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Colobus Conservation, restoring Kenya’s coasts to protect monkeys

With the degradation of Kenya’s coastal forests colobus monkeys are struggling to survive. We visit the Colobus Conservation centre, working to save these rare animals.

The rare Angolan black and white colobus monkey lives high in the trees and hardly ever comes down to the ground. It is a leaf eater and the forest is essential to its survival. On the southern coast of Kenya, where the coral rag forests which are extremely rich in biodiversity have slowly been disappearing in favour of cottages and big tourist resorts, colobus monkey numbers are under threat.

A baboon in Diani, Kenya © Sarine Arslanian
A baboon in Diani, Kenya © Sarine Arslanian

Colobus Conservation

Habitat loss is the biggest problem for threatened colobus monkey,” says Tony, local guide for an organisation that aims to protect local primate species, Colobus Conservation in Diani, Kenya. “We now have a lot more yellow baboons who love open areas,” he adds. Following the annual census conducted in Diani every October, which counts the number of monkeys living within a radius of 10 kilometres, the number of baboons has gone up from 156 to 186, whereas the number of Colobus monkeys has decreased from 399 to 372 in two years.

Diani’s forests are part of the Coastal Forests of Eastern Africa Global Biodiversity Hotspot. This hotspot covers Africa’s eastern edge starting from Southern Somalia’s Jubba and Shabelle rivers and ends at the Limpopo river in Mozambique. Today due to urbanisation and agriculture around 90 per cent of the vegetation within this hotspot has been lost. Indeed, from the original 300,000 square kilometres, (approximately) only 30,000 remain. However, what is left of the forest is still home to astonishing levels of biodiversity, and the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund is working hard to protect this vital ecosystem by supporting conservation projects which focus on civil society participation.

But there are other challenges too. Colobus monkeys don’t necessarily distinguish between tree branches and overhead power lines, which can be very dangerous as they leap from tree to tree. They’re also picky eaters who love to feed themselves on baobab trees and other indigenous trees such as the Mkongolo.

This is the release of a colobus that came to the centre due to severe injuries to the face, the cause was unknown © Kelly Martin
The release of a colobus that came to the centre due to severe injuries to the face, the cause of which was unknown © Kelly Martin

A rescue centre for primates

At the primate conservation and rescue centre which opened its doors in 1997, the team trims branches near power lines and lobbies for their insulation to protect resident monkeys. They build aerial bridge ladders called ‘colobridges’ going from the top of trees to others across the road. They also engage in native tree planting to satisfy the colobus monkeys’ nutritional needs.

Moreover, Colobus Conservation runs an animal welfare programme where they save and rehabilitate over 150 colobus monkeys, vervets, sykes, bush babies and baboons a year. These receive onsite treatment before being re-introduced into the wild.

Betsy; the first hand reared Angolan black and white colobus in the world © Kelly Martin
Betsy, the first hand-reared Angolan black and white colobus in the world © Kelly Martin

Betsy the Angolan black and white colobus

In 2011, the centre welcomed Betsy, the first hand-reared Angolan black and white colobus in the world. “Before this no one had been able to hand-rear Angolan colobus due to their incredibly complex diet and sensitive temperament,” says Conservation Manager Kelly Martin. “Betsy now helps hand-rear other orphan colobus, preparing them for release”.

The orphan care and rehabilitation centre is surrounded by a fence to minimise human contact and an in-house vet is present 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

School children visit the centre every week during term time to spend the day learning about conservation and local wildlife © Kelly Martin
School children visit the centre every week during term time to spend the day learning about conservation and local wildlife © Kelly Martin

In addition, the team works to educate the local community on conservation issues and local wildlife by carrying out weekly workshops for primary and secondary school children. For anyone interested in learning more about these monkey’s survival, you can visit the centre in Diani and walk around the forest to see them in their natural habitat.

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