KILIFI, KENYA: Gede, Sokoke, and Jilore forest stations make up the larger Arabuko Sokoke forest ecosystem in Kilifi County.
This coastal forest is a biodiversity hotspot with a variety of endemic species.
Arabuko-Sokoke Forest is all that remains of a once much more extensive forest running from the Horn of Africa to Mozambique. Population growth, coupled with increasing demands for land for agriculture and forest products, has contributed to a reduction in the extent and condition of the forest.
It is the largest single block of this forest type in the coastal forests of eastern Africa range.
Arabuko-Sokoke is rich in rare and endemic species. Six taxa of butterflies endemic to the East African coast are present, as well as three rare, near-endemic mammals: Golden-rumped Elephant shrew (Rhynchocyon chrysopygus), Ader's Duiker (Cephalophus adersi) (found only in Sokoke and Zanzibar), and the distinctive Sokoke bushy-tailed Mongoose (Bdeogale crassicauda omnivora).
There is also a population of the African Elephant (Loxodonta africana), and African Golden Cat (Felis aurata), rare in Kenya, may occur (Virani 1993). Unusual reptiles include the Green Keel-bellied Lizard (Gastropholis prasina), and the forest is exceptionally rich in amphibian, including coastal endemics such as Bunty's Dwarf Toad (Mertensophryne micrannotis) (Drewes 1997).
Robertson and Luke (1993) list 50 plant taxa from Arabuko-Sokoke that are globally or nationally rare. Arabuko-Sokoke has been ranked by Bird Life International as the second most important forest for bird conservation in mainland Africa (Collar & Stuart 1988).
Six globally threatened species, and five out of the seven species in the Eastern Africa Coastal forests Endemic Bird Area, occur.
Clarke's Weaver bird is known only from Arabuko-Sokoke and the little-studied Dakatcha woodland, while the Sokoke Scops Owl is only known from this forest and one other site in north-east Tanzania.
More than 230 bird species have been recorded (Fanshawe 1995), including 25 of Kenya's 30 African East Coast biome species (24 regularly).
The bird species of interest include Southern Banded Snake Eagle, Fischer's Toracco, which are near threatened, Sokoke Scops Owl and Spotted Ground Thrush are Endangered, the Sokoke Pipit, East Coast Akalat, Amani Sunbird, Plain-backed Sunbird, and Clarke's Weaver (endemic) are vulnerable while Arye's Hawk Eagle, African Crowned Eagle, African Pitta, Scaly Babbler and are regionally threatened.
Arabuko Sokoke which covers about 420 square kilometers has several stakeholders who are involved in supporting forest adjacent communities in conservation efforts.
Due to its immense importance, Kenya Forest Service has undertaken elections to select management and executive committee members for the three forest stations to ensure they adhere to the Forest Conservation and Management Act, 2016.
Through partnerships, several nature-based enterprises have been initiated (NBEs) aimed at supporting community livelihoods in order to reduce pressure and increase the appreciation and value of the forest.
The NBEs include butterfly farming, bee-keeping, eco-tourism (tour-guides and bandas), and mangrove boardwalks, among others.
The importance of Arabuko Sokoke Forest is recognised worldwide for its biological importance through several designations.
The designations include –Malindi -Watamu-Arabuko Sokoke Biosphere Reserve (UNESCO), Coastal forest of Eastern Africa Biodiversity Hotspot (Conservation International), Key Biodiversity Area (BirdLife International), and an Endemic Bird Area (BirdLife International).