Zanzibar is not only a destination of breathtaking beaches and rich historical heritage but also a sanctuary of diverse ecosystems and unique wildlife. Any trip to Zanzibar should include a visit to its most precious natural reserves, each offering a unique glimpse into the island’s ecological wonders. From the only national park on the island, Jozani-Chwaka Bay, known for its endemic red colobus monkeys, to the lush Ngezi Forest Reserve on Pemba Island, these areas are bastions of biodiversity playing an critical role in the conservation of Zanzibar’s natural heritage.
Jozani-Chwaka Bay National Park
Jozani-Chwaka Bay National Park is the only national park in Zanzibar and covers an area of approximately 50 km² spanning the inland Jozani Forest area and reaching Chwaka Bay on the island’s east coast. Established in 1965, it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and represents a significant ecological area with diverse habitats, including a groundwater forest, coastal forest, grassland, mangroves, and salt marshes. The park’s landscape is a testament to the variety of ecosystems found in Zanzibar, making it a vital area for biodiversity conservation.
One of the most notable features of Jozani-Chwaka Bay is its status as home to the endangered Zanzibar red colobus monkey (Piliocolobus kirkii), which is endemic to Zanzibar. This means it exists nowhere else in the world. Other endangered species within the park include the Aders’ duiker, the Zanzibar servaline genet, and the Zanzibar leopard. The park is also an important bird area, supporting populations of several bird species such as Fischer’s turacos, mangrove kingfishers, brown-headed parrots, black-bellied starlings, east coast akalats, mouse-coloured sunbirds, and Zanzibar red bishops. The mangrove forests and seagrass beds of Chwaka Bay are important breeding grounds for various marine organisms and birds.
Ngezi Forest Reserve
Situated on the northwestern tip of Pemba Island in the Zanzibar Archipelago, the Ngexi Forest Reserve is a significant ecological area renowned for its lush and dense tropical rainforest. Established in 1959, the reserve spans approximately 1,440 hectares and is one of the last remnants of the primary forest that once covered much of Pemba Island.
The reserve’s environment encompasses a variety of biomes, including tropical forest, riverine forest, and maquis shrubland, each hosting a range of plant and animal species. The area’s rich biodiversity is evident in its vast collection of flora, including Odyendea zimmermanni, Uapaca guineensis, Antiaris toxicaria, and numerous orchid species such as Aerangis and Vanilla roscheri. The riverine forests mainly consist of Barringtonia racemosa and Samadera indica, while the shrubland features vegetation like Tamarindus indica and Olea woodiana. Mangroves are also a significant part of the reserve, providing a habitat for species like Sonneratia alba and Avicennia marina.
Ngezi Forest Reserve is particularly noted for its fauna, including the endemic and once nearly extinct Pemba flying fox, whose population has now recovered to around 20,000 due to effective protection programs. This large fruit bat plays a critical role as a pollinator and seed disperser in the ecosystem. The reserve is also home to primates like the vervet monkey and the Zanzibar red colobus, a species introduced in the 1970s. Other wildlife includes the blue duiker, the Pemba scops owl, feral pigs and the marsh mongoose. Birdlife in Ngezi Forest is rich and diverse, with species like the Hadada, African goshawk, palm-nut vulture, and Pemba white-eye. The damp forest conditions support a habitat conducive to a wide range of bird species, some of which are indigenous to Pemba.
Kiwengwa/Pongwe Forest Reserve
The Kiwengwa/Pongwe Forest Reserve, situated on the northeast coast of Unguja about 20 kilometers from Stone Town, is recognized as an important biodiversity hub in the coral rag zone. This reserve is unique for its diverse ecological composition, combining a range of faunal and floral species, and is particularly notable for its significant contribution to the region’s biodiversity.
It is home to endemic species such as the red colobus monkey and Aders’s duiker, along with other fauna like sykes, blue monkeys, Sunni antelope, and various snake species. The reserve also supports a significant number of avifauna, with 47 bird species recorded, including Fischer’s turaco, Zanzibar sombre greenbul, crowned hornbill, and white-browed coucal. The presence of these species indicates the forest reserve’s crucial role in providing habitat for both terrestrial and arboreal wildlife.
The reserve’s flora is equally impressive, with around 100 plant species, many of which are known for their medicinal properties. This rich botanical diversity is a reflection of the reserve’s varied ecosystems, which include tropical forests, riverine habitats, and maquis shrublands. Notably, the coral caves within the reserve, such as the Mchekeni Coral Caves, represent a unique geological feature, housing stalactites and stalagmites and serving as a sanctuary for various bird and bat species.
The Kiwengwa/Pongwe Forest Reserve faces ecological challenges, primarily due to timber extraction activities that have been ongoing since the 1970s. This exploitation has posed a threat to the coral rag forest, a sensitive ecosystem within the reserve. Recognizing this, conservation measures have been implemented to protect and preserve the rich biodiversity of the area. The reserve’s combination of rich biodiversity, unique geological features, and the presence of culturally significant sites including notable spice plantations make it an intriguing destination for ecotourism. It offers visitors a glimpse into the natural wonders of Zanzibar’s coral rag forests and an opportunity to observe a variety of wildlife in their natural habitat.
Masingini Nature Forest Reserve and City Park
Masingini Forest, situated in the western district of Unguja about 8 km from Zanzibar town, is a vital ecological area covering 566 hectares. Established in the 1950s to preserve water sources and soil, it stands on Zanzibar’s highest peak, about 120 meters above sea level. The forest’s landscape, characterized by more than 35 gorges, forms a critical part of Zanzibar’s water supply, creating substantial groundwater deposits.
Unlike most Zanzibar forests, Masingini boasts nutrient-rich deep soil, fostering a diverse array of plant and animal species. Over 179 plant species, including endemic and rare natives, find a habitat here. These species are significant for their traditional medicinal uses, with examples like Mimosa for memory enhancement, Mabola Palm for treating fever, and Lesser Quinine as a pesticide.
Masingini hosts a variety of small animals, including elephant shrews, snakes, reptiles, arthropods, insects, and a wide range of butterflies and amphibians. One can also encounter giant African centipedes here, known for their remarkable size and longevity. With its rich biodiversity and ecological significance, Masingini Forest is a crucial natural resource for the surrounding areas, offering a lush environment for a multitude of species and serving as a key water source for nearby populations.