Tourism and conservation suffer as pandemic wreaks havoc

For 21 years, Bamburi Nature Trail Hill, commonly known as Haller Park, has never closed its doors to visitors. 

The sanctuary for lost and orphaned wildlife has been a haven for anyone who wanted to spend their day relaxing in a peaceful environment and getting acquainted with friendly animals. But when I visited recently, seeking an interview, Karima Nyinge, who heads the department for visitors, shocked me with the news. “We have closed the park for now due to the COVID-19 disease,” he said.

 Haller Park was named so in honor of Dr. Rene Haller in recognition of his efforts, in conjunction with Bamburi Portland Cement Company, in transforming the abandoned quarry into a breathtaking ecological paradise.

The park is located south of the cement plant along the Mombasa-Malindi highway. It covers 75 hectares of land and houses a variety of animals, including hippos, buffalos, giraffes, waterbucks and oryx. The night walks in the park, conference services, among other activities, are now a thing of the past, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mr. Nyinge says the government regulations to prevent the spread of the coronavirus have made it difficult for the park to operate since they host large groups per day. 

“We have closed because some of the rules are hard to observe, especially because visitors like to converge around hippos and giraffes and feed them, which will see us break the rule on social distancing,” he says. 

Another hurdle is contact tracing in case one of the visitors tests positive for the disease.

 Mr. Nyinge says it would be difficult for them to trace all the contacts that might have come into contact with the person. He says the park receives up to 160,000 tourists a year, but this year they are likely to fall way below the number. But luckily, some of the workers were retained to continue feeding the animals and maintain their daily routine. 

“The animals have been trained. For example, a hippo would come out when they are called. It’s a routine for them and we don’t want them to forget it,” says Nyinge. 

The situation is not different for the Tsavo Heritage Foundation in Voi, Taita Taveta County, which champions the landscape restoration of the Tsavo Ecosystem and Dispersal Areas. Jacob Kipongoso, the Foundation CEO and environment activist, says since the first case of COVID-19 was announced in Kenya they put on hold all their plans on conserving the environment. 

According to Kipongoso, most of their work involves people, hence it is difficult to uphold keeping the social distancing rule. “For now all the plans we had to plant trees here at Voi were put on hold. We have nothing to do since all the work we were supposed to do involves people,” he says.

“We were supposed to have a big meeting with environmental activists in May and an international conference in December, but both were postponed.” 

Kipongoso says poachers have taken advantage of the situation to increase their poaching activities because they know there is not enough security at the sanctuary. He urges the government to provide the activists with personal protective equipment so that they continue planting trees and attain the 10 percent forest cover the State is advocating for.

Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) Director General Brig (Rtd) John Waweru says the tourism sector has recorded a 92 percent drop in revenues since March when the first case of COVID19 was detected in the country. 

The KWS boss was addressing a webinar organized by Internews in conjunction with the East African Community and World Conservation Union (IUCN) last week.

Waweru says other threats include a drop-in visitors’ numbers by 76 percent, an increase in poaching of endangered species, increased transnational crime through porous borders, escalation in bushmeat poaching and associated crime and increased human-wildlife conflicts due to influx of people in the rural areas. He says they are now planning to use technology to improve security at the parks. 

“We are planning to use drowns for surveillance at the parks to stop poaching activities. We are also planning to train our rangers to be multi-skilled and offer different services at the park,” says Waweru. 

While addressing the same webinar, Christophe Bazivamo, the Deputy Secretary-General for Productive and Social Sectors in the East African Community (EAC), said the region relies heavily on the abundance and diversity of wildlife to boost its economic growth, earn foreign exchange and creates jobs. 

He suggests a number of interventions in the wake of the pandemic, including EAC member states providing stimulus packages for tourism small and medium enterprises (SMEs), community-based conservation initiatives, and promotion of regional and domestic tourism. 

Other measures include diversifying conservation revenue streams, strengthening one health platform, and developing protected areas management plans.

 

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The invisible people

By Ellen Msungu I info@meshascience.org

The nightmare that is COVID-19 has undoubtedly shaken the world. For persons with disabilities, they have remained invisible. 

Ms. Angeline Akai echoes these sentiments. She is a visually impaired person who, until the pandemic showed up, was working as a consultant sensitizing people on the plight of persons with disabilities. 

Today, she sits at home with his nephew, jobless. According to the government, she is not an essential service provider and therefore has to work from home, but, no client comes to her at home. 

 Everyone is skeptical, and, like the Ministry of Health advised, “you should treat everyone as a suspect of COVID-19, hence the need for social distancing.” 

For more than three months now, she has not been receiving clients. Her income is no more and her savings are depleting as time goes by.

“I do not like asking for help from friends, but I am afraid I’m now relying on friends, which, I feel is a threat to my dignity,” says Ms. Akai. The government released funds to help the vulnerable but speaking to some of the people with disabilities, they said that they are yet to receive any assistance. 

“I have asked my area chief if he has heard of any registration that is ongoing for people like us, but he told me he is not aware of any of such,” says Ms. Akai. If she were to go out, as usual, she will need aid to walk her through the streets of Nairobi, and, her nephew is not one of the options because he is still young. Her vulnerability to unknowingly coming into contact with persons with the coronavirus is high. Ms. Akai is not alone. 

Catherine Syokau is a Communication Officer, with a physical disability. Her story is quite different. Unlike Ms. Akai, she still goes to work, but only thrice or twice a week. That means that her productivity, like most Kenyans, has reduced. 

“Working from home is a challenge for me, I do not have internet connection so there are some duties that I cannot perform from home,” says Syokau. Her routine when going to work is still the same, only that this time, she has to have a hand sanitizer all the time just to be safe.

At the bus station though, as it has always been for her, she is helped to board the bus to and from work. She, therefore, is at risk of getting too close to people whose viral status, she may not know. She is forced to sanitize her wheelchair so many times as recommended by public health officials. The Nairobi Metropolis put up water points for people to wash their hands while in town as one of the ways of containing the virus. 

One thing that unfortunately did not cross their minds, is that people like Ms. Syokau are not privileged to use taps that high. “I cannot wash my hands in town, I only sanitize. What about my fellow vulnerable people who cannot afford sanitizers?” she asks. 

Tom Ndede, who works with persons with disabilities, feels that the “hearing impaired are the most neglected people during the ongoing relief items distributions compared to other persons with disabilities.” 

Delving deep into the issue, you will understand why that is his intuition and he says the main barrier is communication. Whilst the Ministry of Health briefing could have a sign language interpreter, not everyone has the luxury to watch that, and on radio, communicating to a person with hearing impairment is impossible. They are left out when crucial decisions regarding the pandemic like the curfew are made. 

“Sometime back, a young man who is deaf in Kakamega who had not heard about the curfew was beaten up by police because they did not understand his situation,” says Mr. Ndede. 

That did not sit well with the members of the deaf community. Their appeal to the chair of the National COVID-19 response team, therefore, is to highlight some of the challenges facing persons with disabilities during the pandemic.

GIRAFFE FEEDING ONLY ON SUNDAYS NOON

The Zoological Society of London was founded in 1826 by Stamford Raffles and established the London Zoo in Regent’s Park two years later in 1828. for scientific study. By the early 1860s, the zoo grounds covered 40 hectares with many fine flowers and ornamental trees, The predecessor of the zoological garden is the menagerie, which has a long history from the ancient world to modern times. The oldest known zoological collection.

Most living animal species are in the Bilateria, a clade whose members have a bilaterally symmetric body plan. The Bilateria include the protostomes—in which many groups of invertebrates are found, such as nematodes, arthropods, and molluscs—and the deuterostomes, containing both the echinoderms as well as the chordates, the latter containing the vertebrates. Life forms interpreted as early animals were present in the Ediacaran biota of the late Precambrian. Many modern animal phyla became clearly established in the fossil record as marine species during the Cambrian explosion, which began around 542 million years ago. 6,331 groups of genes common to all living animals have been identified; these may have arisen from a single common ancestor that lived 650 million years ago.

MONKEYS SITE, NEW GENDER OF APES IN ZOOTOPIA

The Zoological Society of London was founded in 1826 by Stamford Raffles and established the London Zoo in Regent’s Park two years later in 1828. for scientific study. By the early 1860s, the zoo grounds covered 40 hectares with many fine flowers and ornamental trees, The predecessor of the zoological garden is the menagerie, which has a long history from the ancient world to modern times. The oldest known zoological collection.

Most living animal species are in the Bilateria, a clade whose members have a bilaterally symmetric body plan. The Bilateria include the protostomes—in which many groups of invertebrates are found, such as nematodes, arthropods, and molluscs—and the deuterostomes, containing both the echinoderms as well as the chordates, the latter containing the vertebrates. Life forms interpreted as early animals were present in the Ediacaran biota of the late Precambrian. Many modern animal phyla became clearly established in the fossil record as marine species during the Cambrian explosion, which began around 542 million years ago. 6,331 groups of genes common to all living animals have been identified; these may have arisen from a single common ancestor that lived 650 million years ago.

SEA ANIMALS SITE, FREE TICKETS ONLY ON FRIDAYS

The Zoological Society of London was founded in 1826 by Stamford Raffles and established the London Zoo in Regent’s Park two years later in 1828. for scientific study. By the early 1860s, the zoo grounds covered 40 hectares with many fine flowers and ornamental trees, The predecessor of the zoological garden is the menagerie, which has a long history from the ancient world to modern times. The oldest known zoological collection.

Most living animal species are in the Bilateria, a clade whose members have a bilaterally symmetric body plan. The Bilateria include the protostomes—in which many groups of invertebrates are found, such as nematodes, arthropods, and molluscs—and the deuterostomes, containing both the echinoderms as well as the chordates, the latter containing the vertebrates. Life forms interpreted as early animals were present in the Ediacaran biota of the late Precambrian. Many modern animal phyla became clearly established in the fossil record as marine species during the Cambrian explosion, which began around 542 million years ago. 6,331 groups of genes common to all living animals have been identified; these may have arisen from a single common ancestor that lived 650 million years ago.

SCHOOL CHILDS IN MAMELS SECTION EXPERIENCE

The Zoological Society of London was founded in 1826 by Stamford Raffles and established the London Zoo in Regent’s Park two years later in 1828. for scientific study. By the early 1860s, the zoo grounds covered 40 hectares with many fine flowers and ornamental trees, The predecessor of the zoological garden is the menagerie, which has a long history from the ancient world to modern times. The oldest known zoological collection.

Most living animal species are in the Bilateria, a clade whose members have a bilaterally symmetric body plan. The Bilateria include the protostomes—in which many groups of invertebrates are found, such as nematodes, arthropods, and molluscs—and the deuterostomes, containing both the echinoderms as well as the chordates, the latter containing the vertebrates. Life forms interpreted as early animals were present in the Ediacaran biota of the late Precambrian. Many modern animal phyla became clearly established in the fossil record as marine species during the Cambrian explosion, which began around 542 million years ago. 6,331 groups of genes common to all living animals have been identified; these may have arisen from a single common ancestor that lived 650 million years ago.

Marching on: How science cafes progressively build my health journalism career

By Odhiambo David I odhisdavid59@gmail.com

On May 13, 2020, I was priviledged to attend MESHA’s 20th science café, which to me was just the third in my life. This time round, it was a different experience altogether – it was online! At first, I fidgeted, having not used the software called Zoom before! 

My panic was easily solved by the MESHA leadership who gave us what they called a simple tutorial on how to install and navigate to the point of joining the zoom meeting through a link they had provided way before the online science media café! 

What else, we had been told that this café would be cross-border, meaning that other countries will also be tuning in together at the same time to listen to a panel of speakers. In the past, the four countries whose support come from avac – Kenya, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe – held separate cafes at different times with different topics and speakers.

Like magic, I tuned in just on time as the moderator of the day, Mr Chaacha Mwita from Internews, an experienced journalist and editor, welcomed us all on board and introduced the first speaker of the day, Zarina Geloo, an award winning science journalist from Zambia who started by saying that she started reporting on HIV before it was even given a name.

Zarina cautioned journalists to always keep safe while writing and reporting on COVID19. As you start to write on COVID-19, you must be clear on how COVID-19 is or is not transmitted,” she said. She also urged the media to investigate the current testing being done and whether the kits are genuine. She added that journalists need to explain plainly that some of the symptoms such as high body temperature can be brought about by many things and should not be taken as the main symptom and an inclusive of coronavirus.

She pointed out that whereas the media is currently burdened by information overload, it is not an excuse for them to stray and publish or broadcast misleading and wrong facts as authentic professionalism must be held.

“A majority of you has been reporting complex HIV stories and interpreting large amounts of data. This experience must be applied snugly on reportage of COVID-19,” she said. 

She went ahead to urge journalists to communicate to their audiences with messages that empower and enable them to understand and accept that the virus will be with us for a long time just like HIV.  

She as well said that stigma has developed on COVID-19 patients considering the ways in which the health officers handle them. Fear is injected to the public by how the emergency response teams collect the handle the dead and the speed at which those found positive or are suspected of being positive are driven to either quarantine or isolation centres.

Dr William Kilembe, a Zambian scientist noted that the duration between COVID-19 infection and death is so short that a vaccine should be developed within a shorter period of time. He rubbished the mentality that Africans have hard immunity to COVID-19 and said that hard immunity can only be achieved with a vaccine. Therefore, a vaccine should and must be developed as soon as possible to break the spread of the virus.

Other than Zarina and Dr Kilembe, Ms Sylvia Nakasi of Uganda Network of AIDS Services Organisations also spoke emphasizing on the crucial role partnerships between the media and health advocates like herself play in empowering communities to consume and demand for health information in totality, right from the science to use of physical and financial resources.

Once again, as has happened to me ever since I attended my first science café on vaccines, I left the meeting having learnt that as a journalist, the interactions that I am exposed to, through the science cafes, prepare me for the task ahead, perhaps in the near future, perhaps for a long time to come.

The organizations which put the programme together were Zambia Institute of Mass Communication (ZAMCOM) which led its planning and coordination, Media for Environment, Science, Health and Agriculture (MESHA) from Kenya, Humanitarian Information Facilitation Centre from Zimbabwe and Health Journalists Network in Uganda (HEJNU) from Uganda. The Internews team led by Ida Jooste also played a lead role in the success of this café.

Let governments facilitate free movement of seed under the COVID-19 crisis

As the world reels under the debilitating effects of a serious health crisis with “SARS-CoV-2” and the disease it causes “coronavirus disease 2019” (COVID-19), now declared by the World Health Organization as a pandemic, it is important that authorities world over think outside the box to secure a food secure world post coronavirus time.

Even as we, science journalists from MESHA, join the rest of the world in supporting measures to prevent further spread of the virus, do believe that the world’s long-term stability rests on several pillars, one of which is food security.

We wholly recognize that unrestricted international movement of seed is critical to ensure food security. Today there is no country that could fully supply farmers with seed of their choice solely from their own production. Seed companies produce and trial seed in different countries all over the world as a way to mitigate the risk of crop failures due to adverse weather conditions.

It is therefore imperative that all African countries allow free movements of seed at this time of the year.

By finding optimal locations for seed production, timing of harvest, and localized expertise, the seed sector ensures the steady supply of seed for farmers everywhere.

Therefore, closing borders or even slowing down the transboundary movement of seeds could create a significant problem in the seed supply chain.

Given the current situation of the COVID-19 pandemic, a few countries have stopped movement of seeds across borders. This is sad. If this trend is allowed to continue, it will be catastrophic for African countries of unimaginable proportions in the next few months as there will be inadequate harvests a situation that will lead to food insecurity, malnutrition and hunger.

Since seed has not been found to be a causal agent of the coronavirus, we appeal to all Member States to refrain from interrupting seed movement.

If the seed does not move anymore because people are scared of this pandemic, it will be difficult for the continent/the region to recover from the likely repercussions for a long time to come.

Already the situation of food security in Africa is precarious and any further interference with the seed value chain will bode ill for all of us.

We join others, especially voices from the seed sector in asking governments to facilitate the international movement of seed and not to impose restrictive measures. Given their past records in practicing due diligence, we are confident that seed companies will take all necessary measures to guarantee the health and safety of workers who are involved in the shipment of seed.

Let all the concerned authorities all over Africa, and the world ensure the most favourable conditions possible for the supply of farmers with all plant productive material they need for a successful harvest in 2020, while respecting all necessary restrictions for the health of all people.

That way, we would have secured a food secure world post the coronavirus pandemic.

It is all systems go as Kenya prepares to host Pan African science journalists conference

By Aghan Daniel

Preparations for the 4th African Conference of Science Journalists to be held from November 16 to 19, 2020 in Kisumu, Kenya are on high gear. The event is being organised by the Media for Environment, Science, Health and Agriculture (MESHA).

“We are making very good progress with a target of hosting 300 delegates from about 30 countries in Africa and from other parts of the world to the bi-annual event,” said Ms Violet Otindo, Chairperson of MESHA. 

Registration for the Conference will open on June 30, 2020 and the Conference registration fee has been put at $500 per delegate with students paying $120. Government officials will be charged $220 with university lecturers paying $200. Those sponsoring speakers to pay for them $325 for them to also participate in the Conference. More information about the Conference will be available from March 1 on MESHA website www.meshascience.org.

According the Local Organising Committee, organisations have opportunities to sponsor participants, organise workshops, make presentations, or organise field trips at the event to get in touch with the Conference Director at info@meshascience.org or meshascience@gmail.com for further details on partnerships. A few pre-conference field visits will be conducted in June.

The first two days of the Conference will be dedicated to field visits. Technical presentations will be made on day three with training for scientists and journalists being done on the last day of the event.

In a nutshell, the program will look like this; Nov 15 – Arrival; Nov 16 and 17 – Field trips; Nov 18 – Technical presentations; Nov 19 – Skill building (training scientists and journalists on how to relate with each other etc). The theme for the conference is Gender and delivery of science in Africa.

But why Kisumu? Kisumu is a beautiful lakeside city located at a hub of the western Kenya tourism circuit. The city is barley four hours drive to the source of River Nile which is cheaply accessible by bus at a cost that does not surpass $20.  An hour drive away is the beautiful Kakamega Forest. Time, they say, has stood still for the Kakamega Forest, a remnant of the rain forest that stretched all across Central Africa. This beautiful forest is home to various mammals and, bird watching, hiking and rock climbing can be enjoyed here in the serenity of the forest that time forgot.

On your way to Kakamega, are the mysterious Crying Stones of Illesi. It is an important landmark on the near the road to Kisumu barely 45 minutes away.  The rock formation resembles a solemn head falling on weary shoulders.

To the south lies the mystical Lake Simbi Nyaima. Located close to Kendu Bay town, Lake Simbi is a tiny Crater Lake measuring about one kilometres in radius. It is a mere one hour drive from Kisumu.

That all these and many more happen around Kisumu City is amazing. MESHA is already in touch with some tour agents who can undertake a day’s visit to the various touristic locations.

Those who love birds even more, should be ready to spare two hours’ drive to the Great Rift Valley on the east side of Kisumu, to witness the spectacular ornithologist’s paradise that is Lake Nakuru National Park. Stories of various research projects being done in western Kenya are amazing.

Kisumu is home to multitudes of research on HIV. The area boasts of the large Lake Victoria Basin currently home to over 50 projects on climate change and environment. Dairy farming and three large irrigation schemes make Kisumu the perfect venue for this conference. 

Farming is the most important economic sector in Kenya, although less than 8 percent of the land is used for crop and feed production, and less than 20 percent is suitable for cultivation.

Kenya is a leading producer of tea and coffee, as well as the third-leading exporter of fresh produce, such as cabbages, onions and mangoes. Small farms grow most of the corn and also produce potatoes, bananas, beans and peas. Kisumu is also known for its fisheries, a sector that is full of stories for journalists from far and wide.

Global research on coronavirus disease gets a boost

By Christine Ochogo

Scientists, physicians, funders, and policy makers globally have launched a COVID-19 Clinical Research Coalition to accelerate research on the prevention and treatment of the pandemic in low- and middle-income countries.

This coalition formed by 70 institutions from over 30 countries aims to accelerate desperately needed COVID-19 research in those areas where the virus could wreak havoc on already-fragile health systems and cause the greatest health impact on vulnerable populations.

According to World Health Organization (WHO) Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is an infectious disease caused by a new virus.

The disease believed to have originated from Wuhan, a small market in China, has continuously been spreading globally from when it first broke out in November 2019.

The members of the coalition argue that international research collaboration and coordination is needed urgently to support African, Latin American, Eastern European, and certain Asian countries to respond effectively to the worsening pandemic and speed up research adapted to resource-limited settings.

“The coalition brings together an unprecedented array of health experts, including public-sector research institutes, ministries of health, academia, not-for-profit research and development organizations, NGOs, international organizations, and funders all committed to finding COVID19 solutions for resource-poor settings,” read in part a comment recently published in The Lancet.

One important research response to COVID-19 has been launched already, the World Health Organization (WHO)-led SOLIDARITY trial, an unprecedented global effort. However the authors found that out of almost 600 COVID-19 clinical trials registered, very few trials are planned in resource-poor settings. The authors commit to sharing their technical expertise and clinical trial capability to accelerate COVID-19 research in these settings.

The scale of the challenge is clearly beyond the scope of any single organization and therefore the coalition will facilitate a coordinated approach, so that all data from all regions can be collected in a similar fashion, pooled and shared in real-time. This will help countries and the WHO to make rapid evidence-based decisions on policies and practice.  

“We welcome the launch of this coalition, which takes advantage of existing multinational and multidisciplinary expertise in running clinical trials in resource poor settings, and will help the World Health Organization (WHO) in its coordinating role in the global response to COVID-19,” said Dr Soumya Swaminathan, Chief Scientist, World Health Organization.

“Although the epicenter is today elsewhere, we must prepare now for the consequences of this pandemic in more resource-constrained settings or we stand to lose many more lives,” added the doctor.

Members of the Coalition call for specific commitments to ensure access, so that effective new treatments are made available as soon as possible in resource-poor settings and are affordable and readily accessible.

Even though more than 70 organizations have joined this coalition, a call has been made to other organizations ready to contribute existing capacity to also join.

COVID-19 disease causes respiratory illness with symptoms such as cough, fever and in more severe cases victims who have been infected may have difficulties in breathing and even cause death.

The disease spread primarily through contact with infected person when they cough or sneeze. It is also spread when a person touches a surface or objects that have the virus.

In trying to control the spread of the disease, one is advised to wash their hands frequently using soap and running water, use sterilizers, avoid touching one’s face and keep social distance with people (1 meter or 3 feet).

The pandemic has so far affected over a million individuals globally, causing over 600,000 deaths. Different countries are trying to take various preventive measures in the help to curb its spread.

 In Kenya, the government has come up with measures among them asking people to stay at home and avoid social places, a daily 7.00 pm to 5.00am curfew and making use of masks.