Arabuko-Sokoke Forest Reserve, home to four globally endangered mammals and six globally threatened birds and famous for its innovative Kipepeo Butterfly project, continues to be threatened by illegal logging and poaching.
Today, wildlife and habitat conservation is still a serious challenge in spite of concerted efforts by government agencies and communities living adjacent to the forest. Increased surveillance by Kenya Forest Service (KFS) and Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) rangers, together with community scouts from the Arabuko-Sokoke Forest Adjacent Dwellers Association (ASFADA) is required for protection of the elephants and other wildlife in the forest.
Surveillance and patrols are required to deter poaching and other illegal activities at the forest. Arrests and prosecution of over 20 poachers recently is only a beginning. Data collected on illegal activities by community scouts need to be used to identify illegal activity hotspots within the forest, followed by more focused intervention measures to deter increasing threats to the forest and its biodiversity.
Local communities surrounding the reserve (including community members and school children) have actively participated in snare removal walks. Over 5,500 snares have been successfully removed from the forest in the last one year alone. It is estimated that there are over 100,000 active snares in the forest targeting animals ranging from giant rats to elephants!
Illegal exploitation of timber for woodcarving, building poles, firewood and charcoal continues to pose a major threat at Arabuko-Sokoke Forest. Lately, there has been an increase of these illegal activities leading to a notable decline in the number of trees per unit area in most of the forest habitats. Recent oil exploration activities close to the forest boundary has introduced a new major challenge.
Raising awareness on the importance of Arabuko-Sokoke Forest and its unique species is a key element in encouraging public support for conservation. More than 20 primary schools have been visited during awareness sessions, with over 1,500 pupils and 65 teachers receiving information on the value of the forest, its biodiversity and climate change. Strengthening the capacity of local schools to actively engage in conservation has also been enhanced through collaboration with Wildlife Club of Kenya (WCK). Forty-seven school wildlife club patrons have been trained on conservation issues facing the forest, with the knowledge being transferred to their respective schools.
At the community level, over 20 public meetings have been held to date, reaching out to more than 1,700 community members. Fourteen bird watchers from the area have also been trained on how to map bird distribution through Kenya Bird Map.
Nature Kenya, through funding from NABU (the BirdLife partner in Germany) has continued to support improvement of local capacity through diversification of skills. The NABU funded project aims at contributing to the implementation of the Arabuko-Sokoke Forest Elephant Conservation Action Plan. The project’s overall goal is to contribute to the conservation of a viable elephant population in Arabuko-Sokoke Forest, with specific objectives to:
- Enhance elephant and other forest biodiversity protection,
- Improve natural resource governance in Arabuko-Sokoke Forest,
- Enhance habitat management and connectivity,
- Increase incentives through increased nature based income generating activities, and
- Empower communities to adapt to climate change.
“The People Partner with Nature Program” developed by BirdLife Denmark (DOF) together with three BirdLife partners; Nature Kenya, Nature Uganda and Bird Conservation Nepal (BCN), also runs in Arabuko-Sokoke Forest. The Program’s long-term objective is to reduce the depletion of six forested Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBAs) and contribute to the realization of best and most sustainable forest management practices for the benefit of all. Three out of the six IBAs are in Kenya – Arabuko-Sokoke Forest, Dakatcha Woodland and Taita Hills forests. The other three are located in Uganda and Nepal. The program is funded by DANIDA via the Danish umbrella NGO/training organization Civil Society in Development (CISU).
Arabuko-Sokoke Forest is the last large remnant of the East African coastal forest. The forest covers about 420 km2 and is an important conservation area due to its biodiversity richness. The forest is internationally renowned for its rare bird and mammal species and diversity of habitats. The Globally Endangered Clarke’s Weaver, Sokoke Pipit, Amani Sunbird, Spotted Ground Thrush and Sokoke Scops Owl are found in the forest, which is home to twenty per cent of the bird species and thirty per cent of the butterfly species found in Kenya. Arabuko-Sokoke Forest is designated as an Important Bird and Biodiversity Area (IBA), and together with Mida Creek, forms part of a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.
The Friends of Arabuko-Sokoke Forest, a working group of Nature Kenya, has also been revived. The formal launch of Friends of Arabuko-Sokoke Forest will be on Wednesday 30 March 2016 at Jamii Villas next to the forest. It will be at 7 o’clock in the morning starting with a walk in the forest followed by breakfast and the first annual general meeting. For more information call 0790 505626 or email firstname.lastname@example.org