Biodiversity Department

In the restructured KWS, the Biodiversity Department is the hub of the entire organization. The year-old department (formed in 1995 by merging the former Scientific Services Department with the Planning Unit) was centrally involved in defining the eight ecosystem-based regions that are the core of KWS’s new structure.

The department will continue its essential functions of inventory and monitoring, environmental impact assessment, research and planning, focusing on the following approaches:-

Conservation of representative biodiversity through a viable conservation area system,

Adoption of integrated resource management based on sustainable land use,

Involvement of partners or stakeholders in the formulation and implementation of biodiversity conservation programmes,

Active management if necessary to maintain biological diversity and,

Comprehensive inventory and monitoring of essential biological diversity. The new strategy will involve all stakeholders in the formulation and implementation of management plans so that Kenya’s biodiversity can be truly conserved, not just preserved in protected areas.

To make the most of its limited resources, the department has refined its research strategy, choosing as its focus applied research that will generate data needed to resolve conservation and management problems in areas of prime biodiversity. All biodiversity research and planning programmes will be formulated, implemented and monitored at regional and area level and integrated with other conservation and management programmes.

The new research strategy and priorities necessitated structural reorganization of the Biodiversity Department. As a result, each region has been assigned a Biodiversity Co-ordinator who will take the lead in determining biodiversity threats and issues and liaising with the other regional managers. Researchers based in the field will work with biodiversity rangers and other government departments to collect data and create regional databases.

The few personnel remaining in headquarters will function primarily as a think tank, with duties within one of four key units. The Species Unit will build and update databases and formulate and monitor management strategies, particularly for threatened animal and plant species. The Ecosystem Unit will be concerned with the total functioning and integrity of Kenya’s forest, savanna and wetlands ecosystems and will consult with field scientists, social workers and local people to alleviate the threats they face and maintain their diversity. The Database and Information Unit will be responsible for collection, collating, and disseminating biodiversity information for use in research and management. Members of the Biodiversity Planning Unit will work with the regional and area managers and staff, in conjunction with local leaders, NGOs and government departments, to develop integrated plans for conservation area systems.

The Biodiversity Department has continued to monitor the status of Kenya’s endangered species and develop management plans for their protection. A most urgent operation was the February aerial survey of dugong and sea turtle along the Kenya Coast, which showed fewer of these highly endangered marine animals than in 1994.

Together with the dugong and turtle interagency committees, KWS has launched an intensive community-based campaign to educate Kenyans about these sensitive animals, which are highly vulnerable to net fishing and other human activities.

During the year KWS translocated animals of several species to more secure or suitable habitats. The most notable operation was the transfer in July of some 30 hirola (also known as Hunter’s antelope) to Tsavo East National Park.


KWS and the Forest Department continued to jointly manage the country’s forest reserves under the Memorandum of Understanding the two institutions signed in 1991. The National Museums of Kenya was incorporated into the MoU agreement through an addendum signed in March 1996. KWS, the FD and NMK will jointly support biodiversity conservation in Kenya’s forests by pooling their efforts and resources to avoid duplication.

In December 1995, the Forest Department granted KWS a license to develop forest-based tourism, paving the way for further collaboration with KWS’s new Tourism Department. The forest reserves present an opportunity to diversify tourist activities and enable neighbouring communities to derive economic benefits from their support of wildlife and biodiversity.

Much Forest Programme activity in 1996 centred around mobilizing support and locating funds for forest development projects around the country. The formal agreement signed between KWS, the Forest Department and Birdlife International in September has enabled development to recommence in the Arabuko Sokoke is one of Africa’s most important forests with its multiplicity of bird species (including five threatened species) and rare and unusual mammals, butterflies, reptiles and amphibians.

The Aberdares Natural Resources Development project is under review for financing from the African Development Bank. Under MoU with KWS, the Department of Defense and Rhino Ark will lend technical support to the Aberdares fencing programme in the area of clearing and alignment.

Following the commissioning of a construction design and management plan, the PAWS project donors have given the green light for KWS and the Forest Department to construct a Warden’s house, office block and other amenities at Bomachoge National Reserve under an MoU with the Nandi County Council.

A workshop to redefine the project document for the FINNIDA-funded project in Kakamega resulted in a decision to develop the Kakamega and Nandi forests jointly as a bloc over the course of years beginning 1997.

During the year, KWS prepared and successfully submitted planning documents to the World Bank for the Tana River GEF project, which is now slated for implementation in January 1997.

Finally, KWS and the Forest Department continued to monitor forest utilization and intensified their joint patrols to curb illegal activities.


The role the Wetlands Programme plays in promoting biodiversity conservation is crucial. Its activities, primarily funded by the Netherlands government, include research and monitoring of water quality in Kenya’s lakes, rivers and coastal waters, environmental impact assessment, infrastructure development, promotion of partnerships with other agencies, and training and awareness.

The Wetlands Programme this year held workshops with relevant government departments, NGO’s and communities to develop a much-needed national wetlands policy. The aim was to identify conservation and sustainable-use programmes under a national policy framework.

The Wetlands Programme also undertook a comprehensive inventory of the country’s wetlands (including surveys of their physical characteristics, uses and threats) in conjunction with the Kenya Wetlands Working Group. A draft report on the exercise has been compiled and a database established to aid in the monitoring of biodiversity and the development of management plans.

Lake Naivasha, a Kenyan wetland of international importance, was recently declared the country’s second Ramsar site. Because the lake is under heavy use by farmers, ranchers, flower growers, fishermen and the Kenya Power Company, development of a sound management plan was a top priority. As a first step, KWS conducted an environmental impact assessment study of the lake and surrounding areas, identifying gaps in information.

The lake’s users, mobilized of the Lake Naivasha Riparian Owners Association, plan an active role in developing the plan. To ensure maximum co-operation and endorsement, the management plan was presented to a wide range of stakeholders in a workshop, chaired by KWS, in October. After thorough discussion of the various parties’ roles and responsibilities in implementation, the group approved the management plan by resolution. KWS will continue to work with stakeholders to implement the plan in 1997.

Early in the year, the drying up of Lake Nakuru raised a great deal of public concern. Some members of the public alleged that the expanded Nakuru Sewage Works, funded by the government of Japan and completed in May, had curtailed the flow of effluent water into the lake. KWS launched an education and awareness campaign to explain the periodic desiccation of the lake and the sewage treatment plant as an important means of reducing pollution.

Ecological monitoring of Kenya’s lakes, especially their water and soil quality, continued. In the Rift Valley, the water quality laboratory constructed in Lake Nakuru National Park under the sewage works rehabilitation agreement, equipped with modern instruments and machines for monitoring pollution, has been a great boon, as has KWS collaboration with the Nakuru Municipal Council and the Department of Water in the Ministry of National Resources and the Environment. The waterfowl counts conducted at lakes Nakuru, Naivasha, Bogoria and Elmentaita and in the coastal wetlands constituted another important monitoring activity.

Several KWS personnel received training in wetlands planning, monitoring skills, scuba diving and integrated coastal zone and catchment basin management, significantly increasing their capacity in these areas. Several officers attended local and international workshops and conferences.

KWS staff and institutional partners including KEMFRI, the Coastal Development Authority and the Forest Department carried out research and monitoring projects on corals, seaweed, sea grass, fisheries, mangroves, marine turtles, dugongs and cetaceans, aimed at developing appropriate conservation strategies.

Restoration of degraded resources, especially mangroves, took place within the framework of the Integrated Coastal Management Zone involving all of the major stakeholders. Additional community-based activities included awareness and education programmes and construction of basic facilities such as schools, classrooms and water supplies in Mida Creek, Gazi, Shimoni, Lamu, Malindi and other locations.

WWF was instrumental in designing a project to produce an integrated management plan for Kiunga Marine National Reserve and the adjoining terrestrial Dodori National Reserve. KWS and other agencies, including the local communities, will implement the project, which has infrastructure-development, research-and-monitoring, and social components.

Moorings, boardwalks, trails, information centres and observation points were constructed in appropriate locations to maximize parks and reserves.

At the Kenya Wildlife Service Training Institute in Naivasha, the Wetlands Programme undertook minor upgrading of the library, kitchen, dormitories, workshop and other infrastructure and training equipment. The Wetlands Programme also organized several workshops with KWSTI, among them courses on training of trainers, diving and marine ecology for rangers.


The Rhino Programme is charged with the management and protection of Kenya’s black and white rhino populations, currently hosted in seven public and five private sanctuaries. About 100 KWS personnel are posted to permanent field monitoring teams in Nairobi, Lake Nakuru, Aberdare, Tsavo West (Ngulia) and Tsavo East national parks and sanctuaries in the Mathews Range and Chyulu Hills. Private ranches provide their own surveillance.

The indigenous black rhino continues to rebound from the poaching depredations of the 1970s and 80s, with approximately 434 individuals countrywide.

For the sixth year running, no rhino poaching has been reported in Kenya, an indication that KWS’s surveillance and protection activities are working. In January, however, the last two surviving animals in Amboseli were translocated to Ngulia Rhino Sanctuary in Tsavo West, where their safety can be guaranteed until they can be returned to Amboseli.

With the translocation of 10 animals from Nairobi National Park to Tsavo East, which received 16 rhino between 1993 and 1994, the Rhino Programme has achieved its goal of establishing founder populations in all of the country’s black rhino sanctuaries.

Having established the founder populations, the Rhino Programme is concerned with the carrying capacity of each sanctuary. Programme personnel have conducted studies of population dynamics and baseline vegetation in Lake Nakuru National Park and planned assessments of Ngulie, Nairobi National Park and Solio Game Ranch. The other African Rhino Specialist Group sponsored two team members on a trip to South Africa to learn the methods its wildlife professionals use to determine carrying capacity.

The white rhino of Ol Choro Oirua, originally from South Africa, continue to suffer from trypanosomiasis. Two animals from this population were translocated to the sanctuary at Lake Nakuru this year, and another gave birth, leaving the ranch with seven white rhino.

With the most urgent breeding and security programmes in place, the Rhino Programme was able to follow up on sporadic reports of isolated black rhino populations in the country. The Chyulu Hills, the team established, has a breeding population of at least five animals. Six animals including a calf continue to freely wander the northern Aberdares. At Ontilili, near Mount Kenya, the team identified three animals from spoor and found a rhino population of four in the Mountain Lodge (Kahari) area. And in the Mathews Range, it positively identified four rhino, although spoor indicates as many as eleven animals.

The Rhino Programme Coordinator initiated talks with his counterpart in Tanzania regarding the security of black rhino that wander from the Maasai Mara into the Serengeti and ways to communication between KWS, TANAPA and the Wildlife Division of the Tanzania Ministry of Tourism on rhino conservation.


With poaching now under control, Kenya’s elephant population is increasing by about 1,000 per year and currently stands at 26,000. The Elephant Programme, which is fully supported by the European Union, is chiefly devoted to managing conflict between elephant and people and elephant and biodiversity.

Range constriction, blockage of migratory routes, habitat fragmentation and inappropriate land use have led to increasing confinement of elephant. The resulting problems include crop destruction and devastating economic losses for the farmers affected, human injuries and deaths, and destruction of trees and biodiversity in general.

In countering these difficulties, the Elephant Programme must strike a difficult balance. The local people who bear the burden of living in close proximity to elephant, and the politicians who represent them, often feel KWS doesn’t do enough to solve their problems and threaten to kill elephant if they are not removed from areas of high human density. Outsiders – particularly Westerners, who comprise the bulk of Kenya’s tourists – take a more sentimental view.

In the climate of increased conflict, an active approach to elephant management is needed to replace the laissez-faire policy that enable local resentment of elephants to build up. To garner support for this new approach, KWS launched an international programme to discuss the challenges of conserving elephant in Kenya.

On the domestic front, KWS continued to use a variety of approaches to win space for elephant. Elephant were translocated in Kenya for the first time in a two-part operation carried out in October-November 1995 and June 1996. Twenty-two of the 42 animals in the overpopulated Mwea National Reserve (42 sq. km) were moved to Tsavo East National Park, which currently has 8,000 elephant but has the capacity for three times that number. Six animals died, and post mortem investigations implicated seasonal metabolic instability (acidosis), making future translocations during the rainy seasons inadvisable.

As KWS becomes more experienced in the translocation of elephant, the Elephant Programme plans to repopulate other areas of Kenya where elephant once flourished. Only 150 elephant survive in Tana River District, which hosted more than 20,000 elephant in the 1960s. By rebuilding populations in such areas, where the likelihood of conflict with humans is low, Kenya could support an elephant population triple its current size, with increased opportunities for economic benefits for local communities.

The campaign to win space for elephant involves introducing communities to economic activities that do not conflict with the animals’ habitat needs and migration patterns. The Elephant Programme held community workshops in all of Kenya’s major elephant areas to disseminate information about how communities can participate in conservation and derive long-term economic benefits from wildlife-related projects.

In Tsavo West, KWS won more space for elephants by negotiating with local residents to buy land for a migration corridor to Lake Jipe, the major source of dry-season water.

Certain areas are so densely populated by humans that partial or complete fencing is perhaps the only way to ensure co-existence between people and elephant. The Shimba Hills fencing project is now 80% complete; other fences in Mount Kenya, Mwea, Kimana, Namelog, Arabuko Sokoke and Tsavo East are at various stages of construction. Local communities have been trained in fence maintenance in Tsavo, Amboseli and Laikipia in order to encourage self-sustaining programmes once construction has been completed.

The European Union provided the Elephant Programme with the high-tech GIS computer equipment and vehicles needed to conduct elephant surveys and establish their population dynamics. This information will enable KWS to update its database and improve its elephant management programmes. KWS has become increasingly concerned with the effects of poaching and hunting in Tanzania on the Amboseli population. Eight elephant have been fitted with GIS radio collars to monitor and study their cross-border movements. In addition, KWS has met with the Director of Wildlife in Tanzania to discuss security measures and initiate planning for joint conservation of the transborder populations of the Tsavo-Mkomazi, Amboseli-Kilimanjaro and Mara-Serengeti ecosystems.

To expand its capacity and knowledge of elephant management skills, KWS sent three staff members to South Africa, one to Zimbabwe, two to Botswana and three to India to learn and compare notes on such techniques as detusking, aversive conditioning, domestication and training, elephant-back safaris, translocation, culling, contraception, conflict management and community programmes. Ten staff members received local training in the use of global information systems (GIS) equipment and fence management