Basra Reed Warbler (Acrocephalus griseldis)
Mohamed bin Zayed Species project number 0925787
The Tana Delta a flourishing wetland on Kenya's northern coast is under serious threat from plans to grow vast amounts of sugarcane, partly for biofuel production. Developers want to transform nearly 50,000 acres of the spectacular Tana River Delta into sugarcane plantations with other parts of the Delta earmarked for rice.
The Delta, covering 130,000 hectares in total, is one of Kenya's largest and most important freshwater wetlands. It is a vast patchwork of habitats including savannah, forests, beaches, lakes, mangrove swamps and the Tana River itself. Local people live by the seasons, adapting to the regular floods that keep the area fertile through the year. The conversion of this wetland into agricultural fields will therefore have a catastrophic effect on the bird population and its habitats. The delta is also home to other conservation sensitive species which include the near threatened Southern Banded Snake eagle and Malindi pipit. The need to survey this area is therefore a key factor to provide both a platform and basis for both advocacy against the intended conversion and the promotion of the area to a nationally recognised site for conservation effort due to the specific habitat requirement of both flora and fauna in the area.
The goal of the present investigation is to establish the conservation and ecological status of the Basra Reed Warbler in order to provide information useful for conservation of the species and to evaluate the potential threats in its habitat that are affecting their population and distribution.
Adoption of economically viable land use practices compatible with conservation of Basra Reed Warbler, and other natural resources at the Tana River Delta for the benefit of local community and its ecological integrity.
The project will identify means of integrating land use practices and other social economic practices with conservation of the Basra Reed Warbler. It will also provide means of managing the use, development and protection of natural resources in a way or at a rate, which enables people or communities to provide for their social, economic and cultural well being. It will also identify ways of encouraging community involvement in conserving the species. It will also find means of countering challenges to community conservation and possible means of establishing partnerships with other stakeholders in conservation.
Activities carried out
1. A preliminary/reconnaissance visit was conducted to sample areas of the Delta. This was done in order to identify the study locations, select study sites and identify possible local community collaborators in the project implementation. These led to establishment of three survey plots within the delta and training of two local guides. The research team also met with a potential local site support group helping in the study.
2. A Capture and Biometric analysis exercise of the Basra Reed warbler and other closely related Warblers was carried out at the Ngulia Ringing station. This was to train the team members on key attributes of the Basra Reed Warbler and main identification using close up bird at hand techniques.
3. Three population surveys to determine the population status of the Basra Reed warbler and other avifauna were conducted. The survey methods involved fixed width point count and transect survey. The fixed width point count entailed an observer standing at a pre-determined point 50m apart within a given transect. After a two minutes settling in period, the observer recorded all the birds seen and heard within a radius of 20m for the next 10 minutes. For the transect surveys, we selected measured and marked an existing trail for a distance of 1km - 2km depending on Basra Reed Warbler habitat availability. We then walked quietly and slowly along the transect during the early hours of the day when birds are most active. We recorded all the birds seen and heared within a fixed distance of 50m on both sides for the length of the transect.
Activities planned for next phase
1. Carry out a social economic survey to understand the relevance of the various land use practices to the local community.
2. Hold a forum between the research team and the local people through the site support groups to identify current and potential viable land use compatible with conservation.
3. Package the generated results for dissemination to the local community and other stakeholders for uptake.
Key lesson learnt
a) The Basra Reed Warbler may be facing a bigger threat than previously thought. This may be attributed more to the lack of knowledge by the local community than direct persecution of the species.
b) Lack of planning on land use and adoption of effective measures to improve productivity may be the cause for the continued destruction of the delta than the actual form of land use types.
c) Changing lifestyles of the local community from nomadic to more sedentary life may lead to deterioration of the Delta due to lack of time to reculpurate within the seasons as previous cycles.
Proposed future project follow up
One of the key finding is due to the vastness of the areas there is need for establishment of a permanent researcher at the site to allow for daily survey and therefore enhance coverage of the entire delta in future. The team therefore plans to seek establish a monitoring station at the delta subject to availability of funds.
Important links/ Documents on the Tana River Delta
Project 0925787 location - Kenya, Africa