Leaving Manyara, the road is smooth and fast. That was good, for my car was suffering with crippled rear suspension and broken rod mountings. The roads of Serengeti and Ngorongoro and the Mara previously had added their toll.
Craig Blackbeard is a pilot working from Arusha and deeply interested in raptors. His passion led him years ago to my house in Athi, where he surprised me by saying he knew of many pairs of Peregrines, Lanners and Taita Falcons. He told me of the open trapping and taking of falcons and other raptors in Tanzania. These birds as well as most species of wildlife are legally taken and exported. I have never been convinced that any of the exports of raptors to centres or individuals around the world has done any good to the species conservation abroad or in the country from which they originate. Without going into details, the idea is that one can sustainably use wildlife. Done in some way (as yet explained), the public can therefore see the benefit of having wildlife, and thus continue to nurture it and keep it in perpetuity.
I see this working in some management areas that have set quotas and clear methods in which the money generated is fed back into habitat conservation. But I have yet to see any so-called conservation-orientated bird of prey centre abroad benefit African raptors by importing raptors. If the past method of capture and husbandry by the capture teams in Kenya is an example, then I would estimate 1 in 10 raptors taken from the wild actually make it to their foreign destination alive. There is no concern for the capture of adults as opposed to immatures (immatures are not breeding, hold no territory and have a high mortality rate. Their removal does not affect the wild population as much as the removal of adults). Given that the sustainable quota for raptors is unknown, then this sort of utilisation is definitely in need of cessation until proved to be practical. Craig and I have talked long about this subject, and I now had a chance to see for myself some of the territory he had described.
We left my car in the garage and went with Craig to a small mountain southeast of Manyara called Lokisale. It stands at nearly 7000 feet. There Craig walked us to a small and unimpressive cliff to show us a Peregrine eyrie. It confirmed to me that falcons were doing well, for in Kenya poor sites such as these are increasingly devoid of falcons. They have been pushed back into tougher nest sites.
Arusha lies at the foothills of a fine little park. Arusha National Park is a mismatch of craters, a gigantic sometimes snow-clad mountain, warm savannah, fresh and soda water lakes and thick forest. Just how so many habitats can be thrown into one place is amazing. Among it, and all around it is a burgeoning human population. We spent an afternoon and morning in the park mostly scanning the Ngurdoto Crater for Taita Falcons. I had seen one there a long time ago, but Craig had certainly seen them and had a report that they were breeding there. We waited patiently and were rewarded with a young male Peregrine, and a strange pair of Lanners … but no Taita Falcons. We saw Martial Eagles, a couple of Long Crested Eagles and over-wintering Steppe Buzzards. Perhaps the rarest and most encouraging sighting was of a displaying African Marsh Harrier. It allowed us an opportunity to observe this critically endangered species, which in Kenya is virtually extinct.