Encounter the colobus monkey colony in this beautiful national park.
Roughly halfway between Zanzibar Town and the broad beaches of the southeast coast is a lush area of protected forest reserve, the Jozani-Chwaka Bay National Park, and small, rural villages lining the road. It’s a gentle part of the island, with little development and some of Zanzibar’s best opportunities for viewing land animals. The communities here are increasingly involved in a number of conservation projects and even though the forest is an ever-popular, sometimes busy, destination for visitors, the neat boardwalks, diversity of dense vegetation and terrestrial mammals make for a great escape from the sunloungers and souvenir stalls of the rest of the island. For smaller-scale insect and reptile encounters, the new Butterfly Centre and Zala Park are worthy add-ons to a trip in the area.
This national park incorporates the largest area of mature indigenous forest remaining on Zanzibar, although today it is only a tiny remnant of the forest that once covered much of the island. It stands on the isthmus of low-lying land which links the northern and southern parts of the island, to the south of Chwaka Bay. The area is prone to flooding in the rainy season, giving rise to its unique ‘swamp-forest’ environment, and the large moisture-loving trees, stands of palm and fern, and high water table and humid air give the forest a cool, ‘tropical’ feel.
Developed from a partnership between the Zanzibar government’s Commission for Natural Resources and the charity CARE International, with funding from various sources including the government of Austria, the Ford Foundation and the Global Environment Facility, the park has clear targets to protect natural resources and improve conditions for local people and wildlife in the area.
A network of nature trails has been established. The main one takes about an hour to follow at a leisurely pace, with numbered points of interest which relate to a well-written information sheet which you can buy for a nominal cost at the reception desk. There are also several shorter loops. Some other information leaflets and species lists are also available, and there are a few very good display boards and other exhibits.
As you walk around the nature trails, it’s possible to see lots of birds and probably a few colobus and Sykes’ monkeys, but these animals are shy, and will leap through the trees as soon as they hear people approaching. On the south side of the main road live two groups of monkeys who are more used to humans and with a guide you can come and watch these at close quarters. This is ideal animal viewing – the monkeys are aware of your presence but not disturbed. They are not tame, and don’t come close, but just get on with their usual feeding, playing, grooming or resting. As the colobus monkeys look so cute, some visitors have been tempted to try to stroke them or give sweets to them. This is bad for the monkeys, but can be bad for tourists too – several people have been given a nasty nip or scratch. Look but don’t touch.
Mangrove in Jozani-Chwaka National Park © Fanny Schertzer, Wikimedia Commons
South of the forest, a long thin creek juts in from the sea, and is lined with mangrove trees. A fascinating boardwalk has been constructed, the only one of its type in east Africa, so you can easily and harmlessly go deep into the mangrove to experience this unique ecosystem. This is also a community project, and revenue from vistors coming to the boardwalk helps fund local development projects.