As we come to the close of 2018, Mpala remains abuzz with action including the return of the African wild dogs and more recorded sightings of the elusive leopard. We also just concluded the 4th Annual Laikipia Rabies Vaccination Campaign (LRVC) with 14,575 dogs and cats vaccinated against the deadly rabies virus!
At Mpala Research Centre and neighbouring Loisaba conservancy, researcher Dr. Nicholas Pilfold and his talented assistant Ambrose Letoluai from the Institute for Conservation Research at San Diego Zoo Global, are on a mission to establish leopard population sustainability in the area. This follows a worrying trend in decreasing leopard numbers over the years. The leopard team is upbeat about the success of the camera traps that form the core of their research program. “After checking the cameras this month, we’ve had a nice first run of leopard sightings on Mpala. Five new individuals, which brings the total to eight so far identified on Mpala, and approximately 30 across the total landscape we work on. Of the eight, we have identified two males and six females including one that is pregnant,” said Pilfold in an update on his research (see lots of leopard action in this video about the project).
Although leopard populations are extremely successful in protected areas, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) classifies them as a near threatened species with a decreasing population trend. When leopards kill livestock, they risk being killed by ranchers. They also compete with humans for food and are hunted by poachers for their distinctive coats as well as for traditional medicine and religious purposes.
The close of 2018 does not only hold good news for the Leopard team. The Kenya Rangelands Wild Dog and Cheetah Project manager and LRVC co-founder, Dedan Ngatia also has good news. “We have just concluded LRVC, a little shy of our ambitious target of vaccinating 15,000 cats and dogs in Laikipia,” He said with a smile indicating that he is happy with the 14,575 figure on record. “We are also closely monitoring a denning wild dog pack. It is exciting to see a healthy mother and puppies plus seven other family members doing well here on Mpala.” The fortunes of the African wild dogs, also called the painted dog, were bleak in 2017 when they were nearly wiped out by canine distemper virus (watch this video about the legend of the African wild dog).
In 2018, together with collaborators from the County Government of Laikipia, The Kenya Rangelands Wild Dog and Cheetah Project, Laikipia Wildlife Forum(LWF) and International Livestock Research Institute(ILRI), LRVC set out to vaccinate 15,000 domestic dogs and cats against rabies. This is a scaled up effort from 2017 whose target was 10,000 dogs and cats across Laikipia with a primary focus of vaccinating animals from pastoralist communities. In Kenya, nearly 2000 people die of rabies annually. The global figures are a staggering 60,000 deaths annually. Exposure to the disease leads to death after neurological symptoms have developed. Vaccination after exposure, known as post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP), is highly successful in preventing death if administered promptly, in general within 6 days of infection.
As we approach the close of 2018, we hope that viewers of the live cams on Explore will be treated to more sightings of the leopard and African wild dog.
Victor Kasii @mpalalive