Women for conservation of Taita Hills forests

By Gilbay Obunga

Communities in rural areas mostly rely on natural resources for their daily needs. Over-reliance on natural resources such as wood for fuel has led to the destruction of habitats such as forests. Women, who often have to spend much of their time and energy looking for firewood and water, are the most affected by forest degradation. As such, their direct interaction with forests for firewood, fodder and other products has offered them the necessary knowledge and skills to wisely utilize these resources to meet their basic needs.

In Taita Hills, women have organized themselves into groups to conserve and manage the relic Taita Hills cloud forests. One such group is the Iyale Angamiza Jangwa Seedling Group. This group was founded in 2009 to mobilize women to support the conservation and management of Iyale, Wesu, and Mbili forest fragments. Currently, the group has 16 members engaged in growing indigenous trees, among other activities.

“We started restoring forests because our indigenous trees were disappearing after being replaced by exotic ones, which affected our water supply. This is why we came together as women and started planting indigenous trees that are our heritage and make our environment better,” says Honorina Wache, the group’s secretary.

Through support from the Darwin Initiative, the group has restored 16.1 ha by planting 20,068 assorted indigenous tree species (sourced from their tree nursery) in the degraded and fire-damaged areas of the Iyale forest. To ensure high survival rates of the planted seedlings, the group undertakes spot weeding and replanting at restoration sites.

“By conserving forests in Taita we are also conserving our threatened birds like the Taita Apalis and Taita Thrush,” she adds. The Taita Apalis and Taita Thrush are only found in Taita Hills forests.

The group is also promoting beekeeping to empower its members to support nature conservation. On this front, the group has received 60 Langstroth beehives and bee suits purchased by Nature Kenya with funding from the Darwin Initiative and People Partner with Nature projects. The hives have been distributed to members across the Taita landscape.

“When we conserve our forests, we get clean air, good rains, pasture and bees also get food. Bees give us honey and other products,” says Honorina.

Members of the group have received training in apiculture and value addition to make the most out of beekeeping. In addition to producing honey, the group makes a beeswax-based body cream called Kilambo Soft. Kilambo is a Taita word meaning something. This locally-produced body cream softens and moisturizes skin and is also used to treat athlete’s foot and skin rashes. Honorina attended the 2023 Nairobi International Trade Fair, where she marketed Kilambo Soft and other wax products from Taita Hills. Her appearance at the trade fair helped to open up new markets for the body cream that was an attraction at the Nature Kenya stand.

KBA in Focus: Mumoni Hill Forest Reserve

By Joshua Sese

Mumoni Hill Forest Reserve Key Biodiversity Area (KBA), is a species-rich dryland hilltop ecosystem emerging as an inselberg from arid scrubland vegetation on plains 600m -1800m above sea level. It is located in Mumoni subcounty of the vast Kitui County. The KBA is characterized by scrublands and wooded bushland on the lowlands and an upland dry forest ecosystem dominated by DrypetesCombretumVepris and Croton species on the hilltop. Perennial springs that sustain human and animal water needs occur there. The forest reserve is surrounded by a constantly growing human population that practices small-scale agriculture.

Mumoni KBA is well endowed with biodiversity. It is home to Hinde’s Babbler (Turdoides hindei), a Kenyan endemic bird species listed in the IUCN Red List as Vulnerable (VU), the endangered (EN) Martial and Crowned eagles, and Afro and Palearctic migratory birds. It hosts a large plant diversity of more than 350 species, including dryland endemics restricted to the East African floral region, 24 mammal species, and 17 species of reptiles and amphibians. The pancake tortoise (Malacochersus tornieri), listed in Appendix II of CITES, and the Taita toad (Bufo taitanus), previously only known to occur in Taita Hills, have also been recorded in the KBA.

However, the KBA faces threats which include encroachment, illegal harvesting of timber and firewood, charcoal burning, over-harvesting of medicinal plants such as Warburgia ugandensis and Pittosporum viridiflorum, overgrazing, and poor agricultural activities like slash and burn which often causes forest fires.

Mumoni Site Support Group (SSG) is a local community group at the forefront of conserving, protecting and restoring biodiversity in the Mumoni Hill Forest Reserve KBA. The group was officially registered in 2016 with the aim of promoting environmental conservation at the KBA. It participates in activities such as beekeeping, tree seedling production and planting, and awareness creation through market and school outreaches and chief’s barazas to sensitize and educate the public on environmental conservation. The SSG also undertakes biodiversity monitoring and actively participates in international days such as World Desertification and Drought Day, among others.

October Big Day Summary

Birdwatchers in Kenya joined the rest of the world in participating in eBird’s October Big Day on October 14. On this day, birders around the world go out to enjoy birds and submit their observations through the eBird mobile app. The day is also celebrated as the World Migratory Bird Day.

Nine Site Support Groups (SSGs) affiliated to Nature Kenya took part in the event in Lake Elmenteita, Ruma NP, Dakatcha Woodland, Tana River Delta, Sabaki Estuary, Lake Bogoria, Mumoni Hill, Lake Ol’Bolossat, Mount Kenya and Yala Swamp Key Biodiversity Areas.

Kenya was ranked 9th in the world with 706 species and 227 checklists completed. Top Kenyan eBirders were Bruce Hillier and Bertina K, with 169 species in Nairobi National Park. The country’s top hotspot was Lewa Wildlife Conservancy with 201 species.

Striding forward to provide modern information services

By Vivienne Nandokha

The role of the information keeper has been evolving since the stone tablets and scrolls days, to when book printing started and to the modern digital era. To keep up with emerging trends, the Joint East Africa Natural History Society (EANHS) – National Museums of Kenya (NMK) Library embarked on a digitization process to enhance public access to information and service delivery. Nature Kenya has been very supportive of this cause. In 2022 Nature Kenya donated eight computers to the library. Last month they gave the library a large-screen digital TV, LCD projector, multifunctional photocopier/scanner/printer and laminating machine. With these resources, the Joint Library keeps moving forward to provide a modern information service.

In many forums, the Joint Library has been proposed as a training centre for digital skills improvement for NMK staff. This will significantly enable NMK to play its part in the government’s digitization agenda to improve the efficient delivery of government services to all citizens.

The Joint NMK and Nature Kenya (NK) Library has also made some commendable strides from the localized digital provision of information through the library software catalogue package CDS-ISIS to the online provision of information through the Online Public Access Catalogue (OPAC) software, KOHA at https://library.museums.or.ke.

This is one of the services that enabled NMK to move from a rating of 46 per cent to 87.5 per cent in a baseline survey conducted to assess NMK’s digitalization preparedness.

Another crucial development in relation to the equipment that Nature Kenya has purchased for the Joint Library is the development of an institutional information repository (IR). This is a significant step for NMK as it is one of the matrices used to rank research/academic institutions. The Joint Library has also restored the book snap digitization equipment (also purchased several years ago by Nature Kenya). With the dedicated time and efforts of two volunteers, the library is customizing the DSpace software used in the book snap digitization equipment to suit not only NMK’s needs but also those of Nature Kenya.

The establishment of a digital repository at the Joint Library seeks to attract more partnerships, collate the work of NMK and Nature Kenya in one place, contribute to building intellectual leadership and credibility and preserve documented research, among other benefits. This is expected to increase the global visibility of both NMK and Nature Kenya.