Karura Forest

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search

Karura Forest is an urban forest in Nairobi, the capital of Kenya. The forest was gazetted in 1932[1] and is managed by the Kenya Forest Service[2] in conjunction with the Friends of Karura Forest [2].

Due to its proximity to a growing city, there have been plans to reduce the forest in favour of housing and other development. However, these plans have been controversial with conservationists. In the late 90's there were housing projects that would have excised portions of the forest. Conservationists, led by Wangari Maathai, the leader of Green Belt Movement who later became a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, carried out a much publicised campaign for saving the forest. Karura Forest became also a symbol of controversial land grabbings in Kenya.[3]


Karura Forest has an area of 1 063.0 ha, making it largest of three main gazetted forest in Nairobi. The others are Ngong Forest and Ololua Forest. The centrally located Nairobi Arboretum is much smaller.[1]

Karura Forest is located north of central Nairobi and is bordered by the suburbs of Muthaiga, Gigiri, Runda, Ridgeways, Mathare North, Highridge and Spring Valley. The western part of the forest is also known as Sigiria Forest.[4]

The area north of central Nairobi forms a drainage basin and was once heavily forested, but exists today only as patches like Karura Forest and City Park.[5] The forest is cut by Thigirie, Getathuru, Rui Ruaka and Karura Rivers, all tributaries of Nairobi River.[4]

Features in the forest include a waterfall, bamboo forest, marshland, Mau Mau caves and an old church.[6]

The United Nations Office at Nairobi and UNEP headquarters are located adjacent to the forest.[4] The Karura Forest Product Research Centre is also located there.[7]


Wildlife in the forest include Monkey species, bush baby, bushbuck, bush pig, porcupine, duiker, genet, dik dik, African civet and East African epauletted fruit bat.[1]

Plant species typical to the forest include Olea europaea (var. africana), Croton megalocarpus, Warburgia ugandensis, Brachyleana huillensis and the Uvaridendron anisatum.[1]

Development projects and environmental issues[edit]

Parts of the forest were degazetted by Minister of Environment Jeremiah Nyagah in 1989.[8] Between 1994 and 1998 a total of 564.14 hectares of the forest were secretly allocated to 64 different companies for housing projects.[9] Around 1995 there were plans to build a housing estate in the forest, but opposition by local residents led to temporary shelving of the plans.[10]

The projects revitalised again in September 1998, when the Forest Department was issued a quit notice by private developers.[11] The clearing of the forest started igniting fierce protests by environmentalists and others concerned. On 7 October 1998 the construction site was invaded by demonstrators, including 12 opposition MP's. The protest turned violent and bulldozers and other machinery used to clear the forest was destroyed worth more than 80 million Ksh ($2 US million).[12]

Minister for Lands and Settlements Noah Katana Ngala released a list of companies who had been allocated land in Karura Forest in November 1998. However, the records of those companies were not found at Registrar General's office, making it difficult to trace the individuals behind these companies.[13]

On 8 January 1999 when a group of women led by Wangari Maathai were holding a demonstration by planting trees near the forest, a large group of security guards attacked them. Several of them were injured, including Maathai who was taken to Nairobi Hospital.[14] The police was reluctant to investigate the incident. However, the Attorney-General Amos Wako apologised to Maathai and promised an inquiry on the incident.[15]

The Time Magazine, in support of Maathai, named her a Hero of the Week in 1998.[16] Klaus Töpfer, the executive director of UNEP, warned that the organisation may move its headquarters out of Kenya if the forest faces destruction.[16] The UN Secretary General Kofi Annan also condemned the attack on Maathai.[17] Architectural Association of Kenya asked in November 1998 Kenyan architects not to be involved with any design that would threat the forest[13]

Kenyan President Daniel arap Moi criticised the protesters and asked the Church not to involve itself with the saga.[18] Minister for Natural Resources Francis Lotodo defended the projects in January 1999 stating that Nairobi as a growing city needed space for development.[15] Professor R. A. Obudho of University of Nairobi, who specialises in urbanisation, also supported the projects[19]

University of Nairobi students held several demonstrations for preservation the forest. On 20 January 1999 several students were injured when they clashed with police. The University if Nairobi was closed temporarily following the protests, and all students were ordered to leave the campus.[20] Opposition MP's James Orengo (Ford-Kenya), David Mwenje (DP) and Njehu Gatabaki (SDP) were charged in court for attending student protests.[21]

Eventually housing plans were taken down in lack of public support, but land allocations still stood in place.[9]

In 2003 the NARC government led by Mwai Kibaki replaced the long-standing Moi-led KANU-government. In 2003 the Minister of Environment Newton Kulundu denied the American investor Raymond Chisholm a permit to construct a hotel in the forest.[8] Learning that the new government would revoke dubious KANU-era land allocations, developers started to relinquish their properties in the forest[22]

The new forest act in 2005 made it more difficult to degazette forests in Kenya, thus protecting Karura Forest as well[23]

There was a project by Kenya Forest Service, UNEP and Red Cross Kenya in 2008 to cut down eucalyptus and blue gum trees in parts of the forest and plant indigenous species in their place. Green Belt Movement was doubtful with the project, fearing that logging of the forest could actually lead to private developers invading the forest[24]

In 2009 it was reported that part of the forest had been allocate to the National Environmental Management Authority (NEMA). This plan was also opposed by Wangari Maathai and the Green Belt Movement, who stated that that NEMA should be protecting, not destructing the forest.[25]

Karura Forest had a reputation as dangerous spot. Muggings, robbery and violence were common.[26] At one point, said Kenya forest official Charity Munyasia, they were discovering one dead body there per fortnight, on average.[27]

In 2009 An initiative was formed under the name 'Friends of Karura Forest Community Forest Association'.[28] Between the 2009 and 2012 this group, under the Chairmanship of Alice Macaire [29][30][31][32] and Vice Chairman Cristine Boelke Croze and in partnership with the Kenya Forest Service and the communities surround Karura, fenced, secured and transformed Karura "from the dumping site for hijackers and murderers and illegal private developers" [28] into a tourist destination. A documentary about the transformation of the forest, " Rejuvenating The Karura Forest: Danger Spots to Green Haven," was produced by Duncan Ndotono and directed by Brenda Okoth, recognizes efforts being made to nurture Karura Forest back to life [33][34]

With its newly installed fence and neatly kept nature trails, Karura Forest guests can now enjoy its 50-foot waterfall, the famous 'Father of trees in Karura forest', the Mau Mau Caves, 50 km of nature trails, Bike Track, Tennis Track at KFEET as well as field for soccer or any social event at a fee. Various species of wildlife are also found at the forest, a marshland perfect for bird-watching, a bamboo jungle, and three rivers to explore. It holds most of Kenya's important indigenous upland forest tree species, nearly all of Nairobi's 605 bird species, three types of antelopes and numerous small mammals.[28]

Friends of Karura Forest cfa can be contacted at: www.friendsofkarura.org

Current Chairman Professor Karanja Njoroge, Co. Vice Chairs Cristina Boelke Croze and Sharad Rao.[35] Chief Scout: John Chege. Patron Alice Macaire (Previous Patron the Late Prof. Wangari Maathai).


Karura Forest is now developed as a visitor's attraction. This includes creation of nature trails.[36] The first trail, which is four kilometres long and connects Limuru Road with Old Kiambu Road was opened in May 2009.[6] An electric fence has been built around the forest for security reasons.[37]

The Karura Forest Environmental Education Trust (K-FEET) was formed in 2010, and launched by the minister of Forestry Noah Wekesa.[23] It will manage an environmental education centre located in Karura Forest[38]

The Nairobi northern bypass road, under construction since 2009, will pass through a wetland which is said to feed Karura Forest, thus posing a threat to the forest.[39]


  1. ^ a b c d UNEP: Kenya, Atlas of our changing environment – Chapter 5 Page 158
  2. ^ Kenya Forest Service: Securing Karura Forests
  3. ^ BBC News, 16 August 2010: Unprecedented move
  4. ^ a b c RW Moss: Nairobi AZ Map. African Books Collective, 1999. ISBN 9966-848-00-2
  5. ^ Donald B. Freeman: A city of farmers: informal urban agriculture in the open spaces of Nairobi, Kenya. McGill-Queen's Press – MQUP, 1991 ISBN 0-7735-0822-8
  6. ^ a b Daily Nation, Lifestyle Magazine, 23 May 2009: Family trail opens at Karura
  7. ^ Kenya Forestry Research Institute: KARURA REGIONAL RESEARCH CENTRE
  8. ^ a b Daily Nation, 5 March 2003: 'No' to proposed Karura hotel
  9. ^ a b Liz Wily & Sue Mbaya: Land, people, and forests in eastern and southern Africa at the beginning of the 21st century: the impact of land relations on the role of communities in forest future. IUCN, 2001. ISBN 2-8317-0599-1
  10. ^ Daily Nation, 23 September 1998: Killing forests inhibits growth
  11. ^ Daily Nation, 17 January 1999: How the storm has gradually built up over allocation of Karura plots
  12. ^ Landscape conservation law: present trends and perspectives in international and comparative law : proceedings of a colloquium commemorating the 50th anniversary of IUCN, The World Conservation Union, 30 October 1998, Palais du Luxembourg, Paris. IUCN, 2000. ISBN 2-8317-0528-2
  13. ^ a b Daily Nation, 17 November 1998: Keep off Karura Forest, architects told
  14. ^ Daily Nation, 9 January 1999: MPs, Maathai beaten at forest
  15. ^ a b BBC News, 20 January 1999: Kenya promises inquiry into environmentalist beating
  16. ^ a b Time.com: WANGARI MAATHAI, HERO OF THE WEEK DECEMBER 28, 1998 – Her Women's Army Defies an Iron Regime
  17. ^ Chima Jacob Korieh: Gendering global transformations: gender, culture, race, and identity. Taylor & Francis, 2009. ISBN 0-415-96325-7
  18. ^ Daily Nation, 9 February 1999: Moi warns Church to keep off Karua issue
  19. ^ Daily Nation, 5 February 1999: Allow Karura allottees to develop plots – don
  20. ^ Daily Nation, 2 February 1999: Nairobi University closed after fresh riots
  21. ^ Daily Nation, 3 February 1999: Three MPs charged with inciting Karura riots
  22. ^ Daily Nation, 10 March 2003: More give up Karura Forest plots
  23. ^ a b Daily Nation, Lifestyle Magazine, 23 October 2010: Good news from Karura
  24. ^ Daily Nation, 7 October 2010: Fears as Karura Forest cleared
  25. ^ Daily Nation, 12 July 2009: Open letter to James Orengo (by Wangari Maathai)
  26. ^ Karura Forest Reserve - A Historical Perspective
  27. ^ Kenya Museum Society - Karura Forest Rejuvenated. 24 August 2011
  28. ^ a b c The Star Newspaper: From Killers' Dumping Site To Great Nature Trail, The Amazing Story Of Karura Forest
  29. ^ Kenya Forest Service - I Have Helped Make Karura Forest Safe- Alice Macaire's Love Affair With Karura
  30. ^ Standard Digital - Reclaiming Nairobi's Forests
  31. ^ Kenya Forest Service Thank you and goodbye
  32. ^ Standard Digital From battlefield to picnic site
  33. ^ The Star Kenya: Alice Macaire Delivers Keynote Speech at Friends of Karura Meet
  34. ^ Karura Forest: a Phoenix of Note
  35. ^ [1]
  36. ^ The Standard, 3 May 2010: You’ll soon tour, learn on nature in Karura Forest
  37. ^ Kenya Forest Service, 1 July 2010
  38. ^ Kenya Forest Service, 23 July 2010: Formation Of Karura Forest Environmental Education Trust (K-FEET) Underway
  39. ^ Daily Nation, 8 February 2009: Bypass construction starts without approval from environmental body

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 1°14′25″S 36°49′25″E / 1.24028°S 36.82361°E / -1.24028; 36.82361