Arabuko-Sokoke Forest Reserve
An ornithological treasure house
This cool and shaded retreat is one of the last remnants of Africa's once huge coastal forests. Long isolated it hosts some of Africa's most rare and unusual creatures, and makes the ideal escape from the brilliance of the Indian Ocean coast.
Altitude: 0-210 meters above sea level.
Area: 420 sq km.
Location: Malindi/Kilifi District, Coast Province.
Gazetted: proclaimed a Crown Forest in 1932 and gazetted in 1943. The Kararacha extension to the south-east was added in 1968.
Climate: humid with a mean annual temperature ranging from 22-34°C. Rainfall is around 500 mm per year.
Vegetation: comprises mixed forest, Brachystegia woodland and Cynometra forest.
Fauna: includes the endangered Aders' duiker, the golden-rumped elephant shrew, coastal races of the bushbaby and a remnant herd of elephants.
Birds: in excess of 230 species have been recorded.
When to go: the Reserve is open all year round; the best time to visit is during the cool of the day, early morning or late afternoon.
Roads: the Reserve is accessible all year.
A forest of rare richness
Managed jointly by the Kenya Forest Department and the Kenya Wildlife Service, this unique forest lies at the northern end of an arc of forest, which stretches south along the Tanzanian coast to Mozambique. Three types of forest predominate; mixed forest, Brachystegia forest and Cynometra forest. The mixed forest is rich in plant species, butterflies and mammals, the Brachystegia offers the widest range of birds, while the Cynometra forest offers the densest growth and holds the widest range of animal and bird species. The forest is also interspersed with seasonal pools, which burst into life after the rains.
Stronghold of endangered mammals
The forest plays host to three globally threatened mammals: the golden-rumped elephant-shrew (90% of its population survives here), the Sokoke bushy-tailed mongoose and the Ader's duiker. Red, blue and common duikers are frequently spotted, as are common waterbuck and suni. As for carnivores, the forest is home to the African civet, the blotched genet and the beautiful caracal, but being largely nocturnal and exceptionally shy the carnivores are rarely seen. Entirely nocturnal are the bushbabies (Garnetts and Zanzibar bush-babies), and the aardvarks, which dig massive holes in search of their favourite diet - termites. Three species of primate can be seen; Sykes' monkeys, yellow baboons and vervet monkeys, while the trees host red-bellied coast squirrels and red-legged sun squirrels. Largest of the forest's mammals are the African buffalo and the African elephant, both of which are rarely seen, preferring to secrete themselves deep in the forest thickets.
Africa's second most important bird conservation site
Boasting 230 species of birds with a high proportion of rare species, the forest is recognized by Birdlife International as an internationally Important Bird Area (IBA). It affords shelter to six globally threatened bird species, one of which, the Clarke's weaver, is found nowhere else in the world; and another, the Sokoke Scops owl, is found only here and in a small area of the Usambara Mountains of Tanzania.
Damp and shady, the forest makes an ideal reptile refuge. Most frequently seen are the small sand lizards and geckos while the largest reptiles are the Savanna and Nile monitors. Snakes are plentiful, mostly tree-climbers such as twig snakes, boomslangs and green mambas. Chameleons (flap-necked and pygmy) find the habitat to their liking as do both leopard tortoises and hinged-backed tortoises.
The forest's seasonal pools become frog kingdoms during the rainy seasons. Of the 25 frog and toad species recorded, the most noteworthy are Bunty's dwarf toad (which mates belly-to belly), the marbled shovel-shout and the common squeaker frog, while the foamy white masses dangling from branches overhanging the water are the nests of the communally breeding foam-nest tree frog.
Renowned for its flying jewels, the forest hosts some 263 recorded species of butterflies (Britain hosts only 52 species), of which at least 6 are endemic to the coast region. Indeed some 30% of all Kenya's butterfly species are found within the forest.
Haunt of the ‘Mombasa train'
Insect life is rife in the forest, especially around the seasonal pools where iridescent dragonflies and smaller damselflies congregate. At night the air is filled with the sound of cicadas, while throughout the day the leaf litter is rustled by myriad crickets, grasshoppers, spiders, beetles and termites as well as huge social colonies of tree ants, singing ants and safari ants. Perhaps the most conspicuous insect however is the magnificent but entirely harmless millipede, which can grow up to 20 cm long and is known locally as the ‘Mombasa train'.
What to do and see
An oasis of cool tranquility, the Reserve boasts some fine walking and driving tracks. The best place to start is the Visitor Reception Centre, which lies 1.5 km south of the Gedi and Watamu junction on the Malindi-Mombasa road. Here you can obtain information packs and engage the services (for a small fee) of an official guide, who will not only guide you faultlessly through the forest's meandering trails but will also have an encyclopaedic knowledge of birds, mammals, insects and reptiles.
Walking and driving trails
The forest's two main walking trails start out from a small clearing about 1 km south of the Visitor Reception centre and meander through 1 km and 1.5 km of forest respectively. A driving trail (which also makes a fine walking or biking trail) enters the forest from the tarmac road almost 6 km south of Gedi Forest Station and runs for nearly 30 km before rejoining the tarmac 15 km further south at Kararacha. Halfway along this trail lies the Nyari viewpoint, which is set on one of the few steep cliffs in the forest and commands stunning views over the forest canopy, Mida Creek and the Indian Ocean.