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Man on noble mission to rescue flamingos from invasive plant

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Man on noble mission to rescue flamingos from invasive plant by Kenyans247(1): Sat 26, December, 2020 10:47am
The honking and growling of flamingos mute the sound of the raging Lake Bogoria waters. At the sight of humans, the birds halt their preening to escape.

Lately, the birds have invaded villages as a result of the expansion of the lake due to the rising water levels.

Spirulina, the algae the birds feed on, is found in the shallow water near the homesteads as the initial habitat for the birds is inundated.

As the flamingos attempt to fly away, they are caught in the thorns of the Mathenge shrub (Prosopis juliflora). Slowly, the howling trapped birds get weary and go silent, giving way to cries of the next victims.

As the residents of Loboi Kiprouno village watch helplessly, Mr Joseph Yator puts on his gumboots, moves through the shrubs, catches the trapped birds and releases them in the air.

Mr Yator does this voluntarily and says he can only rescue a tiny percentage of the stricken flamingos.


“I rescue at least 25 a day. Those I cannot reach die painfully. It is risky to go deeper into the lake,” Mr Yator told the Nation.

“The toilets and wells that were being used by locals are submerged and one cannot tell where they are.”

He is saddened by the many birds that get trapped in the shrubs but adds that every flamingo he frees is important.

“If about 40 flamingos get trapped daily and we let them die, the number will reduce drastically. They may even become extinct,” he said.

Early in the year, Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) said the number of flamingos in the country has fallen by 70 per cent.

Data from the government shows that the population of the Lesser Flamingo at the lake stands at 100,000, down from 1.3 million half a decade ago.

Some birds have migrated from the lake due to harsh conditions while others have died.
Lake Nakuru, which boasted a population of 3.1 million flamingos in 2000, now has less than a third the figure.

Mr Yator has been doing this for almost a year. He regrets the number of birds he has watched starve and pricked to death in the shrubs that are found deeper in the lake.

Lake Bogoria extended its boundaries to surrounding areas in March, submerging homes, schools, hospitals, farmlands and hotels.

“Hundreds of people had to move from their homes. When we did, the flamingos took over because their food is found in the shallow waters. They cannot remain where they were initially because the water there is deep,” Mr Yator said.

But the Mathenge shrub spoils the party for the birds.

Their carcasses, the submerged toilets and rotting tree leaves have left the place stinking.

The shrub has made the Ramsar site, a death trap for the birds. A Ramsar site is a wetland of international importance, especially as a waterfowl habitat, under the Ramsar Convention.

“They are trapped in their dozens in this village daily. I can only imagine how many go through the same in the other villages around,” Mr Yator, 40, said, adding that he too has to avoid the thorns which are known to cause chronic wounds.

The Kenya Forest Research Institute says the plant was introduced in Kenya from South America in the 1970s.

It was supposed to rehabilitate Arid and Semi-Arid Lands, due to its resilience, fast growth and its many uses for fodder, honey production, shade, windbreaker, firewood, building and others, the agency says.

Gradually, it became invasive. The government spends millions of shillings every year in an attempt to eliminate it.

Baringo, West Pokot, Turkana, Elgeyo Marakwet, Laikipia and Samburu counties have borne the brunt of the invasive plant.

“Domestic animals die when they feed on Mathenge. It has caused injuries to villagers too. We have tried many times to eliminate it, especially when tilling the land, but it sprouts and spreads very fast,” Mr Yator said.

“Other plants cannot grow where it has been. The locals just have to live with this plant.”

The villagers cannot harvest it. On February 24, 2017, the government declared a moratorium on logging in public forests.

The moratorium includes areas colonised by Mathenge.

Contacted, Environment PS Chris Kiptoo said the government is considering lifting the logging ban to enable people in areas colonised by the plant to harvest it and make charcoal.

But the challenge would be to control the public and ensure they concentrate on the invasive plant and spare indigenous trees.

https://nation.africa/kenya/counties/baringo/man-on-noble-mission-to-rescue-flamingos-from-invasive-plant-3239704

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