Tag Archives: Arabuko-Sokoke forest

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.

Elephant ‘Poaching’ in Arabuko-Sokoke Forest: Constructing the History of a Recent Tragedy

On August 16, 2013, a large male elephant in Arabuko Sokoke Forest Reserve (ASFR) succumbed to multiple arrow wounds it had sustained some months earlier. As Kenya Wildlife Service and the ASFR management team were aware of the elephant’s injuries, its disposal was unceremonious: tusks were hurriedly collected and the carcass burned, to prevent both from falling into the hands of those responsible.

In order to better understand what had happened in this specific case, I recently asked David to accompany me to the elephant’s final resting place. David possesses unparalleled knowledge of the forest, and I was hoping he would have insights into this elephant’s demise, and that I could use this opportunity to initiate a discussion with David on illicit human activities within ASF.

As we rode to the forest’s northern swamp on David’s piki piki, I could tell David was in a good mood that day; he was hyper-attentive, and stopped multiple times to excitedly point out some of the forest’s unique flora and fauna, and to give me a lengthy explanation of history of the sand quarry within ASFR. David had been informed of the location of the elephant’s remains, and we found what was left of them with little trouble. I stood in awe for a few moments—taking in a scene which very well could have contended for a spot in one of National Geographic’s many picture-laden exposés on elephant poaching in Sub-Saharan Africa—only to be brought back to reality upon hearing David suddenly proclaim, “this poaching is now a large problem within the forest…it shouldn’t be like this.” My intentions were about to be realized.

The origins of human-elephant conflict in the region surrounding ASFR can be traced to a series of post-independence developments. Infrastructure projects on the western side of ASFR, particularly the construction of a water pipeline and paved road from the Sabaki River south to Mombasa, served to isolate the forest from similar, inland ecosystems—such as the northern area of Tsavo East National Park. These projects encouraged increased human settlement, and the resulting ‘shambafication’ of the western side of ASFR effectively rendered the forest an ecological island, severing it from the northern Tsavo ecosystem. As a result, elephants and other megafauna that once ranged, unobstructed, from the coastal forest to the interior found themselves confined. Attempts to transverse these newly-developed areas, as well as an increased incidence of crop-raiding (an ancillary consequence of the isolation of ASFR), increasingly brought humans and elephants into conflict. For forty years, this adversarial relationship—which I have very briefly summarized to enable the reader to appreciate the complex political and ecological processes that underly it—was the greatest threat to the elephant population that remained within ASFR. Thankfully, since the completion of the elephant fence in 2009, such conflict has been successfully mitigated.

While a positive development, the completion of the fence brought another cause of unnatural mortality of elephants within ASFR to the fore: ‘poaching,’ for their ivory tusks and large quantity of meat. According to David, while the ‘poaching’ of smaller animals within ASFR (e.g. suni, duiker, Gambian Giant rat) for meat is at an all time high, and thus highly visible—indeed, one is hard-pressed to walk any of the forest’s trails and not encounter numerous snares—it is very rare that an elephant is killed. Very few elephants have been ‘poached’ within ASFR in the past two decades, a testament to the work of Kenya Wildlife Service, David, and others engaged in conservation efforts within the forest, as well as a bit of good luck. (Elephant snares are set strategically along elephant paths, but because of numerous factors it is by no means guaranteed that an elephant will actually trip one and find itself caught.) Yet, David and others are troubled by what they see as redoubled efforts within recent years: last year, a Kenya Forest Service ranger and local community member both tripped poison-laden snares, which are now found in greater number within the forest, and David continues to find evidence of ‘poachers’’ tree hides bordering the Nature Reserve pools.

With the immense amount of publicity directed toward the incidence of ‘poaching,’ as well as reformed, renewed anti-poaching efforts, within Kenya (and Sub-Saharan Africa, more broadly) in recent years, the case of ‘our elephant’ (which had very likely been shot methodically by individuals intent upon harvesting it’s tusks and meat) begs an important question: Is ASFR becoming the new frontier of elephant ‘poaching’ in Kenya?

While only time can provide us with an answer, David is acting preemptively to ensure that this is not the case. Convinced that those who engage in illicit harvesting of animals from within ASFR are impoverished members of forest-adjacent communities, turning to such activities as an income-generation strategy, David is in the process of creating a group of individuals from these communities capable of addressing the underlying cause(s) of the problem. It is David’s hope that this group, which will be made of mainly teachers and meet for the first time early next month, can be utilized to foment bottom-up environmental education within forest-adjacent communities, as well as manage an alternative livelihoods training center for community members wanting to achieve greater income stability without illicitly accessing forest resources. As David’s passion for the forest is infectious and his knowledge of the complex politics of forest-adjacent communities well-versed, this is truly a promising initiative that could benefit both conservation efforts within ASFR and the well-being of forest-adjacent communities.

More updates on David’s work, as well as the results of this first meeting, are forthcoming.

About the author:

Greetings. My name is Zachary Petroni and I have the privilege of joining David after having been awarded the 2013-2014 Wallenberg Fellowship, which provides financial support for a recent University of Michigan graduate to engage in a year of research and experiential learning. In my case, I’ve chosen to focus on the links between conservation governance and justice, and am utilizing Arabuko-Sokoke Forest Reserve as my principal case study. During my time here, I will be assisting David with his data collection efforts, as well as conducting data collection of my own, in an attempt to better understand the relationship(s) between conservation efforts and the well-being of human communities in this region of Kenya. I will also be assuming responsibility of this blog, and look forward to keeping you all updated on David’s daily activities and achievements.

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.

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

Research Computer fixed

It has been almost three months since the last post on the electric fence.The research computer that i was using to do Davids work  crashed and had to be taken for a repair.It was a major problem which took some time to be fixed.Because the problem was major,the GIS programme which i use in producing maps  was lost.This also took some time.We have two volunteers here who worked and were able to re install the programme.The computer is now fully fixed.

Research computer fixed

While the computer was not functioning, alot of activities were on with David.David has been going into to the forest with KWS and KFS staff more frequently now.Last week David and the  rangers were in the forest and were able to  rescue a trapped sykes monkey.

Trapped monkey

KFS rangers holding traps

Electric fence

Earlier last week, David went to the western side of the forest around Malanga area where the forest is covered with cynometra thicket.   As he was walking along a path,he met with few community members who were talking about the electric fence project that has stopped.They were complaining that,that side is the only side remaining to be covered by the fence.It is about 5 km area where the fence is yet to be put.

This area is a threat to the community members since wildlife like the elephants could come out through this area and cause problems.Because of this,David took the initiative as a community member to write a letter to the Director of the Kenya Forest Service to ask him to allow for the completion of that remaining area.

In his letter,David told the Director how the idea and the funding of the fence came about and asked,his office to help complete the remaining area. The letter was copied to the forest management team and all the stakeholders of the forest.

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.

KWS follow up on tree poachers campsites in Arabuko-Sokoke

After last weeks survey in which we discovered two camp sites, Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) took immediate action and on Wednesday15th David and I were accompanied by the researcher at KWS plus two rangers, to the camp sites. We set out at 8:40am this time with the KWS Car. On our way we saw a dead Eastern Bearded Scrub-Robin( Cercotrichas quadrivirgata). We could not tell the cause of death but David thought it could be a snake bite.

We arrived at Munir site around 9:16am and set up everything to go in. After only 300 metres walk we saw a cut tree log written TOKENI HATARI which literally means LEAVE DANGER. There were two ways we could take this message written on the cut trees 1) The tree poachers were trying to communicate with their partners and warning them that they had been found out, or 2) The message was meant for us, attempting to intimidate  and scare us away from their camp… As we went further to the campsite we saw the same message more than twice. On reaching the camp we were able to judge that the messages were meant for us since there was one which said PLIZ CALL OR SMS FOR MAELEWANO YA KAZI which is to say that “WE SHOULD CALL FOR NEGOTIATIONS”.

At the same site there was another writing which was a warning to the other poachers that they should leave since we had been at the camp site (TOKENI JAMAA WAMEINGIA HADI HAPA meaning “Get out of here! The rangers have come right to this spot!”). They must have seen our footsteps from our first survey.

After taking pictures,we continued with the survey and took another  path. This path had a lot of snares and less tree cuttings. The KWS rangers took note and said they will be surveying that area regularly. It was a very cloudy day and later on the path it rained on us but luckily it was not a heavy downpour. We walked out of the forest at around 1:00pm.

It was  a shocking and scary day since we did not know what the poachers were up to with the intimidating messages and this was the first time that I saw this. It was at least safer with the two rangers who were on high alert after seeing that there were a lot of writings.

Rangers reading message

Rangers reading message

Two tree poachers camps discovered in Arabuko-Sokoke

David  has been continuing with the surveys in the forest while I am still doing the final reports for last year. Last week on 04/02,  David and I went to the forest to do a survey. We went to Komani area to a place known as Munir site, which is in the middle of the Arabuko-Sokoke forest .It was a very rough ride since it is a very sandy road and we were on a motorbike, but David rides well. We arrived safely and started the survey at around 8:30am.

We were very lucky to see a Red duiker from afar immediately. We finished setting the GPS for the survey. This was my very first time to see a Red duiker and I was very excited. I wanted to take a picture, but the camera could not zoom in well ,the duiker was meters away. David explained that before, it was possible to see many of this species but due to destructions in the forest, we were very lucky to see one.

Again, this was a very lucky day for us to see another animal, and, this time, it was a dwarf mongoose. They are very fast animals and we were not able to take a picture, again, since it dashed away on seeing us, though it was very close. As we went further into the forest, we saw alot of destruction on the brachyleana tree species which is mostly used by poachers for carvings.

As we went further, we saw an abandoned camp site which had left overs of the carvings and also feathers of guinea fowl plus lots of paper bags.Abandoned campsiteThis path we took led us to another campsite, which we saw as active and though the poachers were not there. There was clear evidence that they had just left maybe to get other things since they left everything there. Water, cooking utensils, sleeping nets and even few of the carvings were left. We have already reported this to the concerned authorities – Kenya Forest Service(KFS) and Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), whose support we really appreciate.David and patrick on campOn this day we were not able to finish our survey, as David suddenly started feeling very sick that he had to go rest for 30 minutes. So we ended our survey at around 1:30pm. I had to ride back since David was not well.David resting