By Peter Orengo
As the Government and some corporations are accused of abetting the destruction of forests, some communities are leading the way in conservation.
Through a combination of traditional customs and what locals simply term as good manners, community groups have managed to preserve swathes of natural forests.
Ngangau Forest, which is found in Taita Taveta hills, is fresh and green, thanks to local people who have jealously guarded it. They manage it with the assistance of the Kenya Forest Service (KFS).
According to scientists, the steep ridges, a favourable climate and the ecological isolation of the Taita Hills from other forests have permitted the development of various endemic species of wildlife, most famously birds.
The forest is thick and dark and its interior echoes with myriad sounds capable of frightening would-be defilers. In the middle is a 200-year-old mother tree, which has attracted thousands of tourists from within and outside the country.
Recently, The Standard found a community association taking tourists through the forest, which is surrounded by three villages.
"We have managed to preserve the trees in this forest due to traditional beliefs and what the community has been harvesting inside it for generations," said Nathaniel Mkombola, the chaiman of Ngangau Forets Community Association.
He said for generations, the three communities have harvested all types of medicine inside the forest with the permission of village elders and medicinemen.
A 1984 study by the East African Wildlife Society and the National Museums of Kenya established the existence of 13 types of plants and nine of animals, which are endemic to these forests.
"Thirty-seven more species of plants in the Taita Hills are rare in Kenya and in the world at large. African violets, too, are said to have had their origins in these hills, and were brought to Europe by the early missionaries; there are some 20 species in all," said Mr John Mbori, the area Forest Zonal manager.