Endangered Species & Wild Animals
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Wildside: Colobus Monkeys in Kenya
Learn about the efforts to save colobus monkeys in Diani, Kenya. African wildlife are not the only animal you can read about in our series about armchair conservation. Take a walk on the wildside to glean knowledge and tips about saving primates.
Save the Colobus Monkeys in Diani, Kenya
Copyright © By Paula Kahumbu
Backyard conservation efforts are some of the most effective methods to really saving habitat and the wildlife within it. This group, formed in 1996, will hold a workshop with the Kenya Wildlife Service and national Museums of Kenya in February of 1997 on habitat conservation issues. Their lobbying for speed bumps on the road and actual construction of four of the proposed ten "colobridges" is becoming a reality in just a very short time. This is a critical project since the population of primates in Diani has already declines by about 30% from 1989 to 1996.
The Angolan colobus monkey (Colobus angolensis palliatus) is
a large conspicuously handsome black and white monkey with an extraordinarily
gentle nature. Dressed in flowing glossy black coats with contrasting
long white shoulder flashes, it has a black impish face surrounded
by contrasting long white cheek hairs. These are welcomed frequent
visitors to private gardens and hotels in the seaside resort area
of Diani on the south coast of Kenya. Long time Diani residents
are proud of their resident colobus troops that quietly have become
an expected component of a successful garden.
Although not currently listed as threatened, the Angolan colobus monkey is at least susceptible to extinction as result of habitat loss (Oates, personal comment). This sub-species is now restricted to the northern Tanzanian highlands and southern Kenyan coastal forests. It has already disappeared from much of its former range, and now occurs as pockets in the fragmented isolated forest patches.
In Kenya the colobus is afforded protection only in the Shimba Hills while other populations in Diani, Shimoni, and Chale forests are likely to decline and disappear unless ongoing forest clearance is checked. Already over 75% of the forest cover has disappeared in Diani, leading to the disappearance of lion, leopard, spotted hyena and elephants.
Many other mammals survive in these fragmented forest patches. These animals include numerous species of primates, small antelope, mongoose, and a variety of other types of animals. Some of these mammals are rare and are threatened with local extinction. In addition, we have a bird list of 133 species for this forest that includes the endemic and rare Uluguru sunbird (Anthreptes collaris).
Recent events, however, have led some to believe that the colobus population is declining as a result of habitat loss and the unusually high rate of road kills. This has sparked an emotional outcry against forest clearing and high speed traffic on the main road, and has led to a publicity campaign, to 'Save the Colobus', which aims to brings the residents of Diani together in a joint effort to save Diani's mascot.
The forest loss threatens the long term future of the colobus monkeys throughout their range, however, in Diani, they face the added threat that they are unusually handicapped when it comes to crossing the high speed beach road. Over a period of less than three months, we recorded 17 road killed colobus monkeys along a stretch of road no more than 2 kilometers long.
We know that their dependence on leaves restricts these monkeys to forest habitats which have been bisected by the main beach road in Diani. They cross this road frequently during the long dry season (September to November) when the availability of food (new leaf shoots) is particularly low and they are forced to expand their home ranges. All the other monkey species are apparently road smart and safely cross the road, at least most of the time.
Colobus monkeys are uniquely clumsy on the ground and don't run but bound in a manner more akin to squirrels than monkeys. When crossing the road it seems as though only the leader looks before leaping, while all followers sprint across in nervous rapid succession. Many motorists have admitted to hitting colobus monkeys, but they often blame the monkeys for unpredictable behavior. Since we can't educate the monkeys, we must convince motorists that they have to be more alert.
The colobus campaign was initiated by a group of concerned residents of Diani who tried unsuccessfully to save an injured female colobus, one of a pair that were killed within minutes of each other by separate vehicles.The shocking incident catalyzed us into action and the movement began. Our immediate response was to build arboreal colobus bridges, or 'colobridges', which we erected to link trees on each side of the road. We put up four in places known to be favorite crossing points, and accident black spots.
The results were not wholly satisfying, although some colobus monkey troops do use them, some monkeys continue to be killed on the road near the bridges. They do not utilize them regularly and may be too conservative to suddenly change their routes. The sykes monkeys (Cercopithecus mitis albogularis), on the other hand, adopted these bridges in preference to the balancing act of crossing on single telephone wires. We are hoping that the colobus monkeys will learn from the sykes, that these bridges really are useful and safe. To convince them, we may need to lure them with gifts of sweet potato leaves which we are planning to grow on a nearby farm.
Longer term initiatives that we have been pursuing, include publicity and public education. To date this has involved exposing destroyers of forest and by employing radical measures to put pressure on one land owner to stop felling forest trees. We would prefer, however, to find ways of convincing property developers that forest destruction is not necessary or beneficial to the tourism industry, and that in tomorrow's world, ecotourism and environmentally friendly projects will be much more popular than the cheap mass tourism hotels that are choking Diani.
We are lobbying for regulated development through the Diani Residents Association, while independently we have publicized threats facing the environment and specific animals in Diani through posters, press articles, questionnaires, information sheets and posters around Diani. Vehicle stickers were very popular and all the public vehicle drivers were proud to display a sticker stating that they 'slow for crossing colobus'.
On the 30th of November, we fulfilled one of our major objectives and conducted colobus census in Diani. This was an event that drew 30 volunteers and generated a wealth of information regarding the primates and habitats in Diani. As we suspected, the Diani colobus population is not very big at only 200-230 individual monkeys in an area of almost 10 square kilometers.
It was no surprise that the highest density of monkeys was in the relatively undisturbed forest patches which is also the area with the highest rate of road kills where 18% of the resident monkeys died in 3 months. The lowest density of colobus monkeys was in private gardens and hotel grounds, and surprisingly the protected sacred kaya forests had small populations amounting to only 10% of the total. We suspect from the monkeys behavior, that hunting for skins may be the cause. This census was the first of its kind in Diani and we can say with confidence that the colobus population in one area has declined significantly since 1989.
The census also revealed that less than 3 square kilometers of closed canopy forest remains in Diani. Despite their protected status, the kayas are being eroded by clearing around their boundaries. Degraded areas that contain bush and isolated clusters of trees occupy most of the area, and almost half of the primate population. Diani Forest (1.5 square kilometers), the largest continuous patch of coral rag forest, had three times the density of primates than the other areas.
This forest has recovered significantly from degradation since 1989, but renewed clearing is a threat. Ironically the private ownership of this property which guaranteed protection to this date, represents the greatest threat today. This recent spate of clearing may be due to the depressed state of the tourism industry. Property owners claim that to recover financial losses, they are sub-dividing and selling off small plots. Clearing has already begun and unless immediate conservation efforts are implemented we could witness the local extinction of a timid primate and the exit of Diani Forest. Efforts to save Diani Forest must take into account the private ownership of the forest, and the effects of political and economic changes on tourism and land value.
The main threats to forest dependent animals include the main road which represents a real barrier for movement of terrestrial animals between the east and west blocks, garbage disposal in the forest that the primates are foraging upon, colobus kills for skins used in traditional dance, and snare hunting for small antelopes.
One of the benefits that the colobus campaign has achieved is a sense of responsibility by residents for the colobus monkey. Some residents have volunteered to assist us, and we frequently get calls from members of the public who have information and ideas. Recently, one resident alerted us to another serious threat, she had observed two colobus monkeys in her garden, each had an arm missing.
These were clearly the victims of traps illegally laid for small antelope. This is a new problem that the campaign will address and it will involve organizing veterinary care and removal of snares. Other land owners lament the illegal felling of trees on their property and the charcoal business which is destroying colobus habitat. This is another sensitive issue that we will address in the coming months.
In order to effectively conduct conservation activities, a trust has been set up to protect the colobus monkeys and their habitat. The existing trustees are all professionals in various fields with jobs and commitments outside of this project. There are no full time staff as yet, and we have had the good fortune of access to computer, video, and camera facilities to promote our cause. We also have the Diani community to thank for support and unfaltering encouragement.
Our plans for the future include an environmental awareness campaign, coating of high voltage electrical cables, lobbying for speed reduction on the roads, research studies and further censuses, fund raising events, and proposals for managing the remaining Diani forest patches for the conservation of the local flora and fauna. We will articulate our plans at a workshop that the Kenya Wildlife Service has offered to organize for our benefit, in order to bring all interested parties to the table.
To date, almost all expenses have been met by one man, Mr. Van Velzen, who initiated the campaign and provided the means (vehicles, equipment and funds) for activists to contribute effectively. Now that the Wakuluzu Friends of the Colobus is a registered trust, we expect to have greater involvement of other interested parties, and we are appealing for funds, and ideas to assist us to effectively conduct our various conservation projects.
About the author: Paula Kahumbu is a Kenyan national. Her interest in wildlife and conservation was influenced by Dr. Richard Leakey who was her neighbor and role model. She is currently enrolled at Princeton University and is studying elephants and their habitat relations in the tropical rainforests of the Shimba Hills, close to Diani. Her involvement in the colobus project came about following a chance meeting with Mr. Van Velzen. This project represents the first privately initiated conservation effort in the South Coast of Kenya. To assist Friends of the Colobus Trust email: paula@Users.AfricaOnline.Co.Ke
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