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.
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