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Kenya`s Arabuko-Sokoke Forest to be saved!

One million-dollar funding secures future of one of world`s top biodiversity sites…

BirdLife International`s conservation project at Arabuko-Sokoke Forest in Kenya, a site rated among the world`s top 25 biodiversity sites, has netted a $1m award from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), sparing it from the encroaching deforestation affecting neighbouring areas. [According to Conservation International, Arabuko-Sokoke forest forms part of the Eastern Arc Mountains and Coastal Forests Hotspot: one of the 25 richest and most threatened reservoirs of plant and animal life on Earth.]The award guarantees that now there will be no reduction in the existing 372-km2 forest, which has also been ranked as the second most important forest for threatened bird conservation on mainland Africa and lies within an Endemic Bird Area. Six globally-threatened bird species are found in Arabuko-Sokoke, of which four have their biggest populations here, including the Endangered species Sokoke Scops-owl, Otus ireneae, and Clarke`s Weaver, Ploceus golandi, found only at this site. The forest, located 120 km north of the resort of Mombasa, is also the only remaining major one on Kenya`s long coast and is also home to five globally threatened mammals, including the African elephant and the Golden-Rumped Elephant shrew, only found in the forest.Outside the forest boundary, however, settlement since the 1980s has seen virtually all the remaining forests cleared for agriculture. It is clear that Arabuko-Sokoke would have shared this fate were it not for the additional protection afforded to it.Most importantly, the project, to be implemented by BirdLife`s Kenyan Partner, Nature Kenya [in co-ordination with the Kenya Wildlife Service, Forest Department, National Museums of Kenya, and Kenya Forestry Research Institute, and collaborating with the BirdLife Secretariat and the University of Rhode Island], depends on improving the livelihoods of local people, providing them with sustainable occupations, in turn securing the future of the forest`s biodiversity. BirdLife International, together with the National Museums of Kenya has been running an extremely successful forest management project since 1989 which helped increase community revenue from non-timber forest products from US$42,000 in 1996 to US$114,000 in 2001. In 2001, local communities earned around US$37,000 from escorting tourists, bee-keeping and butterfly farming, with around 500 local people currently working in the project`s initiatives. Seven hundred local families are now expected to be employed by the project, which will devolve management of natural resources to them.The project will also increase food self-sufficiency through Tsetse fly control, the farming of Aloe and Neem plants, fruit and vegetables and guinea fowl, as well as the sustainable harvesting of medicinal plants from the forest.There have been many initiatives in Arabuko-Sokoke Forest but never before one focusing on governance, decision-making and business management, says Paul Matiku, Director of Nature Kenya. If money is a possible solution to solving conservation problems, then the project at Arabuko-Sokoke Forest should provide a model that should benefit the rest of forests in Kenya, and even in the region, or globally. It is expected that the success of this project will open up the government to pass new legislation allowing local communities a right to participate in forest governance, decision-making and direct management.Arabuko-Sokoke Forest is the only major remnant of forests that once covered the East African Coastline, adds Matiku. Apart from being the global stronghold of the threatened East Coast Akalat and Sokoke Scops Owl and the only known site where the Clarke`s Weaver has been known to occur, the forest is a home to many other un-surveyed and probably threatened plants and animals. Conserving the irreplaceable habitat of Arabuko-Sokoke Forest in Kenya should guarantee the continued survival of its unique biodiversity.

4th July 2014