The islands of Unguja, Pemba, Latham, Mafia, and many other smaller ones lie off of the east coast of Tanzania in the Indian Ocean. These islands make up the Zanzibar Archipelago, along with a few other islets. The coral islands in the group serve as favorite breeding ground among numerous East African seabirds. The Zanzibar Archipelago belongs to the nation of Tanzania. Among these, Unguja Island is also commonly known as Zanzibar Island itself, which is the biggest of the islands, and is one of the only two inhabited in the archipelago, the other being Pemba. The Spice Isles, as the archipelago is also known, has white sand beaches with swaying palms. The air there is said to be filled with the aroma of spices, a scent that permeates the whole span of the islands.
Indians, Arabs, and Persians were among the first to immigrate into the islands of the Zanzibar Archipelago, doing so from 633 CE and onwards. They were mostly traders, and these immigrants conducted business with the local Swahili coastal towns in the archipelago. Later, Indonesians, Malaysians, and even Chinese traders also visited the area from far away to trade with the Swahili Bantus. In 1498, Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama initiated the trade with the coastal towns from Europe. Another Portuguese expedition was later sent to exact tribute for the Crown of Portugal, which eventually made Zanzibar one of its colonies, a status that lasted for two centuries. The English also came in 1591, but made no effort to intervene in Portuguese rule. In 1635, the Portuguese built a substantial fort to defend its possession against the Mombasa. The 19th Century, however, brought the colony under English rule, which only ended with its independence in 1963, before becoming part of Tanzania in 1964.
Tourism and spice exports greatly contribute to the Zanzibar Archipelago region's economy. Fishing, seaweed production, canoe-making, and Raffia palm cultivation are other major economic earners for the archipelago as well. The free port area has long fostered free trade and support for the warehousing of commodities for both import and re-export of merchandise. Zanzibar has a local manufacturing base as well, producing shoes, cigarettes, and agricultural products. Oil reserves have also been detected on Pemba Island. The Zanzibar annual International Film Festival also attracts tourists every July. There are many historical buildings in the island as well, and Zanzibar has its own association football (soccer) teams and two universities. There is also a Judo and Karate club that competes both locally and internationally.
Habitat and Biodiversity
Zanzibar and its smaller islands have summers with strong coastal winds that help cool its climate. November brings in rains that last longer during the months of March, April, and May. Remaining coastal thickets dominate the island, except for the mangrove swamp areas. Most of the forests on the two largest islands have by now been cleared and cultivated as agricultural land. The surrounding marine sea-grass beds serve as habitats and breeding areas for numerous aquatic species. Seabirds also make the forest mangroves their nesting refuges. Among the many legendary and indigenous fauna are the Zanzibar leopard and Tree hyrax. The endangered Zanzibar Red Colobus monkey is endemic to the Jozani Chwaka Bay National Park, and other animals in the archipelago include the Pemba Island flying fox, Bush babies (a species of primates also referred to as nagapies), Sykes monkeys, butterflies, and 40 species of birds. Marine species offshore include sharks, tunas, marlins, and dolphins.
Environmental Threats and Territorial Disputes
Pemba Island, as one of the islands of Zanzibar Archipelago, is part of the autonomous region of Tanzania. In 2007, a Norwegian company visited Pemba to look into the oil production potential of the island. An issue regarding dividends that would result from oil has been a growing cause of disagreements between Zanzibar and Tanzania. The Zanzibar Islands' fauna have several endangered species as well, such as the rare, and possibly even extinct, Zanzibar leopard, which was last seen in 2003 on Ungula Island. The Zanzibar Servaline Genet (a wild cat) is another endangered species that was last photographed in 2003 inside the Jozani National Park. The Aders' Duiker (a species of small antelopes) is also an endangered species found in the park at Jozani. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources has also determined that the Jozani park is where the last remaining virgin forests indigenous to Zanzibar can be found today.