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The Kipsaina Crane and Wetlands Conservation Group

Africa: > The Kipsaina Crane and Wetlands Conservation Group

Kipsaina Crane and Wetlands Conservation Group
The Kipsaina Crane and Wetlands Conservation Group (KCWCG) was formed in 1990 by Maurice Wanjala, a local pastor and youth group leader. The motto of the KCWCG is "touch one, touch all," and the group strives to promote and actively participate in a variety of innovative programs to conserve wildlife and wetlands within and around Saiwa National Park. Saiwa National Park is located in the catchment of the Nzoia River, one of several rivers that drain from the highlands of western Kenya and flow into Lake Victoria. Collectively these rivers contribute about 7.3 billion m3 of runoff per year, or 75% of the inflow to the lake (Hughes and Hughes 1992). The wetlands around Saiwa National Park, a mix of grassy floodplains and papyrus swamps, are small and scattered on privately owned and communal lands. Although small, Saiwa and surrounds support nearly 25% of the breeding population of Grey Crowned Cranes in Kenya, and one of the only local populations of the semi-aquatic Sitatunga antelope. Many of the wetlands upstream and downstream of Saiwa National Park have been drained and cultivated.

Over the past twelve years, the KCWCG has undertaken a variety of creative activities to protect Saiwa and its wildlife. Wanjala and his team help raise, distribute, and plant indigenous trees (more than 200,000 to date) to restore the upland buffer zone around Saiwa. They distribute and plant livestock fodder to reduce grazing pressure on swamp areas and to reduce soil erosion. They demonstrate and encourage organic and bio-dynamic agricultural practices that reduce the runoff of fertilizers and pesticides into the swamp. They raise public awareness at community centers throughout the Saiwa catchment through lectures, songs, poems, and traditional dances with environmental themes. A local spin-off group, the Kiriita Women’s Group, helps local farmers dig and stock fish ponds to prevent the dredging and damming of small ponds inside the swamps. The KCWCG also enlists local volunteers ("Friends of Saiwa Swamp") to help monitor nesting sites of Grey Crowned Cranes. Through these and other activities, the group is demonstrating practical ways for local farmers to generate income while minimizing impacts to Saiwa swamp and surrounds.

The most remarkable achievement of the Kipsaina Crane and Wetlands Conservation Group, however, has been the restoration of more than 1.5 km of contiguous wetlands along the Kipsaina River immediately downstream of Saiwa National Park. Through years of diligent community outreach under the vision and direction of Maurice Wanjala, they have successfully restored a large wetland complex on formerly cultivated land by offering local farmers viable economic alternatives to wetland destruction. The site now closely resembles the former grass swamps and riparian habitat that formerly covered the area. This work greatly increases the effective area of Saiwa swamp and harbors a plethora of wildlife also found in the park, including a growing population of Sitatunga antelope and six breeding pairs of Grey Crowned Cranes—doubling the local population of this threatened bird. This extraordinary project is one of the only examples of wetland restoration on former agricultural land in Kenya, and it is a model for wetland stewardship in the region.

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