Swift multiplication of invasive plant species, known scientifically as Maesopsis eminii coupled with human activities such as fire, farming and illegal logging are threatening to turn extinct Rondo forest reserve in Lindi Region.
The reserve, located 60 kilometres from Lindi municipality in South eastern part of the country is one of the biggest coastal forests in the eastern coast of Africa, according to researchers and foresters.
It is home to numerous endemic species such as the east coast akalat and Rondo dwarf galago and has a total of 14,000 hectares, including 2,500 of plantations. It is considered a hotspot in the coastal area.
The reserve is also a migratory route of one of the rare and vulnerable mammal species such as the African elephant and black-and-rufous elephant shrew.
Justine Gwegime, a researcher with Tanzania Forest Conservation Group (TFCG), through its project called Forest Justice in Tanzania, said the invasive species kills native and natural forest and endemic plant and animal species.
The forest’s central part is increasingly being engulfed by the invasive plant species which are expanding fast to cover the northern, southern, eastern and western side of the central portion, he said.
The harmful species, he said, grow fast to reach the top, thus dominating and preventing other native and natural forest plants from getting more light for processing their food.
Gwegima, who is also Forest Condition Monitoring and Evaluation Officer for Forest Justice in Tanzania, explained the other effects caused by the intruding species as altering soil properties by accelerating disappearance of upper organic soil horizons, changing soil fauna and speeding up soil erosion.
“These changes in the soil properties affect many native plant species in the forest. Our research has revealed that they dominate part of the central portion of the reserve forests, equivalent to 90 per cent of the area,” he said.
He said experience from Nilo Nature Reserve, in Tanga shows that swift multiplication of the species has diminished valuable bird species such as the Long Billed Tailorbird.
“Immediate intervention should be taken to protect the forest because the tourism industry and research opportunities in our country depend on the flagship plants and animal species. For a number of decades, many scientists and tourists have been visiting our country because of the prevalence of variety of endemic and threatened species,” he said.
For his part, Moses Mwangoka a botanist with TFCG, said apart from the problem of the invasive species, increasing human induced activities such as fires, logging and farming especially on the slopes of the reserved forests have been degrading the forest which attracts rain in the region.
The forest manager, Kelvin Lilai commenting on the phenomenon, said they have been working hard to protect the forest but the budget allocated for it is too little to effectively and sufficiently manage the reserve.
For effective management of the reserve, he said, his office needs at least 400m/-, but was currently given only 70m/-.
“Last year, my office asked for 370m/-, but the government approved only 60m/- which is not enough to cover all the activities including patrols. This year we received about 90m/-,” he said.
When contacted the Natural Resources and Tourism minister Ezekiel Maige said in 2002, the government formed the Tanzania Forest Service (TFS) to oversee the sector’s activities, adding that part of its roles is to manage national forest reserves.
He directed this reporter to contact the Director of Forestry and Beekeeping Division (FBD) Dr Felician Kilahama for clarification on the matter.
For his part, Dr Felician Kilahama said the problem of invasive species has never been reported to him, but invited the reporter for further discussion.