Rare Visitor to Kenya’s North Coast Rescued From Fisherman’s Net

A sea lion – never before recorded on the coast of Kenya – was rescued by the local community after being caught in a fisherman’s net in Kiunga last month. 

Kiunga lies on the northern extreme of the Kenyan coast. It is an area of pristine ocean and wild beaches. It is also home to a rich variety of marine life – from mangrove forests and coral reef, to turtles, dolphins, sharks and rays. Communities living here are expert fisher people, and have lived off the ocean for centuries. But the last thing one local fisherman expected to find in his net last month was a 100kg sea mammal, with ear flaps, long front flippers and whiskers like a cat! 

Cape fur seals (sea lions) are commonly found on the coasts of western and southern Africa – but have never before been seen in Kenya 

Cape fur seals (sea lions) are commonly found on the coasts of western and southern Africa – but have never before been seen in Kenya 

The mammal – identified as an adult male Arctocephalus tropicalis (a subantarctic fur seal or, alternatively, a Cape sea lion) – has never been seen in Kenya before, and caused huge excitement among the local people. Subantarctic fur seals are a species found in the southern parts of the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic Oceans. Commercial killing of fur seals has been widespread for years, and although it was stopped in South Africa in 1990, hunting continues in Namibia.

This particular fur seal was lucky – he was caught in the newly established Kiunga Marine Community Conservancy (KMCC). Part of the NRT-Coast family, KMCC was established by the Bajun, Somali and Boni communities in 2014. The Conservancy was a response to the increasing challenges faced by the people and the environment in the area. Climate change, population growth, unregulated fishing, and sparse government services have all taken their toll in the region – which supports a diverse marine habitat and a rich cultural heritage. Today, the communities work with the Kenya Wildlife Service and NRT to improve their livelihoods through conserving their marine ecosystem, manage fishing sustainably and investigating alternative enterprises, such as eco-tourism. 

A conservancy ranger approaches a fisherman’s hut by boat. Several members of the local community in Kiunga – one of the country’s poorest areas – have found employment by becoming wildlife scouts – patrolling the seas and working with fishermen to protect the delicate marine habitat.

A conservancy ranger approaches a fisherman’s hut by boat. Several members of the local community in Kiunga – one of the country’s poorest areas – have found employment by becoming wildlife scouts – patrolling the seas and working with fishermen to protect the delicate marine habitat.

Kiunga has a team of wildlife rangers, who patrol the seas monitoring wildlife and carrying out anti-poaching operations. The rangers were on patrol with the fishermen when he discovered the sea lion tangled in his net. They decided to take the mammal, an adult male, ashore to free it from entanglement before releasing it back into the wild.

The conservancy manager was alerted, who in turn alerted the Kenya Wildlife Service rangers. The community were so excited to welcome such an unusual animal to Kenyan shores, that an impromptu ceremony was held to bless the sea lion, and wish it well on its onward journey. The fur seal was released unharmed. 

The fur seal was taken to where he was found and released unharmed – with a full Kiunga community blessing to wish him well on his journey

The fur seal was taken to where he was found and released unharmed – with a full Kiunga community blessing to wish him well on his journey

“The Kenya Wildlife Service in Kiunga has praised the role of the Kiunga Conservancy in raising marine conservation awareness amongst the local people, which not only led to the safe return of the sea lion, but is also proving to curb illegal fishing and wildlife poaching in the area. “ Says NRT-Coast Regional Coordinator Yassin Mohamed.