I am so glad to have been voted this year as the winner of the annual Eco-Warrior award as the guide of the year. The award recognizes sustainable tourism/conservation practices. I was voted for my role in the vultures research and conservation awareness in schools around the Mara on the plight of the vultures on the Mara-Serengeti Ecosystem. This has been alongside my busy schedule as a guide.
Since 1996, I have been involved in the study of the vultures in the Mara, looking at their breeding status and their general concentration. From 2003, i teamed up with other researchers, Simon Thomset, Munir Virani (both from peregrine fund) and Corinne Kendall of Princeton University, so as to lift the level of research and data collection for scientific publication. We have published 2 papers so far;In 2008 October, the BBC natural history aired this project during the Big Cat Live program.
Some of the questions that we seek to answer are:
1 What factors drive the dynamics of the Mara vulture population?
2 Are any species declining?
3 What is their breeding status?
4 Do the resident species have a breeding season?
5 What are the threats affecting vultures in the Mara?
Populations of vultures in Africa have generally declined due to various threats such as poisoning, persecution, and lack of food and nesting habitats. At least three species of Gyps vultures in south Asia are listed as critically endangered by the IUCN's Red Data Book due to poisoning by the pharmaceutical drug diclofenac from contaminated livestock carcasses that have caused populations of these species to crash by as much as 95%. This was first highlighted inKenya in 2002.
Vultures in Africa, in particular in East Africa, face a threat from the effects of poisoning of terrestrial predators and possible effects of pharmaceutical poisoning through contaminated livestock carcasses. A catastrophic collapse of vultures in the Serengeti-Mara Ecosystem could have dire ecological and socio-economical consequences for the future of the Mara National Reserve. The Serengeti-Mara ecosystem is the main feeding, foraging and breeding grounds in East Africa for the vast majority of vultures in the region yet little has been done to study these dynamics in the Mara.
The Serengeti-Mara complex is one of the most well studied ecosystems in Africa except for its birds of prey, six of which are regionally threatened. There is justified concern amongst the conservation community that rapidly changing land-uses threatens the future of this World Heritage Site. The status of vultures in general has been ignored as far as data on their distribution, abundance, threats, ecology and behaviour is concerned.
Vultures play a key ecological role in the Serengeti-Mara ecosystem by consuming large ungulate carcasses, therefore ridding the environment of potential disease causing organisms that could threaten the survival of other interdependent and co-existing species. They account for
nearly 70% of the consumption of large wild herbivores in the Serengeti-Mara ecosystem. Put in this perspective, the ecological role of the vulture community in the Serengeti/Mara is of greater importance than all the carnivores and mammalian scavengers combined. All too often, wildlife management policies have ignored vultures and concentrated their research and resources on the photogenic "Big Five", with little or no concern for what are certainly the most ecologically important animals, such as vultures. The catastrophic collapse of vulture populations in South Asia has raised the profile of these efficient avian scavengers. Mechanisms are already in place where research and monitoring of vultures can help in preventing a similar population crash inAfrica.