa. Vultures could be the key to monitoring these preserves and the areas around them, providing us with vital information about the other wildlife species they depend on for food and about the use of poisons, chemicals, and pollution across these large land areas on which they rely. By studying them, we are learning not just about the vultures but about the larger East African savanna.

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Back in the MMNR

Corinne Kendall — in East Africa Project

This week, Quagmire, an adult African white-backed Vulture, decided to leave the wildebeest. Initially this 10 pound bird was in Serengeti, moving to the southern tip where many of the migratory wildebeest are likely to be hanging out these days. But then he turned north returning to Masai Mara National Reserve (MMNR).

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Two birds in the bush

Corinne Kendall — in East Africa Project

Just like the Ruppell's Vulture, the individual differences between the African white-backed Vultures is huge. Homer took an S-shaped flight—moving from Tsavo West National Park, briefly darting down into Serengeti and then up to Masai Mara once more.

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A tale of two vultures

Corinne Kendall — in East Africa Project

When people ask you to describe another species, say a vulture or a hippo or an ostrich, they expect one answer for the whole species. What do vultures—as if every vulture were exactly the same—do? But as anyone who owns a dog can tell you, just like people, there are huge differences between individuals. Perhaps animals have personalities too.

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Laila's first flight

Corinne Kendall — in East Africa Project

Laila, the Lappet-faced vulture fledgling, finally took her first flight. It was a short trip—she only travelled out about 500 m, but it was a start. She spent a few hours away and then quickly returned to the nest, exhausted for her initial use of her powerful wings. Each day the flights got a little longer, but for a while the direction didn't change. She had decided to go north and so each day she took her baby flights, slowly moving farther and farther away from the nest. After a week, she had gone as far as two miles from her home, but continued to find her way back to the nest. This seemed to build her confidence and she tried some short movements in a few other directions, going northeast for a few flights and then west for a few trips. Then suddenly, she went north again, this time she pushed her limits, taking her longest day trip yet and traveling out nearly four miles. I wonder if she knows that someday she might travel more than ten times this distance in a single day. (When you look at the map, the nest is at one of the southernmost points where several points are lumped.)
Laila's flights

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Learning to fly

Corinne Kendall — in East Africa Project

Lappet-faced Vultures nest in trees. For the first several months of their life, the tree, the nest, and their parents are all a Lappet-faced chick knows. Each morning a chick awakes alone as the parents go search for food. From only a few meters off the ground sitting at the top of a bush or tree, often on top of a small hill, the chick might survey the area. Perhaps the chick will see a lion walk by or an acrobatic Bateleur Eagle teeter left and right overhead. They will feel the wind and the rain, if there is any, beat down upon their soft white feathers. In the afternoon, the parents will hide the chick from view, spreading their six-foot wingspan to shade the chick from the hot African sun. With few feathers and nowhere to go, the chick could burn without the defense of its parent. For the first few months, this is the world of a Lappet-faced chick and yet soon all of this will change.

As the long black flight feathers grow out, the chick has become a fledgling. Soon it must learn to fly. One can imagine leaping from a tree and being expected to take flight would be hard enough, but where would you go. The parents are unlikely to lead the fledgling out. Instead this young bird must discover the savanna on its own. And if it wishes to return to the nest, it must navigate its own path and find its way home.

After putting a tag on a Lappet-faced fledgling, I waited for her to take her first flight. Where would she go? How far would she venture out? What might she see as she began her new independent life—no longer in the trees, but above them?

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Rekero’s Release

Munir Virani — in East Africa Project

Conservationists the world over usually say that “the field of conservation can be extremely frustrating.” This is true to a certain extent but as scientists and conservationists, we simply cannot give up. While “feel good” factors are few and far between, they are there. Look at how populations of the Mauritius Kestrel have recovered (from only four known individuals in the wild in 1980 to over 600 individuals presently), or the fact that Peregrine Falcons have been taken off the US Endangered Species List. Some events can make you feel good no matter how small they seem - whether it is watching your child release an eagle after banding or giving a bird a second chance to live after all hope is lost. Yesterday was one of those days where a group of Kenyans felt that “feel good factor.” It was also a great example of how people working together can make a difference. A huge difference in the life of one vulture—a Rüppell’s Vulture nicknamed Rekero.

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Vulture travel updates

Corinne Kendall — in East Africa Project

When last we left our intrepid traveling vultures, we had noted the amazing differences between the small, gregarious African white-backed vulture, the cliff-nesting Ruppell's Vulture, and the large and solitary Lappet-faced Vulture. During the last two weeks, Homer, our African White-backed Vulture has continued his movements from Masai Mara to the Tsavo National Park and even moved east of the large parks towards the border of Tanzania. Roger, the Ruppell's Vulture has returned from the north. Recently, he has stayed dangerously far from the safety of the national parks and other protected areas, choosing to home in on the Athi River and Magadi area, a beautiful place of tall Acacias and flowing streams.

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Vulture travels

Corinne Kendall — in East Africa Project

While Roger wandered northwest, other birds seemed to stay at home for the holidays or took their travels between two of the best parks in Kenya, Masai Mara National Reserve and Tsavo. Homer, one of the first adult African White-backed Vultures we tagged, went from Tsavo to Masai Mara and back this last month. Unlike Roger, the Ruppell's vulture, who spread his movement fairly evenly, Homer tended to travel quickly going from one destination to the other in only three to five days (not bad given that it is nearly 300 km each way).

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After the holidays

Corinne Kendall — in East Africa Project

The holidays are a busy time for us all—a time of travel, feeding, and visiting family. Perhaps it is not so different for the vultures and wildebeest in Kenya. In fact the month of December appears to have been some of the busiest time for our birds, with vultures making huge movements across Kenya and in to Tanzania. The month of December marks the small rains and the vulture movement comes with a backdrop of great travel for the the wildebeest as well as the migration moves from dry season ranges in Masai Mara back to the wet season area in Serengeti.

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Where and how - Questions answered

Corinne Kendall — in East Africa Project

It is not just the where of vulture movement that we learn from the GSM-GPS units, it is also the how.  How far does a vulture travel in a day?  At what speed might it average while soaring above the savannas?

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Where do the vultures go when the wildebeest leave Masai Mara?

Corinne Kendall — in East Africa Project

Each year from July to October, Masai Mara National Reserve springs to life as over a million wildebeest enter the park, followed by thousands of zebras and Thompson's gazelles. During this migratory period, this smorgasbord of food brings new life to the carnivores; cheetahs, lions, hyenas, and leopards abound as they are able to support their cubs, thanks to the wildebeest moveable feast. The migratory animals that are suddenly densely packed in the less than 2000 square kilometer reserve ensure a reliable supply of carcasses. Vultures fly in from hundreds of kilometers to take advantage of it.

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Environmental Education in Kenya

Marta Curti — in East Africa Project

It is probably every wildlife lover’s dream to visit the “dark continent”—a magical place where hippos laze languidly in shallow waters; where zebras, elephants and giraffes graze quietly in loose herds; and a pride of lions can be seen with relative ease sleeping belly-up in the afternoon sun alongside the road, so close you feel as if you could almost touch them. If you are really lucky you may also get to see the sleek spotted coat of a leopard as it slinks quietly into the tall grass, or a catch a rare view of a serval cat pouncing on unsuspecting lizards just beside your car. For those who have a particular affinity for raptors, Kenya is high on the list of places to visit. This east-African country is home to more species of raptors than almost any other country on the planet and more than 1,000 species of birds.

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Back after a break, Lake Naivasha’s woes continue.

Shiv Kapila — in East Africa Project

After what seems like five very long months, I am back at Naivasha for another six-week stint (I have been here for four weeks, but regrettably, have fallen far behind on updating these blogs) looking at the lake’s fish eagles. The analysis and write up of the data I compiled when I was last here went very well, and I have since graduated and received an Msc. in Conservation. It’s come in good time too-I managed to leave London just as winter was setting in!

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International Vulture Awareness Day 2009: Celebrations in Nairobi, Kenya

Munir Virani — in East Africa Project

I 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.

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East Africa’s Vultures—Unsung Heroes

Munir Virani — in East Africa Project

Kenya’s Masai Mara National Reserve is unequivocally rated as one of the world’s premier wildlife destinations. Every year between July and September, approximately 1.2 million grunting wildebeest cross over into the Mara from the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania. The wildebeest provide an unparalleled culinary feast to crocodiles, lions, and a myriad of other predators that prowl the Mara’s magical plains. However for one group of animals, the wildebeest migration in the Mara becomes a prolonged period of festivity—these are the vultures—nature’s unsung heroes. I’d like to think of them however as Africa’s most efficient clean-up crew.

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Of Fish Eagles and Mistaken Identities

Shiv Kapila — in East Africa Project

Shiv KapilaMy last two weeks in the field have proven both productive and interesting. The last eagle count has showed a relatively stable eagle population, but as the rains are conspicuously absent, the lake level is still decreasing and as a result, I’ve had to keep to open water in areas (particularly the north) and try to spot birds from (literally) miles away.

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Trapping Fish Eagles at Lake Naivasha

Munir Virani — in East Africa Project

Trapping African Fish Eagles is not only fun, it is incredibly therapeutic. Furthermore, it provides a wonderful opportunity to take photographs of these charismatic eagles in action as they majestically swoop down over the water towards a dead, belly-up floating fish. Sorry to burst your bubble but I am afraid that’s how all the “action” fish eagle shots are taken. The late Leslie Brown in his epic book “The African Fish Eagle” said that fish eagles spend on average only about eight minutes a day hunting. So it would be a long wait if you were to try and get the naturally perfect shot!!

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Diminishing Lake Levels Spell Doom for Lake Naivasha

Shiv Kapila — in East Africa Project

The second week of my study has passed and things are still running relatively smoothly. I completed the habitat classification of the lake in a day, and managed to conduct another total population count. The lakeshore and its riparian habitat have both been degraded to a severe degree recently due to the rise in numbers of flower farms, local artisanal fishing outposts, cattle dips and increasing human settlements. Some stretches of shoreline are so damaged that they are completely devoid of fish eagles and other predatory birds, waterfowl, and hippos as a result of the disturbance and pollution.

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My family comes to visit

Shiv Kapila — in East Africa Project

This week, after the end of the 4th population count, I see that things have not changed a great deal, and thankfully I talk about our eagles. They are being found where I expect they should be, and the only imbalance is caused by the temporary presence or absence of sub-adult and juvenile birds, feeding on carrion in the North.   As before, the water level of Lake Naivasha continues to decrease dramatically. Obviously this is in part due to evaporation, but mostly because of a combination of constant water abstraction and the current prolonged drought. Flower farms and power stations are still taking water from the lake at the same rate, and in one case, extending their jetty further into the lake to get to deeper waters. Local residents say that if the rain doesn’t arrive, the area the lake covers will be halved in a matter of weeks. This is very easy to believe when you have to get out of the boat and push in shallow water, even if you are nearly two kilometres away from shore in some places. As the water level recedes, the lake perimeter shortens and eagle territories overlap as a consequence, as well as the fact that the eagles are further away from the fish they want. The resulting conflict and hunger means that some pairs are forced to leave, and this could account for the short term decrease in numbers over the the last six months. 

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The Magic of Kwenia

Munir Virani — in East Africa Project

Nestled in the heart of the Kedong Valley is Kwenia—ome to the largest and most important colony of Ruppell’s Vultures in southern Kenya. My friend and partner in raptor conservation studies, Simon Thomsett discovered this spectacular site in 2002 during a helicopter flight to the Gol Mountains in northern Tanzania. Ruppell’s Vultures, along with four other species of vultures in East Africa have been placed in the World Conservation Union’s (IUCN) Red Data List. This means that their populations need to be closely monitored to ascertain whether they will either (barely) survive or become extinct in the not-so-distant future. Lammergeyers or Bearded Vultures have almost completely disappeared from Kenya while Egyptian Vultures are listed as endangered species. The White-headed and Lappet-faced Vultures are only confined to the big game areas while there have been noticeable declines in numbers of the two species of Gyps vultures—African White-backed and Ruppell’s.
Kwenia cliffs (Photo by Munir Virani)
Kwenia cliffs (Photo by Munir Virani)

I have previously written about my hair-raising flight to Kwenia and have since then visited the site every year with Simon to monitor population trends and reproductive success of these near-threatened species. During that first visit, Simon and I made a gentleman’s pact whereby we pledged not to write extensively about this magnificent site but more importantly not to reveal its exact location. Every field biologist has his or her “secret spot” where they share their fieldwork, experiences, passion and enthusiasm with close and like-minded friends. Kwenia is one of those “secret spots”. While I will not reveal the location of the site, I would like to share with you my experience at Kwenia.

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African Fish Eagles Study

Shiv Kapila — in East Africa Project

Photo by Teeku Patel
This is the first blog since I’ve started here, so let me tell you a bit about myself and my study. I’m currently studying for a M.Sc. in Conservation at UCL (University College London), and I’ll be spending six weeks at Lake Naivasha, in Central Kenya, documenting the population structure and breeding dynamics of the African Fish Eagle. This study will build on existing work by The Peregrine Fund and the National Museums of Kenya. I’ll be focusing on the progression of human activity and development around the lake and how this affects fish eagle populations and behavior. The work is being facilitated by The Peregrine Fund under the supervision of Dr. Munir Virani who has been working on African Fish Eagle population dynamics since 1994.

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Raptor Conservation Photography Workshop for Kids – Lake Naivasha April 24-25, 2009

Munir Virani — in East Africa Project

In November last year, I had the privilege of presenting a lecture entitled “The Raptors of Kenya” to participants of the Kenya Museum Society’s “Know Kenya Course.” This is held every year and is open to Kenyan residents and expatriates eager to learn about Kenya’s fascinating wildlife, history and culture. After my talk, I was asked by a lady if I would be kind enough to give a similar lecture to students of the International School of Kenya (ISK) in Nairobi. I can’t remember whether I said yes but I had a card thrust into my pocket and the next day received an email asking me what day would be suitable for me to give a lecture at the school. After corresponding with the school’s headmaster, we agreed that sometime in January 2009 would be better.

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Mackinder’s Eagle Owl Project – East Africa

Darcy Ogada — in East Africa Project

Mackinder's Eagle Owl
Mackinder's Eagle Owl
The Mackinder's Eagle Owl (Bubo capensis mackenderii) is regarded as being the African representative of the world's largest owl, the Horned Owl-Eagle Owl superspecies, which extends across Eurasia and the Americas. The Mackinder's Eagle Owl population ranges from Zimbabwe in the south, via the high-altitude areas of Malawi and Tanzania northwards to Kenya. The race mackinderii was named after Sir Halford Mackinder, who made the first ascent of Mount Kenya. The birds usually occur in rocky or mountainous terrain where they nest on ledges amidst thick woodland and river valleys. In 2004, The Peregrine Fund's East Africa Project provided support to Darcy Ogada, a PhD candidate who is conducting a study on the Mackinder's Eagle Owl at Mweiga in Central Kenya. Darcy has located five breeding and three non-breeding pairs so far. Her study aims to identify the factors that influence a high population density at Mweiga despite the pressures of an increasing human population and a negative local perception of owls in general.

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The Sokoke Scops Owl Nest Quest

Alison Cameron — in East Africa Project

When I met Munir Virani a few years ago at the University of Leicester, I had a feeling that our paths would cross again, so I filed his business card away carefully. At that time I had no idea how I might end up in Kenya again, but Kenya is one of those countries that brings people back to it and I had a feeling that this was a genuine “Kenya coincidence.”

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August 2000 (Part 1): Blood, Sweat & Lariam Fears

Ruth Tingay — in Madagascar Project

Ruth Tingay joined The Peregrine Fund's project in Madagascar in 1999 to study and understand the unusual breeding behavior we found in Madagascar Fish Eagles. Through this research she completed her Master's degree and has gone on to her Ph.D., both through Nottingham University, United Kingdom. Ruth's focus and tenacity, and ability to turn adversity into "adventure," are great characteristics for any field biologist!

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July 2000 (Part III): Courteous Bandits & Deviant Fish Eagles

Ruth Tingay — in Madagascar Project

Manambolo River Gorge
Manambolo River Gorge
We pulled out of Camp Handkerchief in a pre-dawn departure to take advantage of the early-morning coolness, the truck stacked high with food, canoes, and field equipment, and us nine passengers squeezed in wherever we could. We were heading down to the Manambolo River at Bekopaka, approximately 40 km SE, to drop off Lily and his crew who were heading east up the Manambolo for 10 days to search for fish eagles. Loukman, technicians Christophe and Adrien (‘Ady’), and I were off to search some adjacent lakes along the Manambolo to the west. I chose to sit in the bucket on the back of the truck, mainly to escape the tape deck. Yves’ musical tastes had not improved since I last saw him and I could see him through the back window of the truck, swaying in time and singing along to Una Paloma Blanca, that appalling Demis Roussos “hit” from the 70s. I checked the side pocket of my rucksack and made sure I’d put my Walkman in.

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JULY 2000 (Part II): Sweat Bees and Sand Fleas

Ruth Tingay — in Madagascar Project

Camp was practically deserted when I arrived, except for one technician named Bonhomme. Bonhomme’s trademark was his use of the word Oui (yes). He was the newest recruit and the other techs used to take advantage of his willingness to please. It was a common feature in camp last year to hear the technicians yelling for Bonhomme from one end of the site to the other, to be followed shortly afterwards by the sound of Bonhomme’s running footsteps and him shouting “Oui?”

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JULY 2000: Back Out West

Ruth Tingay — in Madagascar Project

Antananarivo (Tana) is a capital you either love or hate. The downside includes abject squalor and poverty in many areas, with families of desperately ragged street kids running after any white-skinned pedestrian to tug at their clothes and heartstrings for spare change. Some of them are ingenious, selling toy cars cleverly crafted from discarded drink cans; others are less enterprising but have learned to tap into the Westerner’s social conscience by begging outside the most expensive supermarkets as tourists emerge with trolleys full of over-priced imported goods. For the most part tourists are shepherded away from the most bleak areas by their tour guides so they don’t have to see the ghetto streets a few blocks away, where real people live under filthy strips of cardboard, literally sleeping next to the open sewer gutters. I walked past a dead rat in the road one time and noticed that everyone else just stepped over it, barely giving it a second glance. Prostitution is also rife and incredibly blatant; half an hour spent in the seemingly innocuous café at L’Hotel Glacier on Independence Avenue is quite an education.

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June 2000 (Part II): Come Hell or High Water

Ruth Tingay — in Madagascar Project

Darkness falls quickly in Madagascar. By 5.45p.m. we had reached the coastline peninsula of the Baie de Narinda and still had to negotiate the notoriously treacherous crossing over to Analalava, our final destination of the day. Our run up the coastline had been fairly easy so far as we had kept inland as closely as possible and were thus sheltered from the wind by the hills on the mainland. Once we entered the Baie de Narinda, however, we would be up against rough sea conditions as the wind has the chance to build up and create all kinds of problems for those attempting to cross. The sea was so perilous in this Baie that the Malagasy had built a prison in the middle of it on a small island called Nosy Lava, to secure their most dangerous criminal convicts.

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June 2000 (Part III): Tourists and Casualties

Ruth Tingay — in Madagascar Project


There was more evidence of heavy deforestation up the western side of the peninsula so it was no real surprise not to find any fish eagles there. We reached a mangrove-lined inlet halfway up the coast (called Ambariomena) and decided to investigate further. Sparkling waters lapped against tiny orange-coloured sand beaches, back dropped by the remnants of the forested hills above us. It looked like ideal fish eagle habitat but three hours of scrutinising later and we’d found nothing. A couple of local fishermen paddled by in their dugout canoes and told us they’d seen fish eagles here before but didn’t know where the nest was. They invited us to stay in their village overnight and we followed them back to shore. I was relieved to see their village consisted of only 11 huts, all built on stilts at the top of the beach. I was tired and still feeling unwell and wasn’t really in the mood for being swamped by hoards of curious villagers.

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May 2000 - Best Laid Plans

Ruth Tingay — in Madagascar Project

‘The best laid plans of mice and men
Oft go wrong and leave us nothing
But grief and pain’.

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October 1999-April 2000 - Bush Pigs in Underpants

Ruth Tingay — in Madagascar Project


As the season progressed, so the temperatures soared. By 7 am I would be soaked to the skin in sweat, trying to dodge the 35°C heat by rigging up makeshift shades of t-shirts and towels at the observation site. Our female fledgling was still keeping close to the nest tree, although the four attending adults had stopped delivering fish to the nest and were taking it directly to the eaglet instead. She was very vocal for much of the time and made sure her parents knew when she was hungry, which seemed to be constantly. We hadn’t seen her fly further than 200 metres from the nest tree and most of her time was spent lurking in dense foliage, only giving her position away by the frequent food begging call.

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Eye of the Needle (September 1999)

Ruth Tingay — in Madagascar Project

Adult Madagascar Fish Eagles.
Adult Madagascar Fish Eagles.
By the beginning of September, three of my four nests had failed and so I was concentrating all behavioural observations on the remaining nest, #2 on Lake Soamalipo . This nest had one nestling, which was due to fledge in early October and was carefully tended by three males and one female. The nestling was about 60 days old by now, so still had another 20-odd days before it was ready to leave the nest, but it was large enough for me to see it from my observation point. By now Loukman and I had managed to trap 15 eagles in total and we only had a couple more to get before completing the set, including the young eaglet in the nest, which I wanted to band and collect blood from so I could work out who the true father was out of the potential three males.

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Foreskin on a Fizzy (August 1999)

Ruth Tingay — in Madagascar Project

In early August there was a pleasant surprise waiting for me when I came back to camp one evening. The truck had arrived from Tana and had brought an American vet-med student, Renee Land. In turn, Renee had brought my mail from Tana! I didn’t know what to do first—read my mail from home or talk to someone who could understand my language! I did both, much to the amusement of the technicians, who hadn’t heard me speaking so quickly and so much for two months!

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The Place of a Thousand Crocodile Eyes (June - July 1999)

Ruth Tingay — in Madagascar Project

Madagascar Fish Eagle
Madagascar Fish Eagle
I fell in love with Madagascar long before I ever got there. I’d seen pictures of dancing lemurs, upside-down trees, and giant jumping rats and had heard many a tale of exciting discoveries and adventures in this strange and forgotten world, not least the re-discovery of the Madagascar Serpent Eagle by Peregrine Fund biologists. I wasn’t disappointed when I finally got there myself. My chance came when Rick Watson asked whether I would be interested in studying the critically endangered Madagascar Fish Eagle for my Master’s thesis. He only had to ask once!

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Developing a Population Viability Assessment of Fish Eagles and Other Life Changing Experiences

Laura Estep — in Madagascar Project

Five a.m. on Lake Ankerika on the west coast of Madagascar. This lake is famous from local lore as home to the most ferocious Nile Crocodiles, purported to frequently snatch innocent bystanders from its shores. Of all three lakes in the surrounding three-lake complex, Lake Ankerika is more interesting to raptor ecologists because it supports five territories of the Madagascar Fish-Eagle, which is not only endangered, but also has a polyandrous breeding system. [A polyandrous system is when one female is mated to more than one male.]

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Introduction to Madagascar

(TPF) The Peregrine Fund — in Madagascar Project

Madagascar, located off the southeast coast of Africa, is the fourth largest island in the world, measuring almost 1,000 miles north to south. It is widely considered among the top ten wildlife conservation priorities in the world because of the high diversity of species that exist only on the island and the very high rates of habitat loss due to human disturbance. Scientists believe that humans arrived on Madagascar from Indonesia about 2,000 years ago, and since their arrival may have contributed to the extinction of most of Madagascar's large animals, including the elephant bird, the largest bird to ever walk on earth, a pygmy hippopotamus, and at least 14 lemur species.

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Madagascar Notes - Days 100-188 (PDF)

Rick Watson — in Madagascar Project

This is a PDF archive:Days 100-188 (PDF)

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Madagascar Notes - Days 81-100 (PDF)

Rick Watson — in Madagascar Project

This is a PDF archive:Days 81-100 (PDF)

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Madagascar Notes - Days 61-80 (PDF)

Rick Watson — in Madagascar Project

This is a PDF archive:Days 61-80 (PDF)

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Madagascar Notes - Days 41-60 (PDF)

Rick Watson — in Madagascar Project

This is a PDF archive:Days 41-60 (PDF)

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Madagascar Notes - Days 21-40 (PDF)

Rick Watson — in Madagascar Project

This is a PDF archive:Days 21-40 (PDF)

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Madagascar Notes - Days 1-20 (PDF)

Rick Watson — in Madagascar Project

This is a PDF archive:Days 1-20 (PDF)

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