The Kenya Wildlife Service has expressed concern over the migration of hundreds of rare Sitatunga antelopes out of their natural habitats at King’wal swamp to the neighbouring wetlands which has exposed them to danger.
Regional KWS warden Joel Kanda said the migration of the shy antelope has baffled animal watchers and scientists since their movement from King’wal swamp in Nandi central is unusual.
The antelopes have now been exposed to attacks from predators which include stray dogs and poachers at their new habitats in Mutwot, Kapchumba and Kibabet swamps. Others have crossed over to Kesses in the neighbouring Uasin Gishu county. Two antelopes were rescued by KWS rangers from poachers at Kingwal who were preparing to feast on them a week ago and escaped dragnet of the officers, The two male Sitatungas were attacked by poachers while fighting for territorial dominance and one suffered serious injuries and was under medication and guard, Kanda disclosed.
The officer also expressed fears over massive human encroachment of King’wal swamp and other neighbouring wetlands by farmers and brick mongers which has adversely affected the habitats of the Aquatic Antelopes in the area. “As a result of encroachments, their natural habitat is slowly shrinking which might have been the cause for the on-going migration from the area.” The KWS official said.
While welcoming the positive steps being taken by the county leaders to recognize the available untapped potential in tourism, Kanda disclosed that since the introduction of community based conservation measures, incidences of poaching had dropped to a manageable percentage resulting to a sharp increase of Sitatungas population.
Currently, the swamp is estimated to be the home of over 200 Antelopes from the previous 40 at the King’wal Ecosystem which could be the largest herd in East and Central Africa. Previous human wildlife conflict had resulted to frequent killings of the animals by farmers who cultivate along the swamp, while others hunted them for meat in an effort to reduce their populations to a manageable number.
However this was brought to an end when the KWS through various facilities encouraged the communities to protect them for economic benefits, a move that has realized the population raise. King’wal swamp is one among the only two swamps hosting the rear Antelopes after Saiwa swamp in Trans-Nzoia county which has a few animals compared to those in Nandi.
Kanda complained of a number of Community based organization (CBO’s) which had sourced donor funds in pretext of protecting the antelopes while in real sense they did nothing since they were not ever anywhere closer to the swamps where the animals are. “KWS cannot abdicate its responsibility to CBO’s based in far counties sourcing money from donors and while doing nothing to even sensitize the communities on the importance of having the animals.” He said.
A Non governmental Organization-Nature Kenya and KWS were jointly working together to make King’wal a community conservation area with the support of the United Nation Development Program (UNDP) under Global Environmental facility -GEF that would communities benefit economically.