The forests of coastal Kenya are rich in natural resources and are a globally important biodiversity hotspot, home to more than 550 plants and 50 animals found nowhere else on Earth. They provide vital resources for the livelihoods of more than 3 million people. The forests also hold important cultural value, such that the forests and people are historically and spiritually bound – these include sacred sites in northern Kenya (ancestral homes to the indigenous Aweer people), and ‘Kaya’ forests in southern Kenya (ancestral homes of the indigenous Mijikenda people).
A rapidly growing population, widespread poverty, poor planning and unsustainable infrastructural and economic development are responsible for rising deforestation and degradation of these forests which in turn threatens local biodiversity. The forests also play an important role in carbon sequestration vital in mitigating the effects of climate change. Kenya has suffered from long spells of drought in recent years as a result of our warming planet.
The overall aim of this project is to ensure that the ecological integrity of priority areas and natural resources in Kenya is secured for nature, people and the economy.
Specific objectives are as follows:
This project works closely with local communities and indigenous groups, government agencies and the private sector to secure the ecological integrity of coastal Kenya and its forests. This includes:
The forests provide a home for 3 million people, among them a number of indigenous groups such as the Aweer, Mijikenda and Waatha whose culture and livelihoods have coevolved with the forests. Read more about the Waatha and their connection to the land and forest here.
In recognition of their cultural importance, the Kaya forests of coastal Kenya were declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2008. More than 60 of these sacred forests are known to exist along the Kenyan coast.
They are still used as holy places, where the community retreats to commune with powerful spirits that are believed to live inside the forests. In Kaya Kinondo for example, prayers are held almost every month, either for a troubled family, good harvest from the farm, good catch by the fishermen, or even for politicians who request ancestral blessing before vying for elective posts. Kayas are also used as burial grounds for prominent traditional leaders.
In some part of Kenya, more than 80% of coastal forests having been lost in the last 100 years; many species populations are diminishing due to habitat loss and poaching, and the livelihoods of local human communities are also under threat.
In 2014, a bird survey conducted – jointly undertaken by WWF, the Zoological Society of London, Birdlife, National Museums of Kenya (NMK), Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) and 15 representatives for the indigenous Aweer community – identified 230 species of birds from 61 families. Fifteen of these species are endemic to the East African coastal forests. As a result of the findings, the area has been recognised as an Important Bird Area (IBA) – a globally important habitat for the conservation of bird populations – by Birdlife International.
More than 550 plants and 50 animals found in Kenya’s coastal forests occur nowhere else on Earth.
WWF is the world’s leading independent conservation organisation. Their mission is to create a world where people and wildlife can thrive together.
To achieve their mission, they’re finding ways to help transform the future for the world’s wildlife, rivers, forests and seas; pushing for a reduction in carbon emissions that will avoid catastrophic climate change; and pressing for measures to help people live sustainably, within the means of our one planet.