We are excited to announce that another vital habitat now falls under the custodianship of the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust. The Trust has just embarked on a new Public-Private Partnership with the Kenya Forest Service for Witu Forest Reserve, having just signed a long term agreement (30 years) to preserve and protect this unique ecosystem.
The Witu Forest Reserve is an indigenous forest situated in Lamu County formed as early as 1927, but since gazetted in 1962. Over 14,000 acres in extent this Forest is a vital biodiversity reservoir and forms part of an important elephant migratory corridor between the Dodori National Reserve, Amu Ranch and the Kipini Conservancy, and is certainly an integral part of the conservation landscape in this region. The DSWT has already been investing in this region for the past five years working with the Lamu Conservation Trust (LCT) and Project Amu.
The future of Witu Forest, its wildlife and that of the local community, has been under significant threat from extensive illegal logging, unsustainable extraction of forest products, illegal hunting, human-wildlife conflict and frequent fire outbreaks. Encroachment of illegal settlements into the forest boundary has also threatened to isolate the forest reserve and block the existing wildlife migratory corridors.
Witu Forest is of particular significance for the conservation of plant biodiversity, containing critically endangered indigenous species, and concerted efforts will be geared towards ensuring the survival of these species including the protection from harvesting, and the establishment of tree nurseries and community education.
As part of the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust’s Saving Habitats Program the DSWT and the LCT, in partnership with the Kenya Forest Service (KFS), will now manage Witu Forest (together with Amu Ranch) so as to preserve it as a wildlife migratory corridor, and as a key locality for the conservation of biodiversity. It is also our intention to enhance its contribution to the quality of life of the local community through sustainable utilization of forest products and benefit sharing.
Our efforts to achieve this goal will be guided by sustainable management principles whilst the DSWT and the LCT will coordinate protection and security efforts with the Kenya Forest Service, the Kenya Wildlife Service and other organizations operating in the region.
Inherent in the Forest Policy, the Forest Act and the Regulations, is the concept of user rights. Access for customary users is promoted and communities living adjacent to forests are encouraged to become active in their management and protection. Traditional customary rights of forest adjacent communities will be upheld and sustainable levels of natural resource utilization established within the Witu Forest.
The Witu Forest Reserve experiences frequent forest fires as a result of illegal activities such as charcoal burning and encroachment of human settlements with the result being significant forest degradation and biodiversity loss. Natural regeneration of these areas will be provided for through zoning and the development of a rotational use schedule.
To secure the long-term conservation of Witu Forest Reserve and obtain community support and cooperation for conservation, opportunities for direct and indirect economic benefit for the local community will be maximized in the coming years too, whilst the Forest has enormous potential for eco-tourism given its ease of access to two major tourist destinations i.e. Lamu and Malindi.
With pressure on threatened land increasing as it is today in Kenya, the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust feels privileged to have the opportunity to help secure yet another environmental treasure for the future.