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Location Kenya, Coast Province
Central coordinates 39o 25.00' East  4o 15.00' South
IBA criteria A1, A2, A3
Area 21,740 ha
Altitude 120 - 450m
Year of IBA assessment 2001


Site description The Shimba Hills are a dissected plateau that ascends steeply from the coastal plains, some 30-km south-west of Mombasa and just south of Kwale town. The surrounding escarpment rises from around 120 m elevation to c.300 m across the bulk of the plateau, and as high as 450 m at Marare and Pengo Hills. Rainfall ranges from 900–1,200 mm/year, and rivers flowing from the hills supply fresh water to Mombasa and to the Diani/Ukunda area, immediately to the east. The Shimba Hills were gazetted as National Forest as long ago as 1903, being one of the few large areas on the south coast that was still well forested. Grassland areas were incorporated in 1924, and several subsequent extensions took place to bring the reserves to their present size. In 1968, most of the area was double-gazetted as the Shimba Hills National Reserve. Two smaller areas to the west, adjoining the National Reserve and almost entirely forested, remained as Forest Reserves only: these are Mkongani North (1,110 ha) and Mkongani West (1,370 ha). The hills have a heterogeneous mosaic of vegetation, including grassland, scrub and exotic plantations as well as forest. Estimates from aerial photographs suggested that 44% (i.e. 9,500 ha) of the total area was forested, and a further 8,000 ha were forest/scrub formations. Grassland or grassland/scrub covered 3,400 ha, the remainder being plantations (600 ha) and other cover. The hills certainly hold one of the largest areas of coastal forest in East Africa after Arabuko-Sokoke (IBA KE007). At least six major forest types have been described, including tall Milicia forest on the deep soils on the plateau top (in Longomagandi and Makadara forests, and near Kwale town), and on the western escarpment; Afzelia–Erythrophloeum forest, covering much of the eastern and southern escarpment; Paramacrolobium forest on particularly steep scarp slopes to both east and west; and Manilkara–Combretum forest in the lower, western sector of the plateau. The biggest single patch of forest is in the south-western sector, including Mkongani North and West. Further east and north, the forest breaks up into a complex mosaic interspersed with scrub and grassland. Corridors of forest or forest/scrub formations connect most of the forest patches. At least two Kayas, Kwale and Longomwagandi, are situated within the National Reserve. The Kaya forests have spiritual and ceremonial significance to the Mijikenda people of the Kenya coast. A fenced elephant corridor connects the Shimba Hills with Mwaluganji Forest Reserve.

Populations of IBA trigger species

Species Season Period Population estimate Quality of estimate IBA Criteria IUCN Category
Eastern Green Tinkerbird Pogoniulus simplex resident  1999  present  A3  Least Concern 
Brown-breasted Barbet Pogonornis melanopterus resident  1999  present  A3  Least Concern 
Southern Banded Snake-eagle Circaetus fasciolatus resident  1999  present  A1, A3  Near Threatened 
Brown-headed Parrot Poicephalus cryptoxanthus resident  1999  present  A3  Least Concern 
Fischer's Turaco Tauraco fischeri resident  1999  present  A1, A2, A3  Near Threatened 
Mangrove Kingfisher Halcyon senegaloides resident  1999  present  A3  Least Concern 
Mombasa Woodpecker Campethera mombassica resident  1999  present  A3  Least Concern 
Chestnut-fronted Helmet-shrike Prionops scopifrons resident  1999  present  A3  Least Concern 
Green-headed Oriole Oriolus chlorocephalus resident  1999  present  A3  Least Concern 
Yellow Flycatcher Erythrocercus holochlorus resident  1999  present  A3  Least Concern 
Fischer's Greenbul Phyllastrephus fischeri resident  1999  present  A3  Least Concern 
Tiny Greenbul Phyllastrephus debilis resident  1999  present  A3  Least Concern 
Black-bellied Glossy-starling Lamprotornis corruscus resident  1999  present  A3  Least Concern 
Spotted Ground-thrush Zoothera guttata winter  1999  present  A1  Endangered 
East Coast Akalat Sheppardia gunningi resident  1999  present  A1, A3  Near Threatened 
Plain-backed Sunbird Anthreptes reichenowi resident  1999  present  A1, A3  Near Threatened 
Uluguru Violet-backed Sunbird Anthreptes neglectus resident  1999  present  A3  Least Concern 
Sokoke Pipit Anthus sokokensis resident  1999  present  A1, A2, A3  Endangered 

Protected areas

Protected area Designation Area (ha) Relationship with IBA Overlap with IBA (ha)  
Shimba Forest Reserve 18,968 protected area contained by site 18,968  
Shimba Hills National Reserve 19,251 protected area contained by site 19,251  

Local conservation groups The local conservation group below is working to support conservation at this IBA.

Name Year formed
Shimba Hills Forest Guides Association (SHIFOGA) and Shimba Suppport Group 0


IUCN habitat Habitat detail Extent (% of site)
Forest Lowland forest - undifferentiated  45%
Shrubland Scrub - forest  35%
Grassland   16%

Land use

Land-use Extent (% of site)
agriculture 50%
nature conservation and research 90%
tourism/recreation 20%
urban/industrial/transport 10%
other 5%

Other biodiversity Kenya’s only population of the ungulate Hippotragus niger occurs in the Shimba hills, which was the major reason for incorporating grassland areas into the National Reserve. The restricted small mammal Rhynchocyon petersi (EN) also occurs here, together with the distinctive Bdeogale crassicauda omnivora. The forest also holds substantial numbers (c.550 in 1997) of Loxodonta africana (EN). The rare bat Myonycteris relicta (VU) has been collected here. Two frog species, Afrixalus sylvaticus and Hyperolius rubrovermiculatus, are endemic to the Shimba Hills forests and believed to be endangered; the little known and range-restricted Afrixalus changamwensis also occurs. The butterfly fauna is very diverse, with some 295 species (35% of Kenya’s total), including the rare Acraea aubyni and Neptis rogersi, and the endemic Charaxes acuminatus shimbaensis. The flora of the hills is exceptionally rich and important. A total of 1,100 plant taxa are recorded, c.280 of which are endemic to the Shimba Hills area and nearly 20% considered rare globally or in Kenya. This qualifies Shimba as a Centre of Plant Diversity, according to the criteria of the Association pour l’Etude Taxonomique de la Flore d’Afrique. Notable tree species include Diospyros shimbaensis, Cephalosphaera usambarensis, Pavetta tarennoides, Synsepalum kassneri, Bauhinia mombassae, Phyllanthus sacleuxii and undescribed species of Polyceratocarpus and Uvariodendron.

Further web sources of information 

Alliance for Zero Extinction (AZE) species/site profile. This site has been identified as an AZE due to it containing a Critically Endangered or Endangered species with a limited range.

References Bennun and Waiyaki (1992e), Bergmans (1980), Blackett (1994d), Davies (1993a, 1994), Duff-MacKay (1980), Glover (1969), Luke (in press), Mlingwa et al. (2000), Nemeth (1996), Robertson and Luke (1993), Rose (1981), Schmidt (1991), Waiyaki and Bennun (2000).

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Recommended citation  BirdLife International (2014) Important Bird Areas factsheet: Shimba Hills. Downloaded from on 21/10/2014

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