Kakamega Forest is one of western Kenya’s star attractions, and if you have any interest at all in the natural world, it’s worth going far out of your way to see. Fortunately, it’s fairly easy to get to Kakamega Forest from Kisumu or, if you’ve been in the Mount Elgon region, from Webuye along a scenically forested stretch of the A1.
Some 400 years ago, Kakamega Forest would have been at the eastern end of a broad expanse of forest stretching west, clear across the continent, virtually unbroken as far as the Atlantic. Three hundred years later, following human population explosion and widescale cultivation, the forests everywhere had receded, reducing Kakamega to an island of some 2400 square kilometres, cut off from the rest of the Guineo-Congolan rainforest. Today, with an area of less than 230 square kilometres, it’s a small patch of relict equatorial jungle, famous among zoologists and botanists around the world as an example of how an isolated environment can survive cut off from its larger body.
Despite a laudable scheme to educate the local population about the forest (see “Keep our Forest”), the lack of any coherent backing or action from the authorities means that its long-term future isn’t bright. Pressure from local people, who need grazing for their livestock, land to cultivate, and firewood, amounts to a significant threat. The present area is less than a tenth of what it was in 1900, and its closed canopy cover (which indicates the forest’s health and maturity) has dropped from ninety to fifty percent of the total area. This has led to the degradation of the natural habitat, and, inevitably, to some species being threatened, while others, like the leopard, last seen in the forest in 1992, are becoming extinct.Read More
“Keep our Forest”
“Keep our Forest”
The Kakamega Environmental Education Programme, or KEEP (wkeep-kakamega.or.ke), was set up by the guides at Forest Guest House to combine visits to the forest for local schoolchildren with their school lessons. They hope that by convincing the children of the importance of the forest, the message will spread into the community. A tree nursery has been started to demonstrate basic tree-planting techniques, alongside information on waste recycling and efficient use of firewood. In addition, a butterfly farm has been set up, with the aim of breeding local butterflies to frame and sell as souvenirs, generating income for the local community from the forest itself. Other sustainable projects in the pipeline include bee keeping and snake farming (for antivenin). They’re always looking for volunteers – contact them through the website above.