Site Support Group Champions Conservation of Dunga Swamp
Lake Victoria Sunset Birders (LVSB) is a Site Support Group (SSG) based in Dunga Swamp on the shores of Lake Victoria in Western Kenya. The group is mainly composed of young people, with a total membership of 32, (25 men and seven women) all sharing a passion for conservation of the wetland and its biodiversity. From their experience in conducting biodiversity research, tour guiding and community empowerment, some members have been able to get jobs and resources to continue with their education.
Dunga swamp is one of the 65 Important Bird Areas (IBAs) in Kenya. It is located on the South Eastern shores of Lake Victoria. The swamp is predominantly comprised of Papyrus (Cyperus papyrus) which forms a distinctive habitat for papyrus specialist birds, including restricted range endemics such as the Globally Threatened Papyrus Yellow Warbler (Chloropeta gracilirostris) and the Near Threatened Papyrus Gonolek (Linarius mufumbiri).
The swamp provides ecosystem services that include filtering sediments, which purifies the water before it enters Lake Victoria; it controls flooding in the area; it is a major tourist attraction site, attracting more than 2000 local and international tourists per year; and it is also a fish land site where fish trading and other small scale businesses have thrived. Despite the importance of the swamp it is faced with major threats including:
- overharvesting of Papyrus for thatching and making products such as mats and baskets;
- removal of Papyrus roots and stems for domestic wood fuel;
- clearing of Papyrus beds for agriculture by the local people rendering them less suitable for birds; and
- pressure from uncontrolled grazing especially during drought.
With close support from Nature Kenya (BirdLife Partner), who are implementing a project funded by Aage V. Jensen Charity Foundation entitled “Conservation of the birds and biodiversity of the Lake Victoria Basin (the Greatest of Africa’s Great Lakes) through community-led action and sustainable development”, we have enhanced our conservation work. Through partnerships and networking with local conservation groups including Hippo Focus Ecofinder and Dunga Environmental & Tourism Association (DECTA) and also the SSG at Yala Swamp, 15 SSG members and local community residents have been trained in management leadership and governance of community groups, 15 people drawn from LVSB and three affiliated groups (Hippo Focus, DECTA and EcoFinder) have been trained in bird and tour guiding, and two members of LVSB have been trained in Fundamentals of Ornithology. Thanks to the trainings provided, monthly bird walks have been initiated to create awareness about Dunga biodiversity and an advocacy strategy for the IBA has been developed. The guides have reported improved efficiency in visitor handling and increased knowledge, both of bird guiding and of specific unique birds of the Lake Victoria region. The use of social media to market the site has also increased.
The SSG also conducts environmental events including World Wetlands and World Environmental Days and World Migratory Bird days; the main aim is to share information about the value of the wetland and why it should be conserved. We also attended the National Liaison Committee meeting at Nature Kenya to create awareness about the threats facing Dunga wetland and also participated in the National SSG workshop.
In addition, LVSB promotes the conservation of Dunga wetland through the following activities:
- providing professional guiding services to local and international tourists;
- constant IBA monitoring for conservation action;
- a school environmental education outreach programme and monthly clean ups in Kisumu town;
- offering trainings relevant to wetland conservation and micro enterprise development to local community groups; and
- promoting ecotourism activities to offer alternative means of income to the community.
Story by Victor Olango and Joan Gichuki