Day 9 – Trip to Ngangao

Today was the last of our three hiking/forest days and the location was none less than the famous Ngangao mist forest. Most of our university’s geography students may have heard at some gis-courses about the research done at Ngangao and possibly have seen aerial pictures taken by our university’s research groups. The forest is located about 10 km from Wundanyi and is one of the considerably well preserved indigenous forests in the area with about 124 hectars of indigenous forest (Pellikka 2009). After hearing so much about the area it was really interesting to actually experience and see it ourselves.

Our route through the forest (Map by: Niklas & Hanna)

This time we didn’t have any spesific assignment for the trip and we focused just to enjoy the forest and the environment. We confronted minor setbacks on our way to the forest when a truck was stuck sideways on the way of our bus so we had to walk from a bit further away than planned. Also our course assistant Petra had to leave to the station early because of a foot injury. Other than those the trip was a success and because of the extra walk from the bus we actually got to see some monkeys hanging on the trees on the way. The terrain was also quite a lot easier than at Vuria or Kasigau and the weather in the shady rainforest was nice and cool so the day was really relaxing and a nice ending to our forest hikes in the area.

Truck blocking the way (Photo: Niklas Sädekoski)

Of course we weren’t totally idle and we learned a lot about the species and the situation in the forest from our own professor of biology Jouko Rikkinen, stations research assistant Darius who knows everything about the local flora and also from the forest rangers who lead us around the forest. The chancellor of the university of Helsinki, Kaarle Hämeri, who joined our fellowship after the TAITAGIS kickoff, also shared some of his knowledge about the athmospherical phenomena.

Our first stop was at the biggest and propably also oldest tree in the forest (in the picture) which was about 6 geographers and one geologist in diameter. Next we continued through the forest exploring also the exotic pine areas where the indigenous forest has been totally perished. Near the other end of the forest we had lunch at an open rock, again with a spectacular view with mount Kilimanjaro in the distance.

Measuring the diameter of the biggest tree in the forest (Photo: Ari-Pekka Jokinen)
Our lunch break view,
Kilimanjaro can be seen on the left (Photo: Niklas Sädekoski)

After lunch we went to check out some of our university’s research equipment in the forest (rainfall collectors, moss moisture collectors and iButton Hygrochron temperature and humidity loggers for example). From there on we walked back through the forest to the bus, occasionally stopping to wonder the great trees and plants in the forest. After we had been driving away from the forest for a while our research assistant Mwadime shouted to stop the bus and noted that ”We have left our chancellor behind!!”. Fortunately this was not the case, the chancellor apparently just had some extra energy left and had decided to run back to the station. When we arrived to the station, the chancellor was already waiting for us (to our defence, the mountain roads weren’t in very good condition!).

The rest of the day we spent relaxing in the station saunaing(??) and preparing for tomorrows safari trip!

A walking stick on Aleksi’s face (Photo: Hanna Rantanen)
Bugs were really fond of Aleksi on this day (or the other way around..?) (Photo: Hanna Rantanen)

-Niklas & Hanna



Pellikka, Petri & Lötjönen, Milla & Siljander, Mika & Lens, Luc. (2009). Airborne remote sensing of spatiotemporal change (1955–2004) in indigenous and exotic forest cover in the Taita Hills, Kenya. International Journal of Applied Earth Observation and Geoinformation. 11. 221-232.

Day 5 – Participatory GIS-practice in Wundanyi town

Today we had a small introduction to participatory GIS (P-GIS). The main idea is to apply GIS methods without digital devices and report the results back to the community so that the people have access to the data. We will shortly clarify the methodological background behind P-GIS, experiences from the practical exercise and the main results.

Participatory research has evolved during the last decades. It started in 1970’s called as ‘Rapid Rural Appraisal’. The main idea was to question positivist perspectives to field research that included top-down approach. The scientists aimed to abandon preformulated questions and tried to learn from locals instead. This represented the general change in development thinking in the field of geography. In the 1980’s the focus turned more into methods, attitudes, behaviour and sharing. The focus was more in the local interests and they were more involved in control, use and analysis of the research data. Importantly, facilitators were in charge of conducting the field research that had not been self-evident in the previous decades. In order to understand the research situation holistically, the focus turned also into gender, power and other socio-economic factors. In the 1990’s perspective turned from rural to more general concept, hence the name ‘Participatory Learning and Action’. The new focus was to emphasize the awareness of the community instead of amount of information. PRA is considered as a tool for change, empowerment and increasing awareness and skills. Ideally, P-GIS is a way to break the language barriers between academics and locals for the phenomena that cannot be studied otherwise.

The aim of the practical exercise was to spatialize cozy places and unpleasant places in Wundanyi area. The target groups were adult women aged 18-50, adult men aged 18-50, elderly women over 50 years old and elderly men over 50 years old. Each student group interviewed one participant group so that both groups interviewing men had at least one male member. Participants were asked to identify locations, which they found pleasant and unpleasant either as points or polygons on the orthographic map. Each group interviewed ten persons individually so that every target group was represented. Interviews were combined together as per target group to represent the experiences and views about Wundanyi town. Produced maps will be placed in the local library so that everyone will have access to them. After the interviews the results were discussed and presented for the student groups.

Work in process: combining the interviews into one map (Photo Maiju Palosaari)
Presenting the results for the groups (Photo Maiju Palosaari)

Women aged 18-50

The main finding was that women aged 18-50 found social places such as market place and football field the most pleasant because of the possibility to meet family and friends. The second most pleasant places were workplaces and also the importance of climate and nature was mentioned. As for the unpleasant places, people were significantly more reluctant to talk about them but rather Wundanyi was considered as a perfect place for living. Only two women mentioned hot places and too crowded football field as unpleasant. After some interviews, it was brought out that women do not go to the center in the evening or in the night time at all so the time was a relevant factor.

Results of the interviews from target group ‘Women aged 18-50’ (Photo Maiju Palosaari)

Elderly women over 50 years

Elderly women found homes to be the most comfortable places. They also enjoyed market places, church and some other practical places. Market place was also mentioned as unpleasant place because of the noise. Otherwise elderly women were reluctant to mention any unpleasant places.

Results of the interviews from target group ‘Elderly women over 50 years old’ (Photo Maiju Palosaari)

Men aged 18-50

Young men liked the places where one can hang around such as the market, football field, gas station and bus station. They also appreciated climate and green nature. As bad places they mentioned sanitary and sewage problems around the town and a place known for drug usage.

Results of the interviews from target group ‘Men aged 18-50’ (Photo Maiju Palosaari)

Elderly men over 50 years old

Elderly men appreciated forests and hills more over market places. They praised Wundayi for its climate and nature and possibility to get whatever one needs. Homes, hotels and working places were also mentioned as good places. Football field was also seen as a political place for big gatherings. In line with other responses, also elderly men fund Wundayi as a good place for living. For elderly men the map was the most interesting part of the interview event though they were the only group that did not want to draw on the map.

Results of the interviews from target group ‘Elderly men over 50 years old’ (Photo Maiju Palosaari)

As a conclusion some general aspects common for every target group were language barriers, hospitality bias and a lack of map reading skills. The lack of English skills of some respondents caused challenges in communication. Unwillingness to mention any bad places could be explained as hospitality bias that refers to peoples’ politeness to only discuss positives aspects of Wundayi. Some respondents found it difficult to orientate and read the black and white map. Also, the student groups’ unawareness of the area hindered the ability to locate some of the mentioned places.

The empowering participatory aspect of P-GIS allows a stronger engagement with the topic in hand. At the end, all the students enjoyed the exercise and agreed on the important perspectives that P-GIS has to offer.

Anni & Maiju

Day 2-Sisal, termites and deforestation


At 8 o’clock we were supposed to meet the elders of nearby families. As they were suddenly detained, we instead heard of the wonderful medicinal uses of ricin plant, and also of its horrific purposes in the biological warfare. We also had the chance to see the Taita White-eye Zosterops poliogaster ssp. silvanus, wonderful little bird endemic to Taita Hills and Mt. Kasigau.

First stop of the day, sisal-plantation was a nation of its own: in the middle of its fields there was a small village with all the social facilities including post, school and church for the workers. The plantation indeed provides its workers with economical sustainability and security, perhaps thus discouraging them from leaving. We met with the son of the manager, Jason Collette, who gave us a comprehensive tour of the premises. He told us that we were on the largest sisal plantation in the world, employing 2000 workers and providing housing for 5000 people altogether. One of the themes of our field course, water balance and land use changes in Taita Hills, were brought up. Mr Collette had also noticed the dwindling of the water resources in the past 17 years. Nowadays the farm has started to rely on wells over 200 m deep. The tour on the sisal fiber factory was very informative and included a fiber treatment waste pile that had been burning for over 30 years, and a factory tour. The waste pile boasted a quite wide range of interesting birds, for example a Spur-Winged Lapwing, Vanellus spinosus.  Lastly, we discussed the GIS-applications that could benefit the plantation and how the University could use the plantation in their calibrations.

Our group pondering the implications of the sisal waste pile.

We drove to the Sagala lodge, where there were German termite specialists and a pool. After a quick poolside refreshment, we learned about the whistling acacias. Ants might be the ones making these trees whistle, thus telling the herbivores to stay away. This adds to the interesting symbiosis of the plant and its keepers. We also learned about the newest advancements in bee-keeping and social patterns of bees and termites, and visited a termite nest. From the tree on the lodge’s yard watched us a delightful White-bellied Go-away-bird, Corythaixoides leucogaster.

Acacia spine being interviewed.

Our last stop was a visit to the Wildlife Works station.  Established in 1997, Wildlife works is a part of the REDD-project in Kenya, which aims to reduce emissions from deforestation and degradation. They wish to achieve this by consumer-powered conservation methods. Gaining funds by selling carbon credits, they use the money to reduce harmful charcoal burning in the area, while also providing safe passage for the elephants to pass from Tsavo West National park to Tsavo East. They are also included in guarding the forests and providing work for the women of the area. They also provide education for all age groups and seek to entice the community by participatory projects, such as theatre, sports and community meetings. Our group was very enthusiastic supporting their cause when visiting the Wildlife Works factory gift-shop. Our group was also enthralled about d’Arnaud’s barbet, Trachyphonus darnoudii.

Route of day 2.
White-bellied Go-away-bird

Inka Voutilainen & Joona Koskinen

Day 1 – Taita Hills and Wundanyi

The first day at the station we spent by getting to know with Wundanyi and the station area, and by visiting some local officials and local people.

The day started by walking (after delicious breakfast at the station) to the Taita forest service office, which is located quite near the station. However we managed to be late from the appointment because of all the interesting fauna and flora on the way (obviously we had to stop several times to take pictures and listen to interesting lectures about them). At the forest service office the assistant county forest coordinator told us about the forest management in the Taita region. We learned a lot about the situation of the regional forests, waters and soil and for example what kind of effect exotic species and climate change has to them.

Army ants on the track to Taita forest service office.

After that we continued to meet the Taita subcounty commissioner, Francis K Kazungu to deliver some research permission papers and at the same time we got a short and informative lesson about the governance systems in Kenya.

Next we visited a non-governmental organization, Taita Taveta wildlife forum and Dawson Nyumba, from whom we learned more about the local trees, plants and farmers. We were told that some of the main problems are the reduced water resources and loss of biodiversity. The organization trying to get the farmers to plant indigenous trees and plants, but are facing a lot of problems convincing the farmers of the long term profits of using them. Mostly because the farmers need short term economical profit to feed themselves and their families. Focusing to this important and interesting lecture was however partly difficult because of the cute and curious monkeys on the nearby trees watching us and occasionally throwing some small sticks and half eaten fruits at us (mostly at Petra).

Dawson from the Taita Taveta wildlife forum giving a lecture.
Curious grivet also following the lecture.

After meeting with the officials and forest management people, we moved to see actual farm and plantations at our stations research assistan Darius’ farm. Darius introduced us to his home and family and gave us a interesting tour around his plantations. The relatively small farm consists of a few cows, chickens and variety of trees and edible plants from bananas to eggplants on several terraces of crops. From the dung of the cows he produces biogas to cooking and the residual is used as fertilizer for the crops.

Biogas producing system – From manure to biogas and fertilizer.

Later we got familiar with the Wundanyi center and markets and also with the proposed botanical garden area next to the research station. After eating a well deserved dinner at the station we got to use the great sauna of the station (build by a finnish taxidermist/sauna building expert at Kenya).

The day was full of plans and a lot of new information to process, but still we found (made) time to explore and wonder the surrounding nature and environment. From time to time it was hard to concentrate on the on going lectures and topics with so much disturbance and interesting activites around us (e.g. monkeys hopping behind the lecturer and throwing stuff at us, numerous birds flying around…). All and all everything has been great, locals and the station staff have been extremely nice and we have already learned so much on our first day at the Taita Hills!

Field course group and Darius.


Niklas & Hanna