Working for birds in Africa

Important Bird Areas in Kenya

Fri, 12/21/2012 - 23:53 -- abc_admin
L. Bennun and P. Njoroge 1999. 318 pp, maps and line drawings. Nature Kenya, Nairobi. ISBN 9966-9921-1-1. No price given.
pages 67 - 68

This is the latest offering from the Important Bird Area (IBA) programme in Africa and very much maintains the excellent standard of such publications. Sites selected as IBAs range in size from the 1 ha Kisite Island to Tsavo East National Park at well over one million ha (the adjacent Tsavo West National Park, at 906,500 ha, is considered separately), although more than one other site is large and not defined exactly. Most fall within the 10,000-50,000 ha range. As one would expect, the major tourist National Parks (eg Tsavo, Nairobi and Amboseli) and many other well-known sites (eg Lake Naivasha and Kakamega Forest) are included, along with some much less well-known areas (eg Busia Grasslands, Ruma National Park and Dida Galgalu Desert). Some currently have little or no formal protection status. Brief notes concerning the importance of each site for wildlife other than birds are mentioned where appropriate.

The book opens with a 50-page introductory section including an overview, general geographical information on Kenya, an introduction to the concept behind IBAs and how the selections were made, followed by a section describing general conservation issues and the institutional, legislative and policy framework within which it stands. There follow the 60 main site accounts and brief notes on five more potential sites. The book is rounded off by a comprehensive bibliography and appendices listing globally threatened species, regionally threatened species and biome species and which of the IBAs they occur in, along with notes on how each site scores. These issues are all very comprehensively treated within the constraints of space available.

The site accounts (which average just over three pages) include a short description and why each has been selected, together with a map and its conservation status. These certainly do highlight both the biodiversity to be found and very clearly the threats that these areas face in the current economic climate.

Books such as this are designed primarily to highlight the most important areas for those in authority, be it local and national governments, or international bodies, to conserve and protect from development and ultimate destruction. They also, of course, serve as a primary site guide for visitors searching for the rarer and scarcer birds within a country. This book certainly serves both purposes admirably. However, both such benefits are potentially causes for concern. Many visitors wish to see as many of the scarcer and interesting birds as they can within the constraints of an often short visit. A perfectly acceptable aim, but it could lead to birders only visiting these sites and not elsewhere, and hence not adding greatly to knowledge and potentially to the conservation of the species they are looking for. There is still a huge amount to learn about the distribution and, indeed, general biology and requirements of many African birds, A more serious concern is that politicians and others in authority will use the book and say 'These are the important sites. The rest of the country is clearly unimportant and we can therefore do what we like with it', in some cases, at least, before such areas have even been properly surveyed. I hope that neither of my concerns proves to be justified.

Peter Lack

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