We are glad that in our third week of intensive scouting and monitoring, only few cases of poisoning have been encountered with no poisoning during the past 2 weeks. We are however careful not to declare absolute successful eradication of bird poisoning as yet since poisoning of birds on a smaller scale has been known in the fields beyond the rice scheme.
A flooded field out of the rice scheme just prone to poisoning as in the rice plantation
The poachers are therefore more likely to relocate their poaching activities to these areas to avoid our presence at the main rice scheme. Their successful poisoning of birds in these areas is however dependent on flooding conditions at these outside sites. These fields are therefore just as good poisoning grounds as the main irrigation scheme when there are heavy rains and the main river-River Nzoia- has burst its banks. This last week has been characterized by heavy downpours and has seen our monitoring extend well beyond the rice scheme. With my 11-man team, we have at times wished we were more so we would be able to spread out during monitoring and cover the entire rice scheme separated by overlapping territories. At the moment however, we have to cover the territory in three phases; these are approximately a third of the east-west expanse of the plantation. I always resurvey the farmland after the exercise just to ensure no opportunistic poacher comes behind us after we finish the surveys.
An image that I captured from atop Wanga Hill representing approximately a third of the area of the main rice irrigation scheme
Generally, we have altered the manner that we perform the monitoring to try improve on our efficiency. Initially, I targeted recruiting scouts from homes on the immediate periphery of the rice scheme. This would ensure that they kept watch for 24 hours. Only 2 scouts –Joseph and Asembo- live on the immediate periphery. I also camp within 20yard from the north eastern end of the rice plantation so that makes us 3. The rest, come from more distant places.
Monitoring from the edge of the rice scheme; but the scout is far from birds/poisoning at the furthest extreme end especially if there is no scout on that opposite side.
There was however the danger of dishonesty by the recruits claiming that they were monitoring from a remote section of their home when they would actually not be monitoring. There is therefore an advantage of scouts coming from villages beyond the rice scheme being that they report at my camp each morning and we set off for the monitoring as a team. This approach has ensured regular attendance and active participation.
Once in the irrigation scheme pairs of scouts distribute themselves along the central roads in the plantation and circuminspect the areas.
Central roads in the rice plantation from which we monitor for birds and poisoning. There is a monitoring scout appearing as a black dot towards the horizon where the road appears to end
My monitoring pair; the next distal monitoring pair is along the road in white ‘inside’ the picture.
From these mid sections we are able to look up to the north-south ends of the rice scheme. We however have to move to the next 3 sections before we cover the entire east-west stretch. In some areas however, there are raised mounds of the ground. Pairs of scouts therefore conveniently monitor for birds and poisoning from these vantage points.
Monitoring from vantage raised grounds
The routine monitoring ends at around 1100 hours with a likely random scouting session in the evening starting 1600 hrs up to 1830hrs. I however prefer carrying the afternoon session mostly with my lead scout-Joseph- alone as it gives me the opportunity to train him better on bird identification and ecological aspects. He in turn is able to teach the others especially when I am away. However, on other occasions, I select any scout whom I train and scout with during the evening scouting session.
The scouts also have the role of monitoring for developments at the rice scheme which influence presence of birds and may determine if there are poaching activities or not. These are flooding of grounds prior to ploughing, ploughing and flooding of the ploughed fields, flooding of flat expanses beyond the rice scheme by rain water and also position & phase of the moon in the early morning. Recently, we added monitoring for trapping to our activities since this poaching activity may take root parallel to poisoning as we focus on the latter. The monitoring of each of these 5 activities has been delegated to the 5 pairs of scouts who alert the rest of the team whenever more so out of the routine bird and poisoning monitoring every day. I am solely responsible for the trapping as I work closely with the lead poacher that we found with the Long Crested Eagle.
We are grateful to the sponsors who have facilitated this initiative and I am confident that we will beat the bird poisoning and poaching with this strategy. I have been sharing images and information of this wonderful site and its birdlife on some social internet sites as a start-up marketing strategy of Bunyala as a tourist destination. I am focused towards moulding birding guides out of my scouts with the knowledge that when they are eventually able to earn an income as guides from the bird resource, it will also mean absolute liberation from the backward bird poisoning for the good of birds and humanity. Meanwhile, please keep reading and supporting our work and be assured that each of your additional donations will go to sustain a scout or support a very much needed extra recruit therefore save bird and human lives.