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How scientists and developers can work together to prevent the mass extinction of life on Earth

The 6th mass extinction in the history of the Earth is underway — and it has been triggered by mankind! (eowilsonfoundation.org). Despite this horrific reality, all hope is not lost and there are still things we can do to stop it. Here is what a bird of prey researcher in Kenya believes is a vital part of halting this catastrophe.

Kenya is currently undergoing a major development surge. As the country’s human population grows, mega infrastructure projects to meet growing needs in transportation, energy production and other sectors are being initiated. This development however, if not done properly can have massive negative impacts on Kenya’s world-renowned wildlife populations and rich biological diversity.

White-tailed mongoose run over by a car. Wildlife road kills are becoming increasingly common in parts of Kenya.

One of the key things that must be done to ensure sustainable development is to collect data and keep a record of the status of wildlife populations as the country develops. This not only helps to find out how wildlife is being affected by and responding to new development but also helps to formulate strategies on how to develop new infrastructure with minimal impacts on wildlife.

Secretary birds hunting on the Athi Plains, just south of Nairobi. Wildlife in this area is under serious pressure from infrastructure development and a growing human population.

There is also a strong link between wildlife conservation and economic development. For instance, a wind farm built in an area that is not on a major bird migration corridor will have a low impact on birds while generating plenty of electricity and resultant income. However, a wind farm on a major bird migration route will kill many birds and also result in economic losses due to the regular interruptions in electricity generation caused by the regular bird collisions. This way, both the economy and environment are affected.

There is therefore a very urgent need for developers and wildlife scientists to form strong partnerships that allow for well-informed decisions on sustainable development that benefits both the economy and environment to be made, based on reliable scientific data on wildlife population sizes, distributions and movements. Such an approach must become standard practice. This is crucial to halting the 6th mass extinction of life on Earth since infrastructure development is currently a major driver of this on-going disaster. As a wildlife researcher, I hope to contribute to sustainable development by monitoring bird of prey populations in south-central Kenya.

Sidney Shema on a bird of prey survey along the southern Rift Valley.

I chose birds of prey (eagles, vultures, hawks, falcons, etc) because they are apex predators and scavengers at the top of various food chains. Monitoring them allows us to keep track of the health of entire ecosystems overall. They make great conservation ambassadors. I invite all scientists, developers and government officials to adopt a policy of inter-disciplinary partnership in order to ensure that countries enjoy the benefits of development without losing those of having healthy ecosystems.

White-backed Vultures feeding on a Plains zebra carcass in Kajiado, southern Kenya.

 

Sidney Shema

Sidney Shema completes his BSc in Wildlife Management at the University of Nairobi (Kenya) in December 2017. He is a National Geographic Explorer studying birds of prey, with his current research being in an area along Kenya’s southern Rift Valley where the development of a number of wind farms has been proposed. He also works closely with The Peregrine Fund for his raptor research. Sidney has participated in and helped to coordinate various wildlife conservation activities including wildlife censuses, waterbird censuses and bird mapping expeditions. He is also a safari guide with a bronze badge from the Kenya Professional Safari Guides Association.

Find out how to apply for a National Geographic grant.