Conservation dilemmas

Part of the National Museums of Kenya’s collection from the Arabuko-Sokoke Forest is now accessible through GBIF, including its bird, mammal and butterfly records. (Photos: Nicholas Warren)

The Arabuko-Sokoke Forest on Kenya’s coast is considered one of the most important forests in mainland Africa for the conservation of threatened bird species. But the management of key sites like this involves weighing up multiple and sometimes competing conservation demands and socio-economic considerations.

One example: elephants share the forest with endangered birds such as the Sokoke Scops Owl Otus irenae and Amani Sunbird Hedydipna pallidigaster. To limit conflicts with surrounding human communities, the elephant herd has been fenced in within the forest. But if, because of their sheer size, strength and behaviour, this species significantly alters the habitat of threatened birds, how then should we focus our conservation efforts?

To answer this, multiple conservation dimensions must be considered – which means understanding the forest’s past as well as its present. To do that we need information. Numerous biological records for the forest exist, but many are ‘locked-up’ in notebooks, museum collections, reports and spreadsheets across various organizations and institutions, making the data inaccessible to decision-makers.

Thanks to a grant from the European Union and the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF), A Rocha Kenya and its other partners have been digitizing field notes and specimen collections and making their records centrally accessible. Now future management decisions can take into account the full and wonderful diversity of the forest – the elephants and birds, as well as other mammals, insects, reptiles and plants.

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