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Borana Conservancy is a wildlife sanctuary situated at the foothills of Mount Kenya. Spreading over 13 000 hectares, it aims to provide a sustainable ecosystem for critically endangered species, including black rhinos, elephants, lions, reticulated giraffes and Grevy’s zebras. It has also shown commitment to the surrounding communities, ensuring a harmonious relationship between the animals and humans in their network.

In 2013, a founding population of 21 black rhinos was introduced to Borana Conservancy. Once they were settled and had established territories, the fence between Borana and the neighbouring Lewa Wildlife Conservancy was dropped, forming one landscape. This created over 92 000 acres of wilderness which now supports over 200 black and white rhinos, making it one of East Africa’s largest continuous rhino habitats. 

Conservation

In 2019, there were a total of 32 rhino births (17 black and 15 white) across the Lewa/ Borana Landscape. Populations for all other species are stable or increasing; since 2016, buffalo populations have risen by over 100% to a current population of over 2 000. The joint landscapes are home to 46% of Kenya’s black rhino population, 90% of the global population of the endangered Grevy’s zebra, over 7 000 elephants and many others. 

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Environmental Care

Borana Conservancy is working to achieve carbon neutrality over the next three years. All of its houses and lodges are powered by solar farms with a combined total output of over 300 KVA. To achieve this carbon neutrality goal, it has set time bound targets with its carbon footprint measured on a monthly basis. 

It also has a recycling eco centre at its headquarters. All properties sort waste on site and then the eco centre receives it and stores it. It also has a glass crusher that makes “eco-concrete” for buildings and has completely eliminated single-use plastics. 

Moving forward, Borana Conservancy has launched the work on attaining UNESCO World Heritage Site status, which it hopes will lead onto II Ngwesi and the Mukogodo Forest. 

Community Upliftment

Besides its wildlife conservation work, Borana has also shown its commitment to uplifting the community around it. Through the Borana Education Support Programme, it invests in primary, secondary and tertiary education through contributions to bursaries, faculty and facilities. The Conservancy also has a mobile clinic that administers thousands of services, including health education, family planning, HIV/AIDS counselling, immunisations and basic healthcare services. Altogether, Borana provides employment, pensions and health insurance to over 400 members of its immediate community.

Borana also works with women’s groups in the neighbouring area who make beaded products. These items are sold across the Conservancy’s properties, with all profits going back to the women’s groups.

Featured image by: Sean Mousley

African elephants have been facing serious threats, such as climate change-related droughts, conflicts with farmers whose land the elephants trample and poachers who illegally hunt and kill the elephants for their valuable ivory tusks. Across Africa, poaching has had a devastating impact on the continent’s elephant population over the decades. Africa was home to 1.3 million elephants in the 1970s, but today there are just around 500 000. Less than 30 000 elephants are estimated to remain in the wild.Thankfully, there is some good news for African elephants in Kenya, whose population has more than doubled in 30 years. 

Following the tragic news about hundreds of sudden elephant deaths in Botswana due to a mysterious illness, this marks a glimmer of hope for the species. 

On August 12, to mark World Elephant Day, the Kenya Wildlife Service reported that the country’s elephant population has more than doubled in 30 years, increasing from 16 000 in 1989 to 34 800 by the end of 2019. Additionally, one of the most popular parks in Kenya, the Amboseli National Park, is experiencing an elephant baby boom. About 170 elephant calves have been born in 2020 so far and more are expected. Additionally, two sets of twins were born this year in the national park, a rare occurrence among the species. In contrast, there were 113 new calves born in the whole of 2018, according to the Amboseli Trust for Elephants.

The combination of interruptions in international travel due to the coronavirus pandemic and periods of heavy rainfall has contributed to Kenya’s recent elephant baby boom. During drought years, female elephants often cannot find sufficient food to supply their calves with milk, but with abundant rainfall, it leads to more vegetation growth for grazing and fewer elephant deaths due to dehydration and starvation. 

The population boom is also partly due to the country’s anti-poaching efforts. The number of elephants poached in Kenya in 2020 has dropped significantly from previous years- 7 elephants have been killed by poaching this year, compared to 34 in 2019 and 80 in 2018. Park rangers are also doing their jobs to protect the elephants from poachers in Kenya. For example, a project named tenBoma was developed in Kenya in 2018, which connects the local communities to regional and international agencies to stop elephant poachers. The wildlife service and community rangers in Kenya are trained to become data analysts to help predict a poacher’s next strike. Furthermore, the Kenyan government has also implemented harsher penalties for anyone convicted of poaching wildlife or trafficking wildlife trophies, including heavy fines and jail sentences.

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As mentioned previously, the current pandemic situation has been a largely positive event for the elephant populations in Africa, especially in Kenya’s Amboseli National Park, however, local people who depend on tourism have been negatively affected and land use conflicts between humans and elephants have increased. Human-elephant conflict is a big issue in Kenya; elephants can pose a real threat to subsistence farmers at the interface between the elephants’ range and the agricultural land, which may result in further injuries and mortalities. The farmers living next to protected areas lose their crops and often depend on food aid. Besides, the nomadic pastoral communities who live next to wildlife lose at least one animal every week to predatory wildlife. An incident in 2019 saw a herd of elephants invading farms and destroying crops, such as vegetables, bananas and maize in Kavilila village in Subukia, Nakuru County. The residents incurred losses of at least Sh2 million (USD$18 000) and they had to relocate their homes to a more secure place.

Recently, a leading elephant expert, Dr Winnie Kiiru, who works with the Elephant Protection Initiative Foundation, was interviewed by the BBC News regarding the elephant baby boom in Kenya. She emphasised that it is necessary to diversify livelihoods and ensure that communities dependent on wildlife can earn despite the effects on tourism. She also called on African governments to solve the human-wildlife conflicts effectively, as well as to raise money to repair the damage on the conservation industry caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Over the past few days, destructive fires have swept large portions of the Tsavo National Park in Kenya, threatening wildlife and compromising vegetation. On August 11, they were finally extinguished, but what is the extent of the destruction they leave behind?

It has been suspected that the recent fire that occurred over the weekend of August 8 was ignited by arsonists, according to a press release by the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS). The police are currently tracking down the suspects and are continuously updating KWS on the investigation as it unfolds. In the meantime, the KWS worked with the government, conservation partners and the community to extinguish the fires. 

The government deployed the military to support firefighters who are battling to put out the fires, using helicopters to pour water across the area. Hundreds of local volunteers have also assisted with the mission.  

KWS have advised the public to avoid lighting fires close to national parks and reserves in order to prevent further wildfires.  

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Tsavo, located in south-eastern Kenya, is the country’s largest national reserve, home to many animals such as lions, elephants, rhinos, hippos and buffaloes, all of which are threatened by the fires. The park covers an area of 21 000 square kilometres, and is split into Tsavo East and Tsavo West. 

Prior to COVID-19, the national park welcomed thousands of local and international tourists every year, making it a major tourist attraction and a source of national pride. 

In addition to arsonists, the fires are thought to have occurred due to dry weather conditions which have persisted for weeks on end. A conservation group called the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust previously explained that ‘the combination of long rains earlier in the year, which saw grasses grow tall, strong winds and inaccessible areas have made this a high fire risk period in Tsavo’. 

Desert locust swarms have been multiplying across East Africa and the Middle East since January as a result of unusual climate processes. The desert locusts are crop-devouring insects that travel in swarms over 1 200km in size and eat as much in a single day as 35 000 people. Swarms are now plaguing parts of India and Pakistan, and a second wave of locusts is beginning to form in Kenya, Ethiopia and Sudan. The COVID-19 pandemic is hampering efforts to stop the spread of the swarms of locusts, exacerbating the pressure on the already food insecure region’s food supply.  

The current spate of locust swarms has affected communities in 23 countries, stretching from Tanzania to Pakistan. The locusts have most recently invaded Western India, affecting over 50 000 hectares of land, and Pakistan. According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), an estimated 38% of Pakistan’s territory is now a ‘breeding ground’ for locusts, resulting in the worst locust plague in over three decades. 

In East Africa, the last major desert locust swarm hit at the end of the harvest season in February, resulting in an estimated US$8.5 billion in damages to crops, livestock and other assets. A new generation of locusts is now expected to hatch in the region in June. This may have an even greater impact on crops as this outbreak will coincide with the beginning of the harvest season. The new swarm is also expected to be larger. “I can’t tell you if it’s by 20 times, but [the population] is much bigger,” comments Cyril Ferrand, FAO Resilience Team Leader for East Africa. As a result, the FAO is predicting that up to 25 million East Africans may suffer from food shortages in 2020. 

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The outbreak of the COVID-19 virus has further complicated efforts to combat locusts. New safety regulations have disrupted supply chains, making it challenging to transport pesticides and other equipment to badly affected areas, while border closures have hampered essential personnel movement. Locust swarms travel quickly, covering up to 100km per day, so the ability to expediently move equipment and personnel is essential. 

While the world struggles to contain the COVID-19 virus, many communities affected by locusts feel like the swarms pose a more immediate threat. “Some people will even tell you that the locusts are more destructive than the coronavirus,” says Yoweri Aboket, a farmer in Uganda. The coronavirus has also impacted local communities’ ability to respond to the swarms threatening their livelihoods. “If the coronavirus was not around I could’ve sought help, but there’s nowhere I can run to now. All places are closed,” says Tiampati Leletit, a farmer in Northern Kenya.

The swarms are the result of unusually high levels of precipitation in the Arabian peninsula, likely caused by changes to the climate and environmental degradation. However, the response to the locust swarms also has the potential to negatively impact the environment. As locusts ravage crops, some farmers have had to resort to cutting down trees to sell for charcoal, resulting in deforestation. Efforts to combat the locusts also include widespread pesticide spraying, which can affect crop growth and lead to the death of domestic and wild animals. 

In January, the FAO appealed for $76 million in funds to support the fight against desert locusts, a sum that was upped to $153 million in April as the swarms expanded their range. So far, 85% of this target has been raised. With this sum, responders have been able to save up to 720 000 tons of wheat, enough to feed 5 million people. 

This is a promising start, but governments and organisations will need to continue to work together to curtail the locusts’ spread. During plagues, desert locusts can affect 20% of the world’s land mass, damaging the livelihoods of a tenth of the global population. This unprecedented risk has been complicated by the coronavirus, but we still have the opportunity to support those who are most vulnerable. The World Bank, for example, recently made $500 million available to preserve food security and protect the livelihoods of those impacted. Further similar efforts will be required in tandem with broader efforts aimed at combating the climate crisis that gave rise to this generation of locusts. 

This is a follow-up piece to Earth.Org’s first story about the locust swarms plaguing parts of Africa and Asia. See the first piece here.

Featured image by: Iwoelbern

Across Africa, increased motor vehicle use, industrial growth and dust storms coupled with wood-fired cooking stoves is resulting in air pollution that is choking the continent’s inhabitants.

While air pollution in India, China, and other emerging economies has become a major area of concern for scientists and policymakers, it has gained little traction in Africa where it is taking a serious toll on the economy and human health. Toxic air has been causing more premature deaths than unsafe water or childhood malnutrition on the continent while significantly contributing to the climate crisis.

Air Pollution in Africa: Facts

A report by UNICEF notes that deaths from outdoor air pollution in Africa have increased by 57% in less than three decades, from 164,000 in 1990 to 258,000 in 2017, resulting in a GDP loss of over $215bn annually. The pollution has also cut short the lives of children by 24 months.

A recent study from NASA states that pollution from industrial sources and motor vehicles cause high mortality rates in Nigeria and South Africa while emissions from burning biomass and poor air quality due to dust storms increase the number of premature deaths in West and Central Africa.

“Africa holds the world’s largest source of desert dust emissions and produces approximately a third of the Earth’s biomass burning aerosol particles,” the study says. “Sub‐Saharan biomass burning is driven by agricultural practices, such as burning fields and bushes in the post-harvest season for fertilisation, land management, and pest control.”

Causes of Air Pollution in Africa

Analysis of satellite imagery by Greenpeace reveals that the world’s deadliest air pollution spot on the planet is in South Africa, with its eastern province Mpumalanga being the largest single area infected by deadly nitrogen dioxide. The province is home to a dozen coal-fired power stations, processing plants, and factories, which release the gas into the atmosphere.  

Emissions such as sulfur dioxide, particulate matter, and mercury have been causing more than  2,000 deaths from respiratory disease, strokes, and heart attacks in many places in South Africa, including Johannesburg.

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Africa’s most populous country — Nigeria — suffers from air pollution worse than any other country on the continent. The World Health Organisation (WHO) lists four cities of Nigeria among the world’s worst-ranked cities for air quality. Onitsha — one of the country’s economic hubs — tops the list of worst-ranked cities globally with a record of 30 times more particulate matter (PM2.5) concentration in the air than the WHO’s recommended levels.

A world air quality report from Greenpeace ranks Nigeria as the 10th most polluted country in the world, with an estimated average PM2.5 concentration of 44.8 micrograms per cubic meter air (μg/m3). More than 64,000 people died from household air pollution in the country in 2017, mainly from the burning of solid fuels such as charcoal and wood for cooking in open fires and leaky stoves.

Senegal is also struggling with highly toxic air. Its capital Dakar scored an average PM2.5 level of 30 μg/m3 and a PM10 level of 146 μg/m3; that is seven times higher than WHO recommended threshold. During the dry season, dust-storm from the Sahara — harmattan — and pollution from industry and motor vehicles coalesce in a hovering toxic cloud.

Kenya’s predicament mirrors that of its neighbours, with particle concentrations that are twice the WHO health safety standards. Over 18,000 premature deaths in the country have been linked to air pollution, while respiratory diseases climbed to be Kenya’s number one killer, surpassing malaria.

The true scale of the problem is likely to be underestimated, as only seven of Africa’s 54 countries have installed functioning real-time air pollution monitors to collect the data. Population growth and rapid urbanisation are expected to further worsen conditions. With an additional 1.3 billion people set to occupy the continent by 2050, industrial, agricultural, and anthropogenic activities are likely to lower air quality. Costs associated with pollution might explode if bold policy changes are not urgently initiated by African nations.

The leaders of African nations need to resist the temptation of fossil fuel corporations seeking to exploit a country’s resources or enter their market. As urbanisation and industrialisation ramps up across Africa, policies must be put in place that prioritise renewable energy and use green technologies in urban construction. As the number of companies researching and developing such innovations continues to grow, the cost of engaging such companies and implementing new technologies falls. Policymakers should focus on partnerships and agreements with other countries to build sustainably. An international agreement that holds governments accountable for their country’s emission rates, while also involving the support of transnational agencies such as environmental NGOs and UN development agencies, can be a strong framework for industrialising African nations to follow. 

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