A newborn Humpback joins the family

On Friday the GVI Kenya Marine team were lucky enough to spot humpback dolphins, one of the rarer species of cetacean found on the Kenyan coast. We were traveling slowly through the busy channel at 7am when Sophie spotted the first dolphin of the new year! This was exciting enough, but as we watched it surface again we saw it was in fact 2 adult and one newborn humpback dolphin.

Newborn-humpback-with-Mother

The Newborn Humpback dolphin, fetal folds still visible

This is the first newborn humpback that has been seen by GVI in at least 3 years; they usually are spotted as calves meaning a few weeks older. We named the little one Mtoto; meaning baby or child in Kiswahili!

Newborn staying close to mother

Newborn staying close to mother

They showed no signs of evasion and we were able to follow them long enough to get good shots of both the adults and newborn. We recognized the mother as dolphin  009, Munch, and her companion as 019, Elvis. We will keep track of this young addition to our dolphin family and keep you posted!

Newborn humpback 'Mtoto'

Newborn humpback 'Mtoto'

Baboons in Shimoni – birth peaks and mating

Yellow baboons are quite common in Shimoni and are commonly regarded as infamous pests that are brazen enough to steal food from inside a human dwelling. Yet however obnoxious they may become they remain fascinating from a primate behavioral standpoint. Mating behavior in particular, is especially interesting and has even been observed from the back garden of the GVI Shimoni house.

Baboons with young

Baboons with young

Mating occurs year round in Yellow baboon troupes although not all females come into estrus at the same time. Resource availability and nutrition play a large role in determining the timing of mating activity so that it most often occurs when food availability is quite high, such as after the rainy season. Receptive females exhibit two physical signs: menstruation and anogenital tumescence (pinkish red swelling of the hairless area of the rump). Females are most swollen at the peak of their sexual receptivity.  Once pregnant, the gestation period lasts 180 and days and the average interbirth interval is 1.78 years although males may stimulate estrus in females after committing infanticide.

Baboon-has-stolen-Papaya

Papaya 'accidentally' ending up in baboons mouth

When a female comes into estrus multiple males in the troupe may attempt to monopolize the female either by engaging in courtship behavior or by physically guarding her from other males in the troop. It is not unusual for male-male conflicts to occur while one or more females are ovulating. During such conflicts males communicate aggression to each other by flashing the whites of their eyelids, baring their large canines, and vocalizing.

Education-during-fieldwork

Some education during fieldwork

Encounters with Yellow baboons are always lively and entertaining but the prudent primate observer should always keep a fair bit of distance between himself the Yellow baboon when disputes over females are prone to erupt.

Reef Fish Surveys

Ben snorkels

Ongoing research in the Kisite-Mpunguti Marine protected area of Kenya has always included snorkel surveys for reef fish. To this point only target species have been identified by competent individuals. Reef Fish counts of various genera including parrot fish, trigger fish, butterfly fish, angel fish, groupers, and snappers, are recorded on dive-slates.

Our goal is to expand the scope of surveys to include size comparison analyses. To develop an accurate gauge of size while snorkelling, participants will be tested with set pieces of known length. Test takers will be asked to accurately identify the length of each piece ranging from 5-50cm. Photographs including individual fish and reference objects will also be taken if possible.

The aim of this method will be to gather comparative data from various locations within the study area; and also make the data collected useful for partner organisations. Combined with the reef fish identification this new information will provide a broad understanding of what species thrive in specific habitats.

Ben Cudmore, Marine Field Staff, GVI Kenya

Bottlenose vs squid

Over the past few weeks during our sightings, our bottlenose dolphins have demonstrated some of their stranger feeding habits! We have been fortunate to have perfect weather conditions for following the dolphins in their daily routine and completing comprehensive behaviour surveys – and this has allowed us to observe an adult leaping clear of the water to slap it’s prey of a large squid on the surface.

bottlenose squid

Other encounters have included stunning a electric blue striped fish on the surface, but not eating it and a chase of over 500m after a determined flying fish. The fish won this time round and out-swam the dolphin!

BND_2011_11_10_DS01 183

We will keep you updated of any other new discoveries!

Kenya Marine Mammal Network

For those of you who have ever seen dolphins in Kenya – this will come as an exciting development! In partnership with Watamu Marine Association (WMA) and the Kenya Association of Sea Anglers (KASA); we have been able to establish a national network for reporting of all dolphin and whale sightings. This will involve sports fishing boats, dive companies, private boat owners and tourist dolphin watching trips to try and get as much information as possible about the cetaceans on the Kenyan coast.

We hope to get some new and exciting sightings, and as the reports start to come in, we are all hopeful for 2012 as a pivotal year for marine mammal conservation in Kenya. Look up WMA on facebook for more details, photographs and blogs: https://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/Watamu-Marine-Association/275519980370.

Green turtle stranding

This is a photograph taken last week on the marine project… a perfectly preserved and beautiful stranded green turtle. We couldn’t determine the cause of death as it appeared intact with no injury visible. One of the major problems with sea turtles is injestion of plastics discarded into the ocean; so this could have been the case here. One of the main things GVI is trying to promote in Kenya is a respect and appreciation for the marine environment; to reduce littering and unsustainable resource use. Lets hope we do not see any more turtles like this.

 

Green Turtle Stranding

Green Turtle Stranding

Tourist dhow operator training workshop

This last weekend KWS organised a refresher training for the guides and captains who operate the dolphin watching tours out of Mkwiro. We often work quite closely with these individuals, accompanying their tours at least once a week and living in the same village as most of them.

The training ran for two afternoons and explained the Code of Conduct for dolphin watching and hopefully provided the guides with an understanding as to the purpose and importance of the guidelines. We also gave presentations on the main dolphin, turtle and reef fish species seen, as well as key behaviors and traits, so they can pass this interesting information onto their guests.

Hamisi presenting at the KWS training workshop

Hamisi presenting at the KWS training workshop

Each guide or captain who attends will receive a badge stating they have received this training and recognition of their commitment to sustainble and educational tourism.

Leopard Tortoise

While on the journey back from a mangrove walk last week we spotted something rare and unusual – a giant leopard tortoise (Stigmochelys pardalis)! Leopard tortoises are historically absent from the coast and this species on Wasini island is most probably introduced at some point. We had once before seen a small leopard tortoise on the island of Wasini – but it had been killed and brought to base so we never imagined one would survive to grow so large!

The tortoise’s straight carapace length (SCL) was about 30cm, and straight carpace width (SCW) was around 20, hiding under prickley undergrowth near to the main path from Wasini to Mkwiro. We quietly took a photograph for later identification and left it where it was. - later we identified it as the Leopard Tortoise; the fourth largest in the world reaching up to 46cm in length. This tortoise is herbivourous and each individual is uniquely patterned with black markings.

Tortoise seen by Mkwiro mangroves

Tortoise seen by Mkwiro mangroves

African Paradise Flycatcher territorial dispute

The long tail streamers of the African Paradise Flycatcher

The long tail streamers of the African Paradise Flycatcher

Living in Mkwiro village, one is constantly surrounded by animals. Interactions are more commonly limited to obnoxious goats and scruffy cats, but every once in a while you have a truly exciting wildlife encounter. Last week while doing dolphin photo ID, marine officer Kirsty and myself were privy to loud and boisterous display from two male African Paradise Flycatchers settling a territorial dispute just outside the office window. The rustling of tree branches and harsh, noisy reproach of one bird to another initially drew our attention, but it was the incredible plumage of the African Paradise Flycatchers that kept me watching.

Males have grey underparts, chestnut-hued backs, and blackish blue heads with bright blue bills and eye-rings; although the white phase male is not uncommon in East Africa. The most stunning physical characteristic, however, is the long tail with streamers. Typically chestnut colored like the back and growing up to 18 cm in length, the streamers essentially double the body length of breeding males. Paradise Flycatchers are widespread throughout the African continent, ranging from Sudan in the north to the Cape in the south. Woodland, bush, forest, and gardens provide ideal habitats for these birds as they prefer to build nests out of moss, tiny twigs, bark, fibres, rootlets of grass, hair, and lichens in the forks of bushes and trees.Insects caught on the wing comprise the bulk of the flycatcher’s diet which may occasionally be supplemented with spiders and berries.

African Paradise Flycatchers are monogamous for the duration of a single breeding season. Males are highly territorial, competing for the highest quality resources and engaging in gaudy aerial displays to attract females by showing off their long tail feathers. The conflict witnessed by Kirsty and I was likely a dispute over a prized nesting ground, with one male attempting to encroach on another’s established territory. Hopefully with the ample supply of natural resources on Mkwiro Island there will be many more African Paradise Flycatcher battles in store for future GVI participants to enjoy.

The Kakamega Environmental Education Program is now online

Our partner in Kakamega rainforest just launched their new website: http://www.keep-kakamega.or.ke/.

New-website-KEEP

KEEP (Kakamega Environmental Education Project) is an association from Kakamega that works for the conservation of the last little piece of Guinean tropical rainforest that remains in Kenya. KEEP has a long history of projects varying from the establishment of a butterfly farm and tree nurseries to assisting in biodiversity monitoring and primate research.

We have been developing a successful working relationship and partnership with them, which we hope will last for long and will be the beginning of a long track of successes. So far, some of our interns have been placed there, and both parts are very happy with the result.

Now, KEEP has launched their own website:

www.keep-kakamega.or.ke

Although the pages, for now, are rather empty, this website could become a great library of information for KEEP members, partner organizations but also researcher and tourists interested in the area and all the activities and groups supported by KEEP.

The community butterfly project is a integral part of the environmental education  and conservation strategy.

The community butterfly project is a integral part of the environmental education and conservation strategy.

KEEP has a long history of projects varying from the establishment of a butterfly farm and tree nurseries to assisting in biodiversity monitoring and primate research.

An infant Guereza Colobus asking for its mothers attention

An infant Guereza Colobus asking for its mothers attention