Until the mid-nineteenth century, forests covered much of Pemba Island. After that, most forests were cleared for clove cultivation. Ngezi Forest Reserve was established in northwest Pemba in the 1950s to save one of the last remaining stands of indigenous forest. The Reserve covers 1440 hectares
Ngezi Equatorial Forest Reserve Species
Ngezi Forest Reserve comprises a unique combination of vegetation types in Eastern Africa. In Ngezi, despite its coastal location, various tree species occur which on the East African mainland are only known to be found in lowland mountain forests (e.g. Quassia undulata). In addition, Southeast Asian species as well as some with Madagascan links are to be found (Musa acuminata, Typhanodorun lindleyanum). Humans have introduced some of the species while the origin of others is still a mystery. Furthermore, Ngezi has its own plant and animal species and subspecies, which don’t occur anywhere else in the world. Such species are endemics. So the forest is without doubt unique in a global sense.
Shady Forest Of Ngezi
About half of the reserve is covered by lush moist forest with thick undergrowth. These forests grow on deep alluvial soils in the central and eastern parts of the area.
Swamps, Heathlands and Thickets of Ngezi Forest
A narrow coastal belt is covered with thick bush. The ground is ancient coral rock, broken and often sharp-edged, containing pockets of soil that sustain the vegetation. This area is known as coral rag. Mangrove forests grow on the tidal coastal creeks. Small streams feed into the creeks and during high tides seawater runs deep up into the forest; sometimes forming brackish swampy areas. In the center of the Reserve, moist forest changes abruptly into heather-dominated heathland where the soil is leached sand. The heather, Philippia mafiensis, is only found on Pemba and Mafia Islands.
Flying Fox Bats of Pemba
One of the endemic species in Ngezi is the Pemba Flying Fox (Pteropus Voeltzkowi), a large bat with chestnut colored fur. Its diet consists of fruit of figs, mango, papaya and various tree blossoms. These bats play an important role in pollination and seed dispersal of both forest and cultivated trees. During the day, Flying Foxes roost upside down in the canopies of trees, often in large groups. The Pemba Flying Fox lives only in moist forests. As there are only a few patches of forest left, and the Flying Foxes are hunted for food by Pembans; Pemba Flying Fox Bat species are now endangered.
Other Mammals Of Ngezi Forest
In addition to bats – of which there are several species, both fruit-eating and insectivorous, two species of diurnal primates live in the canopies, the Pemba Vervet Monkey (Cercopithecus aethiops nesiotes) and the Zanzibar Red Colobus Monkey (Colobus badius kirkii), which was introduced to Ngezi forest in the 1970s from Unguja Island. A lazy-looking Hyrax (Dendrohyrax validus neumanni) are also present, and may be seen climbing on the trees eating leaves.
The Pemba Blue Duiker (Cephalopus monticola pembae), an antelope not much larger than a hare, hides in the undergrowth. Feral Pigs (Sus scrofa), introduced long ago by the Portuguese also live here. The only indigenous carnivore in Ngezi is the Marsh Mongoose (Atilax paludinosus rubescens), which normally live by ponds and streams. The Javan Civet Cat (Viverricula indica rasse) was probably brought to the island by Southeast Asian traders for the production of musk for perfume.
Trees As Weeds For Ngezi Forest
Exploited areas were reforested with several species of trees, both indigenous and exotic. One of the exotic is Msisi (Muesopsis eminii), which originates from African mainland mountain forests. It is a very aggressive and effective colonizer suppressing the growth of indigenous species.Attempts have been made to kill Msisi by ring barking and by uprooting its young shoots. The results are encouraging: after a few months indigenous species started to regenerate.
The Giant Plant Life of Ngezi Forest
Mjoho (Quassia Undulata) is the most common tree species of Ngezi’s moist forest. Its canopy can be up to 35 meters above the ground. Another common species in Ngezi is Mgulele (Antiaris toxicaria), the broad crown of which can grow up to 45 meters. It secretes white latex if cut. Mvule (Milicia excelsa) grows up to 50 meters and has separate male and female trees. It is one of the most sought-after timber species in East Africa.
Nourishing Ponds of Ngezi Forest
Although the soil in the forest is sandy, around the ponds it is muddy due to the organic material carried by floods during the rainy season. In this swamp, forest tree specie composition differs from the rest of Ngezi. One of the species found here is Mtomondo (Barringtonia racemosa). Its bark has a high tannin content, and is traditionally used as a fish poison.
Life In The ponds
The ponds have the own fauna of fish. These include several freshwater species e.g. freshwater eel as well as Tilapia and Clarias species, which both have probably been introduced to Pemba from the mainland long time ago. Brown Terrapins also live in this habitat feeding on invertebrates, insects, worms, mollusks and small fish.
Birds of Ngezi Forest
Several bird species, some of which are endemic to Pemba, live in Ngezi’s moist forest. Bird species living in Ngezi Forest include:
– Hadada (Bostrychia hagedash)
– African Goshawk (Accipiter tachiro pembaensis)
– Palm-nut Vulture (Gypohierax angolensis)
– Green Pigeon (Treron australis pembaensis)
– Scops Owl (Otus rutilus pembaensis)
– Malachite Kingfisher (Alcedo cristata)
– Broad-billed Roller (Eurystomus glaucurus)
– Crowned Hornbill (Tockus albotenninatus)
– Pemba White-eye (Zosterops senegalensis – vaughani)
– Black-breasted Glossy Starling (Lamprotornis corruscus vaughani)
Endemic and Endangered Biodiversity
The Mpapindi Palm (Chrysulidocarpus pembanus) is endemic to Ngezi forest where it is well established particularly inland from Verani Beach. It is included in the international list of endangered species and occurs naturally nowhere else in the world.
At Ngezi, endemic species and subspecies are found not only in plants, mammals and birds but also in butterflies. In further research of especially plants and invertebrates, more endemic species are likely to be found.
Aspiring For Light
Only a small amount of light reaches the ground of the forest through its thick foliage. Climbing plants reach high up trunks of trees to absorb more light. One of the climbers is Saba Cumoriensis, a sweet-scented, white-flowered liana, which produces fruit, which are widely sold for making juice. Some shrubs also tend to climb, e.g. Cossypioides Kirkii. Some ferns and orchids grow up on the trees as well.