The Wildlife Services Department is committed to improving communications between park managers and local communities in order to increase support for conservation, develop additional sanctuaries and tourism sites, and build Kenyan support for the parks and reserves. Priorities for parks and reserves management are improved visitor security, protection of biodiversity, application of various techniques to manage visitors and the development of environmentally sound infrastructure.
Under KWS's new regional structure, many management decisions and tasks involving park infrastructure formerly handled by the Wildlife Services Department have become the responsibility of the eight Regional Assistant Directors and the 27 Area Wardens. The full range of licencing and veterinary services will continue to be provided by the Nairobi headquarters.
Wildlife Services' primary role will be policy formulation to ensure that regional activities are compatible with KWS's new mission and goals and the new wildlife policy and act. It will also serve a unifying function, coordinating the RADs' activities and providing assistance with the implementation and management of projects within and across regions.
During 1996, the department continued its work in facilitating stakeholder and community involvement in parks management and conservation decision making. Decision making forums were established in the Nairobi, Lake Nakuru, Hell's Gate/Longonot, Amboseli, Mount Kenya and Shimba Hills areas. The Friends of Nairobi National Park and the Mwaluganje Conservation Group in Shimba Hills became particularly involved as the impact of local government upon fragile ecosystems brought home the need for better management to develop a sustainable balance in activities.
Beach management plans were developed, with much community input, for the marine parks and reserves at Mombasa, Diani, Kisite and Malindi/Watamu, where the activities of tourists and local people have a great impact on endangered species such as dugong and sea turtle.
Infrastructure rehabilitation and improvement remained a priority activity, with gains for management, security, visitor employment and environmental conservation in the parks and reserves. Improvements to the road networks of Lake Nakuru, Amboseli, Aberdare, Nairobi and Tsavo East and West National Parks enhanced visitor mobility and contributed to reduced incidences of speeding and off-road driving. Improved road signage in Nairobi, the Tsavos, Meru, Aberdare, Lake Nakuru, Shimba Hills and Hell's Gate/Longonot has also sensitized visitors to the need to treat the protected-area environments with care.
Rehabilitation of vehicles, including Land Rover 109s for most parks and stations, and machinery commenced to resolve various management problems, particularly general mobility, antipoaching activities, revenue collection and facility maintenance.
Measures to correct the ecological balance in Lake Nakuru National Park included rehabilitation of the Nakuru Municipal Sewage Treatment Works and increased conservation outreach activities among the local agricultural community.
Veterinary Services moved into the recently completed veterinary centre early in the year; equipping of the facility will continue into 1997 because of budgetary constraints.
Two staff veterinarians completed Msc. degrees and returned to work. In addition, the unit recruited two new veterinarians, who underwent a three-month on-the-job training programme. The two will take up new permanent field positions in the Maasai Mara and Tsavo/Amboseli, areas that generate a large number of requests for field interventions involving injured animals.
The year 1996 was a busy one for translocations. The most urgent operation was the mass capture and transfer of 36 hirola (Hunter's antelope) from Tana River/Garissa to a sanctuary in Tsavo East National Park. The highly endangered hirola unexpectedly became the subject of a court case when the local host community objected to KWS's intervention. The translocation eventually took place under the pressure of a time deadline when an injunction temporarily lifted a previously issued restraining order.
KWS and Veterinary Services also completed the first elephant translocation exercise in Kenya with the assistance of an consultant from Zimbabwe, who helped KWS refine the necessary techniques.
A number of rhino were also translocated, including ten black rhino moved from Nairobi National Park to boost the founder population in Tsavo East. Kongoni Farm near Naivasha received six white rhino from Solio Ranch, another private sanctuary. In addition, Veterinary Services translocated two white rhino from Ol Choro Oirua near Aitong in the Mara to Lake Nakuru National Park in order to ward off further mortalities from trypanosomiasis.
Other translocations included the capture of a stock-raiding lion in Nairobi National Park, released for monitoring and rehabilitation in Tsavo East; four stock-raiding wild dog (an endangered species) from Laikipia, now under observation in Nairobi with possible mates imported from Tanzania; and transfers of miscellaneous species to a private sanctuary in Naivasha. As KWS continues to gain expertise in translocation, particularly of large species, Veterinary Services may be able to parlay this capital-intensive activity into a source of income by offering its services to the private sector and neighbouring countries.
To support KWS researchers monitoring elephant movements between Amboseli National Park and adjacent areas in Tanzania, where poaching is suspected to be a problem, Veterinary Services immobilized more than ten elephant for radio collaring.
In general, disease among wildlife populations continues to erupt periodically due to range compression and overcrowded conditions in some areas, leading to increased close contact with domesticated animals.
Investigations into the source of the 1994 rinderpest epidemic in Tsavo continued with extensive monitoring in northern Kenya, with no conclusive results. Just before year's end, Veterinary Services confirmed the presence of rinderpest in the eland population of Nairobi National Park. Upon notification by KWS, the Ministry of Livestock commenced vaccination of livestock in the neighbourhood to reduce the spread of the disease in order to investigate antibody levels. The joint KWS/Ministry of Livestock domestic dog vaccination campaign also continues in some areas surrounding the reserve.
Expert pathologists from Nairobi University have been recruited to continue researching the cause of the mysterious 1994 mass flamingo deaths at Lake Nakuru. The prime suspects are an algal toxin or a change in water pH leading to complications with bacteria levels. Flamingo numbers have since rebounded, with more than a million counted in the Rift Valley lakes in September.
Complaints of seasonal deaths and chronic loss of coat and condition in waterbuck and impala led to the discovery of a toxic-chemical dump located inside Lake Nakuru National Park and a tentative diagnosis of heavy-metal poisoning.
Rabies, usually blamed on wildlife but most often confirmed in domestic animals, has made a rare appearance among wild animals. Samples collected from a suspicious hyena in Nairobi and a bat-eared fox from Hell's Gate were sent for analysis at Weybridge Laboratories in the United Kingdom, which confirmed the diagnosis.
Veterinary Services and KARI are collaborating on the routine screening of wildlife for rabies. In addition, KWS, KARI and the International Institute of Parasitology held discussions regarding possible collaborative research into the transmission of parasites between wild and domesticated animals.
Reports of snared, injured or orphaned animals flowed into Veterinary Services from many parts of the country. Particularly alarming were numerous cases of gunshot wound among elephant reported from areas of intense human-elephant conflict such as Samburu, Nasolot and Amboseli. The newly filled field vet positions are expected to increase Veterinary Services' rate of response to requests for field intervention, whether for wounded or problem animals.
Veterinary Services offered support to community conservation and enterprise projects in the areas of health certification, meat inspection and classification of the ostrich as a domestic bird to encourage farming. KWS continues to oversee the welfare of the 19 nonindigenous chimpanzee-refugees from conflict in Burundi - given shelter in a private sanctuary at Sweetwaters Tented Camp near Mount Kenya.
Together with the Kenya Veterinary Board, Veterinary Services contributed expertise on matters of problem animal control and meat inspection during the development of the new wildlife policy and legislation.