The whole group jumps as suddenly the leaves far above our heads rustle. Looking up I can barely see the tail of a red monkey disappear behind the huge leaves of a palm tree. I hurry to get my camera out of the backpack and try to catch one of the agile little animals jumping from tree to tree but they always manage to hide away from my lens. It is a beautiful spectacle that you get to see walking through the Masingini Forest Reserve just north of Zanzibar-City.
A few weeks ago we, that is, a group of friends and volunteers at SEA, went for a tour through the reserve, which was established in 1950. The deep forest area is home to a great diversity of flora as well as fauna and is a vital water catchment for the city. Recently, the staff here have begun to encourage tourists to visit so that the preservation of the forest can be kept up with a regular income that does not rest upon chopping down rare trees (illegally – as they are protected)!
Walking through the area feels like being in a rainforest and we reached this calm and relaxing place after just a 15 minutes’ drive from Stone Town. The newly signposted trails build a grid allowing you to choose the length of your walk freely, and frequently located seating corners invite you to have little breaks in between. Sometimes little diversions lead to spots providing wonderful views into the deeper parts of the forest. From a platform on top of a small wooden tower at one end of the paths we could even see Stone Town and the sea. Sunset watching from this high point must be incredible.
Assistant Forestry Officer, Hassan, led us through the green oasis on one of the narrow paths. He might not be born to be an entertainer but certainly the young forestry graduate has a lot of knowledge about the many species of trees and animals in the forest and gave us a very interesting tour that took about one hour. Three local tour guides to-be are attending Tour Guide training with Kawa Training Centre in Stone Town.
Some of the trees in which the red and black colobus monkeys play hide and seek can be found nowhere on the island of Unguja but within the 1 800 hectares of Masingini Forest. ‘Exotic’ foreign species endangering the population of rare indigenous species are ripped out so they cannot expand any further and the reserve’s staff try to prevent the inhabitants of the ambient villages from using endangered trees for fire wood. According to our guide it is important to involve them in the possibility of earning money through tourism, as up until now many livelihoods were subsidised by selling, or gathering for firewood, the wood out of the reserve. Other income generating activities, such as bee-keeping, are also being encouraged.
By visiting the forest, you can support these good intentions and have an amazing and relaxing relief from the buzzing city at the same time – different to anywhere else on Unguja!