The Mijikenda Kaya Forests, Kenya, have recently been awarded world heritage status. There are 11 smaller forests included in the Mijikenda (which means 9 homesteads), and they all contain the sacred remains of fortified villages known as Kayas. The 11 sacred forests are spread across 200km down The South coast of Kenya. These Kayas date back to the 16th centaury, and were abandoned in the mid 1900’s. The locals believe that their ancestors dwell in these Kayas and therefore are determined to protect them, and their surrounding forests.
The destruction of these forests has resulted in strong criticism of the local Government Officials, and the local elders are determined to protect what is left of their sacred forests. The recent decision to make the Mijikenda Kayas World Heritage Sites is a welcome relief and we hope that this will help the elders to be able to protect these wonderful and unique forests.
The Colobus Trust has been working with the Kaya Elders around the area to protect these forests by replanting, education and trying to prevent logging in the Kayas. These sites are important to the Colobus Trust not just because they are some of the few areas of undamaged forests around Diani and along Kenya’s south coast, but also because at the moment we have not yet had the opportunity to fully research the Colobus populations in these areas. If by doing the research we found that the forests contained a high number of Colobus we would be able to help further with the protection of these beautiful and ancient sites.
There are many rare plants that have been found in the Kayas and there have been a few comprehensive plant surveys that have been conducted in the different Kayas, but at present there have been no surveys into the local primate populations in the Mijikenda Kayas. It is not feasible for the Colobus Trust to be able to conduct the projects themselves due to the time commitment that is required, which would prevent the trust from fulfilling its other responsibilities around Diani and the local areas.
The Colobus Trust had aimed, along with volunteers from Camp Kenya to survey these Kayas and record the number of Colobus and other monkeys living in the Kayas. The project is still in it’s infancy so is adapting all the time, the Camp Kenya students are enthusiastic, and willing to work hard, but the main problem is, they are not scientists. They are interested in working with the Colobus Trust and learning about surveys, but they also want to have fun with the work they are doing.
To produce a comprehensive, accurate and reliable survey those conducting it need to have relevant training and experience, along with determination and dedication. In short it needs to be conducted by scientists with appropriate field research skills and an interest in primate conservation. The type of research which would be required for a full survey of these areas is better suited to someone/a group of people interested in conducting a proper research project in this area for a research paper or as a PhD or Masters thesis.
This does not mean that the work with Camp Kenya is being stopped, but I am suggesting that it might be better if the programme were edited to take into account the abilities and limitations of the students and staff at Camp Kenya and the boundaries of what The Colobus Trust itself is able to do.
It is obvious that the work with Camp Kenya will never be considered scientifically accurate, so rather than doing unreliable transects, I think that it would be more productive to have the students continue to learn what we do, continue to learn about all types of surveys and then along with the Colobus Trust staff and the Kaya elders conduct a sweep survey within the Kayas. This way they can cover a wider area, get a general feel for what surveys are about, work with the Kaya elders within the forests, and are more likely to see Colobus and other monkeys.
This information can still be recorded, and analysed, and then when someone comes out to do a proper, scientifically designed survey they can use the information from the Camp Kenya sweep surveys to help their research. It is therefore important that we continue to work with the students at Camp Kenya, with a program more suited to the abilities of the students and that we find people that are committed and capable of doing reliable and accurate transects within the Kayas around Diani and the local area.
We would therefore be able to produce a comprehensive survey of the resident primate populations in these undeveloped and relatively unstudied forests and gain a clearer picture of the current status of the Colobus and other primates in the area. This would enable us to develop our conservation of this endangered and beautiful creature in the best possible way, and help to protect the Mijikenda Kaya Forests.
For more information on the Mijikenda Kaya Forests and other World Herritage Sites please visit : http://whc.unesco.org/en/news/453
Emma Shepheard – Walwyn