Category Archives: Arabuko-Sokoke Forest

ARABUKO SOKOKE FOREST SURVEY REPORT

A Rocha Kenya has been doing surveys in the forest to monitor and map all illegal activities taking place so as to generate comprehensive data that will be able to show the actual status of the forest at any time so that managers of the forest are aware of what is happening, and would equip them to make informed decisions regarding the management of the said forest.

Our very recent survey was led by David Ngala (the forest man) who guided the crew; a (KWS researcher), two KWS rangers and one of our own, through the Mida gate to the Nature Reserve section of the forest. They were dropped by KWS car four kilometers away from the entry and saw quite a number of clear footpaths which most of them died off few meters form the main car path. The team walked west until they found the Whistling Duck pools and took to the north. They maneuvered through huge leafless Brachystegia trees, acacias scrub coming across giant baobab surrounded by what used to be water drinking points for elephants; about five marshes, all together with grass dried away. They walked following more clear foot path for two hours north of the pools finding only two old in-active duikers snares and eventually came to a more clear water-way kind of a path which they followed back to the main car path coming across a two weeks old Salvadora persica stump.

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On our way back, the driver stopped the car abruptly and engaged the reverse gear. A young man was crossing the road holding a paper bag which the driver suspected something fishy with the content of the paper bag. Before the rangers could jump down, the young man had already opened his heels and was on fire running like Usain Bolt! The rangers had rough time chasing after him through thick and thin and temporarily disappeared in thorny bushes. He dropped the paper bag and crawled to hide. It was almost thirty minutes later when he was finally found and brought to the car. The paper bag was found containing a roasted monkey. He was taken to the KWS office and handed over to the concerned authorities.

 

The fate of our Important Bird Areas…

Arabuko Sokoke forest is the only remaining strip of what used to be health and continuous Coastal dry forest in mainland Africa stretching from Northern Mozambique to Southern Somalia. With an area of only 420km square remaining, the forest still remains to be very important for conservation to both local and international. Being a unique forest of its own nature, it’s very rich in biodiversity (biodiversity hotspot) sheltering a number of globally threatened wildlife including the indigenous African plants, butterflies, mammals and birds. In fact, the forest is a home to six globally threatened bird species such as Sokoke Scops Owl, Sokoke Pipit, East Coast Akalat, Spotted Ground Thrush, Amani Sunbird and Clarkes Weaver.

These Birds require special habitat conditions and are unevenly distributed across the six vegetation types of the forest of both the natural and plantations. The Sokoke Scops Owl; the smallest of all owls in Africa prefers Cynometra vegetaion type of the forest and is believed to be breeding within these territories while the Clarkes weaver spend its entire life feeding in the Brachystagia and mixed vegetation sections of the forest. Both Spotted Ground Thrush and Sokoke Pipit prefer feeding on the undergrowth. They are all very special birds to watch and in return attracts many birders from all walks of life. They all depend on the welfare and contributions of plants and other forest wildlife as a whole for their thriving and breeding. Together, they all co-exist to form up this forest ecosystem whose resources has been pressurized through unsustainable exploitation.

Human pressure on forest resources and products for various uses are accelerating each new day putting Arabuko sokoke forest and adjacent twin forested section of Gede Ruins National Monument at a situation that is alarming for conservation. For the last three months, we have destroyed over 100 snares and recorded over 120 stumps of cut stems in Gede Ruins. It’s a shame even to see snares in a twenty year old regenerated forest within the ruins. This year, over 400 snares have been destroyed and 500 fresh cut stems found and mapped.

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Most of the animals targeted are suni, duikers, bush buck, endangered African elephants and protected elephant shrews. Manilkara sansibarensis is the highly targeted tree species for timber and the remaining used for charcoal burning. The highly favored wood carving plant species (Dalbergia melanoxylon) is not readily available due to over exploitation and have now turned to Cynometra webberi (the lonely home to critically endangered Sokoke Scops Owl) for the same purposes. Logging for local house construction accounts for less than 5% of the cut stems which implies that plats related forest resources are harvested majorly for commercial purposes whereas snaring for small animals goes to domestic consumption while bigger animals like elephants products are aimed at international markets. In one survey with communities, we were shocked to discover over 80 fresh cut stems of Manilkara sansibarensis within an area of 300 meters by 200 meters and as close as 100meters from the main road. A quick glimpse from the road side will convince you that all is well but make just few yards inside and you are deemed for a shock of the year.

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However, all is not lost as communities around the forests have ganged up to conserve or protect if need be after a series of capacity building workshops with them. With about fifty two villages surrounding Arabuko sokoke forest and three surrounding Gede Ruins, we can be sure of saving the remaining special habitats for homes of endangered wildlife. Unless everyone stands up for the same course, then we shall realize a better tomorrow.

ARABUKO-SOKOKE FOREST

The Arabuko-Sokoke forest is quickly getting tampered with. A look by the road can be very deceiving. Before you take a walk inside the forest one would think it is very much intact but alas! After a recent snare walk we found that trees are being cut at a very high speed by our own people, people who know very well that it is not right to destroy the forest, but may be; just may be they need a little more awareness of how important forests are.

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And what’s so disappointing is that this activity is bravely done just about 200m from the forest edge. There are no silver bullet solutions to this problem but we strongly believe that the day the society is going to put pressure on the corporations and markets depending on the forest resources, that is introducing zero deforestation policies and cleaning up the supply chains and holding the suppliers accountable for producing commodities like timber and charcoal; changing the Kenyan politics on forest resources is the day this forests will survive from this menace. The corporations and individuals placing demands of forest timber should be told TO STOP ENDANGERING OUR FORESTS!!

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Arabuko-Sokoke forest happens to cover approximately 420sq km and was gazetted in 1932. It is home to different birds such as Amani sunbird, Sokoke scops owl, Sokoke pipit, Clarke’s weaver, East coast akalat and spotted ground thrush. More so, it is also home to animals such as the golden-rumped elephant shrew, sokoke bush tailed mongoose and giant Gambian rat. We noticed more than 20 trees were cut for timber. Very sad but we thought it was high time something had to be done.

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With the help of Community Forest Associations (CFA), realization of different Village Development Forest Conservation committee (VDFCC) were formed thus, it was agreed that meetings be scheduled to discuss ways of saving our forest with recommendations such as: increasing the CFA personnel since the forest is too big to be handled by a few people, creation of awareness, frequent patrols by community members, involvement of various schools around sokoke forest on more about environmental education, discussions with other VDFCC on what they do and what can be done to help the community protect and conserve the forest and more importantly discuss other means of sustaining the community members lives because most of them depend solemnly on the forest for their daily needs.

Natural Resources

Exploitation of natural resources is an essential condition of the human existence. Throughout history, humans have manipulated natural resources to produce the materials they needed to sustain themselves. This refers primarily to food production, but many other entities from the natural environment have been extracted. Often the exploitation of nature has been done in a non-sustainable way, which is causing an increasing concern, as a non-sustainable exploitation of natural resource ultimately threatens the human existence.

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Kirepwe Island

A Rocha Kenya’s Research work on natural resources is centred among four villages in Watamu namely Dabaso, Kirepwe, Mida-Majaoni and Uyombo.

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Kirepwe Island

Why are we implementing a research in these particular areas? Well, the natural resources in this areas have decreased in the last couple of years and in particularly trees and marine creatures are under threat through illegal logging, poaching and the usage of illegal gears. Previous studies have also shown a tremendous decrease in fish population and the same applies to the amount of acres of Arabuko Sokoke Forest.

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Resource mapping at Uyombo

This research aims to find out the livelihood practises carried out by the villagers and how these practises affect the natural resources from the reserves; in what extent they use the reserves and their attitude towards these areas. The four reserve areas included in the research are Mida Creek, Arabuko Sokoke Forest, Watamu Marine Park and Watamu Marine Reserve.

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Mangroove Vegetation
In line with our vision nature conserved and people transformed we aim to achieve conservation of these unique areas and to educate the villagers on  sustainable use of natural resources as well as their conservation.

 

WHY WILDLIFE CONSERVATION IS KEY TO THE SURVIVAL OF THE HOSPITALITY INDUSTRY IN EAST AFRICA

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Increasingly in East Africa, media reports on poaching and trafficking of game ornaments has become so common that rarely a week passes without mainstream press covering such events. Sadly, these stories are no longer ‘breaking news’ stories. On average, there will be a haul of illegal game trophies found either on key gate-ways to the international market, mostly at Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, or with poachers caught and arrested, or killed summarily in the act.

There is that African saying: “since man has learnt to shoot without missing, most birds have learnt to fly without perching”. But in the poaching world, while it is true that man-the poachers- today lethally shoot without missing, unfortunately, the big endangered animals, more so elephants and rhinos, have not mastered the cunning knowledge of the birds in the air.

What is reported is what we know, however, wildlife conservationists and environmentalists claim there are more animals being killed out there whose fates go unreported and whose stories are never told.

Reading through any website of hotels and holiday homes, from the coast inwards to Maasai Mara, there is always a promise that visitors will be able to see this animal or that; from rare birds, monkeys, and the famed big five. Wildlife therefore, is part and parcel of the visitor experience in most of East Africa’s high-end tourist resorts and holiday homes.

Yet in some East African countries, wildlife conservationists flaunt statistics and figures of killed animals which boggles the mind. Often, the war on poaching is given a positive spin; like when wildlife agency officials appear to be winning. Each dead animal triggers a change in the laws, hot debates in legislative houses and dismay in national conversations. Sometimes, Kenya’s high and mighty, and even the world’s known celebrities, descend on animal sanctuaries to adopt, or feed orphaned animals. Such swaps end in newsrooms.

Has there been a deliberate and determined effort to conserve wildlife as key to ensuring the growth and development of other sister industries? For example the hotels and related service industries? Keeping safe East Africa’s game needs a renaissance on the role of the wild in completing the economic and social life cycle of the domesticated, including man.

Unlike most of the developed world; East Africa is still in technological neanderthals, so the world do not visit us to get awed by new inventions in machines or breakthroughs in architecture and the build sciences. The wild is East Africa’s wonder, and economic hope. The East African wild offers the chilling contrasts with the developed world, because, after seeing two elephants caged in a zoo in some world capital, thousands of East Africa’s elephants, roaming freely in troops with clear figureheads and ‘leaders’, become the most scintillating experience of the touring visitor.

Conservation of these animals, therefore, is not only an exercise to continue God’s work here on earth, but also to grow and empower this region still constructing its own science and technological devices; be they huge superhighways or meandering subways or imposing buildings that pierce the heavens. Because we still at least half a century to be glorious, and I am being very optimistic, our animals continue to fill this gap.

Tourism in East Africa powers many sectors of each of the region’s economies. Wildlife is the very foundation of tourism, together with the warm tropical beaches along the Indian Ocean coastline. An example is the perilous wildebeest migrations. More tourists check in at the Maasai Mara and the Serengeti across the border in Tanzania to watch this unique animal migratory experience. Hence, to endanger the wildebeest is to render many accommodation and service establishments here a worthless, and wasteful endeavour.

Whether it is the donkeys at Lamu or the Gorillas in the pristine mountains of Rwanda, caring for East Africa’s game is the next frontier for wooing visitors to this part of the globe. Animal poaching is a luxury that the hospitality industry in East African countries cannot afford.

New ASSETS Community Centre opens at Gede

A little perseverance goes a long way… On August 6th A Rocha Kenya celebrated the long-awaited opening of A Rocha’s Gede office and community centre. The project has been more than ten years in the making; ‘It’s been a long gestation period; many hurdles were encountered, but we overcame them all,’ said Stanley Baya, ASSETS programme coordinator and, along with Festus Masha, the driving force behind the new office.

The community centre will provide a focus for the ASSETS programme, which sponsors children’s secondary education and environmental education and ecotourism initiatives around the Arabuko-Sokoke forest on Kenya’s Indian Ocean coast, home to several endangered species.

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In attendance at the opening were ASSETS committee members, various partners, several community members and A Rocha Kenya staff, including Colin Jackson, Conservation and Research director at A Rocha Kenya’s Mwamba Field Study Centre in Watamu. Cake and chai were served to all guests as A Rocha Kenya staff and volunteers celebrated the opening along with 50 members of the local community.

Community leaders and parents of children sponsored by the ASSETS programme will now be able to visit the Gede office rather than making the journey to A Rocha’s Mwamba Field Study Center at the southern end of Watamu. Stanley Baya envisages that the meeting centre will soon house a library, a high-speed internet connection and will offer educational displays for tourists and students.

Stanley opening GedeCake and chai

A focus of the programme is the tree nursery, where indigenous species seedlings are offered for sale. Over time the centre hopes to remove all alien species from the plot of land where the centre is located. Alien and exotic species invasion has long been a problem on the coast, where imported species have crowded out local trees.

In the meantime the community has two brand new buildings, constructed in an innovative pentagram design, which hold offices, educational and meeting spaces. All visitors are warmly invited to visit the new centre.

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Mida Creek Bird Club is born… & meets an elephant in Arabuko-Sokoke

A couple of weeks ago, I was at our community project at Mida – the 260m-long suspended walkway through the mangroves, and was approached by Juma who has become one of the main bird guides there for visitors who told me that a bunch of the youth there had got together and formed themselves into the “Mida Creek Bird Club” with a view of doing lots of birding and other bird-related conservation activities. He is chairman and promptly showed me their 10-page constitution and talked of their ideas which included a monthly bird walk on the first Saturday of the month somewhere in the local vicinity – the first one being planned for inside Arabuko-Sokoke Forest on 4th August (yesterday)… and could I be their guide?

So early on Saturday morning I picked up volunteers Martin (from Nairobi) and Brian (an ASSETS graduate from Dida to the west of Arabuko-Sokoke) and headed for the Mida entrance to the forest via Kenya Forest Service (KFS) to collect the key for the barrier. KFS have got an excellent understanding regarding community members and encouraging them in conservation of forests by working with them and had given permission for the group to enter the forest for no payment. An African Goshawk was calling (can’t reall call the “chip! chip! chip!” sound they make a song…) high overhead and the first bird singing otherwise was the ubiquitous Red-capped Robin Chat from the bush next to the forest station. On arriving at Mida there were just six members of the Bird Club waiting – but as we turned into the forest a seventh ran to catch up and after we had stopped at the first spot about 1km in three bajajis (motorbike taxis) turned up with another six so that in the end we were quite a healthy sized group! Most of the group had not done a lot of birding before and even more had done any forest birding so everything was new for them. We were on the look out for the stunning Peter’s Twinspot which is often on the track as you enter the forest… and sure enough, 700m in there was a pair doing their stuff feeding on grass seeds out in the open in front of us. A great start! We stopped at that point for a good 20 minutes as there was a feeding party of birds in the mixed forest around there and we added coastal specialities such as Little Yellow Flycatcher & Fischer’s Turaco to the list before moving on a few 100m to stop again to listen.

We were all 15 of us out of the pick-up and starting to walk along the track when without any warning a hunking great bull elephant stepped out of the forest and onto the track about 100m ahead of us… and started walking down the track straight towards us!! There was a moments panic among the group but we stood and marvelled at such an awesome sight! It hadn’t seen or smelt us as we were down wind of it and it just kept on coming straight at us – until it was about 60m off and I thought I’d better warn it of us being here and waved my arms and shouted at which point it wheeled around and vanished into the forest to the left! A really awesome sight and a huge treat for everyone.

Here’s the guy on the road… and see the video clip at the end as well!!

After that there was a bit of nervousness about any noise coming from the forest on the left but otherwise it was down to some serious birding and pointing out the various bird calls we could hear. A little further down the track is a spot I know for an East Coast Akalat territory… and sure enough within a minute of arriving there, he started singing though kept deep in the forest and didn’t show. We then moved on to the Brachtstegia woodland habitat which lies beyond the Mixed Forest habitat along the Mida track and which is a beautiful habitat for birding and walking. Brachystegia is known further south in Africa as ‘Miombo woodland’ and we are basically located in the northernmost extent of the habitat in Africa. It’s also the habitat for our endemic Clarke’s Weaver – though we didn’t see any this time but did catch up with Pale Batis, Chestnut-fronted Helmetshrike, Mombasa Woodpecker and Black-headed Apalis among others.

The group were hugely enthusiastic about the excursion and to add to the events of the day as we drove back to Mida Creek itself to drop everyone off, there was a Golden Pipit on the edge of the vlei you drive past down to the creek’s edge. My first here though the Mida guides had said one had been around in recent times.

As the club is still starting out, A Rocha Kenya is committing to helping them grow and strengthen – the first part of which is to give them some organisational training and capacity building on issues such as setting up a simple but robust financial system, how to run committee meetings etc. The finances in particular is something which countless small community groups (and even larger NGOs etc!) have fallen apart and collapsed over when not run transparently and properly and it’s a privilege to be in a position where we can contribute and help a group like this one become strong and effective.
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 Elephant in Arabuko-Sokoke video:

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Volunteer ringing and an ancient brownbul

Hi, my name is Rehema Safari and I come from Watamu. I finished my ecotourism diploma in Air Travel and Related Studies Centre in Nairobi and came back to my home town and volunteer with A Rocha Kenya.

Being a bird enthusiast, I was very excited when I got to do the bird ringing training course while volunteering as I have never ringed birds before. This happens very early in the morning between five thirty and midday because it is the perfect time to catch birds. On one of the mornings when we were at Gede Plantations we got to ring over twenty birds including a white morph African Paradise Flycatcher which Alan was very keen on putting a ring on as he’s never had one in South Africa. He was so excited and spent the remainder of the day grinning from ear to ear.

Me with the Paradise Flycatcher

A Terrestrial Brownbul (ring number AA4334) was the highlight of the day being a re-trap with a ring not of A Rocha for Colin did not ring it and he has been ringing birds for years. We are yet to contact the original ringer of the bird and tell him the good news that his bird is still alive and we got to see it. I cannot wait for tomorrow’s ringing and see what happens next!

Terrestrial Brownbul AA4334

Ed’s note: We’ve heard back from the Ringing Scheme of eastern Africa (the EANHS) re. the Terrestrial Brownbul:

“Here is the ringing info:

1. Bird was ringed as Northern Brownbul – Phyllastrephus strepitans and not Terrestrial Brownbul.

2. The bird was ringed at Arabuko Sokoke Forest by the Spotted Ground Thrush Survey Project.

3. Date ringed 22.06.2003

4. Biometrics are: Age- F; Mass; 27gms; Wing – 80mm;”…this is interesting and in fact what I suspected when we caught it – that it was likely ringed as a Northern which is very similar. They are differentiated by the Terrestrial having a clear white throat that is more sharply demarcated from a brown breast – the Northern’s white throat merges gradually into the brown of the breast. Also Terrestrial has pinkish-purple legs whilst Northern has blue-grey legs. This was the only Terrestrial we caught in the plantations – all the others were Northern. Clearly the Spotted Ground Thrush Survey Project Team were hotter on Spotted Ground Thrush identification than plain brownbuls (not enough spots??!).

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Invaders from the North

At a few minutes past midnight on Tuesday morning Mwamba was taken over by a Finish invasion. 16 students, their teachers and driver arrived from the University of Helsinki. They’re travelling each day to Arabuko Sokoke, Mida Creek and as far as Dakatcha Woodlands to study the local geography and botany.

Unfortunately, on the way here their car broke down outside Tsavo Park and they were delayed by several hours. It was a strange experience to go to bed only to be woken up a short while later by Laurence, our night watchman. Then we got busy serving up meat, rice and salad to a dining room full of travellers who were very tired but still hungry at midnight!

We’ll continue in the Mwamba tradition of welcoming guests from all over the world next week when a similar sized group arrives from the USA.

Spreading the conservation net

On Tuesday a 5 day journey began for the Assets team across the Arabuko Sokoke Forest region. The purpose was to meet with as many of the Assets beneficiaries as possible for conservation classes. These classes are compulsory for those who want to receive the bursaries and ensure that the students understand why they receive them by learning about the dangers to their local environment. It’s also a good time to hand over report forms and discuss academic progress. Stanley and the team are working flat out and camping overnight in order to be at the schools early in the morning. If you want to find out more about AssetHolding up the Net.JPGs beneficiaries days or anything else about Assets please visit www.assets-kenya.org

Albert holding up a bird ringing net during the class