Kenya’s coastal forests revealed as global biodiversity hotspot

The significance of Kenya’s coastal forests as a biodiversity hotspot of global importance has been underlined by a new report, published by international conservation charity the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) in partnership with the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) and WWF.

Leopard caught on camera trap Boni-Dodori, Kenya
Leopard caught on camera trap Boni-Dodori, Kenya

The findings of this study highlight the need for tighter protection of these vulnerable habitats, as they face mounting pressure from economic development and regional security issues. 

The report is based on a year-long study of three forest sites along the country’s northern coastline, using systematic 2 x 2 km grid layouts of camera traps placed consecutively in each of Dodori National Reserve (NR), Boni NR, Boni forest (north of the Galana and Tana rivers) and Arabuko-Sokoke Forest. This approach enabled conservationists to make the first comprehensive survey undertaken to date of the medium-large mammal populations of the Boni-Dodori forest ecosystem.  In total, the camera-trapping survey recorded 29 species in Boni NR; 32 species in Dodori NR; 26 in Boni forest; and 20 in Arabuko-Sokoke Forest. 

The results of this survey indicate that this area exhibits even higher richness of terrestrial mammal species than the Arabuko-Sokoke Forest ecosystem, which previous studies have already identified as a biodiversity hotspot. A number of significant new findings regarding species status and range have also been identified, underlining the role these northern coastal forests play as strongholds for endangered mammal species. Highlights include the discovery of a potential new species of giant sengi (genus Rhynchocyon), as well as unexpectedly high concentrations of Aders’ duiker (Cephalophus adersi), a Critically Endangered species according to the IUCN Red List. 

Aders Duiker
Camera trap image of Ader's Duiker

Commenting on the results of this study, wildlife biologist Dr Rajan Amin of ZSL said: “Kenya’s wildlife is synonymous with vast, open plains and world-renowned reserves like Maasai Mara, Tsavo and Amboseli. Fewer people realise that the country’s mountains and forests, and in particular the coastal forests, are arguably of equal importance in terms of biodiversity. The fact our study shows that the Boni-Dodori forest ecosystem appears to be the last stronghold globally for  Aders’ duiker, as well as home to what may be a newly-discovered species of giant sengi, underlines the importance for mammal conservation of these areas, which appear to have relatively undisturbed and complete communities of both predators and herbivores.”

Expanding further on the importance of this study, John Bett of WWF-Kenya commented: “Our vulnerable coastal forests are facing increasing pressure from local economic development as well as ongoing security concerns around the border with Somalia. This important research project underlines the urgent need to ensure these coastal biodiversity hotspots receive similar levels of ongoing protection to the more famous wildlife reserves of the Kenyan interior, thereby securing a sustainable future for wildlife and for local people.”

The study was funded by the UK Government’s Department for International Development (DFID), through the UK DFID / DEFRA Darwin Initiative and its Programme Partnership Agreement with WWF-UK, the Whitley Wildlife Conservation Trust, Size of Wales, and the Mohammed Bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund.

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