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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.