Author Archives: albertineriftbirds

An appeal to the world – Kigali has taken part in 350.org and appealed to fair and ambitious climate proceedings

On 24 October 2009 people came together to demonstrate for a reduction of the carbon dioxide (CO2) concentration in the atmosphere to 350 ppm. People in more than 180 countries participated and at least 5200 events were realized. By many creative performances, attending people climbed mountains, dressed up or designed banners and so all participants supported an appeal to the UN (United Nations) for ambitious and serious climate proceedings in Kopenhagen on 6th December 2009. Photos from these actions can be looked up on the official homepage, 350.org. According to the organization 350.org, some photos shall be printed in important newspapers and will be released to the public.
50 people took part in Kigali, they met up at KIST (Kigali Institute of Science and Technology) one rainy afternoon. The action in Kigali was organized by Landry and Runyambo from ACNR (Association pour la Conservation de la Nature au Rwanda). Before making pictures, Landry gave a short introduction to global climate change and named aims of 350.org.
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We have to hope politicans appreciate the engagement by people all around the world and will decide for a progressive, ambitious and faire follow up for the Kyoto protocol. Scientists have investigated that a decrease of the actual 387 ppm CO2 to 350 ppm CO2 in the atmosphere must be achieved to avoid fatal consequences for humans and their environment.

Celebration of World Migratory Bird Day (May 9th – 10th, 2009) in Rwanda

Rwanda on Saturday May 9 joined the rest of the world to mark World Migratory Bird Day (WMBD), with a big turn up of bird watchers. The celebration was organized by the Association for the Conservation of Nature in Rwanda, (ACNR), the BirdLife Partner in Rwanda, in collaboration with the Rwanda Development Board (RDB). The highlight of the celebration marked under the theme, “Barriers to Migration” was bird watching excursion at a man-made Lake in Nyarutarama, on the outskirts of Kigali City.

Similar, on May 10th, 2009, bird watching excursion was carried out at Lake Rumira in Bugesera District in eastern Rwanda. This area is probably expected to be a habitat for migratory waterbirds in Rwanda.

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Birdwatching with birdlovers and nature club “Coeur joyeux”

Over 100 people attended the event including pupils and teachers from school Wildlife Club called “Coeur Joyeux” drawn from Anglican Church located near Kigali City Park, the representatives from some nature clubs affiliated to ACNR such as “Rwanda University Club for Conservation of Biodiversity (RUCCB)”, “Amis Muyaga” from ASPESKA College, journalists from print and broadcast, etc…
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During this celebration the “Coeur Joyeux” Wildlife Clubs played a sketch demonstrating local barriers to migratory birds in Rwanda including intensify agriculture activities, wetlands drainage and other activities related to ecosystems disturbance, etc.

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This awareness campaign was to protect migratory birds and their habitats. Annually, on the second weekend of May, people around the world organise public events such as bird festivals, education programmes and birdwatching excursions as part of activities to mark the World Migratory Bird Day. “This campaign had a major impact on how Rwandans perceive migratory birds and it has the potential to unite many different communities to rise against buriers met by migratory birds and humanitarian perils facing them today,” he added. Meanwhile, Birdlife International has launched a new programme called “Born to Travel Campaign” aimed at protecting migratory birds along the African-Eurasian flyway.

Also, this event has attracted more teams and spectators than ever before, including both government institutions, local NGO’s working in wildlife conservation and private sector. There has been a considerable effort to get more teams, including females and males, to participate, in the events. As this event has started to produce a significant contest of skills, awareness and friendship, we hope that the campaign will involve more people for the protection of birds and biodiversity in general in Rwanda. Actually, this year saw the arrival of several new teams of Kigali birdlovers.

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Waterbirds of Rweru

African Fish Eagles

Theogene, Serge, Mark, Fanny and Runyambo

The ACNR team set out to conduct a waterbird assessment in Lake Rweru. The team included Mark, Runyambo, Theogene, Fanny and Serge. It was an exciting academic adventure. We waded in the waters watched the wonderful birds and did a lot of counts.

White winged Tern Chlidonias leucopterus

Don’t Forget this Treasure-Albertine Rift

The old wise men from my ancestral community say “however faster you run, you can never be faster than your mother; the stones that support her cooking pot will always call you back” The Albertine rift now remains a source of sweet, important essentials for both humans and nature. These goods are in the form of the ecosystem services that are supplied from the abundance and variety of the Albertine rift resources.

           

Stepe Buzzard                                                                                                                 Red Backed Shrike

As you may realize, the “Albertine Rift Birds” have been silent for some time. Just like all birds, they had migrated briefly but in unusual way! I too followed them. Where “we were and what we did will come in the subsequent blogs! But for now, I just wish to tell you we are back!

Masumi and Victor have escorted me to Rwanda via Uganda. The journey had a number of exciting things but did not miss challenges. We went through Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, Institute of Tropical Forestry Research Centre at Ruhija where we spent the last night in Uganda. If you have not been here, please purpose to before the end of the “forest” (or is it world). It is a wonderful place in many ways. As we came down from Ruhija research station, we clearly show the tips of Muvura, Murabura, Karisimbi and Sabinyo mountains. From the local people, Sabinyo means an old man’s teeth. It is the most beautiful mountain with a number of crater lakes at the top. There is no better way to understand why this beautiful country is called the “pearl of Africa”.

                    
Victor, Masumi and Enoch, Albertine rift support team                Habib, our Cab Driver

Habib, our taxi driver managed to drive us safely down the mountain to Kabale and to the Uganda-Rwanda Border. In the country of a thousand hills, we spent a week meeting various conservation organizations who are prospective partners with WildlifeDirect. The ACNR team was already out at Lake Rweru on a waterbird monitoring excercise.

Climate change, a Human rights Violation

Climate Change; A threat to Development; A human rights issue!

Within an international community based upon the rule of law and universal values of equality, human rights and dignity, it is surely wrong for small, vulnerable communities to suffer because of the actions of other more powerful resource-rich countries, actions over which they have no control, and little or no protection.‘ Gayoom, President of Maldives.

African farmers may safe the world”A coastal (Tureture) village in Papua New Guinea. later destroyed by water due to a sudden king tide (2007)”

People from the poorest countries are worst affected by global warming. Climate change impacts will definitely reverse the development prospects in these countries. Crop production is likely to reduce by half by 2020. This means the food crisis will get the African countries faster due to climate change. The people of the small island nations of the pacific (Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands Fiji etc) find most of their land under water due to king tides or cyclones; the people in the highlands of Kenya, Rwanda wake up one morning to find their crops moved and destroyed in landslides. AS I write this, the Turkanas of Kenya have moved to Uganda in search of pastures because of the drought that has hit their homeland. The herders and the police reservists accompanying are facing disarmament from the Ugandan militias and this will leave them cheap prey for the cattle rustlers from the other side. If they don’t die there, they will definitely loose their livelihoods source-their cattle. The cause of all this is the variability in climate which the Turkanas know nothing about nor have their actions contributed anything to the situation.

Human rights to development require international support to come to fruition”

Climate change has led to all these socio-economic strive in the underdeveloped countries. Industrialized countries release huge amounts of green house gases into the atmosphere daily and are causing this untold suffering to the underdeveloped countries. While the heavy polluters have the ability to mitigate or adapt to the impacts of climate change, the underdeveloped countries are highly vulnerable. They have little or no capacity to mitigate or adapt to the impacts of climate change. Human rights activists led by Mary Robinson, president, “Realizing Rights” (former president of Ireland); put their voices together to lobby for the realization of this important human rights violation. This was during an African Climate Change conference held in Kigali between

10th and 11th of September 2008. The Workshop was organized by the Rwanda Environment Management Authority (REMA) in partnership with the London School of Economics and

sponsored by the government of Rwanda, LSE Fund, BBC world Service Trust and Howell and Sharon. The conference brought together policy makers, civil society, academicians and politicians with an aim of strategizing on how the African poor can adapt or mitigate against the impacts of climate change. The government of Rwanda, led by president Paul Kagame has realized that climate variability threatens the livelihoods of her people and that an immediate action needs to be taken by all stakeholders to reduce their vulnerability. President Kagame said climate change was an issue that needed more attention by all to liberate the African people from the vicious circle of poverty. Obviously, this visionary leader has realized the weight of this issue and has given it the political weight it requires. He called on other African leaders and policy makers not to keep lamenting but see climate change as a challenge to economic development that needs to be addressed immediately.

Now, there is enough evidence that climate change is a human rights issue and the heavy polluters should pay to help support the development of the most vulnerable nations’ capacity to mitigate and adapt to these adverse impacts.

People from the poor underdeveloped countries are part of the more than 2000 million farmers in the world. The farmers are custodians of most what’s left of the world’s natural resources; holding in their hands the fate of thousands of threatened species as well as the world’s remaining forests.

“Under no Circumstances should a people be deprive of their right to a livelihood”

I concur with Julian Cribb (editor science alert) that these farmers could probably be the ones who can safe the world. The African farmer will not only need to feed the continent but also restore its forests, cleanse its waters, protect its wild species, improve its soils and absorb a substantial percentage of the carbon we all emit as we go about our lives. The farmers need first to be informed of this important role and be equipped with the right skills and ample funding to do this. The African continent has the potential to provide solutions to the climate change threats by replanting forests and sow new Agro-forests; design farming systems that enrich the soils with organic matter, thereby absorbing carbon out of the atmosphere instead of degrading it and releasing carbon; filter, cleanse and restore the fresh waters; use new science in some cases and re-apply old science in others to turn agriculture in much of the continent into the engine of economic growth and prosperity, thereby tackling the millennium goals of reducing poverty, hunger and disease. For example, by preparing and using humus, the farmers will facilitate arbiscular micorrhizal fungi to grow thereby absorbing a lot of organic carbon from the atmosphere and stabilizing the carbon cycle in the soil. This creates an economic commodity for farmers (sequestered carbon) and makes the land more valuable by improving soil and water conservation, thus enhancing both the economic and environmental components of adaptive capacity. The drier parts of Africa have the greatest potential of growing Jatropha trees which are a great source of bio-fuel, a clean source of energy that can run of most of the African economies. The pastoralists of semi-arid Africa could be holding the most important genes (in their livestock) that may safe the world in breeding animals that can adapt to hotter drier conditions we are definitely going to experience in the short to medium term.

Many African scientists have done very well in research in many areas including climate change. However, their skills and knowledge have not been utilized beyond the certificate in their briefcases and the research papers on their shelves. The African voices are seriously lacking on the negotiation tables like the Kyoto discussions. Grace Akumu of Climate Network Africa said that it is now important for African leaders to mainstream climate change in all economic development plans and take a lead in negotiating over the issue in the discussions. She further noted that more (donor funding) should be directed at supporting capacity to mitigate and adapt to the impacts of climate change for more sustainable development.

“More of and active African Voices are needed on the negotiating tables. The heavy polluters have to realize that their emissions lead to violation of a fundamental human right- the right to live, among the underdeveloped countries” A united Africa can challenge the wet- the biggest polluters to slow down their rates of green house emissions while supporting the poor countries capacity to adapt and mitigate the unavoidable impacts of climate change. The forum observed that the climate human rights linkage needs more appropriate research to develop a model that can place responsibility on individual actors including the private sector. An international enforcement mechanism needs to be designed.

The media can play an important role in creating awareness and training people on how to adapt and mitigate climate change. Christine K of BBC World Service Trust advised journalists that the climate change should be appropriately presented to the African public. Climate change should not be presented as an environmental apocalypse but as a serious scenario which everyone in the world can do something to improve. The African people have a right to access of the right information regarding climate change and all forms of media should be used to bridge the gap.

The conference made a number of recommendations. More important is that more of African voices need to be heard more on the negotiating forums and more funding be availed to build the capacity of Africa to adapt to climate variability and climate change. Adaptation should not be used as a substitute to mitigation. Both are options for reducing the impacts of climate change in the short and long run and should be employed together.

All the necessary efforts should be made to respect and protect the fundamental human rights of poor, weaker and the marginalised, including the indigenous people; both locally and internationally.

Lake likely to lose her Biodiversity Secrets

Local knowledge is very important. In most cases it is simple and cheap to get but is often not regarded with the seriousness it deserves. Lake kivu is one such area that has not lost her legendary and biodiversity secrets. This is the public knowledge that is half the truth and most people pretend not to know while those who think they know assume it is a secret that others don’t know!

Lake Kivu

Most of this secrets are about the formation and hence nature of the lake. Lake Kivu was formed after man had been around for sometime. There lived a king who had many wives. The youngest wife, by the name Nyiransibura happened to be naughty and disrespectiful to the king. One day, when it was Nyiransibura’s turn to serve the King, she refused and the King decided to beat her up. She ran away and as the King tried to chase her, she dropped a tin in which she collected her urine and usaully carried wherever she went. The urine spilled all over creating a barrier between her and the king. The urine did not dry up but became a big lake, the current Lake Kivu. I think I don’t doubt this legend-the lake is unique with a lot of methane and carbon dioxide. Even under conditions of bubling methane gas, some fish species still exist!

Science will tell us otherwise. But science alone has not been able to conserve the lake and its biodiversity as traditional and cultural beliefs did for many years. According to Professor Robert Hecky (University of Michigan), lake Kivu is one of the most dangerous lakes in Africa due to their “lake overturn” tendencies. The lake contains large amounts of carbon dioxide and hence likely to overturn. During a lake overturn, all creatures in the lake will be wiped out and huge deposits of vegetation will be swept into the lake. This has not happened for lake Kivu despite all the pre-disposing factors. Unlike Nyos and Monoun lakes in Cameroon, which also have a lot of carbon dioxide and overturned recently, Lake Kivu is far much bigger (more than 2000 times lake Nyos). The Nyiragongo Volcanic mountain erupted in 2002 throwing a lot of lava into lake Kivu. This would most likely displace the carbon and cause an overturn but it fortunately didn’t.

People whose livelihoods depend directly on the lake.

“Their lack of appropriate information is a major threat to Biodiversity”

Apart from these natural threats, the Lake Kivu area has lot biodiversity secrets. It has 26 fish species It is a breeding haven for many bird species. Most of breeding areas are on the same islands and peninsula. Traditionally, people were never allowed to live or do undertake any economic activities on these small islands. But now, there are people constructing houses and farming on the Islands. The traditional governments (chiefdoms) were able to enforce the legislation against this kind of encroachment but the modern government has failed. People had a way of respecting and benefiting from nature then but now people destroy nature through overexploitation and habitat destruction. There have been businessmen who have been licensed to construct tourist hotels on the shores of the lake and this work is clearing the important habitats for birds around the lake.

A tourist hotel under construction on shores of lake Kivu

One of the birds that are threatened here is the Grey crowned cranes (balearica regurolum). This bird is celebrated as a national symbol in Uganda. In Kenya it is taboo to touch it. In Rwanda, people are catching the cranes from the wild and keeping them at home as pets. At home they never breed! Around Lake Kivu, the bird is a major trade commodity. There is a breed of poachers who now catch the Cranes and sell them to people who eat them. According to ACNR recent survey, an adult crane is costing about RwF 50,000 (about $ 100.00). A young one goes for RwF 20,000.00. The practice of domesticating grey crowned cranes is rampant throughout Rwanda and if not stopped, the bird species may disappear completely.

This frustrated crane is one of the many domesticated ones in Kigali

ACNR has started advocating for the release of any captive cranes into the wild and a stop to their hunting for commercial purposes. This will be supported by the many nature clubs and site support groups they are helping establish and support around the country. The Saint Marie secondary school nature clubs is on the shores of Lake Kivu and ACNR is requesting for support from all stakeholders (community members, Conservation NGOs, well wishers and the Government) Enoch, Mark, Claude and Theoneste of ACNR were here a few weeks ago talking to the students and the school adminsitration with a vies to create awareness amongst the students. There is an urgent need for follow-up visits to strengthen the capacity of the nature club in conserving this important habitat.

AFRICA: Climate Change will affect us Too!

Is Africa Prepared to deal with impacts of Climate Change?

No will be the correct answer to this question. Africa in general is overwhelmed with other problems. HIV AIDS, poverty reduction and political instability and general governance issues seem to take centre stage in Africa. To a large extent, it has been forgotten that all these have a direct relationship to the environment and impacts of climate change may make the situation worse. Sustainable economic development can not be achieved without realizing and incorporating the ecological component in all the strategies employed to deal with the problems developing economies and the world in general face.

However, hope exist! Concerned stake holders have realized the need to be actively involved in designing strategies to deal with the likely impacts of climate change. Using scientific modelling, they have modelled the likely climate change over the next 100 years. The situation is seriously worrying and a lot of effort is required to deal with it.Many species are projected to suffer a reduction in range size and a small proportion may go extinct completely.

Regal Sunbird, an Albertine Rift endemic and a species predicted to move altitudinally due to climate change

One of the most important things now is concerted efforts in scientific research, involving african conservationists/researchers and then followed by policy makers and implementers. Such (pioneering) research to help biodiversity survive the impacts of climate change across Africa was announced at a workshop in held in Kigali, Rwanda between 9th and 11th July 2008 and hosted by the Association pour la Conservation de la Nature au Rwanda (BirdLife in Rwanda) on behalf of the BirdLife Africa Partnership. The workshop brought together the BirdLife Africa Partnership, RSPB, Durham University (UK), Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and was funded by the MacArthur Foundation.

The project mapped the current and future distributions of all bird species on mainland Africa by using climate change models to determine the distance and direction of shifts for each species in the future.

A particular emphasis of the work was understanding how well the Important Bird Areas (IBAs) network in Africa can sustain the continent’s bird with future climate change. Dr Julius Arinaitwe, BirdLife International’s Regional IBA Manager for Africa, said “There are very few plans to protect biodiversity from the effects of climate change anywhere in the world. BirdLife International is leading the drive to develop strategies to protect our unique wildlife for future generations.”

“BirdLife International is leading the drive to develop strategies to protect our unique wildlife for future generations” -Dr Julius Arinaitwe, BirdLife’s Regional IBA Manager for Africa

More detailed analysis is being carried out within the Albertine Rift region of Africa to identify actions that will increase the resilience of the IBA network to future climate change.

The workshop in Rwanda brings together governments, academic institutions, NGOs and local community from Rwanda, Burundi, Tanzania, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, all of which are included within the Albertine Rift mountains complex.

Dr Steve Willis, a lecturer at Durham University’s Environmental Change Research Group, and a leading expert on climate change modelling commented: “In the Albertine Rift, our models project that species will move upwards altitudinally, and clearly the higher up a mountain you go, the less land area there is. We need to start acting now to prevent these unique species disappearing altogether.”

The main challenge is to try to protect the birds where they are now and at the same time to help them to follow a shifting climate. We need to start planning their conservation in areas where they currently do not even occur. The problems are huge but we cannot simply sit back and watch our natural heritage disappear,

Important Bird Areas are essential for the livelihoods of many people in Africa, and are the backbone of the tourism industry, a major source of revenue for African economies. Most of these areas are also key reservoirs for water and pollinators and so their protection is an important component of adaptation to climate change in other fields such as agriculture, demography, energy, and urbanisation.

3-D representation – looking north “up” the Albertine Rift – of the modelled distribution of Regal Sunbird Nectarinia regia for a) the present; b) 2025, and; c) 2085. The red indicates areas with suitable environmental condition for the species. The grey scale background is a digital elevation, with light grey representing higher altitudes.

Working with communities to conserve IBAs

Albertine Rift/Rwanda

Bite…Muraho? Bite (read ‘bee teh’) is the general greeting in this wonderful, small East African country. This means the country has only one local language (Kinyarwanda) and I belief this makes it the largest language group in Africa, if not in the world. This is totally different from PNG where there are more than a thousand languages dividing a population of about 6 million people into as many ethnic groups.

ACNR with support from BirdLife international and regional partners has been working on the establishment and gazetting of Important Bird Areas (IBAs). The IBAs are areas with unique characteristics and support the existence of bird species. The criteria for qualifying an area as an IBA has been developed by BirdLife international.

One of such site support groups is the Inyange site support group. This group, living along the wetlands of Nyabarongo, is the most effective. The Nyabarongo wetlands have been identified as one of the most special IBAs in the great lakes region. The wetland runs through the country of Rwanda from the west, through the central Kigali city province to the southern region where it joins the Akagera marshland before extending to Tanzania. The Nyabarongo wetland which drains the wetland joins the Akagera River before draining into Lake Victoria. These two rivers form the greatest proportion of the water entering Lake Victoria (46%) during the wet seasons. By extension, the wetland is believed to be a major source of the River Nile.

ACNR is working with communities to establish community based organisations to manage the environment for sustainable livelihoods. Such organisations include SSGs and school based nature clubs. Mugesera (Bugesera) and St. Marie (Karongi) are examples.

They employ a strategy of empowering these groups to establish sustainable livelihoods based on enterprises using local natural resources.

They work with the CBOs to create awareness aimed at strengthening environmental education programmes and inform the communities on the value and wise use of natural resources, incorporating indigenous knowledge and local value systems.

They lobby the appropriate service providers including marketing and research institutions to work with the CBOs to make their enterprises sustainable.

Inyange SSG has been very active. Recently they have demonstrated that resources in the wetlands can be protected for improved livelihoods. ACNR has identified a number of areas in which the IBA site support group needs help to be fully funtional and well resourced. Let’s read about their general activities in the next issues….

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Introducing ACNR Rwanda

Here comes Enoch Ontiri, Introducing conservation work in Rwanda.

The Kisii highlands are beautiful to look and very nice to visit and even stay. The whole of Kenya where I grew up is just fantastic. But all these did not stop me from going to Papua New Guinea where to work in nature conservation. I volunteered with VSO, attached to a World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) project. I had to extend my stay there for another one year for many reasons. The transfly wetlands in Papua New Guinea are great habitat with rich biodiversity. The culture of the people there is very interesting too. Conservation work is just but trying to protect the largely intact natural habitats. I am sure I will go back many years in future and see much of the nature intact and most people’s live much improved, courtesy of WWF’s work and ongoing commitment to support communities to conserve their resources.

Now, let me take you to Rwanda, a country of a thousand hills….

In the rural areas of Rwanda, people are struggling to get their daily bread from their immediate surrounding! In a country that is recovering from the worst calamities, the 1994 genocide and the after mats, people are faced with serious challenges of poverty but most important, lack of appropriate information.

Rwanda is a small country in East Africa measuring 26,338 square kilometers with a human population of about 10 million. 47 % of the land is used for agricultural purposes, 18% pasture and 22% is forest. Within this classification of forests fall the national parks and nature parks of Nyungwe, Akagera and Volcanoes. The national parks are home to Antelopes, Zebras, Buffalos, Giraffes, Golden monkeys, Chimpanzees, mountain Gorillas, Golden cats, giant forest hog, duiker, and sitatunga among others. There are about 670 recorded species of birds also. The country has some of the major wetlands forming part of the source of the river Nile.

The country, popularly known as “country of a thousand hills” is faced with very complex environment and natural resource conservation challenges. The greatest component of the challenges is the high ever increasing human population. The population growth rate is the highest in the region and there are also a big number of returnees who the government has to provide for. There have been a number of attempts to convert the forest land into farming/human settlements in the recent years. The hilly landscapes are fast loosing the top soil layer through erosion. This is aggravated by overstocking and poor cultivation methods. It is so bad because many people here don’t realize that Environmental challenges both underpin and define all aspects of human development, from economic development to health to food security.

Tomorrow, I will tell you about Association Pour conservation du la Nature au Rwanda, the organisation that I work with.

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