The coastal forest of Shimoni, Kenya: sacred sites as hotspot for biodiversity

Zeno Wijtten 1, Emma Hankinson, Matt Nuttall, Inês Gomes, Richard Lemarkat 2
1 2

Global Vision International ± Kenya, Shimoni 80409, P.O. box 10, Kenya; Kenyan Wildlife Service, Shimoni, Kenya

Kaya forests are sacred sites, owing their existence to the beliefs and culture of the nine coastal Mijikenda ethnic groups (Githitho, 1998). Cutting of trees and destruction of vegetation in and around Kayas was often prohibited by local village elders in an attempt to preserve the historical and traditional values of these sites. With the history of anthropogenic disturbance in East Africa, Kaya forests now tend to be residual patches of the once extensive diver se lowland forest of the Zanzibar ±Inhambane Regional Mosaic (Burgess & Clarke, 2000) and have high conservation value because of their botanical diversity (Robertson & Luke, 1993). More than half of Kenya¶s rare plants, and many endemic - and rare species are concentrated in the Coastal Region (Myers et al. , 2000). Because of their widespread distribution and their roles as reservoirs for local biodiversity and threatened species Kayas are believed to be important as a tool for in-situ conservation of flora and fauna (Mgumia & Oba, 2003). However as a result of economic, social, and cultural changes in society there has been a decline in knowledge about, and r espect for, traditional values and many sacred sites of varying significance have been lost (Githith o, 1998).
The Shimoni area includes one of the most extensive remaining coastal forest patches and we have identified 20 kayas. 273 Species of plant have been recorded with one-fifth of the plant species endemic to the remnant coastal forest of East -Africa and 24 species classified as rare. Four of them are considered rare in the world ( Barleria whytei, Indigofera tanganyikensis var paucijuga, Manilkara sp. aff discolor and Queenslandiella sp. aff hyaline ). Fourteen other species are rare in Kenya, wh ile six others are rare on the Kenyan coast. Inventories of floral biodiversity on sacred sites in coastal Kenya, knowledge on ecology, local use, historical development and potential for conservation is limited. We provide floral data on the Shimoni area and sacred sites with aim of providing a basis and incentive for further study on biodiversity, ecology, history and socio-economic function.
Acknowledgements: We would like to acknowledge the Kenyan Wildlife Service and Friends of Shimoni Forest for continuous support. We owe gratitude to the elders and inhabitants of Shimoni and Answani, Kenya for providing indispensable information on many sacred sites. References: Burgess, N.D. & Clarke, G.P. (eds) (2000) The Coastal Forests of Eastern Africa. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland, and Cambridge, UK. Githitho, A. (1998) Institutional Challenges in Conservation: The Case of the Sacred Kaya Forests of the Kenyan Coast. The World Bank/WBL¶s CBNRM Initiative, Washington, DC, USA. Http:// [accessed 19 August 2010]. Mgumia, F.H & Oba, G. (2003) Potential role of sacred groves in biodiversity conservation in Tanzania. Environmental Conservation, 30, 259±265. Robertson, S.A. & Luke, W.Q.R. (1993) Kenya Coastal Forests: Coast Forest Status, Conservation and Management. WWF, Nairobi, Kenya.