Arabuko-Sokoke National park together with the forest reserve is the largest stretch of coastal forest remaining in Eastern Africa. Located 110 km north of Mombasa, between Kilifi and Malindi, this ecosystem comprises three forest types, each containing many rare species of birds, butterflies, amphibians and plants. Arabuko Sokoke’s prolific birdlife features 600 species, making it an excellent choice for birdwatching.
Featured as part of the global biodiversity hotspots, Arabuko-Sokoke forest reserve is full of biodiversity richness and Hollie M’gog talks to some of the main players.
Msanzu Karisa, The Butterfly Farmer
Why did butterfly farming start and how did you get into it?
Butterflies used to be caught in large numbers and sold as souvenirs. It started nearly 30 years ago and as the forest has around 200 species we were able to make good money. Now we sell only pupae so I collect female butterflies from the forest only once a year and build breeding stock.
You collect a lot of these species from the forest, how is this controlled?
Scientists at the centre of biodiversity from the National Museums of Kenya carry out training for us on how to sustainably harvest the butterflies. We now have a butterfly breeding cage and plant the host plants of the larvae so that we do not need to collect wild ones. We can average Ksh 30,000 monthly but this is a seasonal market only.
The Blue Butterfly
2. Norbert Rottcher, The Documentary Filmmaker
What species would you chase after?
The famous one-of-a-kind golden rumped elephant shrew which is one of the rarest mammals in Africa. Then there is the Sokoke bushy tailed mongoose, Ader’s duiker and if you are really lucky, the caracal. When it rains the pools of fresh water attract multitudes of species, especially birds, and are fantastic through the camera lens.
Are there species there that would make good subjects for short films for budding Kenyan wildlife film makers?
The world is waking up to the importance of amphibians and becoming more interested in their lives and in their role as biological indicators of healthy ecosystems. In Arabuko there are many interesting species including the Ornate Tree Frog and the Bunty’s Dwarf Toad. More than anything it is the botanic richness that is phenomenal – just look at a Google Earth image showing the complete lack of trees outside the park boundary. Sokoke is an amazing web of life that exists because of the floral diversity, many of them endemic.
Eloise and Reuben – Travelling Hikers
In comparison to all the places you travel, what do you love about the forest?
The sheer diversity! We loved that so many of the forest guides were so passionate about the place and know exactly where to take us to see certain creatures and plants. I hope they rebuild the tree-houses soon. The pools with all the frogs were amazing and the Gede ruins quite unforgettable.
What did you do while you were there?
We actually arrived early and went for a morning run then had a picnic breakfast in the forest at the Nyari cliff viewpoint where you can see across the top of the forest. We had a drive through the thick forest and visited the bird hide and boardwalk at Mida Creek. We will certainly be back to cycle and camp- there is too much to see in one day.
Johnson Kafulo and Colin Jackson, The Bird Watchers
How many species could a visiting birder get in the forest?
This forest is so special because of its endemic species. These are six – the Sokoke scops owl, Sokoke pitpit, East Coast Akalat, Spotted Ground Thrush, Amani Sunbird and Clarke’s Weaver. There are lots of migrants at Mida Creek in the shallows and in the mangroves, especially the Crab Plover and sometimes the flamingo. There are over 230 species of birds occurring here, a real birder’s dream. Mixed-species feeding-parties of birds are very thrilling too as suddenly you encounter a plethora of species and types all in one place.
What about birding at Mida Creek?
If you time it right to be on the boardwalk, high and neap tide in late afternoon in the Northern Hemisphere winter then you have the sun behind you and up to 10,000 Palearctic waders and terns roosting just 80m from you! Imagine a flock of 800 crab plovers in dapper black and white plumage with overweight bills, Lesser Crested terns with glowing orange bills and shaggy crests, sand pipers and plovers and the Eurasian Curlew with its outrageously long snout!
Willy Kombe, The Arabuko Forest Guide
How important is the forest to surrounding communities?
Many community groups have formed in response to tourists coming and are earning money to survive. There are Community Forest Associations (CFA) that practice things from butterfly and honey farming to hosting visitors in camps and bandas. There is controlled firewood collection and the Mida Creek boardwalk gives many community guides work. Individuals with traditional or learnt knowledge in indigenous trees and activities and medicines, birds, mammals, insects and amphibians can earn money using that knowledge. We think there are still many places to grow the services we offer to visitors and would like to see numbers increase.
Is there a problem with poaching?
There used to be a lot more poaching but now it is drastically reduced because over 3⁄4 of the community are involved in the protection of the forest through income earning activities. That is why the community programs like butterfly and honey farming, guiding and the new clean water points put in on the boundary are so important. 500 students are being put through school because of the tourism at Mida Creek.