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.
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.
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.