Friends of Kinangop Plateau, Sharpe’s Longclaw, and the Kinangop Grasslands

Page last updated September 2012 – follow the work on Twitter at @SharpesLongclaw


sharpes longclaw
Breeding-plumaged Sharpe’s Longclaw Macronyx sharpei. Kinangop, February 2009.
Photo copyright Charlie Moores

 

sharpes longclaw
Non-breeding Sharpe’s Longclaw Macronyx sharpei. Kinangop, June 2008.
Photo copyright Charlie Moores

 

In June 2008 I was fortunate to photograph the Endangered Sharpe’s Longclaw Macronyx sharpei (or Gathonjo ka wer-ini in Kikuyu), a pipit-like species entirely restricted to the rapidly disappearing grasslands of the 77,000ha Kinangop Plateau (an hour’s drive from Nairobi). I offered the photographs to any interested conservation organisations and – unexpectedly – within a few months found myself in a position where I was actively supporting conservation in the region and had begun working with local activists and NGOs (in particular Dominic Kimani and The Friends of Kinangop Plateau (FoKP)) and stakeholders.

Things rapidly progressed much to my amazement and complete delight:

  • I went back to Nairobi in October 2008 for what I described as a “life-changing” visit (when I spent time with Dominic and was accorded the totally unexpected honour of being made a Kikuyu Tribal Elder), and posted a report at Life-changing Moments in the Kenyan Highlands
  • I went again in February 2009 and the initial report is at Another wonderful day in the Kinangop Grasslands. A longer post (from February 2009) with more information about ideas to help support FoKP and Dominic is at It’s all adding up now…
  • I was fortunate enough to make another visit to Kinangop in June 2009, when I spent time with local farmers, visited another primary school, made a presentation of labels and posters at the Njabini Woolshop, and ended talking with FoKP members at the Murungaru Nature Centre.

 

The need to create a ‘gateway page’ to all the information became apparent, and this page will therefore contain condensed information as summarising paragraphs which link to longer, more detailed posts/pages which will hopefully have as much useful information on Sharpe’s Longclaw, Kinangop, the Friends of Kinangop Plateau etc etc as possible.

If you/your blog/website/organisation would like to promote the work on Kinangop to a wider audience please use http://www.talking-naturally.co.uk/FOKP as the link.

Thankyou. (Charlie Moores March 2011)

 



 



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Background to the project and internal links:

 

  • 2008 – A Conservation Project is born

In June 2008 I was fortunate enough to go on a short birding trip around Nairobi with Shailesh Patel and George Kamau. They took me up to the Kinangop Plateau (about an hour south of the city) and amongst the birds they were able to show me was one that I had never seen before and knew almost nothing about: the Endangered and highly range-restricted Sharpe’s Longclaw Macronyx sharpei (closely related to pipits, longclaws are an exclusively African family of birds and Sharpe’s is one of the most exclusive – its entire global range is the Kinangop grasslands).


sharpes longclaw
Non-breeding Sharpe’s Longclaw Macronyx sharpei. Kinangop, June 2008.

 

I managed to take a series of photographs of the bird we saw – much to Shailesh’s surprise, as he’d warned me beforehand that the chances of getting good views of such a wary bird were pretty slim – as it wandered quite close to me through an unusual-looking pasture full of thick tussocks. I posted the photos at Sharpe’s Longclaw: an Endangered Kenyan endemic, and added a postscript (subsequently updated) saying that if any conservation organisation or group wished to use the images for conservation purposes to contact me.

I was quickly contacted both by Nature Kenya (the BirdLife International partner in Kenya), and by Luca Borghesio, a PhD Candidate based at the University of Illinois at Chicago (http://icarus.uic.edu/~lborgh2/) who was in Kenya and (amongst other projects) was setting up a survey to determine what the current population size of Sharpe’s Longclaw really was.

Our joint conservation senses went into overdrive and some six weeks and a flurry of emails later I had become involved in a campaign to help conserve Sharpe’s Longclaw and the Kinangop Grasslands, and launched a fundraising project called the “Small African Fellowship for Conservation”.

To summarise the project very briefly 2000 USDollars (or more – see results below) would be raised, which would be combined with money raised by Luca to provide a one-year fellowship for a local researcher, Dominic Kamau Kimani, to -

  • a) conduct surveys of suitable longclaw habitat to discover exactly what the global population of Sharpe’s Longclaw really is,
  • and b) take an education/awareness programme into local schools, which will talk about the longclaw and the need to conserve its habitat.

The campaign and my involvement in it has grown exponentially since then.

 

 

Sharpe’s Longclaw: Endangered and disappearing

rangemap sharpe's longclaw, map copyright BirdLife InternationalThe entire world range of this lovely bird, a relative of the pipits, is the rapidly disappearing native tussock-grasslands of south-western Kenya. The bulk of the population is now centred in just three locations, the most important of which is currently thought to be the Kinangop Plateau.

As of early 2008 the global population of Sharpe’s Longclaw Macronyx sharpei was estimated to be between 10,000 – 19,000 individuals, but surveys in 2008 and 2009 suggest that this may in fact be quite an over-estimate: survey data is lacking from much of its supposed range but the population is actually probably well below 10,000, and may even be nearer 2000.

Kinangop’s tussock-grasslands are being converted for agriculture and at current rates of habitat conversion no natural grasslands are predicted to remain in the area within just 20 years. The longclaw is entirely dependent on the tussocks for nesting, and spend much of their time searching them for food items. Though they are occasionally seen in converted land they never breed there, and the species’ survival appears to be linked entirely with the survival of the tussock-grasslands.

For more photos of Sharpe’s Longclaw please go to:

 

 

The Kinangop Grasslands

kinangop grasslandsThe Kinangop Grasslands are part of an officially recognised Important Bird Area (designated KE004), lying between 2400 – 2700m above the Rift Valley in southern Kenya. The Sharpe’s Longclaw is almost entirely confined to these grasslands.

The grasslands are found on the Kinangop Plateau, a wide stretch of land bounded by the forests of the Aberdare mountains (IBA KE001) and Kikuyu Escarpment (KE004) to the east and south, and by a steep scarp dropping to the Rift Valley floor on the west. To the west and north, the IBA boundary follows the 2,400 m contour. Rainfall averages c.1,000 mm/year, but the southern part is wetter than the north, which lies in the rain shadow of the Aberdares. The total area of Kinangop is around 77,000 ha.

Originally, the entire plateau was covered with almost treeless, tussocky grassland, including many tussock bogs in the swampy valleys. Since the 1960s the area has been settled by the Kikuyu people, whose livelihood revolves around small-scale farming. Large areas of land have been ploughed for cultivation (mainly maize, wheat, cabbages and potatoes) or to remove the tussock grass species, which livestock find unpalatable. Woodlots of introduced water-thirsty trees, such as Eucalyptus globulus, Acacia mearnsii, Pinus radiata and Cupressus lusitanica, now dot the landscape and also causing ecological change.

  • For photographs of the grasslands and the agricultural conversions affecting them please go to The Kinangop Grasslands

 

 

Dominic Kamau Kimani.

dominic kimaniThe “Small African Fellowship for Conservation” was set up to fund the work of Dominic Kamau Kimani, an extremely committed researcher from Murungaru village in North Kinangop I’ve had the pleasure of meeting several times. Dominic began birding when he was just ten and is a key component of the conservation work being done on the Kinangop Plateau: without Dominic there really would be no effective campaign taking place…

Given that he was born and lives in a small countryside village in Kenya (thus without the opportunities that many of us take for granted), Dominic has already achieved a remarkable amount – including acting as a volunteer Environmental Education officer for the Friends of Kinangop Plateau (FOKP), conducting ornithological research under the supervision of Dr. David Harper (University of Leicester) as a field instructor for the Earthwatch International Lakes of the Rift Valley Project, undertaking a Certificate course on Global Ecology and Wildlife management through distance learning, shadowing Tim Appleton at Rutland Water in the UK, and spending a week at BirdLife International’s Cambridge headquarters!

  • Contact Dominic (for guiding, info etc) at dkk4.kimani@gmail.com
  • To read Dominic’s CV (in his own words) please go to Dominic Kamau Kimani

 

 

Gathitu James Wainaina

Gathitu James WainainaOn my second visit to Nairobi (in Feb 2009) I was privileged to spend the day with Dominic again, and with Gathitu James Wainaina (aka James), a founder-member of the Friends of Kinangop Plateau (FoKP).

We discussed many conservation initiatives together, and James told me how excited he had been when he heard about my involvement with FoKP and the Kinanagop.

James has asked that I host his CV – which I’m delighted to do of course – and sent us a very interesting amount of information (a small section of which is repeated below):

 

“Friends of Kinangop Plateau (FOKP) was founded in 1996, with great assistance from Dr. Leon Bennun who was by then heading Ornithology Department at the National Museums of Kenya as well as head of EAHNS. This was my dream. Most of the best tour leaders and guides especially Ornithological Safaris mushroomed during his tenure at the Museums….

…My first assignment in the field of research was in the late 1990’s when we did research to identify the 60 important Bird Areas (IBAs) in Kenya. Friends of Kinangop Plateau has over the time been one of the best Site Support Groups (SSG) for Birdlife International in its conservation efforts…

…From this year (2009) I have decided to take a different route once again. I was very thrilled to read about the conservation work of Dominic Kimani, Luca Borghesio, Dr Muchai Muchane, and Charlie Moores and I have decided to work near home for the conservation of our threatened birds especially the Endangered Sharpe’s Longclaw. I will therefore work closely with Dominic, Friends of Kinangop Plateau, Charlie Moores, and National Museums to support the conservation of Sharpe’s Longclaw.”

James has set up a tour company with Dominic called Kenya Wildstep Safaris and Tours, which has the slogan “For all your Ornithological and Wildlife Safaris adventures in East Africa and beyond”. James has generously decided that 15% of revenue collected will go to conserve Sharpe’s Longclaw – so if you’re looking for an experienced guide for a birding trip in East Africa AND would like to help Sharpe’s Longclaw please consider contacting him at birds_naturalist -AT- yahoo.com (replace -AT- with @) to discuss details.

 

 

National Museums of Kenya

The surveys (and eventual recommendations coming from the data collected on them) are being organised and co-ordinated through Dr Muchane Muchai of the National Museums of Kenya. 10,000 Birds (very much the ‘new kids on the block’ as far as Sharpe’s Longclaw conservation goes of course) has been accepted as partners of the official team working on the longclaw, and we’re grateful to Dr Muchai for allowing us to post the following mail supporting our efforts:

“Your proposal to launch a “Small African Fellowship for Conservation” to support the project of Mr. Dominic Kamau Kimani in the Kinangop plateau is extremely interesting and I wholeheartedly support it. This proposal is in agreement with the program of research and conservation that the National Museums of Kenya have been carrying out in the Kinangop plateau of Kenya for many years”. Dr. Muchane Muchai, August 2008.

 

 

Nature Kenya

Nature Kenya Nature Kenya is the BirdLife International Partner for Kenya, and works closely with other BL Partners in the East African region, including Nature Uganda, the Wildlife Conservation Society of Tanzania, and the Ethiopian Wildlife and Natural History Society.

Nature Kenya coordinates the Important Bird Areas (IBAs) programme in Kenya, and has been involved with conservation in the Kinangop Plateau for many years. In 2004/05 Nature Kenya purchased a 90 acre nature reserve (the Murunguru reserve) “to save the Sharpe’s Longclaw from imminent extinction” and by January 2007, 3 resident pairs of the bird were recorded in the reserve.

 

 

Fundraising (or ‘Small Change = Big Change’).

In late 2008 a target was set of raising 2000 US Dollars (USD) to support Dominic and the “Small African Fellowship for Conservation”. I pledged to donate a minimum of 250USD and asked our readers to donate just ONE dollar each (or more of course) through a Chip In widget.

Chip In collected money to a PayPal account that we set up, and the money raised – over 2000USD – was forwarded to an existing and secure bank account in Kenya belonging to the National Museums of Kenya, who became responsible for passing the funds in monthly sums to Dominic (which they did extremely efficiently and properly).

 

 

David Fox

In 2008 the Appeal to raise funds for the “Small African Fellowship for Conservation” was greatly helped by a substantial donation from FoKP member David Fox, a London solicitor who grew up in Kenya and lived there until he was seventeen. David has become an important member of the informal ‘team’ that co-ordinates the work being done on behalf of FoKP, and in mid-2009 provided funding for 2010 for a second “Fellowship” – this time for Sammy Bakari.

  • David agreed to an interview in September 2009 which explains his interest in Kenya, its birds, and why he supports FoKP: this is online at Interview with David Fox

 

 

Survey work and survey updates

monitoring teamDominic and his colleagues from FoKP intend to update the distribution map of the Sharpe’s Longclaw through intensive surveying, particularly looking to see if there are any populations inside protected areas or in areas that show some potential to become protected in the near future. This is absolutely vital as at present (June 2009) there is very little population data available on which to base conservation initiatives.

I was fortunate enough to join a monitoring team – which was made up of Dominic, James, and other local land-owners with a deep concern at the way the longclaw is disappearing – on my visit to Kinangop in February 2009. We spent a very rewarding couple of hours walking up and down a small ‘field’ of native grasslands where at least four longclaws were present.

The survey work so far has already received financial support from the British Ecological Society and the Conservation Fund of the African Bird Club. Surveying in such remote and large areas – even in relatively inexpensive country like Kenya – needs to be funded properly, and they are still actively looking for more funds.

Dominic has been very diligent about sending regular updates letting me know how the surveys and education programmes have been developing, all of which are posted online.

The pages linked to below are not scientifically presented results per se but do already give an important insight into the very real threats the Sharpe’s Longclaw faces from grassland conversion and the community efforts that are going on to help protect it:

 

 

Education work

In 2009 Dominic wrote an Education Proposal detailing his plans to promote awareness of Sharpe’s Longclaw within Kinangop itself.

The main objective was to sensitise the local community towards the importance of Sharpe’s Longclaw as a flagship species in conservation and explain why people need to save it from the verge of extinction. He proposed to select three working sites in Kinangop, and aimed to conduct awareness raising “…through schools, existing conservation groups, youth groups, community groups, churches and sporting clubs”.

 

 

Visiting Kinangop: a couple of blogs

Much of what I experienced, learnt, and saw on visits to Kinangop is written into many of the other posts and articles on this page but in 2009 I wrote two ‘stream of consciousness’ posts which recieved many comments when they were on an earlier blog I wrote on:

 

 

School Visits

mugumoini primary schoolI’ve also been fortunate to have visited a couple of local schools with Dominic while I’ve been in Kenya and have always been incredibly well-received. The warmth I’ve felt from kids who – in reality – have very little idea who I am, and the interest that my short visits has generated has been extremely motivational, and I’d like to thank everyone involved again.

In February 2009 I went to Mugumoini Primary School (in North Kinangop) and was entertained with traditional songs and dances by a group of very talented children there…photos and a few sound files are available from the links below:

 

 

Murungaru Nature Centre Dance Troupe

mugumoini primary schoolA highlight (amongst many) of my trips to Kinangop Plateau has been to watch the joyful singing and dancing by the Dance Troupe at the Murungaru Nature Centre.

The dancers are all active members of Friends of Kinangop Plateau who perform traditional Kikuyu songs in traditional costume (inevitably I get dragged up to join in, proving – twice so far – that my dancing days are long behind me!) partly to keep their cultural identity alive and well and partly (I suspect) because they have so much fun doing it.

The performances are a huge amount of fun and well worth witnessing for yourself. The link below goes to a series of photographs I took in October 2008 and an mp3 recording made at the time.

 

 

The Njabini Wool-spinning Workshop

Njabini wool-spinning workshopOne of the highlights of my trips to Nairobi has been visits to the inspirational Njabini wool-spinning workshop, a small but determined co-operative staffed by local volunteers and run by the Friends of the Kinangop Plateau with Nature Kenya (the Birdlife International partner in Kenya).

The woolshop has great potential to become an important element of the campaign to protect the Kinangop Grasslands, by creating a market for wool products thereby encouraging local farmers to keep livestock (in particular sheep) rather than convert the grasslands into agricultural land.

labelI’m working in an advisory capacity with the group co-ordinating the development of the woolshop and the products it produces, and has raised funds to help produce a leaflet explaining the aims of the Woolshop and which will be distributed from the woolshop itself (as of April 2009 a final draft is with Nature Kenya) and a high-quality label (image right) which will be sown to the woolshop products clearly identifying where they were made etc.

I’d of course welcome any help to promote the workshop or its products both within Africa and overseas.

I’ve posted several reports – and many photographs – from the visits I’ve made to the Njabini Wool-spinning Workshop. The links below also go to related reports (eg a post about the labels produced called “Labelled with Love”) plus reports sent by Samuel Bakari and others:

 

 

Mary Mwendwa

mary mwendwaOn my visit in June 2009 we were accompanied to Kinangop by Mary Mwendwa, a local radio producer and conservation film-maker. Mary was a joy to be with and she has become a potentially very important voice for conservation on Kinangop. As she wrote to me, she joined FOKP “to expose to the entire world the good work that FOKP are doing and to take FOKP to the next level”. She is already making short videos about Kinangop (details to be announced soon) and talking to her many colleagues about Sharpe’s Longclaw, Kinangop, and the FOKP.

Mary, I’m sure everyone involved in this project will join me in saying, “Karibu, asante kwa msaada wako

To learn more about Mary Mwendwa and her work please go to

 

 

World Land Trust and the Kinangop Highlands

world land trust logoIn 2009 I heard the great news that the world-renowned World Land Trust (WLT) had launched an appeal (open until Dec 2009) to purchase land in Kinangop. Working with Nature Kenya, the WLT aims to buy enough land to set up a new reserve for the Sharpe’s Longclaw and the threatened biodiversity which they live with.

To quote from the WLT website: “The Kinangop Highlands are the stronghold of Sharpe’s Longclaw, a bird endemic to Kenya that is seriously threatened by the loss of its grassland home. As much as three quarters of ‘tussock’ vegetation the Sharpe’s Longclaws require may have already been lost in the Kinangop Plateau, threatening the survival of these birds.

The World Land Trust (WLT) are aiming to help our partners Nature Kenya buy a strategically important area of grassland consisting of 50 acres by December 2009. The reason for the urgency is that the price of land in this area is escalating.”

Anyone involved in the conservation of these unique grasslands will welcome this initiative, and I’ve offered whatever help/illustrations/photos/data etc WLT might need if it helps our mutual aim of helping saving the Sharpe’s Longclaw and the Kinangop Highlands.

The World Land Trust’s Appeal can be found at http://www.justgiving.com/kenyangrasslands

 

 

All photographs on this page are copyright Charlie Moores unless noted otherwise. Permission to reproduce or use them will usually be given to conservation organisations, but please ask first.

 

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About the author

Passionate about animal welfare and conservation, veggie and dairy-free, I live in the Wiltshire (UK) countryside. I birded the world for twenty years before quitting my airline job and am now freelance. I co-founded Birders Against Wildlife Crime and Birds Korea. Trustee of the League against Cruel Sports On Twitter @charliemoores

7 Comments

  1. tony berry says:

    This is a long shot … but would any of the Friends know anything about a grave site one mile west of the Kinangop Peak where the 11 victims of a 1944 BOAC air crash were interred on January 14, 1945? My cousin was one of those initially buried there. All help appreciated.

    Reply
  2. Dominic Kimani says:

    Dear Charlie,
    how are you? hope everything is fine. will be nice to hear from you. all the best in your work.
    Dominic

    Reply

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