Nov 29, 2022

Mawazo Writing Africa

Writing about the main

Young raptor now rescued but African crowned eagle’s survival still shaky

On the morning of June 29th, Alex Karuri received a photo of an eagle via WhatsApp from a friend who wanted to know what kind of bird it was.

Karuri, a tour guide on Mt. Kenya and an avid birder with the Mount Kenya Biodiversity Conservation Group at Nature Kenya, was equally curious as to where the image came from, as it showed an African crowned eagle, one of Africa’s most powerful eagles, tied by the legs in a goat pen.

“My friend told me the bird was in a village called Ithe Kahuno in Nyeri. He also told me that the bird was in critical condition as it hadn’t been fed in a week and that the person who had it didn’t want to feed it as he claimed these eagles were a nuisance in the village , because they ate their cats and dogs,” says Karuri.

Karuri immediately shared the image on several WhatsApp groups such as Mount Kenya Birders.

Save the Eagle

“I was looking for help to save this eagle,” says Karuri.

In a few minutes, Alfred Koech and Darcy Ogada of the Peregrine Fund saw the news and called Simon Thomsett of the Kenya Bird of Prey Trust (KBoPT), based at the Soysambu Conservancy on the shores of Lake Elementaita. Thomsett is recognized internationally as an authority on birds of prey, having nursed his first raptor back to health six decades ago when he was six years old.

He set the pace before movement. KBoPT immediately made a request for support on their WhatsApp group.

Early the next morning, Karuri left her home to pick up Ithe Kahuno the eagle and take him to the airstrip of Nyeri, where, recognizing the urgency of the situation, Kenya Wildlife Service Warden, Nyeri County, Paul Wambugu and his team edited the protocol for the Eagle’s immediate airlift to the KBoPT center in Soysambu.

At Ithe Kahuno, Karuri met Ndiritu, who was holding the eagle captive. “I explained to him that KWS had been informed of the situation and that he would be arrested if he tried to fight back. Ndiritu said he didn’t want the bird and that it fell out of its nest…where he was holding a cat,” Karuri says.

Multiple injuries

The young male eagle had multiple injuries.

“We also saw the adult eagles, male and female, on the same tree by the nest. But I don’t think the young eagle ‘accidentally’ fell from the tree.”

The starved eagle had no strength to resist and Karuri quickly took it to Nyeri Airfield , where Nick Shadron, a WhatsApp group pilot, offered to fly it from Nyeri to Soysambu, with KBoPT refueling the plane. Assisted by David Gulden, another raptor specialist, and Wambugu and his KWS team, the eagle landed safely in Soysambu, where Thomsett was already waiting for him.

Get a life

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“He’s not good. He is very close to death after being starved and tortured. There’s a 50/50 chance he’ll make it,” Thomsett says while the eagle is in charge.

“He has an extremely deep wound, a penetrating one Wound inflicted by a high-speed object that confirms Karuri’s suspicion that it could not have fallen from its nest. It was certainly being pursued and shot at with some projectile. The proximal humeral head is fractured.”

After cleaning the wound on the humerus, the upper arm, the young eagle seemed to have stabilized at first, but then it stabilized again deteriorated.

“At this point, it’s ‘get a life’ – and you do what you can to make it live,” says Thomsett, wearily of 24/7 vigilance.

“The necrosis and dead material in his shoulder is tremendous and we cannot amputate directly at the shoulder and something I only do would be reluctant to do.”

24/7 care

Meanwhile, Joni Overbosch, a volunteer, helps with the round – care of the eagle round around the clock.

“The eagle can’t have fallen from its nest,” Thomsett explains. “Its feathers are developed and not those of a chick learning to fly. It is able to hunt, but young birds in common areas stand little chance these days.”

Interestingly, there are several pairs of the African crowned eagle and others in the forests around Nairobi Birds of prey because the communities around the forest respect the forests, thanks to the ‘friends’ and the foresters who actively seek to preserve them.

But outside the Kenyan capital there is little effective protection of small patches of forest surrounded by high human density. These forests are critically endangered, including the small wild animals that are being replaced by domestic animals such as cats and dogs.

The African crowned eagle is a forest bird that relies on the creatures it finds inside to hunt for food—creatures like the suni, bushbuck, blue monkey, and dik-dik.

“There is a direct correlation between forest loss and the declining numbers of the African crowned eagle,” , says Thomsett.

“Since Kenya gained independence in 1963, only 10% of the native forest remains. This represents a 90% decline in the African crowned eagle population.

Listen as Vulnerable

“In the small patches of forest where the few pairs of eagles survive , they will never breed because there is nothing in the forests for them to hunt. I call them ‘ghost couples’.”

Adds a very concerned Karuri: “Otherwise, there is an urgent need for public awareness regarding the remaining eagles in villages like Ithe Kahuno they will become disappear.”

Today, the African Crowned Eagle is listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List.

Meanwhile, the life of the six to nine-month-old African crowned eagle from the little-known village of Ithe Kahuno is at stake.