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October-December 2015
Friends of Karura Forest                                    Newsletter
Community Forest Association
In This Issue
Quick Links
Bikes along path
.... can you leave your bikes along the path while you go exploring and find them all there
when you get back?
The total number of visitors to Karura
since the founding of the
Friends of Karura Forest Community Forest Association in 2010.

Visitor numbers

Annual visitors
Visitor numbers appear to be levelling out at around 15-16,000 per month, some 190,000 per annum. Karura's joint managers, the Kenya Forest Service and the Friends of Karura Forest feel that as long as the forest can maintain current revenue streams from gate takings and special projects - such as the River Café, special events, the Sigiria Fitness Experience and bike rentals - there can be a balance between visitor enjoyment and education, and maintenance of the forest's natural ecosystem services. This balance would be in keeping with the charge from our founding patron, Prof. Wangari Maathai to keep the forest natural and not turn it into a luna park. 
A muddy operation in November successfully brought the second half of yet another group of Colobus monkeys into Karura, saved from alienated habitats. 
Colobus arrival
Apparently the slippery road was nothing like that the Institute of Primate Research team led by Peter Fundi had experienced the preceding week in the capture site on the slopes of the Aberdares range. After arriving in Karura, the IPR pickup got stuck between junctions 23 and 16, but fortunately FKF Board members were able to tow them out Colobus arrival The  new arrivals were carried the last few hundred metres  to the newly-constructed holding facility deep in the indigenous part of Karura main forest.
Colobus arrival
Current 'Karura population': 112. Numbers of conceptions and births among new arrivals: 7. The numbers make this project one of the most successful translocations of arboreal primates on record.
Two days later: Free at last!
- - -
 FKF fundIs (skilled workmen) dismantled the two-year old Colobus monkey holding and acclimatisation cage and made two new cages out of the materials. Both are in indigenous parts of the forest: one between Middle Track and Mau-mau Trail, and the other (pictured above) in Sigiria anticipating the early-2016 translocations of black-and-whites into that part of the forest.  

The new cabro-surfaced Limuru Road Gate-A access road (see last Newsletter) is in full use every day....

... but already suffering some wear and tear from careless drivers straying off the edge. Please keep it straight and slow!.   
 Work (above) continued on making the Sharks Gate-F parking area mud-free with the delivery, crushing and spreading of murram. More and more visitors are enjoying the northern side of the forest.
And (below) the expanded area near the Amani Garden picnic site that also services the River Cafe has been surfaced with hardcore and demarked with parking bays, and 300 trees planted. 
 Dedicated and diligent KFEET Education Officer, Lucy Njoka, came back from Maternity Leave , to find a nearly-completed new converted-container office (on right). She can continue her important work in a more spacious area. (Congratulations on your bouncing baby girl, Lucy!  Now you have space for her to help you at work). 
 A huge forest tree was undermined by the rain-swelled Gitathuru River in the November rains and fell into the plot of the Austrian ambassador. FKF quickly mobilised its on-call tree-trimming team to chop the offending tree into removable-sized pieces and remove it from the  fence and reduce the hazard of choking the river's flow. 
 Nearly 10 hectares of indigenous trees have been released from the 'ecological confinement' of being overshadowed by abandoned plantations of Eucalypts. Often FKF finds that simply removing the exotic species provides light and space for indigenous regrowth, like the lovely grove of African olive trees (above).  
 The new flush-toilets at Sharks Gate off Kiambu Road were completed.    
 The rainy season invariably causes loosening of roots and the falling of trees in the forest, such as these Australian Black Wattles. Those that fall over trails are removed by the FKF tree-cutting team and stacked into firewood that is sold to offset the costs of trail-clearing.
Eucalyptus removed to make way for reforestation are cut into bollards for road-side protection  There is a double benefit, since all of these trees are exotics that FKF aims to remove completely over time.    
An addendum to the historical note of FKF Vice-Chair, Sharad Rao (see main article on right): at the 12 December Jamhuri ('Republic') Day celebrations, H.E. President Uhuru Kenyatta announced that Sharad was to be the recipient of one of the prestigious annual honours awards, in this case, an EBS, Elder of the Order of the Burning Spear.  The citation read for "distinguished and exceptional services to the nation", undoubtedly for his service as chairman of the Kenya Judges and Magistrates Vetting Board since September 2011.
Hongera! Congratulations!

Sharad Rao
Sharad hosts Xmas drinks for Muthaiga Residents' Association Board 
There has been occasional confusion over definitions and charges for Picnics and Barbecues in the forest, particularly when the issue is nyama choma or roast meat. So, to be quite clear we consulted the venerable
Oxford Shorter Dictionary
Picnic -- An occasion when a packed meal is eaten outdoors especially during an outing or a packed meal eaten outdoors. (Note: no grilling or roasting.) 
Barbecue -- A meal or gathering at which meat, fish or any other food is cooked outdoors on a rack or open fire. (Note:  no reference to picnicking.)
Event -- A large, usually happy public or private occasion in which many people gather to celebrate a common theme
Trail Snack -- An edible or drinkable item that can be carried in one hand  or in a small bag
Kids' picnic at Amani Garden site
  •  Following the above definitions, there should be no barbecuing at a Picnic
  • However, at pre-arranged and booked Events, barbecuing is allowed.
  • A Picnic size limit is 25 persons.
A Trail Snack typlically comprises a refreshing, non-alcoholic beverage (water, juice, RedBull, etc) and a munchie (fruit, nuts, granola bar, chevada, crisps, etc, etc.) to take on the walk. 
Anything that needs  to be carried in a food container  becomes a Picnic that must be paid for and enjoyed at the Picnic sites

The 3 Picnic sites are at KFEET, Amani Garden and the new Ruaka Swamp site near the tree platform lookout not far from the Sharks Gate-C entrance. 

The 2 Event sites are at KFEET and Amani Garden
  • There is no picnicking at any other places in the forest except the 3 designated locations
  • Really Big  Events can only be held at KFEET.
 Please check out our website or contact Events Manager Enid Nyabundi (+254 739 262 092) for costs, bookings, clarifications on definitions, terms and conditions.   
Old Farmhouse
Old Farmhouse Site near Amani Garden -
perfect for Small Events
Get one while their fresh!
For Sale at Forest Entry Gates

Also for sale at:
Muthaiga Mini Market
Danielle Hair Design
Gorgeous Beauty Salon 

The average numbers of visitors to Karura Forest Reserve every month
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We've been giving a lot of social media coverage of the success of the Colobus re-introduction project and the new births (see sidebar below and last issue). As exciting as that it, it's merely one of the more visible indications of the deep systemic recovery of the Karura Forest ecosystem.

As you will see in this issue's last article, progress has been excellent towards the long-term goal of clearing invasive species and replacing degraded exotic plantation with indigenous tree species but there are still many hectares to go. With time and continuing donations from Kenya stakeholders investing in their constitutional right to a clean and healthy environment, we'll get there.

But what is really exciting is to see the forests ecosystem inhabitants thriving and taking back what is theirs. Birdlife, of course, has always been wonderful in Karura, but we are seeing more and more mammals coming out of hiding, with regular sightings of peacefully grazing antelopes along the forest trails.

The KaruraKam camera traps are revealing new insights into Karura's animal behaviour and ecology (see the second article below).  The animals are going about their things - bushbuck males marking their territories, bushpigs rolling happily in the grassy Karura River edges to get rid of skin parasites, duikers chasing each other around. And, of course, there are new-borns everywhere. All this as over 15,000 visitors a month are walking, jogging or biking along trails.

But Karura Forest is not on an isolated mountain top. It's within the city limits of Kenya's largest metropolis. The challenge is to keeping the forest intact and unspoilt in order to provide its vital ecosystem services - clean air and water, healthy biodiversity and a clean, secure space for Nairobians to re-create themselves.

A healthy ecosystem is the first ingredient to a healthy populace, and more and more Kenyans agree that Karura is good for their health, both physical and spiritual.

Thanks to you all for your visits and support in helping the Friends of Karura Forest and the Kenya Forest Service in their joint conservation and management work. Karura is truly "the People's Forest!"

We hope you enjoy this last newsletter of 2015 as much as you have been obviously been enjoying the forest!
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KFS Board Visits Amani, River Café
Board Members Commend Progress, Enjoy Tea Break

KFS Board
Mugo and Kirigua lead the Board to Amani
The Kenya Forest Service Board of Directors paid a visit to Amani Garden during a break in a busy  board meeting in mid- December. They were escorted by KFS Director Emilo Mugo, KFS Head of Nairobi Conservancy Charity Muthoni, Ecosystem Conservator Nairobi County, Stephen Kahunyo, and FKF Chair and Vice-Chair, Karanja Njoroge and Cristina Boelcke-Croze.

KFS Board
Chief Forester John Orwa, helps Chair Kirigua plant a tree. Looking on, L to R, Charity Munthoni, S. Kahunyo, E. Mugo, Karanja Njoroge and Vice-Chair Naomi Magoria.
KFS Board Chairman, Peter Kirigua, commended the impressive work undertaken within the partnership agreement  between FKF and KFS in restoring the historic site, which in the early part of the 20th century was a brickworks and the site of the early foresters' residence. Until 2010, it was completely choked with invasive Lantana camara and Mauritius Thorn creeper. Today it is home to the Amani Garden Memorial to the victims of the 2013 Westgate terrorist attack, as well as a pleasant picnic site, small events venue, the newly-opened River Café - Karura, and hundreds of newly-planted trees.
KFS Board
KFS Board members admire the
2016 FKF photo calendar
After a brief walk, the Board repaired to the River Café and were hosted by FKF to enjoy a light snack. Director Mugo reiterated KFS satisfaction with the highly-successful 'Karura pilot' in which a dynamic Community Forest Association has been able to achieve so much in just six years in terms of security, forest restoration and conservation, and provision of eco-friendly amenities for Kenyans, such as Amani Garden and the River Café.

KFS Board
Kenya Forest Service Board of Directors

Board members vowed to return to the forest often, both officially and unofficially.

Karibuni tena!

Karura's Pyramid of Life
The upland forest ecosystem is re-constructing itself

The KaruraKams - three still camera traps and one video trap, all donated to FKF - are revealing a fascinating array of Karura's larger mammal species. The total identified is now 20 (see April-June Newsletter Click Here).

But we are seeing more than just ID mug shots. Apart from our recent discovery of 'growsing' (browsing antelopes feeding on canopy leaves off the forest floor - see last Newsletter Click Here), the ratios of numbers of mammals 'captured' is evidence of a healthy and recovering ecosystem.

At the visible level, life is rather simple: plants grow in the soil with the help of energy from the sun and water from the atmosphere; herbivores eat plants; carnivores eat herbivores; omnivores and scavengers eat just about everything; and parasites attack everyone.  Because of the Second Law of Thermodynamics (in a nutshell, when something happens, heat is lost, forever) all of the effort in finding food, finding and winning a mate, and avoiding predators loses energy along the way. The loss of energy results in a pyramid of numbers and biomass: many plants at the bottom, a good number of herbivores in the middle, and a few carnivores at the top: like a pyramid.
Karura Forest pyramid of numbers
Karura's pyramid of animal numbers and biomass
In Karura Forest, the abundance of green vegetation, also known as primary production, is obvious, particularly with all the rain recently and all the indigenous trees being replanted.

Most of the mammals we see in Karura are herbivores, from bushbucks and bushpigs to slugs and giant pouched rats. Our two monkeys - Sykes and the newly-reintroduced colobus - are basically herbivores, as are all the fruit and seed-eating birds, like silvery-cheeked hornbills and Hartlaub's turaco.

Then come the carnivores, the meat eaters who mainly consume the plant-eaters. In Karura we find a number of small carnivorous predators, such as the genet, civet and clawless otter. No leopards yet, but they used to be in the forest. In the air, carnivores comprise insect-eating birds, like the common bulbul, and raptors such as the African crowned eagle (watch out, newly-arrived colobus!). And don't overlook small predators, such as Jackson's chameleon, or insect predators, like the foraging siafu (safari ants), spiders and dragon flies hawking other insects over the grassy clearings.

Omnivores, the eaters of everything, include some generalist predators like the honey badger and the side-striped jackal, or Lily Lake's yellow-billed ducks. And then there are decomposers, basically scavengers, from bacteria to fungi to black-kites, who eat the leftovers, living and dead.

The KaruraKams' photo captures (pasted onto the graphic above) reflect the ratios of species in the ecosystem: relatively few carnivore captures and lots of herbivore portraits. Next time you see an animal in the trees or along a Karura track, stop and think where it might reside in Karura's 'pyramid of life.'
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FKF Secretary Changeover
Farewell, Camille; Welcome, Katherine

With great regret, FKF Board has accepted the resignation of Camille Wekesa as its Secretary. In late November Camille wrote, "It is a hard decision but ... since my move to Nanyuki 18 months ago I have inevitably been drawn into various activities there as well as needing to finally start a large art project that has been part of my plans for many years." Camille is one of Kenya's finest artists, who paints, creates murals, curates and speaks on art. She studied in Italy and has worked in Europe, yet has chosen her home country Kenya to live and work. Like many talented young Kenyans of her generation, she has been lured away from the bustle of Nairobi to the pristine air and vistas at the foot of Mt. Kenya. Camille was FKF's first elected Secretary, after Chantal Mariotte served as Interim Secretary during the Association's registration and certification in 2010. Camille brought great warmth and vigour to the position, and we thank her most heartily for her service. Although we shall miss her, she assures us that she will always be a close Friend of Karura and remain involved with the FKF Membership Committee.

But to offset the sadness at Camille's departure, we are delighted to announce that newly-elected FKF Board member Katherine Kariuki has agreed to take on the task of Secretary. Katherine, as you may have read in her profile (click here) in the last Newsletter serves on several committees, has been the Runda neighbourhood representative on the FKF Board and is currently the Chairperson of Runda Water Ltd. Thank you, Katherine, for agreeing to take on and direct some of your considerable energy to this important task for the Friends of Karura.
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Climate Change Department
It Just Keeps Getting Wetter and Wetter

The end of 2015 experienced the second wettest November in 70 years! The month's rainfall was 590mm (23in), just beating the November 1961 record of 585mm, but falling short of 2006's more than 800mm. 1961 was a year of tremendous floods throughout the country, and 2006 was the last El Niño episode. This year, November delivered 60% of the average year's rain in one month. Climate change? El Niño? Or a bit of both?
The chart above combines the long term rainfall data (thanks to the Muthaiga Country Club for records dating back to 1945) with contemporary data collected in the Gitathuru River valley on the Karura Forest boundary since 1995. The shape of the adjusted graph for the whole seven decades, plus the two trendlines (black, a 4-month running average, and orange, a polynomial fit) suggest that the area around Karura has been receiving increasingly more rain over the past couple of decades. Data over more years in the future will show if this is a blip typical of a variable rainfall regime or a true signal of climate change.

2015-2016 is supposed to be another El Niño period. Although the portend of a monster event from the November rainfall seems to have petered out in December, we shall have to wait for the next quarter's results to see if Karura will be one of the El Niño 'water winners'.
Origin of the KFEET Centre Building
A Karura Forest Historical Note

FKF Vice-Chair, Sharad Rao, recalls, "I joined Shell East Africa in 1952 at 17,  when Shell leased land from the then Forest Department to build a sports club. Mau-Mau had just broken out, and Shell's General Manager, E.T. Jones, called a special general meeting to propose that Shell abandon the plan. The entire membership voted in favour. When he asked if anyone was against, I started to raise my hand, but colleagues restrained me saying I shouldn't oppose the GM. He spotted the commotion and asked, 'Young man, do you have something to say?'  I timidly asked that even if Mau-Mau had broken out, was Shell not here to stay?  The GM said, 'You have a point. I withdraw my motion. And you, young man, come and see me in the morning.'  The next day, he asked, 'You dared oppose me yesterday?' I apologised and told him I believed it was the right thing to do.  'Absolutely,' he said, 'and now I want you to be the club's secretary.' Thus I became the first club secretary and oversaw construction of the club building, which is still standing today as the KFEET (Karura Forest Environment Education Trust) Centre.
Shell GM addresses the crowd (Governor Sir Evelyn Baring is hidden from view) on site of clubhouse

"The colonial Governor, Sir Evelyn Baring, officiated at the ground-breaking ceremony (right), where he and the GM sat on the podium with me standing to one side.  As a young Indian, I could not sit at the podium."

Shell crickettersSharad played cricket for Shell. He says that the team is in the Guinness Book of Records for having scored the least runs - six all out - in a match against Nairobi Club.  The team at one match held at the Shell Sports Club (left) was captained by the Indian High Commissioner Apa Pant (centre). Sharad is seated on the turf, far right.
The former Shell/BP Sports Club: today's KFEET Centre,
virtually unchanged in sixty years
Forest Restoration
Good Progress Over Past Few Years

A recent tally indicates that nearly 10% of the FKF goal to return Karura to its natural state has been achieved: the map shows where some 70 ha (170 acres) have been restored (blue on the map).  There are two main targets: old fuelwood plantations of exotic Eucalyptus, Araucaria and Cypress, and neglected areas where the original trees were logged out and re-growth stifled with invasive such as Lantana camara and Mauritius Thorn creeper (Caesalpenia). The plantations were originally planted  by the colonial government in the days of steam engines to feed the famous Ugandan Railway. All the while, indigenous species have been exploited for fuelwood, building and the wood-carving cottage industry.
Reforestation (blue) augmenting residual indigenous forest (green)
Working with the Kenya Forest Service, FKF has a plan for the next few years that should add 70 more hectares to the amount being restored from the nearly three-quarters of the forest that was not indigenous, mainly comprising old exotic plantations, when FKF was formed in 2010. 

All of the clearing, planting and tree-care work has been supported by the fees that visitors gate fees and member subscriptions, as well as from many generous private and corporate donors who have 'adopted' patches of forest and replanted thousands of trees. 

Based on experience over the past few years, we have learned that forest restoration does not necessarily require each and every new tree be planted by hand. It turns out that under the neglected plantation trees and the tangles of Lantana are a myriad of indigenous treelings just awaiting physical release and sunlight so they can shoot skyward like their parent trees who seeded them perhaps half a century ago.
"We didn't look at trees and see timber. We didn't look at elephants and see ivory. It was our culture to let them be." 
                                                Prof. Wangari Maathai in Challenge for Africa 
Just give me some space and sunlight and a chance to grow in peace,  and I'll reach the canopy for your grandchildren
As 2016 begins, we would like to thank all our visitors and supporters, particularly those numerous private and corporate donors who have made the Karura recovery possible (you can see the list of our partners on the FKF website by clicking here).

We need to end this Newsletter on a cautionary note. With regard to the long-term security of Karura as a model of public participation conservation, we are not out of the woods yet, to use a forest metaphor.

Despite the legacy of Professor Wangari Maathai, who declared in her last visit to the forest in March 2010, the year that FKF was founded, that Karura must not be 'turned into an amusement park' but must be conserved as a viable forest providing ecosystem services for all, Karura is still once again firmly in the sights of developers. How could it not be, given its market value as real estate within the city limits?

But Karura's true worth is not in what its land could fetch for development.  For example, December's UN Climate Change Conference in Paris highlighted the importance of tropical forests in mitigating climate change through sequestering atmospheric carbon. Karura's tree cover alone is likely to be absorbing 20-30% of the carbon released by all the vehicles on the road of greater Nairobi. That is a priceless ecosystem service.

Yes, Karura's real value is in what it gives to the people of Kenya and to their children and grandchildren in terms of clean air, clean water, environmental education, a secure heritage of biodiversity, and a safe place to 'recreate' in the true sense of the word: to find peace and quiet and regain a sense of perspective, personal health and well-being in a crazy, hectic world.

The Friends of Karura Forest Community Association working with the Kenya Forest Service will continue to fight for Karura, and we know that you the people are behind us, now and for the future.

Happy New Year!

Sincerely and with heartfelt thanks,

The Board 
Friends of Karura Forest
Join the Friends of Karura Forest  
Membership is open to all persons, organisations and corporations who support the FKF mission to protect, manage and enhance the Karura Forest Reserve.

Members enjoy reduced Annual Pass fees: click here to see the types of membership and view rates.

You can sign up at the KFEET (Karura Forest Environment Education Trust) Centre (the former BP-Shell Sports Club in the main forest), or stop by the FKF secretariat office in Muthaiga (address below).

Newsletter text and photos © Friends of Karura & Harvey Croze unless otherwise attributed 
Activities in the Karura  
Karura: The People's Forest
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