Before my first trip to Kenya I had never even heard of Arabuko-Sokoke forest. Some research into possible birding venues within reach of our beach hotel suggested that an A-S forest trip might be worthwhile, however visiting Arabuko-Sokoke forest proved to be an absolute revelation. Arabuko-Sokoke forest is a remnant forest having once been part of a large & extensive coastal forested area which extended from Northern Kenya down through the Tanzanian coast to Northern Mozambique. Though mainly coastal this forest also extended inland along some of the hills including the Shimba Hills in Kenya & the Usambaras in Tanzania. Now this extensive forest is gone with only a few small viable fragments surviving, of which Arabuko-Sokoke is the biggest & least degraded. This forest remnant is one of the richest and most threatened biodiverse areas on the planet. It holds a remarkable range of unusual mammals, birds, frogs and butterflies and is ranked as the second most important forest for threatened bird conservation on mainland Africa as well as supporting five globally threatened mammals.
Prior to arriving in Kenya I read up about the range of species to be found in the A-S forest. In particular five scarce range-restricted bird species were highlighted as the specialities of this forest. A review of internet trip reports indicated the difficulties facing birders in finding the Sokoke specialities and clearly many failed to see all of the target birds. In the anticipation before the trip I dreamed of seeing all of the Arabuko-Sokoke specialties and getting photographs of them! But in reality I appreciated that having only a day & a half available to visit the A-S forest the birds I might see and photograph would be somewhat restricted. Further internet review revealed that two of the target birds had only ever been photographed on a few occasions (Sokoke Pipit & Clarke's Weaver) whilst I was unable to trace any images whatsoever of Amani Sunbird. My hopes & dreams were clearly unreasonable......but then up stepped David Ngala!
David Ngala is a Kenyan national who recently retired from the Kenyan forestry service. He is a highly knowledgeable & very talented birder who holds a fierce passion for the birds & wildlife of the Arabuko-Sokoke forest. David knows the A-S forest like the back of his hand & is spectacularly successful in finding the rare & sought after Sokoke specialities. He has been heavily involved in a grassroots movement formed to protect the riches of the A-S forest. Poverty in association with bureaucratic corruption are the main threats to the biodiversity of this rich forest. However, a few novel & exciting eco-projects have offered local people a different solution providing a sustainable income from the forest whilst preserving its rich natural heritage.
Towards the end of 2007 David became the Conservation Officer at friends of Arabuko Sokoke Forest (FoASF). David has a passion for Arabuko Sokoke Forest and has dedicated his life to conserve and protect it. In recognition of this and his great expertise as a Bird guide David was awarded the Conservation Achievement Award by Birdlife International in 2004 as a recognition of his outstanding work. David's conservation work is both exciting and challenging but he is clearly up to the job. It is now possible to follow David's work through his web log: http://davidngala.wildlifedirect.org/ -please visit and please pledge a donation to David's continuing work.
Arabuko-Sokoke forest is a wonderful place worthy of a visit & worthy of full protection. By visiting this area & using local guides not only are you helping to protect the forest but you are also in for a real treat.
Check out Birdlife's conservation measures in Arabuko-Sokoke Forest: http://www.birdlife.org/action/ground/arabuko/index.html