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Raptor Biology and Conservation

Faculty-LedFaculty-Led | Ecology & Conservation Kenya

Module Overview

Historically, Kenya had some of the highest raptor numbers and diversity in the world, but they have increasingly come under threat for a variety of inter-related reasons. As such, raptors are an excellent taxonomic group with which to demonstrate the many challenges surrounding monitoring and conserving globally declining species. This module will introduce students to some of the issues Kenya’s raptors face via a blended mix of lectures, in-field data collection and analysis, and some bird handling.

Location

Run by the “Kenya Bird of Prey Trust”, the Naivasha Owl Centre on the shores of Lake Naivasha is the first stop for all types of injured or infirm raptors to heal, regain strength and train for eventual release. Here students are exposed to a wide variety of birds of prey and learn specifics on biology, ecological niches and immediate threats.  While based at the Centre, students take field trips out onto Lake Naivasha to count and (depending on time of year) catch (for banding/ringing) African Fish Eagles. An additional field trip to Hell’s Gate National park will highlight the threats facing vultures and other cliff-nesting raptors.

The Raptor Camp in Soysambu Conservancy, to the north of Lake Naivasha, is a rustic extension of the Naivasha Owl Centre, where birds come for the final portion of their training and eventual release. Soysambu Conservancy is a 48,000-acre wildlife and cattle ranch bordering Lake Nakuru to the north, Mt. Eburu to the west and Lake Naivasha to the south. It is home to some 450 bird species and over 50 mammal species. This is an interesting area to study how raptors and wildlife in general adapt to mixed land use with cattle and nearby unplanned settlements.

Educational Outcomes

Practical: Students are taught to handle and feed raptors, as well as participate in a licensed ringing/banding project in conjunction with the National Museums of Kenya.  Students record field data on wild raptors and observe raptor flight training and any necessary veterinary surgeries that might occur.

Theory: Lectures and discussions include the historical context of raptors in Kenya and falconry, modern threats to raptors, the roles of private and government stakeholders in conservation, raptor biology and Kenyan raptor identification.

Module Length

The minimum duration for this module is 4 days. The maximum length is 8 days and will incorporate additional study locations/data collection and analysis.

Contributors

Simon Thomsett

Simon has been working with raptors since childhood. He has worked with most species of birds of prey across Africa and assisted researchers in projects in Madagascar, India and Nepal.

He is more at home doing hands-on management rather than discussing it at conferences and promotes regulated rehabilitation, falconry, veterinary work and raptor care in research – areas he feels must all work together rather than be divided. He has always lived in locations suited to his birds and has made a rustic camp in a small forest on Soysambu conservancy. Here there are tree houses, hobbit houses and a mud built center powered by solar and using only rain water. Lions, leopards and buffalos share this home along with eagles. Students get to spend some of their time here during the course.

Shiv Kapila

Shiv was born in Nairobi, Kenya at a time when there was still enough birdlife within the city to keep a young boy busy. He lived near world-famous sites such as Lake Naivasha, Hell’s Gate National Park and the Maasai Mara National Reserve, among many others – all of which were duly and promptly explored.

He obtained a Masters in Conservation from University College London and then joined the Kenya Professional Safari Guides Association as a certified Safari guide. Shiv’s enduring project and passion is studying African fish eagles at Lake Naivasha and the other Kenyan Rift Valley lakes, Baringo, Bogoria and Nakuru. Working with many of Africa’s foremost experts in the raptor field, such as Simon Thomsett and Munir Virani, Shiv has also studied martial eagles, vultures and owls all over Kenya.

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