7 Ways to be a Citizen Scientist in Kenya

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Citizen Science is when the public takes part in scientific research projects. One does not need to have a scientific background to participate. Research assists governments in planning and also aids in the protection of species. Involving the public in citizen science enhances research. In the end, it promotes awareness.

Kenya has immense biodiversity and research is very crucial to prevent its loss. There are quite many wildlife research projects one can be involved in. These projects do not require much. Only an interest, the will to learn and in most cases, passion.

  1. The Great Grevy’s Rally

The Grevy’s zebra is an endangered species. With a wide habitat range, it is important to monitor their numbers to protect the species. This will enable scientists to determine the demographics of the species. This includes where the species has a high population to where the numbers are not improving and what needs to be done. The sex structure and age of the species are also key factors looked at. This also enables concerned parties to determine whether the species is stable, growing or decreasing. Threats to the species such as human-wildlife conflict, illegal poaching (bushmeat) and predators are also determined.

2018’s Grevy’s Zebra rally saw 700 volunteer participants who came together to photograph the Grevy’s Zebra and Reticulated giraffe across Northern Kenya and part of Laikipia.

This scientifically supervised exercise involving public participation results in a comprehensive census of the endangered Grevy Zebra in Kenya.

Since its inception, the Grevy’s rally has been able to enhance informed discussions and scientific research for the conservation and rehabilitation of Grevy’s Zebras.

Data collected is used to aid in conservation and management efforts of the Grevy’s Zebra in Kenya.

Grevy's Zebra © Tony Wild

Grevy’s Zebra © Tony Wild

  1. The Kids Twiga Tally

Twiga tally is a chance for school going children to be involved in citizen science from a young age. The children are able to learn about giraffes (twiga in Swahili) and other wildlife from a much closer look and practical experience. The counting occurs within Laikipia at Mpala Research Centre and Ol Jogi Conservancies. The aim is to create profiles for each individual reticulated giraffe.

At the same time, children are able to gain interests in science and conservation of wildlife. They are also able to appreciate the species since they assist in taking photographs. The knowledge gained from this exercise is imprinted in their mind since the experience was that of an outdoor classroom. We are then able to nurture a generation that is concerned about the environment. Since most of the children involved are from the community, there are always prospects of a growing class of scientists.

During The Kids Twiga Rally © Mpala Research Centre

Reticulated Giraffe During The Kids Twiga Rally © Mpala Research Centre

  1. Kenya Bird Map (Birding)

Kenya Bird Map (KBM) is a joint initiative of the National Museums of Kenya (NMK), Tropical Biology Association (TBA), A Rocha Kenya and Nature Kenya. KBM is a citizen science project which aims at monitoring the distribution of birds in Kenya.

The first exercise to map the distribution of birds was between 1980 and 1984. This resulted in the publication “A Bird Atlas of Kenya” by Adrian Lewis and Derek Pomeroy in 1989. This bird atlas has been the source of distribution maps of birds we have today.

Yet, since then, the distribution of birds is varied due to land use change, change in migration patterns, climate change and other human-caused activities. Some birds have spread their habitat range and increased in number. Other birds have reduced in number and some of their habitats destroyed.

Today, with modern technology and communication, the KBM project has a mobile application where birders can be able to add birds they see. One can also add their recorded birds on the website.

The data collected since its inception will be used to compare what has occurred to bird distribution since the first Bird Atlas happened.

Related: A- Z of Birdwatching

  1. Game counts at Nairobi National Park

Nairobi National Park, being the only National Park in a Capital City provides an opportunity to participate in citizen science. The park’s proximity to a growing and developing urban city requires regular monitoring to enhance decision making based on scientific research.

To participate in this exercise, one needs to be a member of Friends of Nairobi National Park FoNNaP who are the organisers of the exercise.

  1. Annual African Water Bird Census

Birds are ecological monitors. The water bird census is an opportunity to be involved in citizen science especially if you are interested in the avian world. The exercise is geared towards monitoring wetlands.

The water bird census occurs twice a year during the months of January and July. Ornithologists, scientists, students, volunteers and the general public are involved in mapping some of Kenya’s lakes. This includes Lake Bogoria, Lake Naivasha, Lake Elementaita, Lake Nakuru, Lake Magadi and the recently gazetted as a protected wetland area, Lake Ol’Bolossat. Other counts occur within Nairobi, Kiambu and Limuru wetland zones.

The counts are organised by National Museums of Kenya (NMK), Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) and Nature Kenya together with local institutions.

Ongoing Water Bird Census at Lake Oloiden in Naivasha © Mjose Photos

  1. Bird Ringing

Bird ringing involves ringing birds to be able to identify them as individuals. We can learn about how long they live and when and where they move. A lightweight, uniquely numbered, a metal ring is placed around a bird’s leg providing a reliable and harmless method of identifying birds as individuals. In order to conserve birds, we need to be able to understand population dynamics and bird ecology.

Bird ringing, therefore, requires some expertise. One cannot wake up and decide to do it without the knowledge of how it is done. Unless you want to be a participant. Getting involved in bird ringing for the first time can be easily learnt at the National Museums of Kenya at the Ornithology Department. Here, bird ringing happens once every week.

Once you get to learn the basics of bird ringing you can be able to join other ringing expeditions such as the A Rocha Kenya fortnight ringing in Karara, Karen, A Rocha Kenya in Mombasa’s ringing group and for the experts, at Ngulia Lodge, Tsavo West National Park. All this are learning experiences.

Bird ringing in Ngulia involves banding and recording Palearctic migrants between November and December. This particular exercise is able to record important information pertaining to birds` migration and reproduction patterns and the adaptation ability of migrant species.

Thrush Nightingale (Sprosser) © Ringing Scheme of East Africa

  1. Whale and Dolphin Counts (Cetaceans Counts)

Whale counts in the coastal region of Kenya are organised by Watamu Marine Association. The census is done within Watamu Marine Reserve and part of Watamu Marine Park covering an area of 71 square kilometres.

These counts involve analysing all the whale and dolphin photographs using their fins taken during the surveys and mark the GIS coordinates.

Cetaceans that are counted include the Humpback dolphin, Spinner dolphin, Orca (killer whale), Humpback whale, Pilot whale, Bryde’s whale, Minke whale and Sperm whale.


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Vicki Wangui
Vicki Wangui
Vicki Wangui is a believer in all things beautiful. A believer in spreading information in regards to environmental awareness. A believer in sharing all that is good in Kenya's natural world. A believer in speaking truth with no boundaries. Do you have a story, photo, experience or message you need to share? Send your work to vicki@nyikasilika.org or vickiwangui26@gmail.com.


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