Saturday, December 13, 2008

KWS raises red flag over zebra and antelope extinction threat

The Grevy’s zebra. Photo/Courtesy:KWS 

By DANIEL WESANGULA

Kenya’s wildlife population – the backbone of the multi-billion shilling tourism industry – is increasingly coming under threat of extinction.

More animals are joining the endangered species fold, a trend Kenya Wildlife Service describes as very worrying. The latest to join the KWS list of endangered species are the antelope and the Grevy’s zebra.

However, the KWS position regarding the antelope contradicts that taken by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) - the largest conservation network with a membership of more than 140 countries and charged with supporting governments in their bid to conserve animals and plants.

Each year, the global organisation releases a list showing the level of threat faced by different animal and plant species and classifies them in groups.

While it has similarly listed the zebra as endangered in its latest survey, the IUCN categorises the various antelope species such as sable, roan, sitatunga and bongo as being of “least concern” or “low risk.” Ironically, these are the antelopes over which KWS is raising a red flag.

In Kenya some animals are listed as ‘vulnerable’ or ‘near threatened’ meaning that they are of least concern to the global agency while fewer than than 100 of them roam the Kenyan plains. This, difference in classification, according to KWS, has a negative impact on efforts to preserve them.

“The list is in conflict with what is happening in Kenya. Some of the animals that are quickly dying off within our borders are of least concern according to IUCN. This locks us out of funding from various conservation agencies and starves us of the attention needed to be created about these dying species,” said Dr Charles Musyoki, the senior scientist at KWS.

Data from the KWS puts the total country population of the roan antelope at only 50. Most of these are found in the Maasai Mara reserve and at Ruma National Park. The roan antelope is classified by the IUCN as a ‘least concern’ species, which means that it is abundant and its survival is under minimum or no threat at all.

Eight years ago, a KWS census of the sable antelope put their population at 70, down from the hundreds in the late 1970s. Despite the massive drop in their numbers, the 2008 IUCN list of threatened species categorises the sable antelope as being of ‘least concern.’

The sitatunga, a swamp-dwelling antelope, also falls in the ‘least concern’ category. KWS says that only approximately 40 of the antelopes survive in Kenya. Most of them are in the Lewa Conservancy while some are scattered around the Yala Swamp and in Budalangi.

In 1975, bongo (a type of antelope) populations were at the 500-mark countrywide. A 2008 census of the bongo showed that slightly over 100 are surviving in the country now. Kenya is the only place in the world where the eastern bongo, a sub-species of the bongo is found.

Records show it is extinct in Cheranganyi and Londiani where it once existed. The IUCN lists the bongo as a ‘low risk’ species. This means that the bongo is not facing immediate threat of extinction.

Data at KWS shows that currently Kenya is home to approximately 1,900 Grevy’s zebras, more than 90 per cent of world population.

According to KWS, the critically endangered species in Kenya include four mammals (the antelope, black rhino, hirola and the red colobus monkey); four birds (the Taita apalis, Taita thrush, Christmas Island frigate bird and the bearded vulture), one reptile (hawksbill turtle) and seven types of fish, including the tilapia.

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