Day 223: A Conservation Legend

Hanging out with David Ngala.

August 11, 2015, Nairobi, Kenya — After last night’s owl prowl, David Ngala took us for another morning in the Sokoke Forest Reserve. We scraped out a few more birds, including several Clarke’s Weavers (which is found only in this forest), before Alan, Joe and I took an afternoon flight to Nairobi. En route, we made up 3/7 of the prop plane’s passengers.

I had fun spending a couple of days birding with David who is, according to Joe, a “legend” among Kenyan conservationists. David, a quiet man in his 50s, works with the Kenyan Forest Service and spends his time monitoring the Sokoke Reserve in various ways. Several years ago, the president of Kenya announced that part of the reserve would be opened to settlement, and David and his friends took action to protect the forest. They initiated construction of an electric fence which now surrounds the entire 400-square-kilometer reserve; the fence simultaneously keeps about 200 savannah elephants from trampling adjacent crops and delineates the reserve’s boundaries from encroachment. Meanwhile, David coordinated talks with local elders about the proposed settlement. When these talks were reported in a national newspaper, the president decided that settling the reserve would be unpopular and ordered an army of armies—park guards, police, and military—to clear out existing squatters. It was a big victory for conservation in this region, and David was presented with a Disney Conservation Hero award for helping save the forest. (You can read more about David here:

It is inspiring to hang out with such luminaries. Conservation in tropical countries is often carried out by overseas organizations, and this year I’ve often seen how locals can resent being told what to do by outsiders. Ultimately, conservation is most effective when it’s driven by the people who live there. People like David know exactly where to find a Sokoke Scops-Owl, and they know who talk to so that the next generation will have endemic scops-owls, too.

New birds today: 7

Year list: 3930

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