Wildsolutions

Waterbuck (Kobus ellipsiprymnus) of Laikipia County

By Yvonne de Jong and Tom Butynski, Eastern Africa Primate Diversity and Conservation Program, Lolldaiga Hills Research Programme

Waterbuck Kobus ellipsiprymnus, one of biggest antelopes on Lolldaiga Hills Ranch (Laikipia County, central Kenya), are found throughout the Ranch but prefer the higher grasslands and vegetation along the streams and dams of central and south Lolldaiga.

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Diplolophium africanum: A common but little-known plant on Lolldaiga Hills Ranch, Kenya

By Tom Butynski, Yvonne de Jong, Mike Roberts, and Julius Mathiu, Lolldaiga Hills Research Programme

One of most widespread, common, distinctive, and little-known plants on Lolldaiga Hills Ranch, central Kenya, is Diplolophium africanum, a member of the Carrot Family (Apiaceae = Umbelliforae). This is the only Diplolophium species in the Kenya uplands. Species in this family are aromatic, have hollow or pithy stems, and an umbel inflorescence which, in D. africanum, is ca. 35 mm in diameter. The more well-known plants in the Apiaceae include celery, parsley, parsnip, anise, caraway, coriander, cumin, dill, and fennel. Upon seeing D. africanum, one is reminded of dill or fennel.

Diplolophium africanum plants in flower in typical habitat on Lolldaiga Hills Ranch. Photograph by Yvonne de Jong & Tom Butynski.

Diplolophium africanum plants in flower in typical habitat on Lolldaiga Hills Ranch. Photograph by Yvonne de Jong & Tom Butynski.

Unlike the above-listed relatives, D. africanum is not edible to humans nor, it seems, to any vertebrates except, perhaps donkeys (which are rumoured to eat small amounts). On Lolldaiga, sheep, cattle, and wild large herbivores graze around D. africanum, leaving the plant untouched…or nearly so. As such, this 2-3 m high plant becomes particularly dominant and noticeable as the long-dry season advances and as it changes colour from green to bright yellow.

Although D. africanum is wide-spread in Africa, and locally abundant in Kenya in upland grassland, wooded grassland, and woodland edges, it remains poorly-known—so poorly-known that it does not have an English common name. The Maa name for this plant is ‘daiga’ (or ‘daika’). It is, apparently, this species that led the Masai to give the name ‘Lolldaiga’ to these hills. What is known is that the leaf oil holds more than 24 compounds, some with insecticidal, antimicrobial, antifungal, and/or antiradical activities. Still, on Lolldaiga, the larvae of at least a few species of moth occur on D. africanum, and the adults and larvae of a large carpenter bee Xylocopa hottentotta and a small carpenter bee Ceratina sp. (identifications by Dr. Dino Martins) inhabit the dry stem.

Flowering Diplolophium africanum on Lolldaiga Hills Ranch. Photograph by Yvonne de Jong & Tom Butynski.

Flowering Diplolophium africanum on Lolldaiga Hills Ranch. Photograph by Yvonne de Jong & Tom Butynski.

Xylocopa hottentotta bore holes into dry D. africanum stems to construct nests. Each nest has a single entrance. Species within the genus Xylocopa are solitary and do not produce honey. Nonetheless, they are important pollinators of many plants, including crops.

All Xylocopa spp. buzz loudly when their nest is disturbed. Thus, nests of X. hottentotta in D. africanum are readily located simply be hitting the plant sharply, but lightly, with a finger or stick.

In East Africa, Xylocopa spp., and other species of bees, are threatened by habitat degradation and loss as a result of agricultural activities, and by herbicides and insecticides (BioNET-EAFRINET keys.lucidcentral.org).

 There is an unidentified toxin in D. africanum; ingestion of large amounts of green leaf leads to shortness of breath (dyspnea), salivation, abdominal pain, staggering, and death in sheep, cattle and, perhaps, all mammals. Nonetheless, people in Ethiopia sniff the fresh, unprocessed, leaves to treat headache, and give the smashed leaves orally with water in an attempt to treat rabies.

Diplolophium africanum in flower on Lolldaiga Hills Ranch. Photograph by Yvonne de Jong & Tom Butynski.

Diplolophium africanum in flower on Lolldaiga Hills Ranch. Photograph by Yvonne de Jong & Tom Butynski.

Dry, post-flower, Diplolophium africanum on Lolldaiga Hills Ranch. Photograph by Yvonne de Jong & Tom Butynski.

Carpenter bee Xylocopa hottentotta at its nest hole in a dry Diplolophium africanum stem on Lolldaiga Hills Ranch. Photograph by Paul Benson.

On Lolldaiga, D. africanum is common over large areas that might otherwise produce food for livestock and wild vertebrates, particularly large mammals. A research priority on Lolldaiga is to study the ecology of D. africanum in order to understand its role in the Lolldaiga Hills ecosystem.

Carpenter bee Xylocopa hottentotta exiting its nest hole in a dry Diplolophium africanum stem on Lolldaiga Hills Ranch. Photograph by Paul Benson.

Carpenter bee Xylocopa hottentotta exiting its nest hole in a dry Diplolophium africanum stem on Lolldaiga Hills Ranch. Photograph by Paul Benson.

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Two additions to the Laikipia Mammal List; desert warthog (Phacochoerus aethiopicus) and Kirk’s dik-dik (Madoqua kirkii)

By Yvonne de Jong & Tom Butynski, Lolldaiga Hills Research Programme

Laikipia County, ca. 9,700 km², probably holds the highest diversity of larger mammal species of any region of its size in the world. Most of Laikipia County is covered by the Laikipia Plateau (ca. 1,600–2,400 m asl), an area composed of a mix of flat ground, undulating plains, rolling hills, steep hills, and scattered granitic inselbergs (or ’kopjes’).

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Günther’s dik-dik ‘frosted’ colourmorph on Lolldaiga Hills Ranch, Kenya

By Yvonne de Jong and Tom Butynski, for the Lolldaiga Hills Research Programme, lolldaiga.com

Living in some of the hottest, driest and most thorny habitats of Africa, Günther’s dik-dik Madoqua guentheri occur over much of central and northern Kenya, northern Uganda, southeast South-Sudan, south and southeast Ethiopia, and most of Somalia. Laikipia’s smallest antelope (ca. 4.5 kg) occupies all of the bushlands of Lolldaiga Hills Ranch (1700-2200 m asl). Lolldaiga Hills Ranch lies at the southern limit of this antelope in central Kenya.

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