“I believe I can fly, I believe I can touch the sky, I think about it every night and day, spread my wings and fly away, like a vulture”. Participants at Kenya’s International Vulture Awareness Day 2011 celebrations were memorably serenaded with a unique twist to R. Kelly’s ‘I believe I can fly (like a vulture)’. Begun in 2009, International Vulture Awareness Day (IVAD) 2011 was celebrated by zoos and conservation organisations from Cambodia to Croatia with the aim to highlight the plight of vultures worldwide and to draw attention to the important work being done to conserve them (www.vultureday.org).
In Kenya the event is organised by the Raptor Working Group of Nature Kenya and this year’s event was hosted by Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Laikipia District. This third event was attended by 120 school kids from seven neighbouring primary and secondary schools. For a ‘vulturephile’ you couldn’t beat the entertainment, rap songs about vultures, dances and poetry, all capturing the unique characteristics and importance of vultures. The kids got an up close look at some vulture skins and learned from members of the Raptor Working Group about special adaptations of vultures. We encouraged the students to show off their artistic talents by entering an art competition with the theme ‘the role of vultures in the cycle of life’. Twelve of the top artists were awarded prizes during the event.
Guest speakers challenged the students to spread the word about the importance of vultures and not to engage in practices that are harmful to vultures, particularly poisoning wildlife. They also drew parallels between Kenyans’ negative attitudes toward wildlife and its decline. Speakers included representatives from Kenya Wildlife Service, BirdLife International, Laikipia Wildlife Forum, National Museums of Kenya, Wildlife Clubs of Kenya, and Nyahururu Bird Club.
Dr. Munir Virani of the Raptor Working Group and The Peregrine Fund presented our hosts with a beautiful vulture painting that was made during a previous IVAD event by Watoto kwa Kwetu Trust. All the attending schools took home posters about the importance of vulture conservation and copies of Komba magazine, a children’s publication focused on conservation and produced by Wildlife Clubs of Kenya. In addition, students in all participating schools will receive copies of the colouring book, ‘African vultures’, produced by Raptor Working Group member Martha Nzisa. Finally, in honour of the late Kenyan Nobel Laureate, Wangari Maathai, students planted 150 indigenous trees within the conservancy.
This year’s event was a resounding success and once again the students surprised us with their knowledge and excitement about vultures. Through contacts made during the event, we will continue to spread the word about the importance of vultures to schoolchildren throughout Kenya by collaborating with education officers from the Laikipia Wildlife Forum and Wildlife Clubs of Kenya.
Funding for this year’s event was graciously provided by the N.E.W. Zoo (Wisconsin, USA). Additional support came from Ol Pejeta Conservancy and The Peregrine Fund. The organisers also thank Kenya Wildlife Service, BirdLife International, Laikipia Wildlife Forum, National Museums of Kenya, Wildlife Clubs of Kenya, and Nyahururu Bird Club for their support of the event.
Darcy Ogada is Assistant to the Africa Programs of The Peregrine Fund and is also Chairperson of Nature Kenya’s Raptor Working Group.