This Week our columnist Gerald Kitabu interviewed Justine Gwegime, a researcher with Tanzania Forest Conservation Group (TFCG) through its project known as Forest Justice in Tanzania, on the factors threatening extinction of Rondo Forest Reserve, one of the biggest coastal forest reserves in the country located 60 kilometers from Lindi town. EXCERPTS:
Question: Briefly give us am overview of Rondo Forest Reserve?
ANSWER: Thank you, it is one of the biggest coastal forest reserves in the country located 60 kilometers from Lindi town. It receives an average annual rainfall of 1088 mm and the temperature range between 32°C and 11°C with the coolest period between June and August. This Forest consists of three major vegetation types, Dry Evergreen Forest , Woodland forest and plantations.
The Supervision of this forest is under the central government, under Forest and Beekeeping Division (FBD) and managed by the Rondo Forest Project (Rondo plantation project). Rondo Forest Project consists of not less than 2500ha of plantation forest and not less than 12000ha natural forests.
Like other protected areas, Rondo Forest Reserve is very advantageous to the surrounding community and the nation at large. Provision of ecosystem services such as water, prevention of soil erosion and clean air are the basic components which makes the Rondo Forest Reserve crucial to people.
The surrounding community is enjoying the benefits from the forests. For example, to ensure effective management of the forests, the management of Rondo forest, has allowed part of the plantation site to be utilized by the surrounding community for farming activities as means of motivation to the community. Additionally, the government is getting revenues from the forest through research and tourism activities.
Q: I understand that you have done a research on the forest reserve. What are your findings?
A: It is true that I have been conducting a research in the forest reserve and the research findings has, without doubt, revealed that the reserve is one of the hotspot areas in coastal forests and Eastern arc. It is endowed with a number of Endemic plant and animal species. Of these, few are endemic to Eastern arc and Coastal Forest, while, some are endemic to Rondo area only.
A number of flagship birds species such as East Coast Akalat (Sheppardia gunning) and Spotted Ground Thrush, scientifically known as Turdus fischer have been recorded, something which indicates that the condition of the forest is good. Over a decade, the reserve has been either the habitat or migratory route of one of the rarest and vulnerable mammal species such as African Elephant (Loxodonta Africana) and Black-and-Rufous Elephant Shrew (Rhynchocyon petersi petersi).
This is evidenced by a reasonable number of the above mentioned mammals and birds species. The record of Rondo dwarf galago ( Galagoides rondoensis) which is endemic to rondo area and to few coastal forests indicates that Rondo Forest Reserve needs high conservation priority.
However, despite all these, Rondo forest reserve is been threatened by several factors such as human induced activities such as fire acts, logging and farming especially along the vicinity of the reserve. Rondo forest has been subjected to severe human disturbance as a result of shifting cultivation and some logging followed by the development of a commercial forestry industry at the site.
However, the invasive plants known as Maesopsis eminii is becoming a serious threat within the forests and we are worried that it can lead to extinction of other native and natural forests hence reducing the diversity of both plants and animals within the forest. We need action to eliminate this.
Q: You have talked about invasive species what are they?
A: Maesopsis eminii kills native and natural forests and endemic plant and animal species such as East Coast Akalat (Sheppardia gunning) and Spotted Ground Thrush (Turdus fischeri, Rondo dwarf galago ( Galagoides rondoensis) and the Long Billed Tailorbird among many others.
Maesopsis eminii also known as Umbrella trees are expanding faster to cover the Northern, Southern, Eastern and Western side of the central portion.
They are dispersed very rapidly by hornbirds and monkeys and multiply faster in deforested areas to reach the top, forming a kind of canopy to prevent other native and natural forests from receiving sun light for Photosynthetic reaction.
However, the Maesopsis eminii affects also soil properties in several ways such as increasing the rate of soil erosion, disappearance of upper organic soil horizons and dense superficial root mat among many others.
My research has revealed that the invasive species have dominated 90 percent of the central portion of the forest reserve killing more native and natural forest.
Q: You have also mentioned about endemic species, what are they?
A: Thank you! Endemic species are those species of plants and animals found exclusively in a particular area and they are naturally not found anywhere else. For the purpose of this research, we refer those plant and animal species recorded in Rondo Forest and that they are confined within Rondo Forest Reserve only, Coastal Forests and Eastern arc.
For instance , on our survey we recorded one of the flagship primate species ‘Rondo Dwarf Galago’ which was initially considered endemic to Rondo Forest Reserve, however further researches from other scientists have confirmed its presence in other forests like the Chitoa and Noto in Lindi. But a reasonable number of endemic plants species have been recorded in Rondo.
Q: So, what is so special about endemic species?
A: Tourism industries and research opportunities in our country depends much on the flagship plants and animal species. For a number of decades, many scientists and tourists have been visiting our country because of different endemic and threatened species. Our national parks, Forest reserves and Nature reserves have been raising foreign currency collected from entrance and research fees.
Q: Is the budget allocated to conserve the forest, adequate enough to effectively and efficiently manage the forest reserve?
A: Well!, I understand that the budget set aside by the Ministry to manage the forest reserve had never been adequate. Every year there are more emerging challenges which need more money to address them. For example, the total budget allocated to conserve and manage the forest ranges from 60 million to 70 million shillings, while the actual amount is supposed to be 400 million shillings.
Q: What should be done therefore?
A: I call on the government to work on the problem of Maesopsis eminii and come up with comprehensive strategy to kill them all before they bring more harm to native and natural resource.
The government should also allocate adequate budget for the forest reserve, other wise other operational activities such as patrols will paralyze. Since the forest reserve is allocated near the people, there must be participatory Forest Management for effective forests management.