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Location Kenya, Nyanza Province,Western Province
Central coordinates 34o 4.00' East  0o 2.00' North
IBA criteria A1, A3
Area 8,000 ha
Altitude 1,130 - 1,160m
Year of IBA assessment 2001


Site description This is a complex of wetlands in the delta of the Yala river, on the north-east shore of Lake Victoria. The site has three main components: the Yala swamp itself (currently c.6,500 ha after drainage of the eastern 20%); Lake Kanyaboli in the north-eastern corner, a 3-m deep lake of c.1,000 ha; and Lake Sare, the most southerly of several outlets of the Yala river into Lake Victoria, c.5 m deep and 500 ha in area. Formerly, the Yala river flowed through the eastern swamp (now ‘reclaimed’) into Lake Kanyaboli, then into the main swamp, and finally into Lake Victoria via a small gulf. The Yala flow is now diverted directly into the main swamp, and a silt-clay dike cuts off Lake Kanyaboli, which receives its water from the surrounding catchment and through back-seepage from the swamp. A culvert across the mouth of the Yala, some metres above the level of Lake Victoria, has cut off the gulf on the lake and, through back-flooding, created Lake Sare. Water in the main channels and lakes is well oxygenated, but oxygen levels in the stagnant parts of the swamp are low. The predominant vegetation is papyrus Cyperus papyrus, with Phragmites mauritianus in shallower areas and swamp grasses around the periphery. A thick fringe of papyrus surrounds both Lake Kanyaboli and Lake Sare; in the case of Lake Sare, this merges with the main swamp. The Yala swamp complex is by far the largest papyrus swamp in the Kenyan sector of Lake Victoria, making up more than 90% of the total area of papyrus. The swamp acts as a natural filter for a variety of biocides and other agricultural pollutants from the surrounding catchment, and also effectively removes silt before the water enters Lake Victoria. The site supports an important local fishery for the Luo and Luhya people who live to its south and north, respectively.

Populations of IBA trigger species

Species Season Period Population estimate Quality of estimate IBA Criteria IUCN Category
Papyrus Gonolek Laniarius mufumbiri resident  1999  present  A1, A3  Near Threatened 
Carruthers's Cisticola Cisticola carruthersi resident  1999  present  A3  Least Concern 
White-winged Scrub-warbler Bradypterus carpalis resident  1999  present  A3  Least Concern 
Papyrus Yellow Warbler Chloropeta gracilirostris resident  1999  present  A1, A3  Vulnerable 
Sharpe's Pied-babbler Turdoides sharpei resident  1999  present  A3  Least Concern 
Red-chested Sunbird Nectarinia erythrocerca resident  1999  present  A3  Least Concern 
Northern Brown-throated Weaver Ploceus castanops resident  1999  present  A3  Least Concern 
Papyrus Canary Serinus koliensis resident  1999  present  A3  Least Concern 

Local conservation groups The local conservation groups below are working to support conservation at this IBA.

Name Year formed
Freinds of Yala Swamp 2007
Yala Swamp Community Conservancy Organisation (Yasco) 2008
Ecofinder Kenya 0
Yala swamp environment volunteers. 0


IUCN habitat Habitat detail Extent (% of site)
Wetlands (inland) Freshwater lakes and pools; Permanent herbaceous swamps and bogs  100%

Land use

Land-use Extent (% of site)
fisheries/aquaculture -
agriculture -
other -
Notes: large scale cutting of papyrus
water management -

Other biodiversity Lake Kanyaboli is an important refuge for Lake Victoria cichlid fish, many of which have been exterminated in the main lake by the introduction of the non-native predatory fish Lates niloticus. These include economically important species such as Oreochromis esculentus (VU), as well as a number of Haplochromis species. Lates niloticus is present in Lake Sare, which has an impoverished fish fauna compared to Kanyaboli.

References Bennun (2000), Britton (1978), Mavuti (1992), Nasirwa and Njoroge (1997),

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Recommended citation  BirdLife International (2014) Important Bird Areas factsheet: Yala swamp complex. Downloaded from on 17/09/2014

To provide new information to update this factsheet or to correct any errors, please email BirdLife