The State of the Forests of Kenya
Part II: The Coastal Forests of Kenya
Of the area of 2008 km2 covered by both natural and exotic plantation forests of Kenya, almost 1,139 km2 are coastal forests. Just three decades ago, most of the Coastal Forests of Kenya had only community-level protection; fast forward to today, 80% have been awarded some formal and legal protection. This useful development of protection is required to perpetuate these rare ecosystems. Of the 107 coastal forests, 49 are home to over 90 threatened species of plants and animals. Without these incentives, in the otherwise languishing forests, could have ended in the fate that’s so often been dealt to forests. Even so, a significant area of the coastal forests in Kenya (114 km2) have no formal protection: like Ras Tenewi, Tana Delta, North Kilifi Brachystegia Woodland, Mangea Hill and Kilibasi Hill. In the north, Lamu County harbours the 15 km2 Boni Forest and a large parts of the 220 km2 montane forest of Dodori National Reserves. Lamu’s other dominant forest ecosystem, locally known as Nyangwa, are its mangroove forests along the 131 kms coastline. These mangrove forests covering 400 km2 from Kiunga N Reserve to Manda Island account for 71% of Kenya’s mangroves.
Still and all, these incentives have spurred interest among the locals, who now seek involvement in forest conservation projects, knowing well their potential benefits could hold for many decades. The 214 km2 Shimba Hills Forest, cited as one of the most beautiful landscape in Kenya, partly under the aegis of Kenya Wildlife Service, is the southern most of the Coastal Forests in Kenya. The 63 km2 Shimba Hills National Reserve is situated in the middle of Shimba Hills Forest. One the great legacies in finding a higher and better use for forest at the coast is, of course, the 50+ Miji Kenda Kaya Forests scattered throughout the region, most of which are protected under the Antiquities and Monuments Act. Equally impressive, in Kilifi County, is the 416 km2 of Arabuko-Sokoke Forest Reserve of which 6.2 km2 is earmarked as a National Reserve. Arabuko Sokoke is the largest of the coastal forests and ranked as the second most important for conservation of bird species in Africa. So far, 230 bird species have been tallied to include six globally threatened species: Clark’s Weaver, Sokoke Scopes Owl, Amani Sun-bird, Sokoke Pipit, East Coast Akalatt, and Spotted Ground Thrush.
“It’s not by accident that people talk of a state of confusion as not being able to see the wood for the trees, or of being out of the woods when some crisis is surmopunted. It is a place of loss, confusion, terror and anger, a place where you can, like Dante, find yourself going down into Hell. But if it’s any comfort, the dark wood isn’t just that. It’s also a place of opportunity and adventure. It is the place in which fortunes can be reversed, hearts mended, hopes reborn.” AC
22. Arabuko Sokoke Forest Reserve
Covering 420 km2 and marching with Mombasa-Malindi Road from near Kilifi to Gede, the Arabuko-Sokoke Forest is the largest and last surviving fragment of the coastal forests in East Africa. Likewise, it is Kilifi’s most important forest. 6.1 km2 inside the forest is designated as a National Reserve managed by Kenya Wildlife Service as well as a 2 km2 patch taken by National Museums of Kenya principally for the preservation of the historically important Gede Ruins. The bracing beauty of Arabuko-Sokoke Forest Reserve is best enjoyed on walking safaris which take walkers through the motley collection of endemic species of insects, butterflies, birds, rare hard and soft wood trees. It has a meshwork of well-marked walking trails, with more than 30 kms of driving tracks traversing the different forest sections. The Kenya Forest Service guides offer captivating insights on its anatomy and history including some of the traditional rituals still carried out here and the ancient medicinal properties of many of its plants, on a walking trip that culminates at Nyari Viewpoint with unprecedented views over the forest canopy. Mida Creek, a beautiful tidal inlet with 6 species of mangrove trees, is less than 1 km from the entrance to Arabuko-Sokoke Forest. The main gate is found 110 kms from Mombasa City, and just 20 kms from Malindi Town.
23. Mangea Hill Forest
This tiny 5 km2 acroamatic Mangea Hill Forest (sometimes spelt Mwangea) is an isolated patch within the lowland coastal forests situated just 15 kms west of Arabuko-Sokoke Forest an that’s also listed as an important birding areas. Over 125 species from 41 families were recorded in the Mangea Hills Forest Survey of 2009, with its expected species estimated at about 189. Among the commonest bird species seen here are: Tropical Boubou, Zanzibar Greenbul, African Pied Wagtail and White-throated Bee-eater. “It is one of the coastal forests thought to still contain small populations of the Golden-rumped elephant shrew listed as Endangered.” Rising 200-500 ms and forming part of the coastal lowland forest biodiversity hotspot, Mangea Hills is marked by lots of patches indicative of land clearing to pave way for land for growing crops and settlement. The risk of expansion which in turn will lead to the clearing of more land is imminent as more populations continue to inhabit the area. It can be reached via Malindi-Taveta Road which travels on the northern frontiers of Arabuko-Sokoke Forest.
24. Murinduko Forest
Not far from Njukiri Forest, south of Embu Town along B7 Embu-Kivaa-Kitui Road, lies the Murinduko Hill. Although much of the 19.4 km2 Murinduko Hill Forest sits in Kirinyaga County but it is easier approached through Embu Town. During the colonial area, Murinduko was part of Njukiini Location, an area that stretched as far as Njukiini and Njukiri Forest. It is one of few isolated hills that terminate the gently rolling landscape hitherto seen on the approach to Embu from Makutano. Murinduko Village (1350 ms above sea level) is a non-irrigated area outside Mwea Irrigation Scheme. It is situated on the slopes of Murinduko Hill and is served by two streams that flow at the edge of the village. Murinduko Hill Forest, which has the highest representation of larval habitat types among the forests in Central Kenya, also has a delightfully unique topographic profile, especially of its cliffs, gorges, and valleys pieced together by the river action and temporary pools formed within the forest. The local community run ecotourism tours around the forest to the unique landforms, apiary, and traditional shrines.
25. Njukiini Forest
Njukiini Forest (in Kirinyaga) and Njukiri Forest (in Embu) form a contiguous forest block at the eastern base of Mount Kenya. In Embu, Njukiri Community Forest Association (NCFA), with support from Kenya Forest Service, has been continually involved in tree planting exercises to replenish the degraded areas. “This was in recognition that the environment and forest protection is a shared responsibility that all must tirelessly go after”. Between 2015 and 2017, NCFA planted 150,000+ tree seedlings – 75% exotic and 25% indigenous tree species with an average survival rate of 75%, while Kangaita Community Forest Users Association has replenished 55 hectares of Njukiini Forest in Kirinyaga County.
26. Nyangweta Forest
The 104-hectares Nyangweta Forest found in the southern region is Kisii’s only gazetted forest. Aside from its hilltops which have been rubbed-out by decades of uncontrolled grazing and destruction, the Nyangweta Hill and the adjoining Ibencho Hill piece themselves together as a pleasing landscape. Both these hills are designated as birding sites. Nyangweta Forest was planted with commercial pine, cypress trees and eucalyptus in 1958, and which were ready for harvesting after 30 years, in 1988. However, following the intervention of stakeholders, the local people and the Friends of the Nyangweta Forest to protect and conserve it, Nyangweta Forest was eventually gazetted in 2017 and designated as protected.
27. Mumoni Hill Forest Reserve
This is located in the northwest edge of Kitui County and reached 64 kms north of Mwingi Town along the C93 Mwingi-Kathwana Road, at Katse. Mumoni Hill, emerging as a wooded inselberg, rises to 1811 ms (6000 ft) and 700 ms from the surrounding arid scrubland plains. To the west, Mumoni Hill is separated from Kiang’ombe Forest Reserve (in Embu County) by a broad valley cut through by Tana River which in the southwest area is dammed to carve out Kiambere Dam – completed in 1987 along the border between Embu and Kitui Counties as part of the Seven Forks Dam Project. Mumoni Hill forms the larger share of the 104 km2 Mumoni Forest Reserve alongside Muvoria Hill Forest Reserve set in the immediate south. Both these hillscapes were gazetted in 1993 as a forest reserve owing to their importance as a water tower for the densely populated Mwingi North region. For tourism, Mumoni Hill Forest Reserve is a walkers and bird-watchers wild escape, where colourful birds like raptors, hindes babbler, palied harrier, Somali biome and martial eagles have been regularly spotted. Although still underdeveloped, the reserve is crisscrossed by a good network of pathways from which nature-lovers can appreciate the rich floral and avi-faunal beauty as well as its fetching mountain scenery. 375 plant species were identified in 2006.
28. Muvaroa Hill Forest Reserve
Although Muvaria Hill is a third the size of Mumoni, it bears much resemblance to its sister hill, with its floral virility covering most of its hilltop with thick bush and in some places with trees. It also rises to about 1800 ms and 650 ms above the landscape and is a critical watershed for the springs and streams that water Mwingi. Both these mountain masses form the headwaters of the Mwengo and Ndatha Rivers. There are paths in and around the Hill for walking and scouting.
29. Marmanet Forest Reserve
Nyahururu Town is bound to the west by Marmanet Forest, part of an ancient migration corridor linked to Laikipia ranches, Rumuruti and Lariak Forests. Much of the greater part of the land around Nyahururu and its environs is laid out in farms, part of which were annexed from this forest over-particularly in the Moi Era for settlement. Following these earlier settlement, it was reduced to about 30 km2 (by 1990), and by 2010 it has lost an additional 12 km2 of forest cover. The anthropogenic pressure on Marmanet Forest is cosmic. An estimated 530,000 households living within a radius of 5 kms from Rumuruti, Marmanet and Lariak Forests depend directly on forest cultivation, collection of fuel wood, herbal medicine, among other economic gains. Shortly after leaving Nyahururu Town en route Rumuruti along C77 Nyahururu-Rumuruti-Maralal Road, the bald-pated hills of Marmanet Forest, appearing smooth in texture and brown in colour, specked with the orange colour of hewn rocks, are a striking landscape (seen to the east) against the fast-descending road with the wide-angled views of Laikipia Plains unfolding squarely ahead. Motorists along this route should take caution of the precariously set up road bumps especially near town centers.
30. Mukogodo Forest
Formerly known as Dorobo Reserve, a term refering to the cave-dwelling Yiaku Community and its first-known inhabitants, the 303 km2 Mukogodo Forest is among the best-kept indigenous forests in Kenya and which is protected by the Council of Maasai Elders as a greatly valued forest. “Its rolling hills blanketed in indigenous trees are home to 45 mammal species to include prolific elephants, buffaloes and leopards, as well as, around 200 bird and 100 butterfly species”. For centuries, the local Yiaku Community watched over and protected the forest from harm and exploitation. In turn, the Maasai Tribe living around it retained the edicts governing the use of the forest. As a result, Mukogodo Forest which remains a no-go-zone – save for the dry seasons – is among the best preserved forest in Kenya. Traditionally, in times of drought, the Maasai Council of Elders convenes to plan-out where and when the livestock should be grazed. There are two campsites within the forest open to the public, who should be self-catering while visiting the area. Of the 7 protected forests in Laikipia County, Mukogodo Forest remains the most cultural importance. The other six forests in Laikipia are: Lariak, Ol Arabei, Samanek, Ngare Ndare, Rumuruti and Marmanet Forest.
31. Witu Forest Reserve
Lamu’s terrestrial, inter and sub-tidal ecosystems carve out an interdependent continuum, divided into habitats dominated by keystone species of mangrove forests, sea grass and corals. Of these, forests cover about 34% of Lamu’s land surface area. What’s more, 428 km2 (or 64%) of this forest cover is gazetted and protected against commercial exploitation. These include 382 km2 of mangrove forest and the 42 km2 Witu Forest Reserve (one of the two dense rain forests in Lamu alongside Dodori National Reserve). Non-gazetted forests cover another 280 km2 comprised mainly of Lingi and Boni Forests, and Lake Kenyatta buffer zone. By road to Lamu, Witu Forest Reserve is crossed by C112 Garsen-Witu-Lamu Road between the towns of Witu and Pangani. Best known as the main source for hardwoods used to furbish the unique and ornately decorated doors seen widely on Lamu Archipelago, it was gazetted as a National Forest Reserve in 1927. Witu Forest Reserve contains plenty of wildlife and is a vital migratory corridor, but remains untapped for tourism. It is located 53 kms west of Garsen.
32. Dodori National Reserve
Located north of Lamu Island and contiguous with the Boni National Reserve, the wild and remote Dodori National Reserve is inhabited by a hatful of plains game, three unique varieties of turtles, a multiplicity of migratory birdlife and even some elephants. Although Dodori National Reserve has abundant wildlife, the animals are rather shy because of the rarity of vehicles. The landscape of the 133 km2 Dodori National Reserve is predominated by the native canopy forest which forms a fragment of the great Northern Zanzibar to Inhambane Coastal Forest. Gazetted in 1976 as a national reserve, Dodori National Reserve remains underdeveloped lacking both easy access and accommodation. While this offers an interesting excursion into an unusual coastal flora, it is necessary to go fully equipped and with enough supplies to overcome the complete lack of resources.
33. Boni-Lungi Forest
“In spite of identifying themselves as Muslim, the Boni maintain sacred forest shrines to protect their spirit world. The destruction of the Boni Forest and the expropriation of their land pose a serious threat to Boni survival, as well as the loss of significant biological diversity. Numbering about 3,500, the Boni are one of the most marginalized indigenous cultures in Kenya, and they are threatened with losing their land, their livelihoods, their way of life, and perhaps their very lives” – Chonjo, Issue 11. Also known as Aweer, Boni live in the forested patch between Boni and Dodori National Reserves, and southwest of Dodori Reserve towards the tail end of Dodori Creek in what is known as the Boni-Lungi Forest. On a much grander scale, but more easily approached from Lamu, is the 1,339 km2 Boni National Reserve, located at the extreme southeast corner of Garissa County, in between Dodori National Reserve, in Lamu County, and Lag Badana Bushbush National Park, in Somalia. Established in 1976, as a dry season refuge for elephants and other wild animals, this way-out backwoods reserve, covering a vast area of indigenous coastal forest, has a sizable concentrations of valuable hardwoods, most of which are listed as very rare, vulnerable or endangered. Its 680 km2 forest section is the only notable forest in Garissa County. Enclosed in this rarely visited forest are many ancient sacred and traditional groves used by the Bajuni, Somali and Boni Communities as well as a handful of historic sights.
34. Iveti Forest Reserve
Sometimes known as Kathiani Forest after the locality it falls under just 11 kms north of Machakos Town, the 347-hectares Iveti Forest Reserve is contiguous with Mua-Iveti-Mitaboni Range. The central feature of the forest is the wooded dome of Iveti Hill covered mostly by eucalyptus; the main exotic tree species on this hill. Here too, the slopes are conspicuously dissected, on the east, by layers of steep valleys and flat spurs. A well marked road is used by motorists to drive through the reserve to its far end. The population density around Iveti Forest is high, up to 500 inhabitants per km2, and over the years the forest has been the subject of wanton destruction, although it’s salutory to mention that the Kenya Forest Service has been decisive in averting the worst of the crises. Of a more recent development, in 2019, “a non-governmental organisation opposed the planned felling of 22 hectares of exotic cypress and pine plantations at Iveti saying this will adversely effect the region’s weather patterns” – Business Daily.
35. Kibwezi Forest
This 72 km2 forest sits across from the turnoff into Kibwezi and is contiguous with Chyulu Hills National Park. It forms part of Kenya’s esoteric ground water forests valued greatly for prodigious floral biodiversity and harbouring wildlife, most exemplary of these at Kibwezi Forest beings the elephants. “Based in the luscious surrounds of an ancient 18,000-acres groundwater forest which now forms part of the Chyulu Hills National Park, the Kibwezi Forest provides a habitat for a number of species including elephants, leopards, hyenas, buffaloes and bushbucks, serval cats, civets, mongooses and duikers” – DWST. Of a more recent development, David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust with concomitant efforts of Kenya Forest Service have undertaken a twenty five years conservation project aimed at conserving Kibwezi Forest. And to encourage sustainable tourism in the forest, the elegant 5-rooms self-catering Umani Springs Camp operated by David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust is set at the heart of forest, enjoying lovely views to include Umani Springs water-holes found at the doorstep of the property. It sleeps ten people, offering two sleek queen-size rooms and three spacious twin rooms. Each bedroom is beautifully designed with high thatched ceilings, large netted windows, alfresco showers and a sweeping veranda looking out to the encircling forest. By visiting the Umani Springs Camp holiday-makers directly contribute to the protection of Kibwezi Forest through inclusive concession fees paid to Kenya Forest Service from the revenue generated at the Umani Springs.
36. Turbi Forest
From Marsabit Town it is 247 kms to the terminus of the A2 Great North Road at Moyale. “It does so by traversing some of the most dramatic and inhospitable parts of the northern half of Kenya. This section of road goes through the Dida Galgalu Desert and the Shinil Plains, before climbing again onto the low hills around Moyale, where the road passes into Ethiopia”. The project, to upgrade the stretch of the A2 Road from Isiolo Town to the Ethiopian border at Moyale, spanned 3 presidents and construction took 9 years. The finished product is one of the best roads in the country though, reducing travel time from Nairobi to Moyale from 3 days to around 12 hours. After leaving Turbi, the road traverses the villages and trading posts of Walda, Sololo Town, Dambala Fachana, Qate, Funyata, Odda and Butiye before reaching Moyale. Shortly after leaving Turbi Town the A2 Moyale Road skirts the southern limits of the 41 km2 Turbi Forest.
37. Giitune Sacred Forest
The drive up to Meru Town from Nkubu is akin to taking an aerial jaccuzi, on a narrowed road that is steep and winding on some sections and aligns with the contours in the saddle of the hills. It travels through a generously wooded area, with the terrain rising eastwards towards Mount Kenya and marked by a wide valley and belts of farms on the other side (sometimes concealed by the trees) to form a pleasant roadside scene. The densely-wooded Giitune Forest at Gatimbi Village – between Nkubu and Meru, marches astride the Equator and has been adduced as a zen place of unrivaled serenity, where age old traditions are still in full-bloom and where cordial traditional rituals are still performed. There are many traditional myths and taboos associated with Giitune Forest not least that it is taboo to fell a tree in the forest. Concomitantly, it is revered as sacred, and it has retained much of its beauty and bio diversity. The forest has unique plant species such as the giant yellow mulberry, African wild olive and large-leafed cordia: A living-museum for young generations to learn about the significance of cultural knack in preserving the natural environment. If you want to walk in this forest do so by going through Meru Town and you will have fewer problems with the car. It sits just 16 kms southeast of Meru Town along Meru-Mitunguu Road. 1 km away from Giitune Sacred Forest sits the Tamaduni Cultural Centre.
38. Mpogoro Forest
Mpogoro Forest is found in Mikinduri, about 25 kms east of Runogone Market along Runogone-Mikinduri Road. It can also be reached via C91 Road through Mathene. It is an indigenous forest with sundry indigenous species of flora and fauna. It retains unique plant species that include the now rare indigenous tall trees, bushes, thickets and various species of undergrowths. Even so, it is best known for the colossal rock formations. “Mpogoro” translates to the rock forest simply because the hills in which the forest is found are very rocky and a very huge rock is found within the forest. The Runogone-Mikinduri Road traverses just outside the forest offering an easy alternative to snag views of the Mpogoro.
39. Ngaya Forest
Situated between the Nyambene Forest Reserve and Meru National Park, and enclosed by the adjacent agricultural landscape comprising of Murera Springs and Kiriyu, the 40 km2 Ngaya Forest stands-out in perched dissimilarity to the community developments and farmlands of Igembe North. Under the aegis of Kenya Forest Service, at an elevation of 1249 ms above sea level, Ngaya Forest is one of the few remaining stands of indigenous equatorial forest in Kenya. Its sobriquet as an “elephant maternity” answers to the historical pattern of eles’ delivering their young in this lone forest patch, that is continually under threat of anthropogenic activities. Meru National Park and its surrounding environs is crisscrossed by thirteen perennial rivers and streams with their headwaters at Nyambene Forest Reserve and Ngaya Forest. Away from the mores and human progress in Igembe North, this compact forest offers a reposeful site to unwind and rejuvenate, along its trails with variegated vegetal splash brightened-up by multi-coloured butterflies and birds. Around the middle of the forest there is a huge tree with a hollow once used by Mau Mau fighters during the struggle for Kenya’s independence in the early 1950’s up to early 1960’s. Various types of wildlife can be sighted to include primates like velvet and Colobus monkeys and there have been reports of sighting of leopards. Larger mammals once prolific here have retreated to Meru National Park and Nyambene Forest Reserve in the wake of burgeoning settlements. It is found 40 kms from Maua along C91 Road.
40. Nyambene Forest Reserve
96 kms from Meru Town along B6 Embu-Meru Road, north along A2 Nanyuki-Isiolo Road, and then northeast along B9 Isiolo-Mandera Roads sits Nyambene Forest, originally gazetted as a 640 km2 forest reserve under Kenya legal notice and reestablished in 2002 as the 265 km2 Nyambene National Reserve. “Kenya is home to various sacred natural sites, including forests, mountains and rivers. Indigenous communities have preserved their role and responsibilities, passed down over centuries by their ancestors, as custodians of these places through time. The 5391-hectare in the Nyambene Forest in Central Kenya is a sacred site to the Ameru Community living along the northeastern slopes of Mount Kenya. It’s a resource from which customs, spiritual practices, and governance systems are derived to protect the territory as a whole and maintain its order, integrity and well-being” – Gloria Borana. Contiguous with Samburu National Reserve and abutting with Buffalo Springs National Reserve, it’s named after Nyambene Range, its most conspicuous geological feature that rises to an altitude of 2514 ms. The landscape around Nyambene Forest Reserve is a moving spiritual and cultural site and a biosphere of unprecedented beauty. A sanctum to behold and be captivated by the simple beauty of an unspoiled forest. It also hosts Igombe or Magado Crater. The summit of Nyambene Hill or Range can be reached on a long afternoon hiking adventure. “The birds nesting place or “Gachiuru” as its locally called, is a bird watchers paradise within Nyambene. Populated with over 10000 nests artistically hanging in acacia trees. The birds are active during the morning hours and in the evenings. Birds to be found here include the great horned owls, balbers, doves, and the greater sage grouse, amongst many others.
41. Ngare Ndare Forest Reserve
The 55.5 km2 Ngare Ndare Forest Reserve, an indigenous forest linking Mount Kenya National Park, Borana Ranch and Lewa Conservancy in the southeastern area of Laikipia County, forms part of the lower-lying areas of the Mount Kenya National Park UNESCO World Heritage Site together with Lewa Conservancy. Revered for its African olives and red cedar trees, Ngare Ndare Forest Reserve serves as a dominant elephant migratory route. It was one of the finalist for the 2014 Equator Prize Initiative awarded for the laudable work by the indigenous people living around forests whose efforts are geared towards their protection and restoration towards mitigating climate change. The azure pools glistening at the bottom of a waterfalls and 200 year old trees stretching into the canopy and supporting a rich variety of bird and animal life are the biggest pullers to the Ndare-Ndare. Other attractions include the 0.5 km tree canopy walk, forest camping, walking, game drives and birding. The main gate into Ngare Ndare Forest Reserve is found 42 kms from Nanyuki along A2 Nanyuki to Meru Road.