Richard Kipng’eno stares at a multitude of pink carcasses scattered on the floor. The scene looks terrible. Several dead small flamingos Phoeniconaias minor characterize the area, which is adjacent to a power line. According to Richard’s rough estimates, the number of victims is between 50 and 100. All of them are the youngest victims of a collision with the 132 kV power line Juja-Naivasha-Lanet-Lessos in Soysambu in northwestern Kenya.
“Over the years we have seen numerous collision and electrocution incidents involving flamingos, pelicans and other birds along this stretch of the power line. The situation is pretty bad, ”says Richard.
Richard’s fears are not far-fetched. The Juja-Naivasha-Lanet-Lessos power line cuts through a section of the IBA (Lake Elementaita Important Bird Area), a breeding ground for white pelicans Pelecanus onocrotalus and home to thousands of waterfowl. Over the years, Richard, who has worked as a tour guide in the area, has witnessed the devastating effects of electrical collisions and electric shocks on birds. As he recalls, these incidents are common but are not reported.
“Unfortunately, most of these incidents go unreported and the relevant wildlife authorities don’t seem as concerned. The situation is dire, ”Richard adds.
Around the world, collisions and electric shocks from power lines are responsible for the death of several species of birds. It is estimated that hundreds of millions of birds die from collisions and electric shocks with power transmission lines each year.
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Another 400 kV line runs almost parallel to the Juja-Naivasha-Lanet-Lessos power line. the 308 km long Olkaria-Lessos-Kisumu transmission line, which will soon be operational, another potentially fatal threat to migratory birds. A three-kilometer section of the new power line runs along the southern edge of Lake Elementaita. The proximity to the shore endangers the lives of thousands of birds that populate the lake. Nature Kenya (BirdLife Partner) and other conservation organizations are concerned about this development.
“The current laying of the power line on the edge of Lake Elementaita is a death trap for birds. This section of the line does not meet global bird safety standards, ”says Dr. Paul Matiku, Executive Director of Nature Kenya.
“This line poses a threat to wetland migratory birds and critically endangered vultures from electrocution and collision. Lake Elementaita and other lakes in the central Rift Valley are important biodiversity hotspots of local and international importance, ”adds Dr. Matiku added.
For conservationists, the importance of the biological diversity of Lake Elementaita is of concern. For starters, the lake is the only breeding ground for the white pelicans in East Africa. Lake Elementaita, together with Lakes Nakuru, Natron and Bogoria, form the network of alkaline lakes in the Rift Valley, an essential part of the flamingo migration. Lake Elementaita is also an integral part of the African-Eurasian trajectory. Millions of birds use this flight path to migrate from their wintering areas in Africa to their breeding grounds in Europe and Central Asia.
“Investors need special attention in the design and installation of power lines over critical biodiversity hotspots like Lake Elementaita. Any minor mistake could have catastrophic consequences for the conservation of birds at home and abroad, ”warns Dr. Matiku.
Proponents of the Powerline project, led by the Kenya Electricity Transmission Company (KETRACO), are calling for due diligence as recommended in a 2009 ESIA (Environmental and Social Impact Assessment) report. Critics, however, say otherwise. “The ESIA on which this project is based is flawed and invalid,” explains Dr. Matiku.
“There was no consultation or any form of collaboration with ornithology experts or other stakeholders for this particular project. The design and specifications of all transmission line components were not part of the ESIA and were procured at a later date. The design and components are key factors in the impact and mitigation measures of a given project. This was a critical loophole and should have been the basis for the ESIA review prior to the implementation of the project, ”he adds.
So far, Nature Kenya has written to KETRACO twice and held two meetings to stop or redirect the controversial 3km section of the power line. None of these interventions have borne fruit. The appeal was extended to other stakeholders, including the Cabinet Secretary in the Department of Energy and the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), the project’s financiers. The National Environment Complaint Committee (NECC) was also made aware of the problem and asked KETRACO and the Department of Energy to respond to the questions asked.
In this matter, an audience with international nature conservation institutions was also sought. These included BirdLife International, the Ramsar Secretariat, and the Convention for the Conservation of Migratory Wildlife Species (CMS). Ramsar wrote to the Kenyan government asking for an answer.
Nature Kenya’s recommendations for averting bird deaths from collision or electric shock included stopping construction work to enable participatory participation by stakeholders. Another suggestion was to divert the power line further away from Lake Elementaita. It was also proposed to conduct an ornithological study to understand the possible negative impact of the project on birds, with the aim of agreeing on bird protection measures in the project sites, design and engineering work.
Other suggestions include; Improving the visibility of the transmission line for birds, dispensing with the overpassing of transmission lines and using maps and GPS coordinates of the entire power line of Olkaria.
As of January 2021, nothing seems to have changed. Newly installed pylons are near the old pylons with no detour or other remedial action intended by the developer. KETRACO remains deaf on the subject. Nature Kenya has now written to the Secretary of the Energy and Oil Cabinet about this. However, the National Environmental Complaint Committee has recognized that it is aware of the problem and is investigating it.
“We are working on a report on this subject. We have already visited the site in question. Thank you for your continued support for nature conservation, especially the protection of our birds. Please count on our support in environmental protection efforts, ”notes Dr. Chumo Kipkorir, the committee secretary, in an email to Nature Kenya.
For Richard and other nature lovers, the omnipresence of electrical lines and pylons on Lake Elementatia means the fate of the bird population in the region. And when the recent flamingo death is over, the worst is yet to come.
For its part, Nature Kenya continues to pursue all possible avenues, including engaging relevant stakeholders, to make the country’s IBAs, KBAs and flyways safer for birds.