The first GVI Kenya recorded tiger shark

We had a very exciting sighting a couple of weeks ago on marine – as you may have read – our sighting of a tiger shark, and in remarkable circumstances. This was the first GVI recorded tiger shark in our south coast study area and caused quite a stir amongst the team!

There are around 50 species of shark in the western Indian Ocean region from 13 different families – one of those families is named the ‘true shark’ or Carcharinidae family containing 20 species of powerful predatory shark. The tiger shark or Galeocerdo cuvier falls into this family and is distinguished by its pattern of darker spots and stripes on its grey dorsal surface; it has a large blunt head and mouth and a long slender tail with a pointed tip. The most unique feature of the tiger shark is its teeth (!) which are serrated. They reach up to 5.5m (18ft) and are quite robust, heavily built specimens.

Tiger shark

Tiger shark

The two individuals we spotted exhibited the distinctive patterning and were around 4m in length; they also had with them a young individual. Sharks are normally solitary, and tiger sharks feed on turtles seabirds and other more opportunistic items, but may have gathered here at the opportunity of this food source (see previous blog on the stranded humpback whale body).

Tiger sharks are listed as the most dangerous to humans seen in this area; but I for one hope we see them again.

What’s the deal with the WIOMSA symposium?

Some weeks ago, as you may have read, GVI Kenya attended the 7th Western Indian Ocean Marine Science Association (WIOMSA) scientific symposium in Mombasa. It brought together a diverse array of organisations, fields and nations to discuss current and future issues facing the conservation of our marine resources and species, focused on the Western Indian Ocean.

GVI presented 5 posters detailing the research and community development initiatives going on with our different programmes – see previous blogs for full details. We were also able to attend a series of talks and presentations on other research projects both in Kenya and the surrounding countries, discuss potential collaborations and partnerships and take part in 3 workshops developing conservation of sea birds, sea turtles and the incorporation of health and education in local communities.

It was overall a huge success, with a better appreciation of the need for good scientific and integrated research within this region, to promote conservation and resilience of our marine resources.

‘Escorting’ Humpback Whales

One of the most amazing creatures we see in Kenya is the migrating humpback whale. The humpback whale migrates along the Kenyan coast from late June through to December. In the past three months we have had 6 sightings of humpback whales with an average group size of 2.16, ranging from 1 to 4.

Some of these groups have been mothers and calves plus another adult whale. It is reported that “escort males” can accompany mothers and calves during their migration. It is thought that the male travels with the mother and calf with the intention of mating if the mother comes into post partrum oestrus. Occasionally another male humpback whale will join the group (becoming a secondary escort), challenging the principle escort for access to the female mother (termed the nuclear animal). The escort will defend the nuclear animal from other intruding males with behaviours including shoving, breaching and blowing bubble screens. This also acts as protection for the humpback whale calf.

It has also been known for escorts to be female, the reason for a female escort is currently unknown, though the escort may be related to the mother. This links to the sightings we have been having and might explain why a group of 3 adults and one calf have passed through the south of Kenya.

Humpback whale escort

Humpback whale escort

Tiger sharks

We all know about the presence of tiger sharks in the waters surrounding Kisite Island.. Actually, the Pemba Channel is renowned all around the world for being one of the best places for deep-sea game fishing, and  anglers travel long distances to come to this area to fish tuna, swordfish, sailfish and, you have guessed well, tiger sharks.

In the area, this species inhabit generally deep water zones, out in the open sea, and they generally never adventure farther than the limits marked by the coastal reefs. We never had seen it before, until the day we saw the whale carcass floating close the Kisite-Mpunguti MPA. When we got closer to the dead giant, we encountered the impressive view of some tiger sharks feeding on the floating body.

The bite marks clearly evident on the whale carcass

The tiger shark (Galeocerdo cuvier) is a relatively large macropredators, capable of attaining a length of over 5 m (16 ft). It is found in many tropical and temperate waters. Its name derives from the dark stripes down its body, which resemble a tiger’s pattern and fade as the shark matures. It is a solitary, mostly night-time hunter. Its diet involves a wide range of prey, including crustaceans, fish, seals, birds, smaller sharks, squid, turtles, sea snakes, and dolphins. The tiger shark is considered a near threatened species due to finning and fishing by humans. While the tiger shark is considered to be one of the sharks most dangerous to humans, the attack rate is surprisingly low according to researchers. The tiger is second on the list of number of recorded attacks on humans, with the great white shark being first. But we hope no to encounter them while snorkeling our transects!

The bite marks clearly evident on the whale carcass

Humpback Whales

Today’s marine survey was sadly interrupted with news of a dead humpback whale adrift just outside the marine park. We made a collective decision to leave our planned route to investigate the situation. As we headed in the direction of the reported sighting the body became visible in the distance. Faridi, our boat captain, had noticed something amiss earlier in that direction, once again demonstrating his knowledge and awareness of the waters surrounding Mkwiro and Shimoni.

The huge creature was found adrift outside the marine park

The huge creature was found adrift outside the marine park

As we got closer to the site, the first thing that hit us was the enormity of the animal, it was humbling. The body was in advanced stages of decomposition, but still held its colour and was identifiable as a humpback whale by its rorqual pleats; there was a great sense of loss between everyone on the boat. It was quite possibly one of the individuals we had seen migrating last expedition. The Kenya Wildlife Service appeared on the scene promptly to investigate and take photographs, but decided against towing it to shore to investigate the cause of death and other critical information. In the distance again we spotted a similar sight, a large disturbance in the waves, and it was confirmed to be another dead humpback whale. We do not know what caused their mysterious deaths; it could have been the storm last week or some other disturbance.

It was, as I said, a humbling yet sad experience, to see such a majestic giant lifeless.

Presenting Community Conservation at the WIOMSA symposium

Exciting news! Recently we submitted a new abstract for the WIOMSA symposium we are going to present is titled “The role of environmental education in community initiatives for biodiversity conservation”. Even if it was decided to be presented pretty late, we feel proud of this last poster, in which we are going to present our activities and results on the Adult Environmental Classes and Wildlife Clubs of the schools. We would also like to profit of this occasion to present Friends of Shimoni Forest and Shimoni Environmental Association, and all their hard work in this field. See you in the conference!

Learning about the environment.

Learning about the environment.

Don’t mess with baboons

In Africa, baboons figure in the list of main worries for many development workers. This is especially true in the case of the human-habituated troops that roam freely around villages and theirs outskirts. This animals approach houses to scavenge on rubbish and organic residues, and it’s pretty frequent to see them close to our house. But their courage doesn’t finish there: they adventure inside the houses, where they will shamelessly steal any onions, bananas and other fruits and vegetables in their reach. Hence, one of our rules is keep always the doors closed!

Thinking about the next robbery... or just feeling lazy?

Thinking about the next robbery... or just feeling lazy?

Needless to say, if you encounter a troop of these animals in the forest, and they don’t run away (and don’t think otherwise: this is the most usual scenario), you don’t have any other option than politely wait until they decide to let you pass. And seriously, you don’t want to do it otherwise: a male baboon standing in his back legs may be as tall as many girls I know, being much heavier and having way longer fangs than them.

Nevertheless, although they can be cocky and defensive, they don’t dare to attack humans. But this is not the case with other, often more innocent, beings: two weeks ago, they slaughtered and ate one of the guardian dogs of a hotel. These behaviours are pretty frequent among baboons living in highly perturbated environments, and may lead to several problems.

A simple piece of advice: if you come to Africa, don’t mess with baboons!

Feathery friends from Shimoni

Our black and white Colobus studies are obviously our main priority, important and very interesting. I can’t help though to every now and again walk away from the telescope, put my GPS down and hand over my field-forms and sneak off to find birds.

East Africa has 182 official Important Bird Areas (IBAs) and Shimoni has long since been on the list to become the 183rd one. This morning, in a span of less than 5 minutes these four birds practically flew into my binoculars:

Ross's Turaco

Ross's Turaco

Ashy Flycatcher

Ashy Flycatcher

Yellow-Rumped Tinkerbird

Yellow-Rumped Tinkerbird

Female African Paradise Flycatcher

Female African Paradise Flycatcher

Record Breaking Colobus Monkey!

GVI Kenya would like to share some very exciting news with everybody on behalf of the Colobus Trust. The Colobus Trust is a conservation organization designed to promote the conservation, preservation and protection of primates like the rare Angolan Colobus monkey (Colobus angolensis palliatus) and its coastal forest habitat in southern Kenya.

Over the last 14 years The Colobus Trust has received numerous orphaned Colobus infants in need of hand rearing but unfortunately, due to their complex and sensitive digestive system and general fragile nature we have never been successful in keeping one alive for more than 21 days. Indeed, this is repeated in any institute that has attempted to hand rear this particular species of Colobus (Colobus angolensispalliatus) or an International Zoo and leading authority on animal care, the same story is repeated time and time again, ‘the infant does well for the first 2-3 weeks, then suddenly crashes and dies within 12 hours’.

An angolan back and white colobus, just after hearing all these good news!

There is now one notable exception, Baby Betsy, an orphaned Angolan Colobus who has been in the care of The Colobus Trust and hand reared for 65 days (5/04/11). Angolan Colobus monkeys are born pure white, developing the adult black and white coloration at around 3 months old, via a grey stage, which Betsy is currently displaying. She is in constant contact with her primary or secondary carer, replicating the level of contact, care and love she would naturally receive from her colobus Mum. During the day she is wrapped in a sarong and tied across the chest of her carer and sleeps in the bed alongside her at night.

Fed on an individually designed diet of goat milk, infused with chamomile tea, probiotics and multi vitamins, supplemented with wild leaves and flowers and a weekly ‘poop shake’ – her usual milk meal with a small amount of colobus feces added to provide good colobus stomach bacteria – Betsy is doing remarkably well and exceeding all our expectations.

There is now one notable exception, Baby Betsy, an orphaned Angolan Colobus who has been in the care of The Colobus Trust and hand reared for 65 days (5/04/11). Angolan Colobus monkeys are born pure white, developing the adult black and white coloration at around 3 months old, via a grey stage, which Betsy is currently displaying. She is in constant contact with her primary or secondary carer, replicating the level of contact, care and love she would naturally receive from her colobus Mum. During the day she is wrapped in a sarong and tied across the chest of her carer and sleeps in the bed alongside her at night.

Fed on an individually designed diet of goat milk, infused with chamomile tea, probiotics and multi vitamins, supplemented with wild leaves and flowers and a weekly ‘poop shake’ – her usual milk meal with a small amount of colobus feces added to provide good colobus stomach bacteria – Betsy is doing remarkably well and exceeding all our expectations.

Bats!

Last week we went for a new adventure: going to the hole in the ceiling of the Slave caves at sunset, to see the bats going out for their nightly hunt. The bats that inhabit these caves are basically of two kinds: small insectivorous bats and big fruit-eating flying foxes.

An insectivorous bat going out from the cave.

An insectivorous bat going out from the cave.

And it was such an amazing experience! Being just a meter or so from this hole in the ground, and seeing hundreds and hundreds of bats flying out of it, and flying around you or even against you, is so unique. Despite the darkness and the unbelievable speed of the bats, we managed to get some cool pics.