I have been following with great interest the Mathews range forest saga that was highlighted by the Milgis trust in the last week on WD. Yesterday Dr Leakey commented on it and posted a link to the student’s university where we could send our protests. I wrote a protest email and Dr Hank Howe, the doctoral adviser of Mr Lucas Borghesio responded immediately.
Since this issue is already in the public domain, I would like to share with you our email exchanges. It is also fair that all side be heard so that no one is judged before he is heard. I haven’t communicated to the Mr Lucas but would indeed be happy to know his side of the story, particularly on allegations that he is using money to influence local community or public servants.
As a researcher, I understand that some research methods may involve capturing animals or cutting trees, but the persons to determine when this get to the point of destruction are the officers issuing research permits at NEMA and KFS. If we find the research permit wanting, they should also face the wrath of Kenyans.
Below is our communications;
Reports have emerged alleging that your post graduate student is conducting research in Mathews range in Kenya that has resulted in felling of dozens of indigenous trees species. I am shocked, saddened and angered by this new development in Kenya’s least disturbed forest.
I am an Associate Research Scientist of the Institute of Primate Research of Kenya and have spent the last three years studying rare primates in Mathews range and the neighboring forests. Mathews is home to the newly discovered population of de Brazza’s monkey, the endangered Mt Uarges guereza, the dry season feeding ground for Samburu and Laikipia elephants and habitat for other important species of flora and fauna.
Below are a few questions for your university;
- Do you value your research more than these endangered and rare species?
- Is it true that your student bought his way to the forest to continue the destruction?
- Does he have all the papers needed to conduct research in Kenya?
- Why was he thrown out by the local community and how did he get (buy) his way back?
- Does your university value biodiversity and respect Kenyans feeling on this issue?
Please do something about this or forward it to the relevant person in your institution.
Dr Hank responded;
Dear Mr. Mwenja,
Thank you for your interest in and concern for the Mathews Range research. It is obvious from Google that you are deeply involved in many interesting and important aspects of primate research and conservation in Kenya. We have received various complaints since Helen Dufresne posted a blog on this project; your’s deserves first attention.I am Luca Borghesio’s doctoral adviser, and can give you a bit of background about the project. Luca is using previous observations from undisturbed forest and from forests disturbed in various ways by Samburu people about bird use of habitat in the Mathews Range. The idea is to test the hypothesis that minor to moderate disturbance increases diversity of plants, insects and birds in an area extensive enough that there are not whole guilds of each from non-forest habitats to move in, as would occur in small fragments surrounded by pasture or agricultural land.
This is not major disturbance. The plan is to create 10 circular plots 24 m wide to compare with uncut control plots. That is 0.45ha/30,000 ha of gazetted forest, or 0.000015 of the forest, which will be allowed to grow back to tall forest while he watches changes in abundance and distribution of plant and animal species during succession. The first few months will be part of his dissertation; as an active researcher since 1992 in East Africa and 1997 in the Mathews Range, he is determined to follow through for several years after that. His idea is that, with sufficient management to preclude deforestation or fragmentation, which would be catastrophic, local communities can use extensive forests in such a way as to increase rather than decrease overall biodiversity.
Claims by Dufresne and others about clear-cutting and deforestation, and specific claims about the amount of cutting intended or accomplished, are substantially to wildly exaggerated. I am quite sure that his work in no way has further endangered the primates of interest to you or in need of protection. In any event, the time of cutting is past and the time of close observations of faunal adjustments is here.
To address your specific points:
1. Luca is an ardent conservationist who is testing an idea directly relevant to forest management. This is his work; I am not a co-author. The work will involve Kenyan students from Nairobi as collaborators.
2. All foreigners pay fees, often substantial fees, for research permits in Kenya and other African countries. He has made private agreements with local people for what will from now on be cooperation with his bird observations.
3. Luca is a research associate of the National Museum in Nairobi, and has permits from it, from the Forest Service, and authorization from the National Environmental Management Authority for his work. There are five permits and authorizations in all. He has taken several of the relevant officials to the site.
4. You need to talk to him (he is back in Kenya now) about the events of last August: [email protected]
5. We are keeping a close eye on this.
Judging from your letter, and from my Google exploration, I think you and Luca should meet. I actually think that you two have a great deal of interest and expertise in common.
In any event, thank you for your interest and concern.