The songs, dances, drama and speeches said it all – ‘we want to be involved more in the conservation of Arabuko-Sokoke forest.’ This was the message from community members during the launch of the Arabuko-Sokoke Forest Elephant Conservation Action Plan at Gede, Kilifi County, in December last year.
The elephants in Arabuko-Sokoke forest present a special challenge for conservation. The elephants are thought to have come from Tsavo National Park, but are now living within Arabuko-Sokoke forest, which is surrounded by farms. If the elephants stray from the forest to get water or food, they come into conflict with farmers and travellers. If they are fenced within the forest and continue to increase, the elephants will damage the vegetation. And the forest is important for much more than elephants – it is home to six globally endangered species of birds, and numerous rare plants, mammals and butterflies. Therefore a careful balance between forest, elephants and people needs to be found.
Young and old, men and women, boys and girls, were all present to witness the launch of the Action Plan, which signalled the beginning of a new conservation chapter for the Arabuko-Sokoke forest. Gauging by the amount of energy displayed during the performances it was quite evident that the local community was now more than willing to embrace conservation.
Guests were kept entertained with songs, dances and drama with messages urging community members to take part in the protection of elephants found within the forest. The most notable performance was a skit highlighting the dangers of poaching performed by the Mida Creek Conservation, Fishing and Awareness Group.
Speeches by community leaders carried the same conservation messages:
“Our people are prepared to protect the forest and its elephants,” said Mr. Charo Ngumbao, the chairman of the Arabuko-Sokoke Forest Adjacent Dwellers Association. The association comprises of communities that live next to the Arabuko-Sokoke Forest. Mr. Ngumbao noted that the community was eager to be involved in conservation activities and that all was needed was for them to be made aware on how to go about it.
Gede Chief Mr. Samuel Thoya Baya echoed Mr. Ngumbao’s sentiments adding that the community had a responsibility to ensure that the forest remained intact.
School teachers and pupils were not left behind. A conservation association for teachers and students living next to the forest is already in existence. A representative of the Arabuko-Sokoke Teachers’ Wildlife Conservation Association Mr. Douglas Barawa said:
“Education forms an important component in conservation awareness. We want to involve all educational institutions located adjacent to the Arabuko-Sokoke forest in conservation activities.”
Nominated Kilifi County Assembly member Ms. Arafa Salim told the gathering that more needed to be done to ensure that communities benefit from these conservation initiatives.
“Conservation without benefits will not work. Communities need to own these conservation initiatives and also benefit from them,” Ms. Arafa noted.
Preparation of the action plan commenced in February last year with stakeholders, including Nature Kenya, coming together to identify and address the conservation needs of the Arabuko-Sokoke forest elephants and their habitat.
The action plan identifies eight strategic objectives that include protection, population management, habitat management and connectivity, research and monitoring, human-elephant conflict management, incentives, capacity building, coordination and support. These objectives have been packaged into projects and activities for implementation.
The Arabuko-Sokoke forest is the largest and most intact coastal forest in East Africa. The forest is a remarkable biodiversity hotspot, hosting 24 rare or endemic birds, mammals and butterfly species. It is an Important Bird and Biodiversity Area (IBA).