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, it has shrunk to just 230 square kilometres, 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.