Zanzibar archipelago is part of the ecoregion dominated by the Nothern Zanzibar-Inhambane forest mosaic covering part of the coastal areas of East Africa. It is a region of rich biodiversity with species ranging from the purely mountainous type to those thriving well under coastal aquatic or marine habitats. However, the list of Zanzibar faunae is not broad compared to that of the adjacent areas of the mainland of East Africa. This is particularly true for higher animals such as birds, reptiles, amphibians and mammals but for lower animals differences may not be substantial. Unguja seems to have much wider faunal list compared to Pemba but there are some families only available in Pemba and not found elsewhere in this region. Therefore, there is a very high level of endemism particularly on the island of Pemba.
Notwithstanding the disappointing comparison of Zanzibar fauna to that of the mainland, visitors will be surprised by the diversity of species found in the islands of Unguja and Pemba. Ironic, however, many visitors are interested in the list of animals endemic to Zanzibar and no wonder we witness an enormous interest on the Red Colobus Monkey or Kima Punju in Swahili (Procolobus kirkii) and the Pemba Flying Fox, Pteropus voeltzkowi (Swahili: Popo wa Pemba). For natives of Zanzibar, who have seen colourful lizards, exciting frogs and toads, variety of birds, and other animals freely roaming in the wilderness, the attention is given to few endemic species tends to understate the reality.
On this section, a brief description of Zanzibar faunae is given. However, only terrestrial or aquatic species are covered and for the general account of marine species, please visit the marine and fisheries resources on this website.
In general, Zanzibar has a huge collection of arthropods. Insects form the largest group among the arthropods and its not easy to present a complete list of all the species found in Zanzibar. However, giant butterflies, grasshoppers, leafhoppers, moths, dragonflies, wasps, honeybees, mantids, beetles, ants, and many more are abundant. Insects are often accused of either being nuisance or a threat to human life by directly damaging agricultural crops and products or acting as vectors working to spread some deadly diseases. Nevertheless, insects are ecologically very useful organisms working to either degrade organic matter, cross-pollinate flowering plants or even produce useful products, the case of honeybees. They are part of the ecosystem and plays a significant role in maintaining the ecological balance of the existing species.
Common insect vectors and pests in Zanzibar include mosquitoes and houseflies. Mosquitoes, types – anopheles and culex, carry parasites that cause malaria and elephantiasis in humans. These are the two diseases affecting a large section of the population. Despite rigorous eradication campaigns it has not been possible to slow down the growth of mosquito populations in Zanzibar.
There are also a number of agriculturally important pests such as the coconut bug (Pseudotheraptus wayi), coconut beetles, weevils (banana and sweet potato), moths (Lepidoptera) and many kinds of sucking bugs (Hemiptera) including Cassava mealybugs (Phenacoccus manihoti). Tsetse flies (ndorobo in Swahili) of the species Glossina austeni, which are vectors of trypanosomiasis in livestock and sleeping sickness in man have been eradicated in Zanzibar by a project that applied the Sterile Insect Technique (SIT).
Other arthropods in Zanzibar include the arachnids (spiders, scorpions and ticks). A number of spider and scorpion species are found but local knowledge on the characteristic features of these species is very limited. Ticks are mainly of agricultural significance due to their role in spreading livestock diseases. Common types include some species of hard ticks such as the Brown ear tick or Kupe wekundu in Swahili (Rhipicephalus appendiculutus), the blue tick or Kupe vitumbo in Swahili (Boophilus spp), and Amblyomma ticks, notably A. variegatum or Kupe vijiwe in Swahili.
Several kinds of centipedes, some mildly poisonous, are found in Zanzibar but for many, interest is focused on the giant millipedes. Thought to have been introduced, sometimes during the Omanis rule, the 200 plus legged creatures originally confined to few localities are now observed in many corners of the archipelago.
Crustaceans are abundant but mainly of marine origin. There are however a number of species inhabiting the wet as well as the dry areas of the islands. An example would be the famous giant coconut crab found on Chumbe Island. In fact, this crab is found in many other places and very abundant in the southern coast of Pemba. In southern Pemba, it is locally known as “tuu“, the name seems to have been derived from the sound this crab make when cracking a coconut (my guess!). In Pemba, some semi-terrestrial crabs, locally known as “Kaa-dondo” can be found close to streams and lakes and under rocks in the drier coral rag areas.
Annelids (e.g. earthworms and leeches) and Molluscs (e.g. snails and slugs) are abundant in Zanzibar. Earthworms are everywhere but more numerous in the deep soil areas on the western side of Unguja and Pemba islands. Leeches (Swahili: mwata or ruba) are common in some parts of Unguja and Nothern Pemba.
In Zanzibar, land snails include one species of the giant land snail (Achatina reticulata) that can reach a length of more than 15 cm and the smaller ( Achatina iredalei). There are also aquatic snails belonging to the Bulinus africanus group (e.g. B. globosus and B. nasutus) that are known to act as intermediate hosts for the parasite that causes Urinary Schistosomiasis. Slugs, which are closely related to snails but have no external shells, are found in Zanzibar in wet or moist areas.
Zanzibar’s mammal population is very small with only 54 terrestrial species, out of which 23 species are bats. Most of the mammals are found in Unguja island with very few of them found in the sister island of Pemba. Major mammal species include:
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