Nairobi, Oct 30 – Conservation organisations in Kenya have voiced concern over the death of a threatened Martial Eagle that was electrocuted last week, saying the death was a tragic reminder that bird electrocution is a global problem aggravated by rising demand for energy in certain regions.

They said electrocution of birds was prevalent in natural areas where the introduction of power lines was causing significant disruption to local species. The conservationists noted that Kenya’s human population is rapidly growing, driving demand for affordable energy and urged the country to take the lead in in providing safe powerlines and poles for wildlife.

The Kenyan government has promised “universal access” to power by 2020 and is making remarkable progress towards achieving this goal. From a consumption of 3,320.7 GWh (Gigawatt hours) in 2000 to 8,053.20 GWh in 2016. Electricity consumption has grown by nearly 60 per cent during the period from 2000 to 2016. Power generation has also increased from 4,178.9 GWh in 2000 to 10,057.7 GWh in 2016.

While affordable accessible energy is critical to Kenya’s continued economic development, the infrastructure required to distribute this power is threatening the survival of already threatened birds of prey species, the conservation groups stressed.

Poorly planned pylons and power lines are electrocuting numerous raptors annually driving population declines. Electrocution occurs when a bird comes into contact with two wires or when it perches on a conductive pylon (for example, a metal structure) and comes into simultaneous contact with a wire.

The conservationists called for urgent action to modify or retrofit existing infrastructure and change the designs of planned developments to prevent further electrocutions of birds of prey. The need to wildlife friendly power distribution infrastructure has been highlighted by a spate of electrocutions in Kenya’s Rift Valley region and most recently of a threatened species – the Martial Eagle (Africa’s largest eagle), in the Maji Moto region of Narok County.

The Mara Raptor Project, Birdlife International, The Peregrine Fund, Nature Kenya, and the Kenya Bird of Prey Trust said they were deeply concerned by this recent electrocution.

The juvenile Martial Eagle that died was part of a long-term study on this species’ ecology. It was banded on March 10, 2018 in the Mara Triangle and was found electrocuted on October 22, 2018 underneath newly constructed power lines close to Maji Moto, 95 kilometres from its natal nest.

The bird was only one year and for months old. Other recent raptor electrocutions in Kenya include a critically endangered African White-backed Vulture, a Tawny Eagle, multiple Augur Buzzards, a Yellow-billed Kite, a Long-crested Eagle, Verreaux’s Eagle-owls and Spotted Eagle-owls. Other than birds of prey, Angola colobus, bats, giraffes and other bird species have been electrocuted by powerlines, underlining the importance of solving the problem.

While all birds of prey are vulnerable to electrocution, vultures, migratory species and dispersing juveniles are most at risk. They travel remarkable distances in search of food, often far outside of protected area boundaries. Unlike terrestrial mammals, birds of prey’ movements are not limited by fences, roads, or towns. This has genetic benefits, but unfortunately, also leads to increased contact with human development. Pylons and power poles offer ideal locations for roosting, hunting, and even nesting. When these pylons and poles have poorly configured lines, they are deadly.

Raptors are critical to Kenya’s world renowned ecosystems. They manage pest populations, control the spread of diseases, and are indicators of high levels of biodiversity and overall ecosystem health. Their loss will result in severe ecological cascades that scientists are just beginning to understand.

Birdwatching is also an increasingly important component of Kenya’s wildlife based tourism industry and the country’s diverse raptor community often highlights a guest’s visit to the country.

“Bird deaths from electrocution go unnoticed, but cumulatively are having a catastrophic impact on bird of prey populations in Kenya,” said Dr Munir Virani, Vice President and Director of Global Conservation Strategy of The Peregrine Fund.