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Location Kenya, Coast Province
Central coordinates 38o 20.70' East  3o 22.56' South
IBA criteria A1, A2
Area 35,000 ha
Altitude 1,350 - 2,228m
Year of IBA assessment 2001

NatureKenya



Site description The Taita Hills lie in south-eastern Kenya, south and west of Voi town, and rise abruptly above the semi-arid plains of Tsavo West National Park (IBA KE025). These plains, at c.600–700 m altitude, isolate the hills from other mountains and highland blocks. The closest of these are the Chyulu Hills (KE028) and North Pares, c.70 km away, and Mount Kilimanjaro, c.80 km away. The West Usambara mountains, with which the Taita Hills share some botanical affinities, are c.120 km distant. The Taita Hills are divided into three main blocks. Sagalla Hill (peak 1,450 m), directly south of Voi, is separated from the rest of the hills by the Voi river on the plains. The main body of the hills, Dabida, lies 25 km north-west of Voi, including the high peaks of Ngangao (2,149 m) and Vuria (2,228 m). To the north-east of this range lies the massif of Mbololo (2,209 m), separated from the main block by a valley at c.900 m. Some 50 km to the south-east, and not included within this IBA, lies Mount Kasigau. The forest on this isolated peak has biogeographical affinities with the Taita Hills, but its fauna and flora are as yet little studied. Geologically, the hills are the northernmost outpost of the ancient Eastern Arc mountains of Tanzania and Malawi. At the base of the hills, rainfall is only c.600 mm/year. This rises to c.1,300 mm on the top, with local variation. Dry bushland runs up the flanks of the hills, giving way rather abruptly near the top to smallholder cultivation and remnant patches of moist forest. The area is heavily settled. The total population is around 250,000, and densities reach 1,400 people/km2 in places. Cultivation is intensive, with maize the most conspicuous crop. As a result of the high human pressure on land, forest remains only as scattered fragments on the hilltops and ridges. Sagalla retains only c.3 ha of moist forest and Mbololo c.220 ha along the hill crest, while the main block has a number of tiny remnants, including Fururu (12 ha), Mwachora (4 ha), Macha (3 ha), Ngerenyi (3 ha), Kichuchenyi (2 ha), Yale (2 ha) and Vuria (1 ha), and two larger patches: Chawia (c.50 ha) and Ngangao (c.92 ha) (areas based on mapping carried out in 1997). Wundanyi County Council has approved the gazettement of all these sites as Forest Reserves for many years. However, while a number of smaller patches (including plantation forest) have been gazetted, the main blocks of Sagalla, Chawia, Ngangao and Mbololo (though managed by the Forest Department) still have not. All the forests have been logged over for valuable timber trees, and substantial portions have been planted with exotic conifers. Ocotea spp. were once common in the forests, but have been almost entirely logged out. Other characteristic trees are Tabernaemontana stapfiana and Maesa lanceolata (growing especially where the forest has been heavily disturbed), Albizia gummifera, Chrysophyllum gorungosanum, Cola greenwayi, Macaranga conglomerata, Newtonia buchananii, Syzygium sclerophyllum, Xymalos monospora and the palm Phoenix reclinata. The Taita Hills forests have been isolated for a long time from other moist forests, and have themselves been fragmented for at least a century. Forest loss since the 1960s has been very substantial, with estimates of 99% for Vuria, 95% for Sagalla, 85% for Chawia, 50% for Ngangao and under 50% for Mbololo. Despite their small size, the forests are important for water catchment (supplying the Voi river and various local streams) and for soil conservation.

Key Biodiversity See Box and Table 2 for key species. The Taita Hills are treated as part of the Tanzania–Malawi mountains Endemic Bird Area, but they share no restricted-range bird species with the other sites in this EBA. In fact, their avifauna is generally more closely related to that of the Kenyan mountains EBA (109), with which they share the restricted-range Cinnyricinclus femoralis. The birds include an element from the northern Tanzanian highlands, for instance through the presence of Andropadus milanjensis (also on the Chyulu Hills), the race helleri of Pogonocichla stellata, the race otomitra of Zoothera gurneyi, and Phylloscopus ruficapilla. There is also a coastal element (mainly at the lower-elevation Sagalla), with four of Kenya’s 29 East African Coast biome species present. The avifauna is generally impoverished compared to larger, less isolated blocks of forest: only 14 out of the 70 Afrotropical Highlands biome species regularly occur. However the forests are important for a number of globally threatened species, namely Falco fasciinucha (known only from early specimens collected at the base of these hills); Turdus helleri (a Taita forests endemic and forest-specialist presently known from Mbololo, Ngangao, Chawia and Yale; total population estimated as c.1,350 birds, of which 78% are in Mbololo); Zosterops silvanus (a Taita forests endemic, but the most adaptable of the three, recorded at most forest patches apart from Sagalla; total population in the Taita Hills estimated as 1,500 birds, with an additional 5,600 on nearby Mount Kasigau); Apalis fuscigularis (a Taita forests endemic, but only recorded on the main massif, in Ngangao, Chawia, Fururu and Vuria, and scarce everywhere); Cinnyricinclus femoralis (up to 20 recorded at Chawia; may be an overlooked seasonal visitor); and Circaetus fasciolatus (one record from Chawia). Regionally threatened species include Hieraaetus ayresii and Stephanoaetus coronatus, although their current status is unknown.

Non-bird biodiversity: Levels of endemism in the Taita Hills are generally very high, reflecting the forests’ long isolation. There is an endemic snake Amblyodipsas teitana, an endemic caecilian Afrocaecilia taitana, an endemic toad Bufo teitensis, and two frogs that are otherwise confined to the Usambaras (in the Eastern Arc mountains of Tanzania). Three butterflies, Cymothoe teita, Charaxes xiphares desmondi and Papilio desmondi teita, are endemic to these forests and their fringes. At least nine plant species are endemic, including the trees Coffea fadenii, Psychotria crassipetala, Memecylon teitense and Zimmermania ovata; an undescribed Psychotria may already be extinct. The plant Saintpaulia taitensis has a global range of about 0.5 ha on Mbololo. Another 26 plant species are endemic to the Eastern Arc forests.

Populations of IBA trigger species

Species Season Period Population estimate Quality of estimate IBA Criteria IUCN Category
Taita Falcon Falco fasciinucha resident  present  A1  Vulnerable 
Southern Banded Snake-eagle Circaetus fasciolatus resident  1999  present  A1  Near Threatened 
Taita Apalis Apalis fuscigularis resident  1999  present  A1, A2  Critically Endangered 
Abbott's Starling Cinnyricinclus femoralis resident  1999  present  A1  Vulnerable 
Taita Thrush Turdus helleri resident  1999  present  A1, A2  Critically Endangered 

IBA Monitoring

2012 high unfavourable medium
Habitat
Good - based on reliable and complete / representative data

Agricultural expansion and intensification annual & perennial non-timber crops - small-holder farming happening now some of area/population (10-49%) slow but significant deterioration medium
Agricultural expansion and intensification livestock farming and ranching (includes forest grazing) - small-holder grazing, ranching or farming happening now small area/few individuals (<10%) no or imperceptible deterioration low
Climate change and severe weather drought happening now some of area/population (10-49%) no or imperceptible deterioration low
Energy production and mining mining and quarrying happening now small area/few individuals (<10%) no or imperceptible deterioration low
Energy production and mining renewable energy happening now some of area/population (10-49%) slow but significant deterioration medium
Human intrusions and disturbance recreational activities happening now small area/few individuals (<10%) no or imperceptible deterioration low
Invasive and other problematic species and genes invasive non-native/alien species/diseases - named species happening now some of area/population (10-49%) moderate to rapid deterioration high
Natural system modifications fire & fire suppression - increase in fire frequency/intensity past (and unlikely to return) and no longer limiting some of area/population (10-49%) moderate to rapid deterioration low
Over-exploitation, persecution and control of species logging & wood harvesting - unintentional effects: subsistence/small scale happening now some of area/population (10-49%) no or imperceptible deterioration low

Artificial - terrestrial   0 0 moderate (70-90%) moderate (70-90%) unfavourable

Most of site (50-90%) covered (including the most critical parts for important bird species)  A management plan exists but it is out of date or not comprehensive  Substantive conservation measures are being implemented but these are not comprehensive and are limited by resources and capacity  medium 

Protected areas

Protected area Designation Area (ha) Relationship with IBA Overlap with IBA (ha)  
Chaiwa Forest Reserve 50 protected area contained by site 50  
Fururu Forest Reserve 14 protected area contained by site 12  
Kichuchenyi Forest Reserve 2 protected area contained by site 2  
Macha Forest Reserve 15 protected area contained by site 3  
Mbololo Nature Reserve 0 protected area contained by site 220  
Mwachora Forest Reserve 6 protected area contained by site 4  
Ngangao Forest Reserve 123 protected area contained by site 92  
Ngerenyi Forest Reserve 3 protected area contained by site 3  
Sagalla Forest Reserve 70 protected area contained by site 70  
Vurai Forest Reserve 1 protected area contained by site 1  
Yale Forest Reserve 22 protected area contained by site 2  

Habitats

IUCN habitat Habitat detail Extent (% of site)
Artificial - terrestrial Forestry & agro-industrial plantations  -
Forest Mid-altitude forest - transitional  -

Land use

Land-use Extent (% of site)
agriculture -
forestry -
nature conservation and research -
urban/industrial/transport -

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 Beentje (1988), Beentje et al. (1987), Brooks et al. (1997, 1998a,b), Collins and Clifton (1984), Gachanja (1997), Lens et al. (1998, 1999a,b), Lens and van Dongen (1999), Stattersfield et al. (1998), Stuart et al. (1993), Tetlow (1987), Wilder et al. (1998, in press).

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Recommended citation  BirdLife International (2014) Important Bird Areas factsheet: Taita Hills Forests. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 18/12/2014

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