Thursday, 14 August 2014

The Rare Sable of Shimba

I recently went to a talk hosted by the Shimba Support Group (SSG) on the Sable Antelope (Sable) of Shimba Hills National Reserve (SHNR). There are only 60 Sables left (increasing from 56 in 2012) and they all reside in the Shimba area; therefore at high risk of exctintion.

On arriving this out of place sofa was very comfortable

The talk was held at the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) office in Diani in what appeared to be an outside storage area. I met up with Shazaad (chair of SSG) and examined the interesting drawings on the wall; including a house, Barrack Obama, what appeared to be Wayne Rooney and fittingly a Sable. We then took our seats (some chairs were better than others) and waited for the talk to being.

KWS support the SSG and it was held at their office in Diani

Meeting up with the SSG Chair, Shazaad

Nope I did not choose this chair

Sable drawing on the wall

Shazad opened the talk and was talking about how there is “to little emphasis on the Sable and that more is put on the big animals like the Elephant, Lion and Rhino. If we are not careful the Sable could be lost forever and that would be a big blow for Kenya in the fight for wildlife conservation”.

The main talk was then underway and was delivered by two SSG committee members Ayesha and Esme as well as Nathan from KWS, who as an active ranger within SHNR. It began with basic facts about the Sable like:

  • There are five subspecies of the Sable and Kenya has the Roosevelt Sable  (Hippotragus niger roosevelti).
  • Classed as endangered in Kenya, but the IUCN has it as least concern because it lumps it together with the other sub species, except the critically endangerd Giant Sable.
  • Males are black in colour with the females & young a chestnut brown.
  • Male & female both have horns reaching 81-165cm & 61-102cm respectively
  • Typical in herds of 20-25 with a dominant bull, cows, sub adult females and young bulls usually below 24 months.
  • The young bulls group together in bachelor herds until they reach 4 or 5 to look for their own group.
  • One dominant female will lead the herd and will usually be the oldest, healthiest & darkest in colour.

Then they moved on to the threats facing the Sable in Shimba, the main ones being:
  • Inbreeding, Poor Habitat, Malnutrition (apparently the soil is lacking in calcium & phosphate), poaching, farming including livestock grazing.
And the main challenges:
  • Security, monitoring, diversifying the population of the Sable.

Some good news is that the new wildlife act that was introduced this year to Kenya now classes the Sable as an endangered species. This means the penalties for poaching them is similar to elephants with a fine of 1 million KES; we will wait to see how effective this is in being implemented.

This talk was followed by one from Dadley Tsiganyiu Deputy/Community Warden of SHNR. He repeated some information, but concentrated more on how we must include the local community in any action to protect the Sable going forward. They are the ones who will truly decide if this species survives or is lost from Kenya forever. Problems like logging, charcoal burning, firewood collection and farming can all be made more sustainable. If more education is put into these communities and their local skills, like wood carving, are used effectively they can become a resource; not a problem. The big challenges are poverty, illiteracy, misinformation and that they see benefits as short term materialistic items, rather than long term conservation.

There were a lot of questions asked towards the Warden and some underlining anger as to why they are not aggressively marketing SHNR, as well as the dwindling wildlife numbers like the Giraffe and Elephants. Shazaad made a point that in previous years when it was marketed a lot more the visitor rate (therefore income generation) went up greatly. This provides local jobs and vital income to support the staff and communities within the park.

The Warden did say that unfortunately the “conservation in Kenya is more political and that is the main problem”; I don’t know a country that doesn’t have that problem.

From left to right, Dadley, Nathan, Esme, Ayesha, Shazaad.

One thing that is clear is that there is a long way to go and we must all work together and include everyone is the Sable is to be saved.

The new KWS Sable strategy can be viewed HERE

Read more about SHNR HERE

The Shimba Support Group is unique in that it works in direct partnership with the KWS and so can have a huge impact on the work at SHNR. If you are interested in finding out more about them or want to help out more information is available HERE.

If you visit Kenya then please do pop down to the South coast and check out this beautiful little gem that has a lot more to offer than you may think. If you don't believe me check out my own safari pictures:



The beautiful waterfall at the end of a lovely walk

Young Giraffe

Adult Giraffe

One of the terrific wardens

The most fantastic view of the sun going down over Shimba Hills Nature Reserve


You can see all my photos of my time in Kenya on my Flickr page here -

Or on my facebook page here -


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