Conservation at Upendo
Conservation of biological diversity is key in an area where populations of the native species' have been reduced due to human population expansion, food production, and development. It is the goal of Upendo to provide a small oasis along the riparian zone of the Nakhwana River river to allow some small species to thrive, and which can be part of a corridor for daily or seasonal migratory movements of some of the larger animals, such as vervet monkeys, civets, and mongoose. It is also important as a breeding site for Nile monitors and helmeted terrapins.
Identifying Existing Biodiversity
You can't protect a species if you don't know it is there. So our priority in the past two years has been to identify what tree and animal species are actually making use of the conservation area; in other words, determining presence or absence. Silas Wekesa has spent countless hours criss-crossing the conservation area, conducting visual and audio encounter surveys for frogs using his phone to record the sounds and to take pictures. He would then send these to Prof. Twining (a frog bioacoustics researcher) for identification. As of the date of the creation of this web page, we have identified 15 species of frogs that are using our conservation area for breeding, including (but not limted to) several species of ridged or rocket frogs (Ptychadena sp.), two species of reed frogs (Hyperolius sp.), marbled snout burrowers (Hemisus sp.), and clawed frogs (Xenopus sp.). At least two frog populations may represent range extensions for the species in Kenya.
We have also found other types of animals during our visual encounter surveys, including African hedgehogs, naked-tailed shrews, Hadada ibis, and African giant millipedes. Reptiles include graceful chameleons, five-lined skinks, variable skinks, northern stripe-bellied sand snake, Battersby's green snake, and a Williams' hinged terrapin.
Another tool we have used to conduct presence-absence surveys is a trail camera. We have established the presence of Nile monitors, three species of mongoose, African civets, rusty-spotted genets, striped ground squirrels, and a vervet monkey passing through. Several species of birds are known from the trail camera, including African thrush, white-browed coucal, and black-headed gonolek.
Conservation for the Future
The area that encompasses Upendo was once forested, and so one of the things we want to do is re-establish forests where they once existed. Within the conservation area, we have a native tree nursery. Seeds and seedlings are obtained from the Kenya Forest Research Institute and the Bungoma County Forest Department demonstration sites, or potentially from some other tree nurseries in the area. Seeds are established in a seed bed, and then transplanted when ready. Volunteers from the community care for the trees at every stage, including water, manure, weeding, shading, and transplanting. Around 25-50 volunteers from the community help with either the growing or transplanting efforts. The amount of time a young tree is in the nursery depends on the species. For example, Acacia trees can be ready to plant in less than 2.5 months while Maesopsis sp. takes up to 5 months. In addition, the timing of tree planting and growth generally correlates to the start of the wet season in March and April.
It is important to make the conservation area accessible for people to learn about nature. To that end, we have established walking trails so that people can enjoy spending time in the conservation area. There is a nice bench part way through where people can stop, sit, listen, and observe. We do have a fence around the area, and a sign at the entrance to the preserve.
Finally, conservation education is essential for training the next generation about why it is important to care for the land and the species that we share the land with. We will be developing curriculum about some of the main species from Upendo; in particular, the trees, frogs, snakes, Nile monitors and other lizards, and some of the bird and mammal species. The curriculum will include information on identification, behaviors, life cycles, threats and conflicts with humans, and conservation. Either posters or brochures will be made that incorporates these themes and can be distributed at future educational programs in area schools, churches, and community-based organizations.