Today, what remains stands sentry over Watamu, which is about 110km north of Mombasa between Kilifi and Malindi. According to the Kenya Forest Service, this forest harbours 20 per cent of Kenya’s bird species, 30 per cent of its butterfly species and at least 24 rare and endemic bird, mammal and butterfly species, including the endearing golden-rumped elephant shrew.
“We have been growing maize as our staple food, but cassava has many different uses, and it’s better for the land,” says Safari. “The more people we involve in the forest, the less destruction. These kinds of community projects help us to find value in other aspects of the land. Instead of logging, the local community can make money from farming cassava.”
“We are starting our visit in the mixed forest – we call this mixed woodland mohrihi in Swahili. Watamu Treehouse is actually the start of this mixed forest habitat,” he says. “About 500 years ago, it was complete, but development has fractured it.”
“I still do landscaping and gardening sometimes,” says Baya as we walk. “When I do, I treat all my plants like children.” It makes me think – the Arabuko Sokoke Forest is really just a very large garden, but it’s one with a team of committed, fiercely protective plant parents looking out for it. If only we all loved our own backyards this much