Category Archives: Forest fire

Disturbance in the coastal forest

A group of forest staff and volunteers recently set out to do a primate community survey on transect one. This involves walking along the set forest transect and looking for troops of Colobus and Sykes monkeys. Transect one has been subject to substantial disturbance and felling in the past due to its prime location on the coast, easily accessible by dirt track – a few sections of this transect that run through a large clearing that we call Mordor- due to its resemblance to the Lord of the Rings setting! This clearing has been present for over 18 months, although over recent months has been steadily increasing in size. This week the group found that a large area past Mordor, further along our transect had also been cleared within the last few weeks.
Charcoal burning in Shimoni Forest

Charcoal burning in Shimoni Forest

The good news is that the group were still able to spot a troop of Colobus during the survey, but an unsettling fact is that some of the monkeys were on the ground which is considered unusual behaviour for a species that favours the upper canopy. The behavioural and disturbance data we get from our transects is a great way of establishing how the loss of habitat is affecting this already rare primate.

Trees are felled for timber and to clear land, reducing habitat for the rare Colobus

Trees are felled for timber and to clear land, reducing habitat for the rare Colobus

Disturbance in the form of pit saws, charcoal pits, and clearings is becoming more and more common place on all our transects, and we are collating all evidence from 2007 to present to find out exactly how this is affecting all our target species.

Working together to end forest destruction.

Drew here with more information on the fire and what’s happening with Friends of Shimoni Forest. Recently a meeting was held with community members and government officials about the destruction in Shimoni forest. This meeting was lead by KWS and involved many members of the community including Friends of Shimoni Forest. We had a major victory when the community decided to ban all power saws from the Shimoni area. And for a while we were seeing a real decline in logging which showed promise.
Unfortunately the recent fire which burned a large portion of the coastal forest reminds us that there is still a lot of work to be done. Matt, working with GVI who discovered the fire, recently wrote about the fire in our blog. Yesterday Matt and I were called to have a meeting with the Area Chief Rashid Kassim Mklinynyihti and assistant Area Chiefs from the surrounding Kawle district. They were very concerned when word reached them about the fire and they had people soon on the scene. It is known that the fire was started by illegal charcoal pits and logging practices. During the meeting we discussed ways in which we could work together more efficiently to prevent these crimes. GVI and Friends of Shimoni Forest have always worked very closely with local community members and officials. The officers present at this meeting represent a greater area and have more influence in creating polices. Conservation starts at grass root levels and Friends of Shimoni forest is a perfect example of this.
We were very excited when the Mr. Kassim invited us to attend the weekly meeting held at the chief office is in Pongikie/ kidimu. He would like us to report to him personally anytime we have a concern or new plan of action. This is a great sign that the importance of conserving the forest is shared by both the community and elected officials from the greater area. Plans have been made to begin involving more influential politicians in our organization and this is a great step. We are setting an appointment with the district commissioner to discuss our concerns and raise money for saplings. FSF would like to sponsor a forest day festival. The Mr. Kassim is already on board and promises a lot of support. With the district commissioner’s help we think this event could be a huge success. We plan to invite local schools and other community groups and members to come and plant trees and learn more about the forest.
This just one more step towards reaching our goals. Every victory is important to our cause. Conservation is everyone’s responsibility. When communities join together to battle issues like global warming and protection of their environment amazing things can happen. We realize that the task at hand is immense and appreciate every step made forward. With the help of GVI and government officials, Friends of Shimoni forest and the community at large remain determined to put an end to the destruction of our coastal forest.

Shimoni Forest Burns

Hello again all,

This blog is not a happy one I’m afraid, as I bring you all news of an enormous fire in Shimoni East Forest.  About three weeks ago, we were on Wasini Island – the location of our base – and we noticed an ominous orange glow on the horizon.  It was in the direction of the forest, but we saw no signs of a fire in the subsequent weeks as we were conducting our surveys on the southern most transects, the ones nearest the coast.

Today however, we headed up to transect 6 (our northern most transect) for the first time in at least a month and a half.  What we found was crushing, to say the least. 

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Some of the fire damage

A massive area just south of transect 6 had been burned, with most of the damage at the base of large trees.  This is a method used to weaken the base of the tree and make it easier to fell.  By our estimations, that area stretched for at least 150 X 150 metres.  This was shocking enough, but the worst was yet to come.

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The damage done to the ground

We managed to find the start of our transect (the north/south spine we use for access was obliterated by the fire), and headed east conducting a primate community survey.  Around section 3 (150 metres from the start) we started seeing more evidence of fire damage.  The further down the transect we went, the worse it got.  Everywhere, there were big trees burnt at the base, and the entire ground was scorched black.  Nothing on the ground seemed to have been spared; all the leaf litter, ground shrubs and saplings were gone, and any dead wood or old logs were piles of ash.  The fire damage stretched up to section 17, which is 850 metres from where we started. 

We don’t know how far the damage stretches in the other direction, but for a forest that has an area no more than 3 square kilometres, it is a scary size.  We spent most of the day in stunned silence, not quite believing what we were seeing.

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What we must be grateful for however, is that it was only a ground level fire that must have moved fairly quickly, the dry leaf litter being the fuel.  The majority of the trees and the larger bushes, thickets and scrubs survived. 

We’re not sure to what extent the fire stretched north or south, as we were walking east only.  When we start surveying on transect 5, which is 200 metres south of where we were, we will see how far it stretches.  All we can hope for is that it is a thin strip, and that other areas of the forest were spared.

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Standing speechless…

One can only guess as to what happened, but my hunch is that people conducting illegal logging in the forest, set fires to weaken the trees.  Then either the fires got out of control or were just left to burn away. 

Our spirits were lifted throughout the day though, as we sighted three troops of Colobus monkeys, a zanj elephant shrew and a harvey’s duiker.  There were also plenty of the usual butterflies, insects and spiders around, so it appears the damage was not as catastrophic as it could have been.

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We contacted the assistant warden of the Kenya Wildlife Service and the members of the community policing unit and informed them of what has happened.  Let us hope that this filters through to the community, and helps to highlight the fragility and vulnerability of this small, but ecologically critical coastal forest habitat.