My name is David Charo Ngala. I’m a Giriama by tribe, born in 1952 at the Rare Village in Kilifi District 80km north of Mombasa on the Kenyan coast. My home area is on the western side of Arabuko-Sokoke Forest.
During my childhood I used to follow my mother to the forest to look for mushrooms, moth caterpillars for food and many types of edible fruits. In 1962 I joined Dida Primary School up to 1965 when I was in standard four – which was as far as that school went at that time. In 1966 I went to Ganze Primary School complete primary and where I sat for my KCPE Examination in 1969.
In 1970 I was to join the Godoma Secondary School but was unable to due to the lack of school fees. My father had died in 1961 when he was so old – in his 80s; I was my mother’s first born and she was my father’s fourth wife. I had two sisters and one brother from my own mother. We were taken care of by our step brothers – children of my father’s third wife. We were really in a bad situation, we had no other way to survive. In the same year 1970 my sister got married and then my step brothers together with my mother forced me to marry. On 15th January 1970, I got married. I was faced with problems of now supporting a family as well which forced me to go from one household to another asking for casual work to help my family.
On 15th September, 1970, I went to Jilore Forest Station to ask for a job. The Officer who was in charge of the station during that time felt sympathetic with me and took me on as a casual labourer the same day. I was put in the tree nursery where I worked for five months at which point I was put in charge of the stores as I was told I’m a hard worker. In 1979 I was posted to Jilore’s Assistant Chief’s Nursery to develop a Chief’s Nursery. I did very well and got a recommendation from the District Forest Officer Kilifi that I was the first person in Kilifi and Malindi to have a neat and well arranged nursery with many seedlings.
In 1980 I was taken back to Office Stores. While in Stores I asked the officer to work in the field so that I get time to go driving school. I did so and by 1981 I got my Driving Licence.
In 1983 while I was still in stores I received students from the University of East Anglia, England, who came to Arabuko-Sokoke Forest to study birds and trees. By good chance the students invited me one night to join them for their night surveys and showed me my first Sokoke Scops Owl – and that’s when I started being interested in birds. Before the students had come, I used to go into the forest and sit under the big trees but hadn’t taken much notice of the birds. After they had gone back to England I continued following the birds and then took my first visitor, an Englishman, Mr. Tom Gullick, show him the owl.
I started getting many people coming for a day of birding and to end with the owls. While taking visitors to the forest for birds I used to spot human footprints and follow them and would find many traps and stumps of cut trees. It was this that led me to have a great concern for the forest being destroyed.
I used to report the illegal activities which I would come across and would often use my free days to walk in the forest. The frustration was most times no body bothered to take action on my reports and I came to discover that some of the forest officers were involved in the destruction.
In 1986 I was transferred to Gede Forest Station to become a Forest Driver. The visitors followed me to Gede and I continued taking them to Forest to show them birds.
In 1989 I got a letter from England that someone was coming to study the birds of Arabuko- Sokoke Forest for three years. I was allowed by the District Forest Officer Kilifi to help Mr. John Fanshawe with his study. As I was in the forest a lot, I would report illegal activities to the head officer quite frequently even though this led to accusations from people that I had become a bad person.
My immediate officers were all against me and they tried in many ways to have me shifted out of the Department but they never managed. I love the forest as my parents.
In 1992 one part of the forest was threatened for degazettement to be turned into farmland. We worked hard with friends like Jonathan Baya of Watamu, Mrs. Barbara Simpson and others to the D.C. Kilifi but did not work. I continued following the village elders and they supported me with 100% and took them to Gede Station to present themselves in front of the officers and BirdLife project coordinator Dr. Ian Gordon and then I took them to the press. After two weeks time they appeared in the Kenya newspapers that village elders around the forest cry on degazettement and from that time the degazettement stopped. The second time I took the elders with Hon. Mayor of Malindi to the forest to look for the destruction that is when Forest Officers were all against me. The following day they forced me to take them to the areas I took elders when me they were upset.
In 2004 during the BirdLife International global conference I was nominated and later on was awarded a Conservation Achievement Award Certificate. I am very proud of it and I still go to the forest to look for traps and cut stumps.
From around 2005 I applied for early retirement from being a driver for the Forest Department so that I could focus on the conservation and bird work. This process took over two years of a lot of frustration by the Department but my retirement finally came through in January 2007. I am now retired but have dedicated my life to the protection of this forest. I’m now employed by the Friends of Arabuko-Sokoke Forest (FoASF) as a Conservation Officer carrying out surveys for traps, cut stumps and other illegal activity as well as working with the local communities, particularly the wazee (village elders) to encourage them to stand up for the protection of the forest against those influential people who want to destroy it for their own gain.
Your support of my work with FoASF will be crucial to making sure this jewel of our East African forests with it’s rare and precious inhabitants is kept secure for future generations.