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HOW WELL I KNEW YOU MY C1 TAWNY EAGLE

It was on the 30th of May 2020. I was doing my evening drive and I came across a pair of Tawny Eagles perched on a dead tree with nicely spread branches and I knew it was an opportunity for me to take my camera and wait for sunset shots. The sky was clear, I was alone so positioning myself was easy, and there was nothing to distract from the background of my subject. In ten minutes, the sunset was magical and the cloud behind the Tawny Eagle pair was glowing orange as the sun disappeared below the horizon. In all my time in the Mara, I have never come across such a cool pair of Tawny Eagles. My presence never triggered them to fly away from me in fear. Since that day, I called them the Keekorok Pair in relation to the location I found them. I suspected that they would nest within this area as most eagles roost near their nest in the evening after foraging. I started an intensive search for their nest and found it exactly where I expected.

Keekorok Tawny Eagle pair at sunset by Lemein Par on the 30th of May 2020. C1 is on the right.
Keekorok Tawny Eagle pair at sunset by Lemein Par on the 30th of May 2020. C1 is on the right.

After a few months of intensive nest monitoring, on the 22nd of November 2020, the Keekorok pair successfully fledged a chick. I was so happy as this was one of the first successful nests in our nest monitoring programme.


As the project grew, my colleagues whom I consider my mentors (Dr. Ralph Buij, Stratton Hatfield, and Shiv Kapila) were fortunate to have acquired some GPS backpacks to be fitted to Tawny Eagles for various objectives regarding the ecology and conservation of the species.


On the 10th of January 2021, we tagged the female Tawny Eagle from the Keekorok Pair. I was so happy as I wanted to learn more about this pair that I already knew so well and had been following for almost one year. We also placed a leg band labelled C1 on her right leg.

C1 is ready for release after the GPS backpack and leg band were fitted on the 10th of January, 2021
C1 is ready for release after the GPS backpack and leg band were fitted on the 10th of January, 2021

After a few months, the transmitter sent data showing that there was nest building activity going on at the nest and that she spent most of her time on it. On the 30th of June 2021, I visited the nest and found her incubating and I was happy as I knew she previously fledged a chick and hoped she was going to repeat her success. I continued monitoring the nest and a chick successfully fledged out of the nest in early November 2021.

It was great spending time with the fledgling perched on trees around the nest busy begging and calling for food from the parents. 2021 was a great year for the Keekorok tawny eagle pair. They successfully fledged a chick, and I made six visits to the nest during the breeding season.


During 2022, the pair changed nesting trees as their previous nest was falling apart. The pair chose a neighbouring tree which was 300m away and in June the transmitter data showed some activity in that tree. I visited the location on the 2nd of June 2022 and the pair was busy building a new nest. Close monitoring was done but unfortunately the pair did not breed that year though I did frequently see them around the nesting area roosting on the nesting tree. I closely monitored the birds for the remainder of the year and learned from the transmitter data that they forage over a wider area during the non-breeding period when compared to the breeding period.


In early 2023, I visited the two nesting trees for the Keekorok pair to check if there was any breeding activity but both nests were inactive. During my morning drives though I could still easily spot the adults sometimes perched together on the same or in different trees in view of one another.


On the afternoon of 14th May 2023, I received a call from Mara Ripoi Conservancy rangers of dead vultures and eagles that had fed on a poisoned carcass. This is one of the worst news you can receive. Since I was away from the Mara, I quickly called Duncan, my colleague who was close to the scene, and he responded to the situation.


The news broke my heart and created more questions than answers in my mind. This situation reminded me of a case I responded to last year of a helpless, slowly dying Bateleur on 18th October 2022. The Bateleur had fed on a poisoned jackal and was lying on a path and luckily rangers on patrol found it and called me immediately. I collected the bird and the following day it was taken to Simon Thomsett. In 2 months or so Simon treated and rehabbed the bird, and it was fit to be released. On the 16th of December 2022, I could not take my eyes off from the sky to see the direction where the plane would come from carrying back the Bateleur for release after rehabilitation. I could hear and see the plane approaching, flying low and I knew this was our Bateleur coming back home. At 1415hrs the plane touched down and by 1430hrs the Bateleur was back in the wild flying strong and off to the sky. This memory had a terrible beginning, but through massive efforts had a happy ending. I thank everyone involved with this successful mission.


Lemein Par rescuing a Bateleur at Mara Ripoi Conservancy and releasing it after successful rehabilitation.


Within twenty minutes of my call with the Mara Ripoi Conservancy rangers, Duncan arrived at the scene, and he couldn’t believe what he saw, dead vultures and eagles scattered around a small clearing within whistling thorn acacia. There was some remaining evidence of a larger carcass (the skull and the pelvic bone). Upon collecting carcasses, the number summed up to twelve dead birds (4 Tawny Eagles, 2 Bateleurs, 3 Lappet-faced Vultures, 2 White-backed Vultures and 1 Ruppell’s Vulture). Alongside the dead vultures and eagles, two dead hyenas and a jackal were found as well. I was anxious to get the individual photos of each bird for proper identification and aging.

The 12 poisoned birds and one poisoned Hyena from the May 2023 poisoning in Mara Ripoi Conservancy
The 12 poisoned birds and one poisoned Hyena from the May 2023 poisoning in Mara Ripoi Conservancy

As the photos came in, I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw a dead Tawny Eagle with a GPS backpack. I knew this was one of our birds and immediately my mind thought this must be a bird from Naboisho conservancy as this is a neighbouring protected area to Mara Ripoi in which we have some pairs of Tawny Eagles tagged.


I was very worried so I called Duncan to check if there was a ring on the leg for proper identification of the bird. Three minutes later, more photos load onto my phone…... OOOOOH NO! - the ring on the right foot is C1. I stopped the car and pulled to the side of the road. I could not stop my tears coming as I could not believe that C1 was dead. This is the bird I have known since 2020.

Dead Keekorok pair female (C1) with GPS backpack present and recovered ring.


So many questions come to my mind again that could only be answered by C1 - how I wish she was still alive. Why did you move out of your territory in the Maasai Mara National Reserve only to go die at a poisoned carcass 28km away from your nest? Why? Why?


From the transmitter data I can see that you only had left the Maasai Mara National Reserve for a few hours my C1 and the following day I came to collect your remains. How I wish we had a way to communicate together my C1, I could have told you Never! Never forage outside your territory as it is not safe for you.


When will wildlife poisoning end?


 

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Kenya Bird of Prey Trust

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