Important Bird Areas in Kenya.—Leon Bennun and Peter Njoroge. 1999. The East Africa Natural History Society, Nairobi, Kenya. ISBN 9966-9921-1-1. Available from Natural History Book Service, 2–3 Wills Road, Totnes, Devon30TQ9 5XN, United Kingdom £18.—The BirdLife International global partnership is well-known for producing well-documented, scientific assessments of the status of birds (e.g. Collar et al. 1994, Birdlife International 2000) and of sites important for birds (e.g. Grimmett and Jones 1989, Evans 1994). Important Bird Areas in Kenya not only lives up to that tradition but in many ways, surpasses past efforts.

One is immediately struck, upon handling the book, by the quality of its production and the obvious care that was taken in its design and layout to convey the important information contained within in the most effective manner. Colored tabs at the bottom of each page, for example, highlight the page numbers, chapter names, appendices, and various indices. An almost amazing five indices are included to allow one to quickly find sites based on scientific and common names of birds found at the sites, names of other animals and plants, site names, and site codes. Tables throughout the book are designed well and contain massive amounts of information.

Perhaps the most outstanding feature of the book is the introductory chapters (60 pages of them). Whereas most important bird area (IBA) books provide excellent overview and background as well as some analysis based on the IBA inventory, Important Bird Areas in Kenya has some of the most detailed, well-written, and well-referenced chapters that we have yet seen. The discussion of how birds can be used to set overall biodiversity priorities is compelling and deserves to be read by anyone interested in biodiversity conservation. Sections explaining site-selection criteria, biological rationale, and the site-selection process are impressive and give great credibility to the results. For those interested in understanding the IBA concept and process, not just in Kenya but anywhere in the world, these sections are a must-read. Another excellent feature is a discussion of the gaps in coverage of certain high-priority species, why those gaps occurred, and how those gaps may be rectified as more information is garnered in future years. A chapter on wildlife conservation policy and the institutional framework for conservation in Kenya provides an in-depth overview of interest not only to those working on conservation in Africa, but because of descriptions of international conventions, also potentially to conservationists from any country. The only real short-comings we noted in the introductory materials were some repetition of information among chapters and an oddly abbreviated section (just one page) on conservation issues within Kenya.

The bulk of the book is made up of the 60 IBA site accounts that each contain a wealth of information about the location and geography of the site, the birds of importance at the site, other wildlife of importance at the site, and the conservation issues at the site. Simple but well-presented one-page maps are provided for most sites as well. Line drawings of a bird species associated with the site accompany each site account though most are somewhat crude. Each site account also contains a summary table that lists the species present that are globally threatened, range-restricted, biome restricted, or congregatory, along with a thumbnail statement about the habitat associations and abundance of these species. The sections of the site accounts dealing with conservation issues provide well-researched summaries of the specific conservation challenges at each site, along with practical suggestions for actions that can be taken, both at the local level and by the government.

Relative to much of the African continent, the avifauna of Kenya is rather well known, but there are nonetheless gaps in knowledge for particular species and regions of the country. Clearly a lot of research was done to make sure this book presents a balanced perspective on the relative importance of sites throughout the country. Although many readers will be familiar with some of the IBAs that already receive protection as national parks and reserves (such as Lake Naivasha, the Aberdare Mountains, Mt. Kenya, Masai Mara, Samburu and Buffalo Springs, Meru, Tsavo East and West, Amboseli), many of the unprotected sites that face the most critical threats will be relatively unknown to most readers. Some examples include the Dida Galgalu Desert in northern Kenya (where William's Lark is found), the Machakos Valleys (Hinde's Babbler), the Tana River Delta (a coastal site with large concentrations of congregatory watgerbirds), the Yala Swamp Complex (the largest papyrus swamp in the Kenyan section of Lake Victoria), and Ol Donyo Sabache (an isolated basalt mountain that is one of the most important sites in Kenya for birds of prey). As an example of some of the information included, we learn that the Kinangop Grasslands, which is mainly private land, is probably the world stronghold for the globally threatened Sharpe's Longclaw. It is believed that deforestation of the nearby forests has resulted in a warmer, dryer climate with less frequent frosts, which now makes crop cultivation more attractive in the area. This, along with higher population density, smaller average landholdings, and higher stocking rates has led to a rapid loss and fragmentation of the grasslands critical for this species. As a result of increased awareness of those issues, a “Friends of the Kinangop Plateau” group has been formed to address those conservation concerns. Ecological and economic studies are being initiated to determine what land-use regimes are compatible with Longclaw conservation, and what economic opportunity costs these entail. Opportunities are being sought to purchase Longclaw habitat and identify potential reserves on common land.

As with any book we did find a few shortcomings in the presentation. The level of detail provided for each site varies quite a bit, which is understandable given the gaps in knowledge. That is partially made up for, however, by the fact that specific information needs are often spelled out throughout the book. These insights can serve as a research agenda that will be useful for students and land managers for years. It might have been useful to summarize the most important research needs in an appendix. The site maps would have benefited by having a small inset map of the country showing the location of the IBA. Without that we found it necessary to constantly refer back to the only summary map in the book that showed the location of all the IBAs, and that was on page 6—not the most convenient location to quickly thumb to. It would have been helpful to have a summary map on the inside front or back cover for easy reference. It also would have saved time if, for example, there were hatch marks on the edges of the map (alpha-numeric or latitude-longitude) with a reference code for each site so that it would be easier to find them at a glance, rather than have to visually scan the map until we found the number of the IBA of interest. The heading of each site account mentions the province and district where the site is located, which will be helpful spatial information for those familiar with the country, but there is no map showing the locations of the provinces and districts. Could those boundaries have been overlaid on the summary map? These complaints are minor, however, and we should emphasize that overall one is struck by how thoughtfully the information has been summarized and cross-referenced in the appendices and indices. It really was quite easy to find the information we were looking for.

In summary, this publication is a significant contribution to the ornithological literature. It should certainly be in the library of anyone interested in African ornithology, biodiversity conservation, or the IBA program. Because the book provides lists of sites where many of the rarest species in the country are found, along with basic site maps and tables that provide information on basic habitat preferences of these species, it is possible that the book may find a secondary audience among the birding community as a supplemental tool for bird finding. Overall, we believe that Important Bird Areas in Kenya has set a new benchmark for IBA guides and similar publications, and it deserves to be widely read.

Literature Cited


Birdlife International. 2000. Threatened Birds of the World. Lynx Edicions and Birdlife International, Barcelona and Cambridge, United Kingdom. Google Scholar


N. J. Collar, M. J. Crosby, and A. J. Stattersfield . 1994. Birds to Watch 2: The World List of Threatened Birds. BirdLife International, Cambridge, United Kingdom. Google Scholar


M. I. Evans 1994. Important Bird Areas in the Middle East. Birdlife International, Cambridge, United Kingdom. Google Scholar


R. F A. Grimmett and T. A. Jones . 1989. Important Bird Areas in Europe. International Council for Bird Preservation, Cambridge, United Kingdom. Google Scholar


"Important Bird Areas in Kenya," The Auk 119(4), 1208-1209, (1 October 2002).[1208:]2.0.CO;2
Published: 1 October 2002
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