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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.

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!!!

Ornithological Congress

David received an invitation two weeks ago to atted an ornithological congress by the Pan African Ornithological Congress (POAC) which will be held at Arusha in Tanzania.The congress will be held on 14th to 21st of October.

PAOC is a regular congress which is held after every four years to talk about African Ornithology with the aim of promoting  conservation of African birds.

He has been requested to make a presentation of the Arabuko-Sokoke Forest and the bird monitoring programme he has been working on.

David in one of his Bird surveys

Maps ready

It has been a while now and David has not gone to the forest.Over the last one  month David was struggling on taking his daughter in and out  of  hospital and unfortunately last month his daughter  passed on.It has been a tough time for David and he is still very destructed from this loss.His daughter died on 10th of April and was burried on 14th of the same month.David has been in his village ever since and he came back just a week ago.

However there has been alot of work going on in the office, finalizing the data entry and arranging all the data from the previous year.I have been able to produce last years maps and have started doing this years maps and report writing.It has been very interesting to see the maps after a struggle in putting all the  the data in order.This is the beginning of what we will be doing every month, to produce monthly maps and reports to help the Arabuko-Sokoke team in conserving the forest

Patrick

Community on Mangrove Conservation

Two weeks ago David received an invitation from Ngomeni Mangrove Conservation group who wanted to share ideas of mangove conservation.Ngomeni is on the south west side of Arabuko-Sokoke forest. This part of the forest is covered by the cynometra tree species.

David honored the invitation and went, first meeting with one forest guard who is in charge of controlling mangrove forest in the area. Mr Evans Jefwa,one of the forest guards, who is doing a very good job in training the community to plant trees, took David round the area and showed him the mangrove seedlings planted.

He later explained to David that there are two groups which are working to plant mangove trees.David was very excited to see these efforts and encouraged them to continue with this and also to start other projects on rearing chicken and also fish farming. This will later help them in generation of income.

Last week ,we decided to visit Munir site again but this time we went to the other side of the area.Accompanied by the KWS rangers, we started the survey at 9:00am.We saw alot of human paths which indicates that there is human activity.As we walked further in we started to see the number of trees that had been cut down.

This side of Munir has been really destroyed and it is the brachyleana huillensis tree that has been greatly damaged. This tree is mostly used by poachers for carvings.We even saw more trees that have been marked and might be the next ones to be cut down.We did a quick count and saw that there were 72 cut trees from the survey.

David said that he would like to return again to check on the marked trees and also go further in to see if there are any activities. Throughout the survey we did not find any snares which is very good and also there were alot of four toed elephant shrew paths..lots

More thanks to Jacques

And more thanks to Jacques for a second generous donation.

Many thanks to David M

Many thanks to David M for his donation, which is much appreciated by everyone involved in David Ngala’s work.

Many thanks Jacques

Many thanks to Jacques for his recent donation to David Ngala’s project.

Surveying for Illegal Activities with Ngala

As a volunteer with A Rocha Kenya I have been helping Mzee Ngala as he goes about his work in the forest and seen some interesting things as we go. He picks me on his motorbike early in the morning and we head out to different areas of the forest. After what can be a rather bumpy ride we slide under the elephant fence and choose a path going into the trees. These trails are used primarily for extracting resources from the forest, only a few are used for access. As we walk through the trees we primarily come across stumps, initially quite small and then larger as we go deeper, this is because felling a large tree near the edge there is a higher risk of being heard or seen. These trees are used for a variety of uses, including timber, carvings, building poles and charcoal. The photo shows Mzee Ngala and a man who had collected some poles for selling. A classic case of needing to make a small amount of money for his family to eat and turning to the forest to provide.

Mzee Ngala can tell what the trees are used for by looking at the species and how they are cut and even looking for signs on the ground around the stump. He can also tell the species with great precision; I feel very ignorant watching him work! We record all the information about these trees as we go in order to build a bigger picture of how resources are extracted across the forest in different localities.
In addition there we occasionally find traps and snares set for bushmeat, like the footsnare in the photo which is used to catch Bushbuck. The traps are often for duiker, a kind of small antelope and also elephant-shrew. Unfortuantely both of these traps indiscrimantely catch the endangered Ader’s duiker found only here and Zanzibar and Golden Rumped Elephant-Shrew, which are now restricted to Araboke-Sokoke forest. Trapping is solely for subsistence and is never sold and so quite low intensity compared to other areas in Africa, but the threat to these restricted species makes it critical to survey and try and prevent these activities. Over the past few years David has amassed a great quantity of these data, which we are now analysing in order to better inform Kenya Wildlife Services and other stakeholders to help stem the flow of illegal extraction from this unique forest.

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