Eastern Africa Coastal Forests - A Global Ecoregion

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View of coastal forest looking towards the Indian Ocean, Zaraninge Forest, Tanzania.
© WWF-Canon / Edward PARKER

About the area

The East African Coastal Forests are comprised of the Northern and Southern Zanzibar-Inhambane coastal forest mosaics. It stretches from Southern Somalia through Kenya and Tanzania, to Southern Mozambique, and is characterized by tropical dry forests within a mosaic of savannas, grassland habitats and wetlands areas. Generally, the forests are found just inland from the coast with outliers occurring along rivers and several locations where it grades into sub-montane forests at the foothills of mountain ranges.

Areas between the forests have different characteristics depending on the country in question; in Kenya it is mainly farmland, in Tanzania and Mozambique it is generally savanna woodland/thicket with farmed areas increasing. The ecoregion also includes the larger offshore islands of Pemba, Zanzibar, Mafia and the Bazaruto Archipelago, as well as the smaller isles in the Indian Ocean close to the coast.
Size:
112,000 sq. km (43,000 sq. miles) 

Habitat type:
Tropical and Subtropical Moist Broadleaf Forests

Geographic Location:
East Africa: Kenya, Somalia, Tanzania

Conservation Status:
Critical/Endangered

Local Species

As the East African Coastal Forests have long been isolated from other regions of tropical moist forests by expanses of drier savannas and grasslands, it has an exceptionally high level of plant endemism that has recently led to part of it being classified as the Swahili Centre of endemism. Elsewhere within the region (Somalia and Mozambique), studies at a few sites have also noted the occurrence of endemic trees, but overall the number of endemic species is thought to be greatly underestimated due to civil strife that has prevented further exploration.

Among the best-known plants in the ecoregion are the species of African violets (Saintpaulia spp.). The 40,000 cultivated varieties of the African violet, which form the basis of a US$100 million/year house plant trade globally, are all derived from just 3 species found in coastal Tanzanian and Kenyan forests. Also found here are 11 species of wild coffee, 8 of which are endemic.

The East African Coastal Forests are a bird-lover's paradise what with more than 633 bird species found here; 11 of which are endemic. Among them are the Clarke's weaver (Ploceus golandi), Sokoke scops owl (Otus ireneae), Pemba sunbird (Nectarina pemba), Fischer's tauraco (Tauraco fishceri), and the Tana River cisticola (Cisticola restrictus).

The forests also have their share of mammals including the Pemba Island flying fox (Pteropus comorensis), Sokoke dog mongoose (Bdeogale omnivora), Zanzibar red colobus (Piliocolobus kirkii), Tana mangabey (Cercocebus galeritus), and the Zanj elephant shrew (Rhynchocyon petersi).

This ecoregion is home to a variety of primate species including 3 endemic and highly threatened monkey species and 2 endemic species of bushbabies.

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Featured Species

Pemba sunbird

The sunbirds are very small passerine birds which feed largely on nectar, although they will also take insects, especially when feeding young. Flight is fast and direct on their short wings. Although they are completely unrelated, the sunbirds find counterparts in the hummingbirds of the Americas and the honeyeaters of Australia. The resemblances are due to convergent evolution due to the similar nectar-feeding lifestyle.

The sunbirds are tropical species, with representatives from Africa to Australasia; however, the greatest variety of species is in Africa where the group probably arose.

Like the hummingbirds, they are strongly sexually dimorphic, with the males usually brilliantly plumaged in metallic colours. Sunbirds have long thin down-curved bills and brush tipped tubular tongues, both adaptations to their nectar feeding. Up to 3 eggs are laid in a purse-shaped suspended nest.

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Threats

Most of this area has been heavily settled for many years and only a few blocks of lingering forest remain widely distributed and isolated throughout the ecoregion. Looking for wood to fuel their fires and space to grow their crops, local people have cleared much of the region's forests. Agricultural expansion continues to be the biggest threat facing the Coastal Forests of East Africa. Due to poor soil quality and an increasing population trend, subsistence agriculture as well as commercial farming continue to consume more and more of the region's natural habitat.
 / ©: WWF-Canon / Sandra MBANEFO OBIAGO
Slash and burn agriculture, Mafia Island, Tanzania.
© WWF-Canon / Sandra MBANEFO OBIAGO

WWF’s work

Since the early 1990s, WWF has supported the management and conservation of the East African Coastal Forests through projects in Kenya and in Tanzania. Through its East African Coastal Forest Programme, WWF aims to develop and implement a strategy for conservation and sustainable management of the regional forests.

The programme will built on existing site level projects by bringing together several components to engage policy at local, national and regional levels and increased participation of communities in natural resource management and livelihood activities.

This scaled up programme allows for a holistic approach to tackle root causes and ensure upgraded capacity for impact on conservation. The longer proposed time frame provides more capacity building potential and involvement of partners and the proposed budgetary flexibility allows for priority and pivotal activities to be undertaken.

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