Category Archives: David Ngala – the Man

Luck of the Draw…or Complex, Socio-ecological Interaction?

Looking over my field notes after a recent survey of human activities in Arabuko-Sokoke Forest near Matsangeni village—which involved trekking through the forest with David (rather, stumbling along, clumsily trying to keep up with him) for the better part of the morning and afternoon—I was struck by what seemed to me to be an inconsistency: the existence of two significant, yet seemingly contradictory relationships regarding illicit human activities in ASF. The first, and more predictable, is an apparent negative relationship between the extent of human activities and distance from the forest edge. In other words, the further one travels from the forest edge into the forest interior, the less evidence of human activity one usually finds. The second, related to this ‘usually,’ is a correlative relationship between human activities and habitat type. It appears that certain human activities are tightly linked to habitat, or forest, type, and occur regardless of distance from the forest edge.

That day, David and I first followed a well-worn path 2.5 kilometers into the interior of the forest, traversing from Mixed to Brachystegia forest—and finding much evidence of harvested trees, as well as both inactive and active snares. However, around the two kilometer mark, evidence of human activity began to decline and by the 2.5 kilometer all evidence of human activity ceased, even though the path ahead appeared well-worn and recently used. Unperturbed, we re-traced our track to the forest edge, found another well-worn path running in the same direction as the former (south ? north), and set off anew.

We kept to this second path for some time, traversing from Mixed to Brachystegia to Cynometra forest over 3.5 kilometers. However, whereas evidence of human activities decreased with distance from the forest edge on the previous path, evidence of human activities actually increased with distance on this new path, especially in the deepest, Cynometra forest section. There, David and I found evidence of an industrious pole-harvesting operation; there were numerous piles of freshly-cut poles, 5-10 centimeters in diameter. Likewise, the number of snares we located in this section, intended for Duiker, Suni and Bushbuck, more than doubled our day’s total count.

Sitting at the Kenya Wildlife Service offices, I tried to allay my confusion by asking David a clarifying question: Had we been lucky in locating the large amount of illicit human activity on the second path, in relation to the first? Or, was something else at work?

David chuckled. His answer: “Both.”

As anyone who has ever conducted a survey of human activity in ASF with David, much of what is found is done so by chance. Pick the wrong path, and you will be disappointed to find no evidence of human activity. (Or, rather, you will be excited, as this is a good indication conservation is working by serving the needs and interests of the forest-adjacent communities, while providing for biodiversity conservation.)

However, distance from the forest edge, “agency” of the harvester, and the habitat type are significant factors in determining the spatial distribution of illicit human activities within ASF. Generally, evidence of illicit activities decreases with increased distance from the forest edge. This is understandable; the forest is quite dense, and one’s ‘returns’ decrease with the increased exertion that extracting resources from within the forest (e.g. timber from a felled tree) require. However, as David and I found on the second path, this precept does not always hold. Rather, if one is seeking out a specific forest resource, for a specific purpose (e.g. sturdy, long-lasting pole for constructing a living structure), one is apt to disregard distance and increased exertion in order to acquire the specific forest resource. Furthermore, forest resources are not distributed uniformly through the forest as a whole, or even within homogenous sections of the forest (i.e. Cynometra forest, Mixed forest, etc.). For example, due to species-specific requirements (soil type and water content, sunlight penetration, etc.) Manilkara sulcata, which provides poles of exceptional quality, and is therefore highly-sought for building, is found mainly within areas of Cynometra forest. Distance from forest edge and human valuation aside, if the requisite ecological conditions are not met, a certain tree species will not grow in, or a certain animal species will not colonize, that specific area in the forest. Effectively, while space matters, socio-cultural, economic and ecological conditions matter as well (and potentially, even more) in determining the spatial distribution of illicit human activities in ASF.

For us, David explained, this means that its a combination of luck and the above knowledge that enables successful surveys. David certainly seems to possess both, and continues conducting his surveys multiple times a week in an effort to produce more comprehensive records of illicit human activities occurring within ASF for the Arabuko-Sokoke Forest Management Team. The hope is that this group of stakeholders will utilize the vast amount of information David provides in formulating more robust, responsive forest management policies. An upcoming meeting of ASFMT will feature David’s data, in GIS (i.e. ‘map’) form; we’ll have to wait to see how the team harnesses it.

The nature of our Nature Reserve

Going by the definition of “Nature Reserve”….a nature reserve should be an area with predominantly untouched flora and fauna in their natural state and high conservation value. This week, Silas and Ngala went out to the Nature Reserve part of the Arabuko-Sokoke forest to do disturbance surveys. I had this definition on my mind and therefore expected it to be well protected. We began our five hour survey at  8am and we were to cover at least 5kms. None of us had a water bottle..all we had was a “piki”, GPS, clip board, data sheets and a pen. We hung our binoculars on our necks as usual and we therefore don’t consider that part of anything new with us.

 

 

 

 

 

Walking through the forest is not an easy task and really requires preparedness. We walk sometimes, we crawl other times and we even run, well, there are elephants and buffaloes unhappy to see us traverse their territories! Sometimes we are even more scared when we come across footprints of a likely poacher. If you met a poacher during a survey in the forest without the company of any ranger, your life hangs in the balance. They can do anything; strangle you, pierce your belly with a poisonous arrow, stab you in the throat or even worse enough, tie you around a tree. These are challenges we have faced and even sometimes evaded and we still go on with or without rangers.

When we arrived in the Nature Reserve part of the forest this week, we parked our “piki” on the forest edge and randomly followed one of the active paths leading into the reserve. There was no any form of disturbance seen except some footprints of what we suspected to be poachers heading back to their camp site after fetching some water. We passed through Cynometra and Brachystagia vegetation and all the cut stems were as old as maybe several years back. No new cut tree or laid snare was seen as we walked through.

On our way back after completing 6km, we decided to take a different route in order to explore other parts of the forest. We came across several water pools where elephants and buffaloes drink water and some of them were rich with very healthy grass. There were still no signs of poaching until we came across a stunning observation. Here, we realized that poachers have also taken their techniques a notch higher. When you talk of watch towers, security is the word that comes on your mind and the same thing, happens to come on the mind of a poacher. Visualize this scenario; a bed of poles constructed by tightening thin strong poles together is tight on two horizontal and parallel branches on a tree to make a comfortable stand where one can sleep and sit as well. And this bed to make it worse, is overlooking a water pool rich with healthy grass!! This definitely means that our guy is a person hunting buffaloes that come to graze in the pool as well as drink water. High-tech, isn’t it?? We however saw it and took its coordinates and all that remains is the rangers to go and take a look and get hold of this person.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Other than that, we could as well see some signs of death like the skull of a dead Suni. We proceeded towards the edge of the forest and when we came across the Cynometra forest, Ngala turned to me and whispered, ” Hey Silas, this looks like a perfect habitat for the Sokoke Scop’s Owl. Can we walk through and have a critical look?” My response to that was……..

We were very impressed with the state of the reserve and we are happy that the level of disturbance in the nature reserve is very low. However, due to the fact that there are still signs of poachers in the area, there is need to keep a close eye on the reserve in order to ensure that no poacher interferes with the resources in it. We are happy to continue doing our surveys even when situations are extremely hard to operate in. We hope that when we will have sufficient resources, we will put our protocols  a notch higher.

Thank you for reading this blog and recommending it to another person. Most importantly, we thank you for your financial support as well as good wishes.

Mystery Unravelled!!!!

I am talking of our never ending sojourn that has seen us get to learn a lot about natural resources and of keen interest, the threatened species of birds. Ngala is known for being the man behind Sokoke Scops Owl in Arabuko-Sokoke forest and I have accompanied him a couple of times to camp in the forest and be on the move at the crack of dawn as we follow the hooting Owl within thick vegetation. This is just one of the endangered species and at least there has been significant information about it on the web. However, there has been another species whose information is meager that you have to travel all the way to the Kenya coast in order to see it and learn something about it. This is the Clarke’s Weaver!! First was the breeding site discovered in Dakatcha woodlands over a month ago and since then, Ngala and I have been focusing specifically on wetlands within and around Arabuko-Sokoke forest. On 25th of March, this man with incredible mastery of the forest decided to ride his motorbike right on the edge of the forest and towards the south-west edge of the forest, he discovered a wetland. It was early evening and  birds would be returning to their roost sites. He decided to park his “piki” and have a closer look at the site and there he saw the Clarke’s Weavers. Most of them were female in their post-breeding plumage and there were a host of other species including the Zanzibar Red Bishop, Fan-tailed Widowbird and Grosbeak Weavers. Later on, last week, we undertook a visit as a whole team from Mwamba field study centre to witness this discovery by the Disney hero. The wetland as I saw it, was the perfect habitat for breeding of the species-made of sedges and reeds- and with abundance of water.

 

 

 

 

After spending two hours at the site between 5pm and 7pm, we set back to Mwamba and organized for a hike in the forest to all the wetlands. We managed this easily because we could pinpoint the pools from the Google maps. On a rainy Tuesday morning we set out in the forest again, this time without Ngala, to visit all the pools and assess the potential of them being breeding/roosting  sites for the Clarke’s Weavers. Out of the ten we planned to visit, we managed to trace eight and out of the eight, three were perfect for Clarke’s Weaver habitation. We had to stop after the eighth pool because the remaining two were three kilometres apart and it was totally rainy and windy.

 

 

Ngala and I are looking forward to visiting these three potential wetlands during morning and evening hours and spend some time monitoring any Weavers come in or fly out. We are certain that even if we don’t see them this year, we will see them next year during the breeding season between March and April. It is a puzzle to us still because we haven’t seen their nests but we won’t tire in monitoring them until we see them nest in some of these wetlands.

Well, we have the roost site unravelled around the forest for the first time since starting  our ten-year search. What’s next? leave it for us and follow us on this blog and you will definitely be the first to get the information. Your support either financially or through reading and recommending this post to other conservationists gives me the spirit of motivation to keep pushing with Ngala until we bring sufficient information about this threatened bird species.

Now, it’s time to wind up with this weird and wonderful!!!

Sniffing the poachers…..in Arabuko Sokoke forest-Kenya

Poaching is a subject that comes on the mind of almost every conservationist but the task is differentiating between this illegal activity and the entire exercise of getting down to the poacher. David Ngala and I are like “sniffer dogs” but we sniff a rather different thing. We search, GPS mark and remove snares from Arabuko Sokoke forest as well as surveying all the illegal tree logging going on within the forest, We do this by faith and by the fact that even the biblical context calls upon us to be stewards of God’s creations. We do this regularly to help bring the true picture of the kind of illegal things that are happening as a result of ignorance by man over God’s creation. We work closely with Kenya Wildlife Service and the Kenya Forest Service who then make a follow-up. The bible in the book of Jeremiah 12:4 says…”How long shall the land mourn, and the herbs of every field wither, for the wickedness of them that dwell therein? The beasts are consumed, and the birds; because they said, He shall not see our last end”.

 

 

 

 

 

On 8th of March we set out early to a transect in the forest in an area that has been thought to be one of those areas bordering the tensely populated community around. We chose this area randomly as always and when we arrived at the place, we even encountered some men emerging from the forest with machetes. There was little that we could do as we have no authority whatsoever to arrest anyone. We were determined to cover about 5km into the forest using active human paths. We encountered several small trees cut for poles at the beginning and as we moved further deep, we began encountering the heavy stumps that were freshly cut. I could not believe my eyes seeing such huge trees that are home to birds, tree squirrels and even beautiful snakes having been heavily logged. As usual, we did take the GPS points and moved on to other areas. There were decreased number of animal species and less often, we could hear Greenbuls calling and at one point we came across two Crested Quineafowls. It was hot and we were very sweaty and thirsty. Unfortunately, none of us had carried a bottle of water-Ngala does it the camel style-taking a lot of water before starting the transect,  and for me, I was just lazy not to carry a bottle of water because it would become just another burden so hard to bear later on.

It is awful to realize that our forest is being heavily logged and the action being taken is not being fully implemented. Although environmental education has been incorporated, most people have been adamant to practice conservation. A Rocha Kenya is playing its role through creation of awareness through the ASSETS program which targets the surrounding community near Arabuko Sokoke forest by providing bursaries to students around it in order to ease the burden from parents who have to poach into the forest in order to raise school fees.The good news is that some of the forest trees that have been cut down in the past are now regenerating and we saw quite a number.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On our way back, we came across a huge baobab tree, perhaps a few decades old and we were tempted to measure the circumference and try to calculate its diameter. It was about 8.4m in circumference which gave us about 2.7m in diameter. Such a tree grown to a height of about 30m, that’s HUGE!!!  Indeed, the forest has massive resources.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As always, we are determined to use the little resources we have to bring this to you and create awareness through our surveys to the people around the forest and around the world. We apologize for the poor quality of the pictures as they were taken using a phone.

You can also send in your donations through the Donate option on top right. Thanks very much for your support as you have just saved the habitat for an animal in Arabuko Sokoke forest.We also give our thanks for the support we are getting from our sponsors-both corporate and individual as this will propel us to the next level and help conserve the  resources in this forest.

 

David Ngala receives Disney Conservation Hero Award from Director of Kenya Forest Service

David Ngala is no ordinary man. For over 30 years he has been working and fighting for the conservation of Arabuko-Sokoke Forest – the home to six threatened species of birds among many other interesting and intriguing rare wildlife. David’s passion and commitment to conservation has led not only to this blog being set up to raise awareness and give you the opportunity to support him directly, but also to him receiving a number of accolades for his efforts. The latest of these has been the incredible honour of being awarded one of just six Disney Conservation Heroes for 2012. This is a wonderful tribute to the man who knows Arabuko-Sokoke Forest better than anyone alive today and who has it in his heart to keep pushing for better conservation action for it.

The Peregrine Fund, through Munir Virani who David assisted with his Masters project on Sokoke Scops Owls in the early ’90s and which set Munir on his path of raptor conservation now as P Fund’s Africa Programs Director, put David’s name forward for the award and he was selected and awarded it in Nairobi at a ceremony in the Kenya Forest Service headquarters. None other than the country director, Mr D.K. Mbugua awarded David with his award and it was great to have Munir present together with Raphael Magambo, A Rocha Kenya‘s National Director, since David is working very closely with A Rocha in Arabuko-Sokoke.

Munir has posted some great photos of Ngala receiving his award on his own blog including this one:

 

Congratulations to David for his awesome efforts – and thank you to all those who have supported and continue to support him in his conservation work of working with community members and surveying cut trees and removing snares in Arabuko-Sokoke Forest. If you would like to support him further, please donate through the donate button on this blog.