Category Archives: Friends of Shimoni Forest

Visit to the forest with the FSF

The last Friday we had the opportunity to go personally to the forest with the FSF (Friends of Shimoni Forest), and enjoy of this endangered ecosystem with the persons that are fighting harder to preserve it. Hassan, one of the three trained guides of the FSF, walked us through the forest, leading us to some of the most remote parts, most of them new to us. This is the same walk tourists take when they come to visit the forest.

The "tree of oblivion", a parasitic vines who once strangled a baobab

The "tree of oblivion", a parasitic vines who once strangled a baobab

For all those who don’t know it yet, the FSF is a CBO (Community Based Organization) based in Shimoni. It was founded as an initiative of the community, with the help of GVI. Their objective is guaranteeing the conservation of this endangered forest, trying to develop sustainable uses of this forest which is so necessary for their livelihoods. One of their most successful projects was the creation of a forest tour, and the money they get from tourism is put back onto the community, in the form of different projects of grants to students.

Hassan the forest guide, during one of his detailed explanations

Hassan the forest guide, during one of his detailed explanations

And what was the result of our guided tour through the forest? A lot of Angolan black and white colobus, sykes monkeys, hornbills, tons of insects… but it was not only about what we saw. Hassan gently provided us with tons of background information and different stories about the forest, the plants and their medicinal uses and about the local culture. We visited one of the “kayas”, a sacred place of the forest where spirits inhabit and which serves for oration and prayer. After enjoying of such a trip, it’s not strange that tourists always turn out of the forest enthusiastic about all they have seen.

Dead Colobus Sightings

Whilst out in the field over the last 3 weeks GVI volunteers have come across three dead Angolan black and white colobus in the coastal forests surrounding Shimoni. This is a distressing and uncharacteristically high number to find in such a short period of time. Having spoken to the Colobus trust we discovered from their census data that there was a significant rise in the local Colobus population a few years ago.

Deceased Colobus found in Shimoni Forest

Deceased Colobus found in Shimoni Forest

Characteristically, following a rise in population there is inevitably increased pressure on resources such as food and water and as a result over the following years the population gradually returns to a sustainable number as the weaker and less successful Colobus are out competed. At present we believe that the abnormally high number of dead Colobus encountered can be partly explained by increased competition and pressure on resources following a population boom in the last few years.

Bush Baby Blog!

GVI recently had a few special guests stay with us at our Shimoni base for a few days. We had the privelege of working with two bush baby researchers, (New York Consortium in Evolutionary Primatology) and a member of the National Council allowing us to learn more about these tiny primates but also to share our local knowledge and findings with them. Bush babies (Otolemur garnettii) are regularly seen in Shimoni and are a familiar background noise when going to sleep at night. Not one of us refused when an offer came to help the researchers check their traps at 04:30 one morning!

The traps are small wire cages baited with palm wine, an intoxicating product of the phoenix palm.  It was found that some animals were continually being recaptured, finding the wine appealing; the first bush baby we saw (the greater galago) was a recapture and did appear a bit “zonked”.  There were two greater galagos that morning.  Unfortunately, in an attempt to free themselves, animals will leap at the wire mesh, resulting in wounds to their heads and noses.  If this happened, iodine was carefully applied to ensure safe healing.  Before release the primate toes and nails were pointed out, as well as the grooming claw.

Greater Galago viewing its captor

Greater Galago viewing its captor

The real target was the dwarf galago (also incorrectly known as the small-eared or lesser galago).  The next trap held this species (there was an audible gasp from us at its diminutive size) which meant that not only could the data be collected, but it would be easier to handle, thick gloves being particularly essential for protection from the greater’s teeth and claws.

Dwarf Galago

Dwarf Galago

A small clipping was taken from the ear, providing a tissue sample for DNA analysis, the animal was weighed and measured, and photographed.  It was released as soon as possible, scampering up the nearest tree.  The DNA from all the captures will be used to establish intra-species relationships in terms of familial connections and sub-species.   It is hoped that the research results will be published next year.

This was a great opportunity for volunteers to get close to one of Shimoni Forest’s diverse but sometimes elusive wildlife.

Mary Wood, volunteer for GVI-Kenya.

Blushing Hawks!

Yesterday we went on a walk to a village west of Shimoni named Kibuyuni. We were looking to see what wildlife we might encounter in the forest surrounding the village. However, we never really managed to get to the village. There were just too many birds to spot everywhere.

Especially noteworthy were the raptors (birds of prey). Africa at large and Shimoni in particular is the winter home to many migrating birds, among them raptors. One of the most common winters we see every day is the black kite Milvus migrans. Black kites are medium size raptors that favour open fields as hunting grounds. They are frequently seen above recently ploughed hunting small animals that were scared out of their hideouts.

A black kite in flight

A black kite in flight

Another impressive winterer we have seen in our skies in the past week is the steppe eagle Aquila nipalensis. This is a rather large brown eagle and has very impressive sight.

But maybe the most interesting factoid is about a local hawk species: the harrier hawk Polyboroides typus. On our way to Kibuyuni we were lucky enough to get a very good view of a harrier hawk flying low above our heads and perching on top of a coconut tree. What was most surprising was that the bare patch of skin on the hawk’s face was bright red and not yellow as is instructed in the field guide and as we saw in our previous sightings.

Further investigation and reading on the species taught us that harrier hawks’ facial skin turns red when they are excited!

Maybe the hawk was just as excited as we were upon seeing her!

Indicator Plots

Among the additions to GVI’s surveys are our Indicator plot studies. Indicator plots enable an intensive study to be made of a 50m x 50m sample of the forest habitat.   Several surveys will be carried out within the plot to gauge levels of disturbance, biodiversity, and vegetation makeup. So far, two such surveys have been carried out: firstly, two butterfly traps were installed, and secondly, an active search was done, in which surveyors were encouraged to be as proactive as possible in finding species (in contrast to a passive search where animals are looked for without disturbing anything).

The net traps, suspended from the branches of trees and baited with fermented bananas, had attracted one butterfly in each, both large and very attractive.  Before taking them out it was important to check that nothing likely to bite or sting had also entered the trap.  It is daunting at first to grab hold of a butterfly but these animals are large and robust and once you have your hand around them it is relatively easy to manoeuvre them so that you are lightly grasping the thorax with the other hand, enabling a photograph to be taken of both upper and under sides to aid identification.  Consulting the butterfly guide later, one species appeared to be a striking female mocker (Papilio dardanus polytrophus), and an equally striking Charaxes brutus.


Looking around at the start of the 15 minute active search, it appeared that the plot was devoid of life,  but once the leaf litter was disturbed, stones and logs rolled over and stems and leaves examined, animals became evident – between three of us we found a sharp-nosed ridged frog, a tiny toad and even one foot-long snake.

Tree Survey – Seeing what Shimoni Forest is really made of

GVI has started conducting 2 new surveys in Shimoni Forest, and the first was called “Tree Survey”. Which is all well and good, but how exactly does somebody go about surveying trees – and why?

Big trees are unquestionably among the most important aspects of any forest, providing both food and habitat, either directly or indirectly, to a vast number of animal species. Yet they’re often also the most vulnerable aspect as well – they’re much sought-after for charcoal and timber, and obviously they take many years to regenerate once taken down. Additionally, some tree species are more desirable than others for making building materials or fuel, and that means those species are disappearing faster than others, altering the ecological balance of the forest.

- Forest team conducting survey-

- Forest team conducting survey-

And one more note – when Julie Anderson studied Black and White Colobus in the area, she identified 14 species of tree that provide for 75% of Colobus feeding activity. By identifying which species are present along our forest transects (and in what abundance), and by tracking this data over time, we can get a much better idea of the composition of our forest, the patterns of human disturbance that threaten it, and how this could impact our Colobus population. To that end, we’re also measuring the trees themselves, in terms of trunk diameter and the height and volume of the canopy, both to see whether these factors correlate with Colobus presence, and as a method for analyzing the carbon sequestration potential of East African coastal forests – something that has never been looked at before.

Angolan Black and White Colobus sighting densities

Every time a group of volunteers heads into the forest, there is one form that always goes with them: Casual Observations. It’s our most basic survey, run every day from the moment we leave the house until the moment we step back in the door at the end of the day – every animal we see, we write down, along with the time and location of the sighting.

Over 4 years, this has given us a huge amount of data (more than 5000 documented sightings!) But as yet, not much has actually been done with it all, which makes it both a challenging and actually pretty exciting task (at least, as exciting as messing around with Excel spreadsheets can be) to go through it all and find out what this mountain of data actually says about our forest. This analysis is still in the early stages, but I’ll keep you posted as we continue digging through it. But for now, here’s a nice early result:

Angolan Black & White Colobus sightings by transect

Angolan Black & White Colobus sightings by transect

This chart shows how frequently we’ve seen Colobus monkeys on each of our transects in Shimoni East forest. We have 6 transects, or straight-line paths, in Shimoni East, and all of our surveys are run on these. The “Individuals/Effort/# of sections” bit just means the number of monkeys we’ve recorded, divided by the number of times we’ve been on that transect, divided by the size of the transect – by doing this, we account for the fact that some transects are visited more often than others, and all of our transects are of slightly different sizes.

So what does it mean? Well, more detailed analysis is needed before we can say anything conclusive, but potentially something quite important: Transect 1 (where the big spike is) is located very close to the coastline – so the implication of our Casual Observation data seems to be that there is a significantly higher density of Colobus in forest near the coast than further inland. This would be a very interesting finding on its own, but when you also consider that the coastline forest is currently suffering most from degradation and land development, it makes it all the more important, highlighting how critical the situation in Shimoni forest currently is.

Mangrove Forests

Along the Eastern edge of the African continent, the Indian Ocean supports a distinct set of coastal zones, one of which being mangrove forests. The zonation and distribution of different habitats is determined by physical conditions, including type of substrate, tidal and current regimes and the influence of fresh water.

Mangrove forest consists of a few species of salt tolerant, terrestrial evergreen trees. In particular in the Western Indian Ocean there are nine species of mangrove that are commonly seen. Covering 22 million hectares worldwide, they represent one of the most productive and diverse wetlands on the planet.

Mangrove forests are specialised in a number of different ways, adapting to cope with the salinity of the seawater by pumping excessive salt ions to specific leaves on the tree, falling once levels have been steadied.

The commonly encountered ‘Yellow Mangrove’ (Ceriops tagal), utilises buoyant propagules that fall from the trees and sharp-ended tips can establish themselves in the soft ground, growing into a new mangrove tree.

Local Mangrove species near Wasini Island

Local Mangrove species near Wasini Island

Failing this, the propagule will then float vertically in the water, promoting it chances to root as the tide goes out.

Mangrove forests have historically received less public awareness than other globally important habitats and supporting such a large number of animal and human populations, it is crucial that it is conserved. Over the past 50 years, mangrove forests have been damaged all over the world by anthropogenic pressures, such as tourism, overharvesting of trees and shrimp aquacultures. Therefore we need to protect this link between marine and terrestrial habitats and in turn conserve the surrounding wildlife.

Having completed abundance surveys for the species in Wasini Island’s mangroves over the past 2 years, this expedition GVI is going to develop the research to include surveys to try and identify any species zonation that is present on the island and the factors that might influence the mangrove’s distribution. Our first trip out with the GPS was a success, plotting waypoints to Sea Turtle skeletons found in the roots and other key marker points of interest. We’ll keep you posted on future developments of the mangroves!

Colobus canopy acrobatics

Over the last couple of weeks we have regularly seen many groups of Angolan black and white Colobus in the coastal forests around Shimoni village. The Colobus display many behavioural traits common to all primates, however it has been recorded that the Colobus in particular are willing to take enormous risks when moving through the canopy. Research reports individuals attempting drops of up to 15m from the upper canopy which they commonly inhabit into the undergrowth below, a distance that is potentially fatal.

Angolan Black and White Colobus Monkey

Angolan Black and White Colobus Monkey

A possible explanation for this phenomenon is that constant predation are putting the Colobus on high alert and therefore warranting the observed high levels of risk taking. The aim is to devise an accurate method of measuring the distance an individual Colobus jumps through the canopy.  As well as this we intend to measure a range of other variables which may influence the level of risk taken by an individual. These include the weather conditions, time of day, group size, sex of individuals, distance from and number of observers and, if possible, the source of disturbance or reason for movement.

In collecting this data we hope to see patterns emerging between these variables and the distance jumped by an individual Colobus. Such patterns could go some way toward explaining or at least contributing to knowledge of these phenomena. We’ll keep you posted on my progress over the coming weeks!

GVI-Kenya and KWS presenting at the International Ethnobotanical conference 2010 in Lisbon

GVI-Kenya poster for International Ethnobotanical Conference 2010 in Lisbon

GVI-Kenya poster

GVI-Kenya is presenting at the Ethnobotanical conference in Lisbon today. A great example of working together with multiple partners and stakeholders generating interest for the area.