Tiny primate sighting is another reason for conserving Taita hills forests
Conservation of the natural forests scattered across these hills is critical for the survival of some of earth's rarest species
Taita hills forests are back in limelight following the sighting of the Taita Mountain Dwarf Galago, a small primate long thought to be extinct in the area. This discovery once again ascertains the Taita hills forests' position as a hotspot of global biodiversity importance.
A group of scientists from the University of Helsinki, Oxford Brookes University and Kenya Forest Service recently observed the animal in Ngangao and Mbololo forest fragments. Their findings were published in the Oryx scientific journal earlier this month.
The Taita Mountain Dwarf Galago sighting adds to the list of the unique animal and plant species found in Taita. The list includes two Critically Endangered birds - the Taita Apalis and Taita Thrush, Taita Hills Purple-glossed snake, Sagalla caecilian (Endangered), Taita Warty frog, Taita Blade-horned chameleon (Near Threatened) and three endemic butterflies. The hills are also home to the Taita falcon, Abbott's starling, Taita White-eye, and the Southern Banded Snake-eagle. Plants include the African violet, Ocotea kenyensis (Stinkwood), and Coffea fadenii (wild coffee).
Despite losing about 98 percent of forest cover in the last 200 years, Taita hills harbor the montane cloud forest whose vegetation is much influenced by both Eastern Arc and Kenyan highlands. Taita hills forests are a designated Important Bird Area (IBA) and also a Key Biodiversity Area (KBA).
These distinctive characteristics make the forests a habitat for some of the highest levels of endemism of animal, bird and plant species in the world, justifying the need for its conservation.
Habitat loss, triggered by human activity, has considerably contributed to the decline of some of these species. The forested area in Taita hills has been fragmented, losing over 90% of the original forest. Expanding human settlement has taken a toll on the surviving forest fragments, putting enormous pressure on their unique biodiversity.
All is not lost, though. On-going conservation activities in Taita hills are showing promising results. Nature Kenya has been working jointly with local communities and other stakeholders to restore degraded forest areas, lease or purchase land, support sustainable livelihood activities and carry out environmental awareness and advocacy. To date, 6.02 hectare of land has been leased in Msidunyi forest for conservation of the Taita Apalis. Another 14.24 hectares of small privately-owned forest fragments have been purchased. Indigenous trees ate also being planted in degraded forest areas as a habitat restoration approach.
To complement these conservation efforts, Nature Kenya is also supporting forest-adjacent communities to engage in livelihood activities like establishment of tree-nurseries, beekeeping, ecotourism and butterfly farming which contribute to the realization of participatory forest management practices.
More needs to be done to safeguard Taita hills' globally threatened birds and other unique plant and animals and their habitats.
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