Above: Hunting Fish Eagle, Lake Naivasha. Copyright Shiv Kapila 

Injured Raptors find safe centres to recover with The Kenya Bird of Prey Trust

Published: the East African Nation June 2021

Kenya is one of the most raptor-rich countries in the world. Of the 330 known species of raptors (another word for birds of prey), 83 are found in Kenya. But that’s a number that may reduce, with species that might become extinct in the next few years if nothing is done…like the Augur buzzard, which was once one of Kenya’s most common raptors. Recent research shows that it’s on its last flight in Kenya. In the next ten years, we may not see them in our skies.

“The three biggest threats to birds of prey are power lines, poison and people,” states Simon Thomsett, founder of the Kenya Bird of Prey Trust (KBoPT). Now 61, he nursed his first bird of prey at age six. It goes without saying that he is universally acknowledged as the authority on raptors.

An Augur Buzzard at the Soysambu Raptor Camp Copyright KBoPT

The Kenya Bird of Prey Trust

“We have 60 raptors in our care which is the largest collection of permanent captive raptors outside of South Africa,” states Shiv Kapila, co-director of KBoPT, as we move along the enclosures housing injured vultures, owls, eagles and hawks. By ‘we’ he means himself at Kilimandege Sanctuary on Naivasha’s shores where he keeps the birds that can never be released; Thomsett at Soysambu on Elmentaita’s shores, where he trains injured birds like Africa’s largest eagles – the Martial and Crowned to fly again and hunt for themselves in the wide open-spaced conservancy, and Stratton Hatfield in the Mara in charge of the Mara Raptor Project.

Some of the raptors have arrived minus wings that have been sliced off in wind turbines or electrocuted on power lines. Other poisoned, others hit by vehicles – it’s a long list of casualties. And they need specialized care.

“This captive group of birds are ambassadors for their kind,” continues Kapila, as Phil the Verreaux’s eagle owl pulls at Kapila’s gloved hand. Phil is one of the few lucky ones rescued when he fell out of his nest as a chick and broke his wing. He would have met a certain death because a raptor that can’t fly is easy prey for others. A Samaritan brought him to Kilimandege. Hand-fed and nursed back to health, the adorable owl thinks he’s a ‘people’. It’s a trait with wild animals brought up by humans, called ‘imprint’. School kids adore him. “Kids learn so much when they actually come here and are able to get close to birds like Phil instead of watching wildlife movies on screen. Their whole perception changes about raptors.” 

Tawny Eagle on a kill, Mara. Copyright Shiv Kapila

It is one of the fundamental roles of KBoPT – to use the centres as educational hubs to make people aware that Kenya is one of the most raptor-rich countries in the world but that these raptors are on a steep decline and need our help to survive in today’s world.

“This is not just a hobby for us,” continues Kapila. “It’s a very intensive 24-hour job.” Kapila’s spent most nights last September and October feeding an injured Lanner falcon every three hours, for example…exhausting work, if you ask a human parent.  “We are all experts in the birds we study and everything is grounded in science. We follow the birds that are released after full recovery, fitting them with rings and transmitters to make sure that what we are doing is successful.”

He shows the flight path on his smartphone of a recently released White-backed vulture –listed critically endangered – that was poisoned in Amboseli. It is now in Nairobi National Park. “We want to improve our understanding of African raptors and help us influence their conservation status in policy.” Kenya’s population of vultures has declined by 60-80 per cent in the last three decades.

And, seven species of Kenya’s vultures are listed ‘Critcally endangered’, one step away from becoming extinct in the wild.

The vulture enclosure with cliff ledge at the Naivasha Raptor Centre. copright Shiv Kapila

“We know that raptors are on a fast decline because we’re increasingly seeing them only in protected areas – eagles like the Martial, Crowned, Bateleur, African Hawk Eagles and vultures,” he continues. “If they weren’t endangered, we’d see them outside protected areas like when l was a kid.” That was not long ago for he’s only 35.

Visitors are welcome to the KBoPT centres https://www.kenyabirdofpreytrust.org/  by appointment.