South Coast of Mombasa (Kenya)


During our stay in Mombasa from 1964 to 1967 we visited quite often the Shimba Hills Forest Reserve. At those times there didn’t exist a proper entrance gate and the Shimba Hills were not fenced in either. Driving on earthen roads (called “murram”) created lot of red dust so it was advisable to keep a proper distance when following another car or even worse a truck. Starting from our home at Bamburi Beach we had to drive some 12km to get across a pontoon bridge into Mombasa Town situated on an island. Arriving at it south side one boarded a ferryboat to get over the wide Kilindini Creek that is the access to the Kilindini Harbour of Mombasa. On other side again on the mainland is Likoni settlement giving its name to the LIKONI Ferry. By continuing the drive on the South Coast road one turns right at Kwale township onto a winding ascending stretch that sometimes meant troubles due to  washouts and grooves after recent rains.

The map at left shows the Shimba Hills National Reserve. At right is an early morning view from Sable Valley towards Sheldrick Falls and Elephant Lookout at right. Common morning clouds rise above the not far away Indian Ocean.

Provided we would start early morning say at 5 am we could pass what is Kivunoni Gate now and to be at Giriama Point to watch the sunrise from there. This scene has been always a rather spectacular one when the sun disk rose out of  Indian Ocean – provided there were no low clouds on the horizon. We normally stayed out in the Hills the whole day long having picnic breakfast and lunch at any place we just choose. The forests were not dense at those days and one could see if elephants were around. It happened not once that we had to remove few tree trunks that elephants trampled onto the earthen trail in Pengo Hill. Al most on any of our visit we would see a herd of buffalos and few groups of Sable antelope with sable like mighty horns.

Female Sable antelopes in the characteristic landscape of Shimba Hills. The Main Gatesight since 2002.

On one occasion we choose the southern approach to Shimba Hills and entered  what is now the Kidongo Gate. On the way there we had to cross a deep stream near Manyatte village driving over a “bridge” consisting of two steel I-beams placed apart only. This was a scary experience not to be repeated ever after. Once we made a memorable visit to Sheldrick’s Falls where we enjoyed cool and deep shadows after a long walk there under beating and hot sunshine. We really had mulled over whether to get out to the scorching sun having to return to our cars.

At left a clearing in the Makadara Forest and the new Makadara picnic shelter built by Shimba Support Group.

Almost 35 years later we have visited the Shimba Hills in a rented car but the flora has changed tremendously since. Now SHIMBA HILLS NATIONAL RESERVE has two entrance gates Kivunoni (at north) and Kidongo (at south) and any visitor has to pay an entrance fee and extra for the car cum driver too. The Reserve is fenced in to a greater extend and earthen roadways were well maintained. However, bushes and trees grew immensely in the 35 years and the brushwood is so dense that one can hardly see through now. This a good moment to report more about National Reserve and the initiatives of SHIMBA SUPPORT GROUP to improve the gate revenues that would enable a better infrastructure maintenance and a proper wildlife management.

The sights of Shimba Hills elephants: a bull with both tusks at left, with one only at right and an encounter nearby road at centre. 

About the Conservation Area


The CONSERVATION AREA (comprising both the Shimba Hills National Reserve and the Mwaluganje Elephant Sanctuary) was officially announced in 1968. Since that time it has been jointly managed by the Forestry Department and the authority of National Wildlife Conservation that is known as the Kenya Wildlife Service today. The Reserve covers about 250km² and its highest point is Pengo Hill rising to some 500m above sea level.

A view towards the Longomagandi Forest at left and the full moon rising above the same at right.

The SHIMBA HILLS emerged as a part of the coastal ranges that emerge intermittently along the East African littoral caused by a lifting process during the Pliocene (between 2 and 10 million years ago). The area is composed of sedimentary rocks of the Duruma Sandstone series. The soil is classified as the Shimba Grit and the Mazeras Sandstone from the Upper Triassic Age (200 million years ago). The fertility status is poor to very poor due to the sandy topsoil, low organic matter content and excessive leaching. Generally they are low in all available nutrients, and critically deficient in phosphorus. Therefore, the area is marginally agricultural land, and setting it aside for wildlife and forest conservation would be practical and make it more profitable.

A few flowers from Shimba Hills from left: Stathostelma, Heinsia zanz., Isolana cauliflora and Pavetta spukunda.

The CLIMATE of the area is humid semi hot equatorial to dry semi hot tropical and  TEMPERATURES range from about 19ºC to 36ºC. The coldest months are July and August and the hottest temperatures get to just before long rains break in February and March. The northeast trade winds ("kaskazi") dominate from November and March, and the southeasterly trade winds ("kuzi") take over from April through August. The ANNUAL RAINFALL varies between 500 and 1,500mm. The wettest months last from April to July, when over half of the total yearly rainfall falls. The period from August to December is moist, with a slight increase of rainfall in October/November. The driest months are January and February. The mean relative HUMIDITY is about 80%, except in the dry season from January to March. Potential EVAPORATION varies with the cloud cover, but is about 2,000 mm. Thus, except during the wet season, the evaporation/transpiration exceeds the precipitation. There is an annual average of SUNSHINE of 8.8 hours daily. The brightest month is February, and the month with the least sunshine is May.      

Various animals in Shimba Hills from left a frog, an ostrich and giraffe, and a rare buffalo in the local surrounding.

 Notes on Mwele Mdogo Hills History

The forested knoll known as Mwele Mdogo is in the south-western corner of the Shimba Hills National Reserve. Mwele Mdogo knoll was used as a military stockade end observation post during time of some thirty-five years. Several bloody end violent actions were fought there, but today visitors may find it difficult to visualize this when they picnic or bird watch in the shades of one of Kenya’s most magnificent rainforests. Mwele Mdogo was used as a bolt hole for the Mburak faction of the wrangling coastal Arab families that  included the Mazruis at end of 19th century. The British troops had put pressure on Mburak to abandon his trade in slaves and on two occasions they evicted him from his hide-out at Mwele Mdogo after assaults that resulted in heavy casualties on both sides. Once a small British force attempted to capture Mburak they got into an ambush and their leader Captain Lawrence was killed. Lawrence’s lonely grave still exists beneath a large casuarina beside the jetty at Shimoni.

More flowers from Shimba Hills: Pentas bussei, Bauhinia mombassae, Ouratea reticulata and Fernandoa magnifica fallen flower last at right.

For a few years in early 20th century Mwele Mdogo benefited from peace as the forest undergrowth picked up. But not for too long when the British troops refortified Mwele Mdogo as the World War broke out in August 1914. Mburak lived in exile in German East Africa alias Tanganyika then. Captain Arthur Wavell of the Welch Regiment assembled 'The Arab Rifles' from local volunteers to protect the Uganda Railway end at Mombasa against frequent German incursions. A fortified observation post was built at Mwele as part of Mombasa’s defense. In early 1916, after many skirmishes Wavell and many of his regiment were caught in a well-prepared German ambush near the Mkongani waterholes not far of Mwele Mdogo. They are buried in the little war cemetery that still survives deep in the dry bush at the lee of Shimba Hills. The Wavell Memorial Gardens were opened alongside Fort Jesus in Mombasa in 1922 with an obelisk in the memory of deceased of ‘The Arab Rifles’.

Views from Mwele Mdogo forest: left Entada climber growing across the road, a clearing with Lettowianthus stallatus trees and at far right a late afternoon sunlight still gets through dense foliage.

Now Mwele Mdogo is covered with magnificent stands of tropical rainforest that conceals any evidence of British military involvement here. Nevertheless, many potsherds lie scattered on the forest floor and some almost undisturbed hideout pits of Mburak’s followers could be found during short walk through shrubs and trees disclosing signs of  earlier conflicts.


About the Animal Life in the Conservation Area


The recently established SHIMBA SUPPORT GROUP (SSG) aims to enhance game viewing in the Reserve and to facilitate the importation of new mammal species, mainly antelope such as Eland, Topi (alias Lyre antelope), Impala and Reedbuck. The removal of some exotic plants a large chunk of territorial grassland would allow better viewing of Sable antelopes. At present one finds some 25 mammals in the Reserve among these Elephants and indigenous Sable and Shirran antelopes. The bird watchers counted  about 66 birds species and the rare Palm Nut vulture. A number of butterflies some  particularly big ones found in forests and on grassland of the Shimba Hills.

At left a male Sable antelope with in shade resting herd of antelopes. An lonely adult female Sable antelope stands at right.

Shimba Hills are probably the second richest place for butterflies in Kenya, only Kakamega forest displaying more of. There exist over 250 recorded species, including some endemics named SHIMBANUS. These are found isolated in forest patches in the hills south of Mombasa and nowhere else in the world. Butterflies are literally swarming after the rains in April/May each year. Near the Main Gate (Sable entrance), there forest patches that are badly infested with “Lantana camara”. The pretty flowers of this weed provide nectar for lots of Swallowtails, Whites and Danaid butterflies. At the newly renovated “Sable Bandas” a profusion of butterflies fly around the trees when the sun is out. The stinging creeper “Urera zanzibarica” is a favorite food-plant of the Usambara Diadem that is a very local nymph butterfly with its orange-red hind wing border on the underside. The little brown Lycaenid (Blues) butterflies flutter on the stems of some trees.    

Two scenery views of the Sheldrick Falls environs.

On the walk to SHELDRICK FALLS one can see plenty of butterflies along the stream banks and below the waterfalls. At certain times of year along the Mwele Mdogo forest track there will be clouds of white and yellow butterflies, Swallowtails and Swordtails, on the fresh and steamy elephant droppings as they are looking for mineral salts.

From left: Makadara Motte, Mwele Mdogo Butterfly and Papilio Dardanus on Psorospermum febrifugum.

The highlight of a butterfly-spotting safari would be to stop at Makadara Picnic Site. Walking along the forest road one would see “Coast Glider” and Euptera, beautiful gliding butterflies perched in forest’s sunny spots. The figs lying on the forest floor  attract the “Forester” butterflies sitting with their jewel-like wings open alongside the roadside. Pengo Hill has a special little orange “Yellow Zulu” living on the algae on  exposed sun-facing black granite rocks. Some of the local villagers, along the Reserve periphery, have organized themselves to breed butterflies to pupae


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If you ever come to visit the South Coast of Mombasa do not miss to visit SHIMBA HILLS NATIONAL RESERVE. You can acquire the SSG Membership too by contacting SHIMBA SUPPROTING GROUP c/o Baobab Trust, P.O.Box 81995, Mombasa, Tel. (254)11-486155 or by E-mail: Overseas SSG Members may stay at Sable Bandas (formerly Campsite No.1 ) as the Residents. Non-residents will have to pay the $20 Reserve Entry fee. Huya Safari! Kwaheri!

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1. Karl-Wilhelm Berger KENYA & NORDTANSANIA, Reisebuch; Iwanowski’s Reisebuchverlag -
    Auflage 2000, ISBN 3-923975-25-2.


2. Newsletters No. 5 (May 2002), No.6 (August 2002) and No. 7 (December 2002). SHIMBA SUPPORT
    GROUP c/o Baobab Trust,
P.O.Box 81995 Mombasa, Kenya.E-mail:


3. For more information and data see at URL: and go to web-pages titled <Background>,
    <Objectives> and < Trustees>.

4. All photographs contributed Mrs. Sabine Baer, E-mail: .


DISCLAIMER : On URL: published pages are originals and authorized by copyright of Zvonko Z. Springer, Salzburg 1999.