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Higher numbers of Near Threatened Black-tailed Godwits & other winter migrants

Apologies for the silence on the blog since late August. Sometimes I am away from the field and have to run the fieldwork by correspondence while in Nairobi from where I majorly fundraise, consolidate data and write reports. There has also been a Malaria epidemic in Bunyala the past 2 months sweeping through the 11-man team incapacitating one member after the other with the hardest blow dealt when my dedicated assistant and lead scout, Joseph came down with the fever and has had to be off duty for close to one month even having been admitted in hospital at some point. Nonetheless he is making good progress and should join us soon. Even on this bad news starting note, monitoring to prevent bird killing/poisoning has been on-going with individual donors keeping us running when we had absolutely no grant funding between August 2013- October 2013. These included USD 100 from Nella of Australia, USD 350 from Max Osullivan of Australia, USD 320 from Ngaio, R of Canada and USD 280 from Pirjo of Finland. Thank you very much for your support.


The greatest news from our surveys is that we have not observed any poisoning since May 2013! A fortnight ago we recorded up to 60 Common Buzzards hunting/passing through the neighborhood of Bunyala Rice Irrigation Scheme-the largest number since we started our surveys- and 2 records of each of Eurasian Hobbies and Black Kites. Overall, the migrating raptors influx seems to have slowed down but even then afrotropical raptor species are more common as they come to feast on smaller migrants, more so the waders at the rice irrigation scheme .

Common buzzards

Migrant Common Buzzards photographed in neighborhood of Bunyala


Migrant Eurasian Hobby observed in neighborhood of Bunyala Rice Scheme


A pair of resident African Harrier-hawks exhibiting rather aberrant ground-hunting behavior


 Peregrine Falcon watching for waders to hunt from atop a Eucalyptus  tree in the neighborhood of the rice plantation

We are currently observing thousands of palaearctic originating migrant waders at our site including Yellow Wagtails, Ringed Plovers, Little Stints, Common Sandpipers, Wood Sandpipers, Curlew Sandpipers, Green Sandpipers, Marsh Sandpipers, Common Greenshanks, Black-winged Stilts, Whimbrels, Ruffs and Black-tailed Godwits.


Waders arriving, mostly Godwits & Ruffs

Stilts, Greenshank, Ruffs, Godwits

Godwits, Ruffs, Black-winged Stilts & Common Greenshank


Wood Sandpiper

Marsh Sandpiper

Marsh Sandpiper

Greenshank & Marsh sandpiper

Common Greenshank & Marsh Sandpiper

Black-tailed Godwits are Near Threatened according to the IUCN Red List of threatened species and were the most poison-killed migrant species in our study at this site in 2009 (Odino 2011). Our nearly precise approximation of the number of Black-tailed Godwits currently at Bunyala Rice Scheme is 1900 distributed in 3 sub-populations around the rice scheme. This number is higher than the cumulative number of live/dead birds (about 500) that we counted in our quantification of bird mortality study for one year in 2009.

Black-tailed Godwits Stirring up in early morning

A few of the Black-tailed Godwits currently on site, stirring up in the early morning

Black-tailed Godwits, feeding

Feeding Black-tailed Godwits

Black-tailed Godwits arriving

Flying Black-tailed Godwits at Bunyala

I posit that poisoning and accompanying chasing and battering of intoxicated birds may have been traumatizing birds and just a few were able to settle and forage. Our monitoring has been able to create some serenity at the site that may be behind the general increase in the flock sizes that we are observing this season. We are glad that the birds can refuel their energy reserves here before continuing on their southerly migration. We are also happy that our preventive monitoring has kept them all safe at our site this migration season and we will keep it so throughout the entire season.


We will keep you posted on any incidences and observations as and when they arise here at Bunyala Rice Scheme.

Floods in Bunyala

In Kenya, the long rains season is now easing after weeks of heavy downpours and associated impassable tracks (in rural areas like Bunyala) power blackouts for days on end; therefore communication breakdown via modern cybertechnology requiring continuous power supply. In Bunyala we thought the floods would bypass their usual norm but in the past one week we experienced flooding following bursting of banks and reinforcement embarkments of River Nzoia. This is a major river in our republic and here it meanders in giant snaky loops before draining into the Lake Victoria. When the rain is heavy upstream, this lower river course can only ‘spit out’ some of the water onto Bunyala plains to offload some of the pressure in its normal canal. Yet the water used at the irrigation scheme is derived from the river therefore the canals used for this purpose serve as ready outlets but with increased water volume, these also spill out the water in the surroundings inclusive of around and inside homesteads

Rain clouds over Bunyala

Rain clouds over Bunyala

 Homesteads surrounded by water-irrigation & river spillage

Homesteads surrounded by floodwater from rains and overflow from river Nzoia


Flooded neighbourhood

The water overflow onto the plains prevents poison-poaching activities and the few, stubborn sneaky poachers do not want to waste their poison substance because “it is expensive”, to use their actual words. We can therefore boast of guaranteed safety of birds in the flooding season. Nonetheless, the monitoring continues as we want to capture all the species dynamics both in the face of poisoning and when there is no poisoning for their conservation and eventual tapping into the avian resource for tourism gains.

CM Award Bunyala Rice Scheme 014 


Well-fed birds perched on trees, unaffected by flood

Nesting Long-toed plover

Long-toed plover mate 

Nesting Long-toed Plovers in the flooded rice scheme


My ‘home’ on safer grounds after several relocations evn though water-locked

And while birds are now enjoying their peace, locals are tapping from another protein source that has been availed by the floods-Fish! While their methods are crude, they are safe (do not involve poisoning) and probably can be accredited as sustainable (just a handful of fish can be caught this way). The fishing methods involve hacking with a machete live fishes in shallow flooded pools.



Fish caught in the flood waters

Keep reading and supporting us in our monitoring in tough conditions.

Poachers poison elephants, lions, buffaloes & vultures

Dear readers,

In a first incident of its kind in Zimbabwe, poachers have poisoned waterholes subsequently killing 9 elephants, 5 lion, 2 buffaloes and an unspecified number of vultures. This adds to the spate of grisly killings of wildlife incidences by poachers of which most go unnoticed, unreported and undocumented. To read this and related stories, visit BBC’s website.

Poachers in Zimbabwe have poisoned waterholes in five game reserves to kill animals, say wildlife officials.

Nine elephants were found dead with their tusks removed from the carcasses.

Five lions also died but officials said their skins were not taken, suggesting they were accidental victims of the poisoning.

The incidents are the first of their type on record and tests are being carried out to determine the nature of the chemicals used.

A spokeswoman for the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority, Caroline Washaya Moyo, said two buffalo were also killed, as were vultures that had eaten the dead animals.

Ms Washaya Moyo said the parks authority had deployed teams in the affected game reserves to investigate the poisoning.

Zimbabwe has been battling to curb poaching, which has mainly targeted rhinoceros and elephants for their horns and tusks.

Ten rhinos have been killed in Zimbabwe by poachers so far this year.

The crime is driven by booming demand for rhino horn in Asia, where it is believed to have medicinal properties, despite ample scientific evidence to the contrary.

Conservationists have warned that rhino populations are facing their worst poaching crisis for decades, especially in South Africa, Zimbabwe and Kenya.

In May, authorities in Kenya seized more than one tonne of ivory at Nairobi’s international airport.

About 115 elephant tusks were found inside metal containers by sniffer dogs.

Officials believe Kenya has become a transit point for international ivory smuggling, largely to Asia.”

Vulture decline blamed on furadan poisoning – video

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China bans carbofuran!

Dear friends

We believe that our campaign to have carbofuran banned in Kenya is on a positive trend bolstered by the fact that the Pest Control Products Board has for the first time agreed to discuss the recent reports on pesticide poisoning of birds.

However, we remain concerned at the extremely slow pace of response by our government to reports of  pesticide threats to human, environment and wildlife health.We continue to demand that the government authorities take matters more seriously as seems to be happening in the developed world, and now in China.

According to this article in, China, one of the manufacturers of pesticides containing carbofuran that is used in Africa, has now initiated the process to restrict the domestic use of the same chemical.

China’s Ministry of Agriculture has taken new measures to prohibit the use of “high-toxicity” pesticides by restricting registration applications for 22 active ingredients, leading to an eventual use ban for ten of the ais in 2013. The measures have been taken in an effort to “ensure the safety of the country’s agricultural produce” and “help protect its environment,” the ministry states. Starting last month, no new applications for field tests, pesticide registration or manufacturing permits will be processed for the following ais: the insecticides fenamiphos, fonofos, phosfolan-methyl, calcium phosphide, magnesium phosphide, cadusafos, coumaphos, sulfotep, terbufos, methidathion, phorate, isofenphos-methyl, carbofuran, methomyl and ethoprophos; the acaricide/insecticides aldicarb, omethoate, isocarbophos and endosulfan; the rodenticide zinc phosphide; and the fumigants methyl bromide and aluminium phosphide.

On the face of it, this seems to be a good move from China and we applaud the Chinese Government for initiating this process. It is well documented that Evidence suggests that China’s farmers routinely misuse pesticides and fail to protect themselves. A ban on some pesticides will have additional benefits – because 58% of all suicides in China are conducted using pesticides.

A major part of the problem in Kenya is that so many agencies share responsibility for worker safety, food safety, and environmental and wildlife health.

The Kenyan Ministry of Agriculture manages the Pest Control Products Board which licenses and regulate the use of pesticides in Kenya. Their mission is

To provide professional, efficient and effective regulatory service for manufacture, trade, safe use and disposal of pest control products while ensuring safety to humans, animals and the environment.

Although WildlifeDirect has submitted numerous reports of lion and vulture poisoning, poisoning of fish, and poisoning of birds, PCPB’s annual report shows that only one investigation into pesticide poisoning of wildlife was conducted that year.
Finally, China has taken a responsible action by banning pesticides that threaten their people and the land. In Kenya, the Government seeks to increase the access of pesticides to farmers country wide in an effort to improve food security 20 – 50 gms) which makes the product more affordable to small scale and mostly illiterate farmers by packaging the products in tiny containers (small plastic bags with 20). A trader does not require any education or specialised training to sell pesticides.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to observe that Kenyan farmers generally lack health and safety awareness. According to officials at the PCPB, most Kenyan farmers  do not read labels and although they say that protective equipment is provided, I have personally never seen a subsistence farmer wearing any form of protective clothing, or storing deadly chemicals in locked cabinets.

We maintain that by making pesticides widely available to a population that is unable to uses the products safely is negligent and short sighted. We are simply putting deadly chemicals in the hands of largely illiterate population who are not only using these pesticides in a manner that is dangerous to their own health, but to the consumers of the produce and the water consumed, as well as the environment in general including effects on fisheries, insects pollinators especially bee populations, and of course wildlife. This affects the agriculture industry in general as disease resistance grows, pollinators are wiped out and public health and productivity is compromised.

Most Kenyans still believe that the government has their interests at heart and that it makes decisions that are good for them. Well, perhaps it is time for Kenya to take note from the Chinese experience and follow suit by banning dangerous chemicals and removing them from the shelves.

It is never about safety

Aphids are notorious plant/leaf-eating pest. I recall during my undergraduate studies hoping onto a bicycle  and heading to the campus farm fields to secure an assortment of substances-neem, sugar solution, etc-up citrus plants of what constituted one of my professor’s project.The aim was to get a substance that would constructively distract a biological set up in favor of citrus fruit production. The microecosytem of a citrus plant constitutes aphids feeding on the plant, attendant ants feeding on the aphids’ sugary secretions and the carnivorous ladybirds creeping in to snatch away and eat the aphids but heavily guarded by the attendant ants. The attractant would therefore get the attention of the attendant ants which would otherwise fight off the ladybirds. In the process, the aphids would be eaten by the voracious ladybirds to the benefit of the citrus plants promoting high yield.

In our last meeting with FMC, they noted that Furadan’s withdrawal would penalize Kenyan farmers that had been using it properly as a pesticide.The chemical product was (is?) a heavily depended on broad spectrum pesticide (deadly poison?) and had served a major role in feeding the world .

The insect pests (some disease vectors others voracious phytophagous-plant feeders ) onslaught seems to be the major threat in the way of desired agricultural productivity to ensure food security. The ideal trend in agriculture has therefore been to employ the strongest pesticide to wipe out the pests. But  this just never really amounts to eliminating the current problem pest per se. The ideal pesticide kills virtually all organisms at least according to Kenya Pesticide Control Products Board boss recently defending the worldwide banned Methyl Bromide because ” it kills all living things in the soil. So it eliminates pests completely,”. But Methyl Bromide due to be phased out completely worldwide by 2015 is said to contribute to global warming, one of major threats to all biodiversity at present.

On the  long road to ban DDT in the US during the early 1970s, initial review of the chemical by the mostly economic entomologists team (inherited from the United States Department of Agriculture) furnished the then EPA’s administrator with seemingly biased findings: that DDT was not an imminent danger to human health and wildlife. Many environmentalists felt the ruling was biased in favor of agribusiness and tended to minimize concerns about human health and wildlife. The decision not to ban thus created public controversy leading to scientific reviews in court hearings, the cancellation of DDTs uses and its eventual ban.

Poison money

its all about….

Nature is fashioned in food pyramids and chains with higher predators consuming lower predators and producers. While this would constitute biological control in agricultural pest control argued arbitrarily to also have its pros and cons, chemical pesticide control threatens the very existence of the natural control of pests employing natural predators. The increase in crop pests due to the loss of their predators to the very pest control chemicals cannot be ruled out. We are developing an irreversible dependance on monster chemicals which turn around and bite us right in our backs with the ultimate expensive outcome of speeded up species extinctions of which man is not exempted.

It may be ill fated that the issue of Furadan in Kenya has to creep through a slow winding path before anything is done. However, with each passing day there is an intoxicated dying organism, certainly a dying bird and most probably a suffering may be dying human being from exposure to carbofuran or any other deadly pesticide when there are better options.

Not Just WildlifeDirect complaining about Carbofuran

Dear Friends,

Sometimes we feel alone in our campaign but there are others out there  who are concerned about carbofuran and other pesticides. Here are some great links

African Answerman wrote a very detailed blog post about the history of Carbofuran in USA here

Here is part of what he wrote

“In California alone more than 77 workers were documented with serious Carbofuran illnesses.

FMC Corporation was the main producer of Carbofuran by 2002. It had either filed for most of the patents or bought them from other companies.

As more and more states independently began to restrict the chemical’s use, FMC looked abroad. Even after the EPA formally banned the product in 2008 and the Supreme Court denied FMC’s appeals in 2009, FMC could continue selling the deadly powder abroad.

It did this directly, but that was bad PR and risked further law suits simply from workers who would be packaging it in the U.S. So instead it licensed the product to a number of willing partners, including China’s Jiangsu Hopery Chemical Co., and that’s the company that continues to sell it to East Africa on license from FMC. In Kenya its main distributor is now Juanco Ltd.

In 2009 reports began to service in Kenya of the awful power of the pesticide, and more importantly, that it was available over-the-counter and was obviously not being used to kill aphids on soy beans. There is very little soy bean production in Kenya.

Children died. What was apparent was that the pesticide had been so successfully marketed in Kenya by Jiangsu, and was so relatively cheap, that small farmers were using it for everything possible, even when it was not particularly effective.

But the misuse of Carbofuran in Kenya drew world attention when Wildlife Direct reported that Maasai near the Mara were using Carbofuran to kill lions.”

The article got a very interesting responsefrom Dan Harms

“Worked with this chemical when I was with the department of Economic Entomology. It was used in the midwest as a granular pesticide applied to corn planting to control corn rootworm….a very toxic chemical for a very damaging pest. Very glad to see it off the market. It was developed as a response to pesticide tolerance in the corn rootworm populations, nothing else would work.

When working with this chemical we took special precautions, in the granular form it tends to be dusty, very toxic. It is a carbamate pesticide with a relatively short half life, the chance of residue on imported crops or food stuffs is very slight.

One of the major problems with carbamate poisons is that they, as cholinesterase inhibitors, build up in the human body. Compounds such as Furadan (carbofuran) are extremely dangerous and cause acute poisoning quickly (thus the lion death) but they also can cause long term damage if repeated exposure occurs. There is a medical test that can be done. If the body is allowed it can recover – so reports of long term damage although probably true are most likely due to negligance or ignoranc on the part of the damaged party. The stuff does carry a skull and cross-bones.”

Carbofuran sold in Africa carries a yellow box with an x in it – despite its toxicity there is no Skull and cross bones!

TV Interview on pesticide poisoning of wildlife with K24’s Jeff Koinange

The issue of wildlife poisoning using Furadan and other pesticides has attracted much concern in Kenya. Jeff Koinange asked me to talk about it on Capital Talk, K24 on June 28th 2011. The interview raised a flurry of tweets and FB messages as well as hundreds of emails from concerned Kenyans saying WE HAVE TO DO SOMETHING ABOUT THIS!

Here is the interview in 4 parts

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YouTube DirektPaula Kahumbu Jeff Koinange interview on Furadan

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YouTube DirektPaula Kahumbu Jeff Koinange Furadan

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YouTube DirektPaula Kahumbu Jeff Koinange Furadan

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YouTube DirektPaula Kahumbu Jeff Koinange Furadan

Shocking video on bird poisoning with pesticide in Kenya

Dear all,

We didn’t want to release this film as it is so disturbing. But then we owe it to the Kenyans whose lives are at risk.

Here’s hoping that the Kenya Government will do something about this disaster about to happen.

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Click here for video on poisoning of birds in Bunyala

A deep rooted poisoning culture

Our early start today seemed auspicious! not a poacher on sight at the expansive Bunyala Rice irrigation Scheme!0600hrs was the precise time that we set foot at the Eastern edge of the rice plantation. We continued our diplomatic educating and negotiating approach  while at the same time probed to get a feedback on how each poacher feels about this whole risky business of poisoning. Patiently we continue reiterating the possible implications of their reckless actions!

We stumbled on a seeming  peaceful flock of African Openbills and decided to take photo and film clips. My eye then caught a bird flapping one wing while lying on its side. All of a sudden the 50 or so strong took to the air.A frenzied young man had just turned up totally oblivious of our presence and ambushed the birds. In the end he picked up two carcases hastening his trot in the direction that the flock had flown off to, stick in hand. Certainly we were at a bird poisoning scene.

Picture taken on 2011-06-13

Picture taken on 2011-06-13

The two Openbills recovered by the poacher from the flock we were photographing

I sought his attention speaking out my name and requesting to take a look at the carcasses. The dialogue was short and he quickly highlighted that while he had full knowledge of the poison’s toxicity, he prepares the bait using bare hands after which he only rinses his hands with water (without necessarily any soap) ensuring the purple color of the crystals is washed off. He advices anyone to rid the birds of their entrails otherwise declares the meat very fit for human consumption. The reason for disposing of entrails has nothing to do with them containing the poison which in any case if washed one can just go ahead and eat them! He says this is a routine practice for wild bird meat preparation which even his father who was a poacher & introduced him to poaching used to perform though he employed nooses (a way better method in my opinion) in killing the birds. This young man’s dream wish is for Furadan to be made more readily available. He then sought permission to pursue his quarry!

Some distance away we stumble on the oldest poacher (in his 80’s) I know in the locality hunting gear crudely flung over his shoulder (live decoys). We could tell the captive birds’ orientation was tail-end up, heads down! The other hand held the bait bag and yellow container to carry water for washing and dissolving the purple poison – Furadan. He has lived through evolving generations of various animal & bird poaching techniques: catapults, bows & arrows, snares & nooses and now, poisoning.

Bunyala Poisoning, June 055

Picture taken on 2011-06-13 07:36:09

Picture taken on 2011-06-13 07:37:09

Picture taken on 2011-06-13 07:37:09

The feet & bill of the captive Openbill are protruding through the sack. The bill is kept shut by a rubber band tied around it.

This man lost her wife last year to an unknown causes but with knee joint rigidity & pain as predominant symptoms. Whether it was gout (should be in men) or knee paralysis due to carbofuran intoxication remains unknown as there was no autopsy performed. It is however known that the  lions poisoned using carbofuran in Masai Mara exhibited limb paralysis and this cannot be ruled out as a possible cause for this lady’s death. The old man also complains of on and off knee joint pains & rigidity though he says he is not sure if the trend is related to him eating the birds that he poisons. The gizzard is his favorite part of the bird!

At home, this seasoned poacher is relieved of the live decoys by his eldest grandson who takes them to a backyard wetland where they forage under close monitoring by the other youngsters lest they wander off.

Picture taken on 2011-06-13 07:48:06

Picture taken on 2011-06-13 07:48:06

Traumatized decoy: Legs tied togetherby a string to limit its movement

Picture taken on 2011-06-13 07:50:55

Picture taken on 2011-06-13 07:50:55

Carcass of a once captive openbill that lost its struggle with the trauma of captivity left out to rot in the backyard wetland

Already his father (the poachers son but not at home at the moment) has graduated into this lineage of new generation bird-poisoning poachers and there is no doubt the son is an apprentice in the making.

The kids and their mother praise the bird meat which is not a problem for them to access the supply coming from two skilled poachers.

Picture taken on 2011-06-13 07:58:40

Picture taken on 2011-06-13 07:58:40

It is sad to see the protuberant bellies of the children suggestive of  malnourishment but who might further be battling with repeated under-lethal-doses from carbofuran intoxication in the very meat that they readily consume. Their concerns about getting intoxicated are warded off as soon as the birds are dried of their body fluids on slow lighting embers prior to cooking.

This killer ought to be ‘quarantined’ in the least in order to rescue lives and to get these people to engage in more productive activities.