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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.

 

Ngala again!!! He uncovers more illegal snares and and cut stems in Arabuko forest

Sometimes I take a stroll in the Arabuko Sokoke forest to do bird watching and I never mind where I step because I really have my eyes fixed on the birds. I have been used to hanging my binoculars around my neck  and walking with my eyes fixed on tree branches and my ears keen to listen to bird calls. Last week on Friday I joined the Disney hero for snare and cut stem survey and was shocked after completing our 5km transect. I am Silas Ekesa and I am currently coordinating Ngala’s surveys and this opportunity has always given me a chance to unravel a lot of mysteries that still put our conservation efforts into a complex puzzle. We set our journey for Mkongani at exactly 8am, which was precisely 24hrs after I left the same forest at a different location after a whole night of camping  to trace the Sokoke Scops Owl. Ngala got me on a motorbike and we were there at exactly 9.30am. Right near to the edge of the forest at the beginning of the transect we came across a relatively open area where most Brachystagia and Manilkara spp had been cut down for charcoal burning and timber harvesting.

We counted up to 21 stems of cut tree within the first 2km and came across a few debarked trees which I couldn’t tell the reason why they were being debarked initially. Shortly afterwards,  we diverted and followed the transect deep into the forest away from the main path. Here, the forest became thick and bushy and that is when I started coming across the snares and had to think out why the snares were more common there. I realized that there different types of snares and Ngala explained to me the types according to the sizes and their position. There were snares for Duikers, Elephant shrews, Crested Guineafowls, Bushbucks and some meant to detect the presence of any other person passing through a given path. Ngala and I removed 21 snares by the time we got to the end of the transect and all of them were GPS marked for purposes of management and community-based environmental education.. On the way, we had also counted and recorded over 50 cut and debarked trees  whose GPS points were also taken.

 

 

During this survey, I noticed two things; one is that trees are poached near the main paths probably because of safety and ease of transport of timber and poles by poachers and two, the traps are laid away from the main paths probably because most of these animals are moving and feeding away from main paths where there is a lot of disturbance. You now know why you need to mind your steps.

There was very few animals we encountered while doing our survey which means there are chances that either they are migrating to run away from disturbance or they have been poached to critical levels. Our major worry and concern is about the local endemics such as the Elephant shrew and the Sokoke Scops Owl whose habitats are being damaged. David Ngala and I will continue with our efforts to conserve our forest and all the natural resources in it and we hope that your support through donations will boost us to conserve this only remaining patch of forest and the endemic species in it till you come to see it with your own eyes. Our pictures may not be of good quality because Ngala’s camera has a broken screen and I therefore used a poor quality camera.  Thanks to all of you who are already supporting us and we will keep you up to date with every step we take. Your support of this project is highly welcome through donations to help us get materials such as a good quality camera.

Change of staff working with David on the mapping

As regular readers will recall, a year or so ago David was joined by Patrick to help him manage the data on the snares and cut trees that he does regular surveys for. Patrick did a great job with streamlining the system of receiving the GPS data from David and making it usable for mapping and reporting. At the end of 2012, Patrick was offered a post with the government offices in Malindi and sadly has left us for it though we wish him all the very best in his new work – he is already missed!

The good news is that in his place we have Silas Ekesa who recently joined A Rocha Kenya as a Research Assistant and who is very keen to work with David and help him in his surveys and getting the results out to the authorities – Kenya Wildlife Service and Kenya Forest Service. Silas holds a degree in Wildlife Management from Moi University and comes with a passion for birds and conservation and so is the perfect match for working with David!

Silas ringing a Crab-plover

Silas will be the one doing the regular updating of this blog on behalf of David and answering questions from readers on David’s work – please do make comments and encourage them both in this important work.

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.

Personal history

Hallo

My name is Patrick. It has been a while since I started working with David and I am so excited to be doing this. I have been concertrating so much on the GIS WORK.

I was introduced to conservation in 2003 by a very close friend who was working at Arocha Kenya here in Watamu. After a year in the organisation, i got a job as a monkey reaserach assistant for a student from Columbia University who was doing his Phd research. This was a start of my love for wildlife. I worked for a year and a half and later got the same job from a student in Moi University

I actually worked for four years as a research assistant with different students from different countries. During my work as a research assistant I spent some time using a GPS in the course of my field work. Recognizing it as a valuable research tool, I  wanted to know more about how they work the various advantages of using them. That is when I got to know some volunteers at A Rocha Kenya who not only taught me more about a GPS works and how to effectively use it as a research tool, but also how to use it in conjunction with GIS (Geographic Information Systems), a digital mapping program.

That is what i am now doing with David. I work with the data that he brings from the forest to produce reports that are used in helping inform managers how best to conserve the Arabuko-Sokoke Forest. Watch this space for more of my personal history.

Creating maps from David’s snare data

For some time now we have been keen to streamline the process of linking David’s data collection to of illegal activities in the forest with useful outputs that the forest managers can use for the effective control of such activities in the forest. It also helps other conservation organisations such as A Rocha Kenya and NatureKenya focus their community conservation work in the areas which are therefore shown to be where the most illegal activities are happening.

We are therefore delighted that Patrick who has been volunteering with David’s work for a year or more as and when he was able to, is now settled into a regular spot each week to enter David’s data, produce maps of where the snares and cut trees are, and write short reports for the managers, Kenya Wildlife Service and Kenya Forest Service.

More will be added about Patrick, his artistic skills and interest and expertise in GIS that he has learnt over the last couple of years from visiting volunteers at A Rocha Kenya on the “Meet the Team” page – watch this space!

Patrick entering data and producing maps

Patrick entering data and producing maps

Patrick has started working on maps and reports for David and we’ll be posting examples of what he has managed to produce together with updates and news about David’s work – Patrick’s task will be to be writing on the blog and giving you information about the critical work that David is doing. Please respond with comments and also if you are willing to contribute to assist in covering both David & Patrick’s costs, that would be hugely appreciated.

Colin Jackson – FoASF Chairman

Donations possible once again to support David Ngala and his forest conservation work

After WildlifeDirect were sadly unable to continue handling the donations to all the different projects they support on the website, it took those of us who’re not so blog / computer / internet savvy a bit of time to figure out how to get a paypal account set up and link it to the blog.

A huge thanks to Hannah who is volunteering for A Rocha Kenya and who has been willing to help get this set up – and who has done a great job in doing it. You will now find a ‘Donate’ button on the right hand side of the screen which links to the Friends of Arabuko-Sokoke Forest paypal account – of which 100% of any donation made will directly fund David Ngala’s work with conservation of this amazing last remaining patch of East African coastal forest.

As can be read on this blog, David is active in surveying for illegal activities such as poaching of trees and animals in the forest and also spends time talking with community members and persuading them to protect the forest rather than go cutting it and trapping in it. David also in involved in doing bird surveys – he being The Best bird guide in the forest and hugely knowledgable about where to find birds in it.

David is supported by Patrick who is there to ensure that David’s work will not just stay in notebooks and computer hard drives but will end up on the desk of the Warden and Forester of Arabuko-Sokoke Forest so that they can take the appropriate action where possible to reduce the illegal activities.

The main costs for the work are David’s salary and the motorbike costs for getting him into the forest to do his work. Patrick has been working mostly voluntarily but we are keen to give him something to support the really important part he plays in the project.

For one illegal activity survey it costs on average just US$18 to cover the fuel and maintenance for David’s motorbike.

David is currently part-supported by some very supportive and generous supporters of his work but we need more to cover the full costs. We are therefore looking for any donations from even as little as $10 – every cent will make a difference to making sure the work can be sustained. To really make a difference, however, we would invite you to join us with making a standing, regular donation of $25 per month. Just 10 people doing this would cover almost all of the core costs of the work.

One other request is for a donation to buy David a new tent for camping in the forest when he does his fieldwork. His current one is literally falling apart and is seriously not worth even calling a tent. For this we’re looking for $250 to get a reasonable one and that will last.

THANK YOU for those who have supported David and the work of FoASF in the past – and thank you in advance to anyone who is keen to help with this critical work.

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