The birdlife of Pemba is unique and the whole island is designated as an Important Bird Area by Birdlife International. This is due to the populations of globally threatened and range restricted species of bird which includes the Pemba Scops-owl (Otus pembaensis), the Pemba Green-pigeon (Treron pembaensis) and the Pemba Sunbird (Cinnyris pembae) and the Pemba White-eye (Zosterops vaughani) shown below. The sunbird is a daily visitor to any flowering plant around our offices and like all sunbirds the male has a magnificent, iridescent plumage whilst the female is a dull, olive brown colouring.
There are three endemic species of plant found on Pemba Island; the Pemba Palm (Dypsis pembana), the Pemba Aloe (Aloe pembana) and Erica mafiensis. Very little is known about Erica mafiensis, however both the aloe and palm are threatened as a result of land use change, the palm is logged for use in local construction projects, whilst the aloe is collected for medicinal purposes. Despite the threats to the Pemba Palm the population trend is considered stable due to the protection offered by the Ngezi-Vumawimbi Nature Forest Reserve where the species is primarily found. The Pemba Aloe is only found on Misali Island off the western coast of Pemba, where it grows in shaded areas near the beach. Unlike the Ngezi forest, this area is not protected and as a result, the number of Pemba Aloe plants are decreasing, and the species is assessed as Critically Endangered by the IUCN.
The reptiles are a lesser known group of endemics and include four species of snake; the Pemba Worm Snake (Leptotyphlops pembae), the Pemba Wolf Snake (Lycophidion pembanum), the Pemba Gracile Blind Snake (Letheobia pembana) and the Pemba Marsh Snake (Natriciteres pembana), one species of skink, the Pemba Speckle-lipped Skink (Trachylepis albotaeniata) and one lizard, the Pemba Day Gecko (Phelsuma parkeri).
Although the reptiles of Pemba are poorly understood and their range limited, it is thought that they are better able to adapt to land use change than some other species and are known to inhabit agricultural and urban areas. We frequently encounter the Pemba Day Gecko having a sunbathe or the tiny Pemba Worm Snake amongst disturbed earth.
The majority of Pemba’s natural forest vegetation has been cleared and converted into open farmland to grow crops. Some species, such as the reptiles and the Pemba White-eye have been able to adapt to the changes in habitat and their populations appear to be stable. Others, such as the Scops-owl and the flying fox, have suffered as a result of the severe habitat fragmentation and loss of native forest. Their populations are now confined to the few, small pockets of natural forest which remain.
Here at the Kwanini Foundation we want to ensure these magnificent fauna and flora are here to stay on Pemba and in the future we hope to set-up conservation projects which will establish the current population status of Pemba’s endemics and implement the necessary measures to protect and reverse the declining numbers.
If you are interested in hearing more about our projects or making a donation to the Kwanini Foundation please send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information or donate online via the link at the bottom of this article.
Sources of information
BirdLife International (2019) Important Bird Areas factsheet: Pemba Island. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 17/05/2019.
Butynski, T.M. and de Jong, Y.A. (2011). Zanzibar red colobus on Pemba Island, Tanzania: population status 38 years post-introduction. In Book: Soorae, P. S. (ed.) (2011). Global Re-introduction Perspectives: 2011. More case studies from around the globe. Gland, Switzerland: IUCN/SSC Re-introduction Specialist Group and Abu Dhabi, UAE: Environment Agency-Abu Dhabi. xiv + 250 pp.
Eastern Arc Mountains & Coastal Forests CEPF Plant Assessment Project Participants 2009. Aloe pembana. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2009: .T158037A5183949. http://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2009-2.RLTS.T158037A5183949.en. Downloaded on 17 May 2019.
Entwistle, A. (2001). Community-based protection successful for the Pemba flying fox. Oryx 35(4): 353-358.
Entwistle, A. and Corp, N. (1997). Status and distribution of the Pemba flying fox Pteropus voeltzkowi. Oryx 31: 135-142.
Entwistle, A.C. & Juma, J. 2016. Pteropus voeltzkowi. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2016: e.T18768A22089205. http://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2016-1.RLTS.T18768A22089205.en. Downloaded on 17 May 2019.
Hawlitschek, O., Glaw, F. and Rödder, D. (no date). Herpetological Treasure Trove in the Indian Ocean. Reptilia 97-109.
IUCN. (2012). IUCN Red List Categories and Criteria: Version 3.1. Second edition. Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge, UK: IUCN. iv + 32pp.
Meng, H. et al. (2016). Tanzania’s reptile biodiversity: Distribution, threats and climate change vulnerability. Biological Conservation 204: 72-82.
Spawls, S., Howell, K., Hinkel, H. and Menegon, M. (2018). Field Guide to East African Reptiles. 2nd Edition. Bloomsbury, London.
Stanley, W.T. (2008). A new species of Mops (Molossidae) from Pemba Island, Tanzania. Acta Chiropterologica 10(2): 183-192. Stevenson, T. and Fanshawe, J. (2002). Birds of East Africa. Helm Field Guides.