Category Archives: Colobus

Record Breaking Colobus Monkey!

GVI Kenya would like to share some very exciting news with everybody on behalf of the Colobus Trust. The Colobus Trust is a conservation organization designed to promote the conservation, preservation and protection of primates like the rare Angolan Colobus monkey (Colobus angolensis palliatus) and its coastal forest habitat in southern Kenya.

Over the last 14 years The Colobus Trust has received numerous orphaned Colobus infants in need of hand rearing but unfortunately, due to their complex and sensitive digestive system and general fragile nature we have never been successful in keeping one alive for more than 21 days. Indeed, this is repeated in any institute that has attempted to hand rear this particular species of Colobus (Colobus angolensispalliatus) or an International Zoo and leading authority on animal care, the same story is repeated time and time again, ‘the infant does well for the first 2-3 weeks, then suddenly crashes and dies within 12 hours’.

An angolan back and white colobus, just after hearing all these good news!

There is now one notable exception, Baby Betsy, an orphaned Angolan Colobus who has been in the care of The Colobus Trust and hand reared for 65 days (5/04/11). Angolan Colobus monkeys are born pure white, developing the adult black and white coloration at around 3 months old, via a grey stage, which Betsy is currently displaying. She is in constant contact with her primary or secondary carer, replicating the level of contact, care and love she would naturally receive from her colobus Mum. During the day she is wrapped in a sarong and tied across the chest of her carer and sleeps in the bed alongside her at night.

Fed on an individually designed diet of goat milk, infused with chamomile tea, probiotics and multi vitamins, supplemented with wild leaves and flowers and a weekly ‘poop shake’ – her usual milk meal with a small amount of colobus feces added to provide good colobus stomach bacteria – Betsy is doing remarkably well and exceeding all our expectations.

There is now one notable exception, Baby Betsy, an orphaned Angolan Colobus who has been in the care of The Colobus Trust and hand reared for 65 days (5/04/11). Angolan Colobus monkeys are born pure white, developing the adult black and white coloration at around 3 months old, via a grey stage, which Betsy is currently displaying. She is in constant contact with her primary or secondary carer, replicating the level of contact, care and love she would naturally receive from her colobus Mum. During the day she is wrapped in a sarong and tied across the chest of her carer and sleeps in the bed alongside her at night.

Fed on an individually designed diet of goat milk, infused with chamomile tea, probiotics and multi vitamins, supplemented with wild leaves and flowers and a weekly ‘poop shake’ – her usual milk meal with a small amount of colobus feces added to provide good colobus stomach bacteria – Betsy is doing remarkably well and exceeding all our expectations.

Dead Colobus Sightings

Whilst out in the field over the last 3 weeks GVI volunteers have come across three dead Angolan black and white colobus in the coastal forests surrounding Shimoni. This is a distressing and uncharacteristically high number to find in such a short period of time. Having spoken to the Colobus trust we discovered from their census data that there was a significant rise in the local Colobus population a few years ago.

Deceased Colobus found in Shimoni Forest

Deceased Colobus found in Shimoni Forest

Characteristically, following a rise in population there is inevitably increased pressure on resources such as food and water and as a result over the following years the population gradually returns to a sustainable number as the weaker and less successful Colobus are out competed. At present we believe that the abnormally high number of dead Colobus encountered can be partly explained by increased competition and pressure on resources following a population boom in the last few years.

Indicator Plots

Among the additions to GVI’s surveys are our Indicator plot studies. Indicator plots enable an intensive study to be made of a 50m x 50m sample of the forest habitat.   Several surveys will be carried out within the plot to gauge levels of disturbance, biodiversity, and vegetation makeup. So far, two such surveys have been carried out: firstly, two butterfly traps were installed, and secondly, an active search was done, in which surveyors were encouraged to be as proactive as possible in finding species (in contrast to a passive search where animals are looked for without disturbing anything).

The net traps, suspended from the branches of trees and baited with fermented bananas, had attracted one butterfly in each, both large and very attractive.  Before taking them out it was important to check that nothing likely to bite or sting had also entered the trap.  It is daunting at first to grab hold of a butterfly but these animals are large and robust and once you have your hand around them it is relatively easy to manoeuvre them so that you are lightly grasping the thorax with the other hand, enabling a photograph to be taken of both upper and under sides to aid identification.  Consulting the butterfly guide later, one species appeared to be a striking female mocker (Papilio dardanus polytrophus), and an equally striking Charaxes brutus.

INDICATOR PLOTS 2

Looking around at the start of the 15 minute active search, it appeared that the plot was devoid of life,  but once the leaf litter was disturbed, stones and logs rolled over and stems and leaves examined, animals became evident – between three of us we found a sharp-nosed ridged frog, a tiny toad and even one foot-long snake.

Angolan Black and White Colobus Jump Distance Survey

This week we managed to finalise the plan and method before creating an appropriate spreadsheet on excel that was printed out to be used as a data sheet in the field. However a combination of extensive power cuts and illness here in Shimoni combined with few Colobus sightings ultimately resulted in just two sets of data being collected. Although in terms of data collection, it has not been as successful as we hoped, carrying out the method in a real life situation has allowed us to improve the original method as well as test the ease and accuracy of the survey. The variables we planned to measure and make note of were originally; weather, time, group size and focal individual. Quickly realising that a key variable was missing that could have a big impact on the distance an individual jumps. This variable is the time of the jump after first sighting. This became apparent after the Colobus we spotted failed to move after 10 minutes, and that given this the Colobus obviously did not recognise our presence as a threat and therefore if it did eventually jump it would not be likely to take a big risk by jumping a great distance. Although we have not collected as much data as we would have hoped, there is now a workable method in place in order to carry out the survey in case another volunteer felt inclined to carry on the work or indeed have the time and opportunity to do so later on. We’ll keep you informed if there are any developments.

Angolan Black and White Colobus sighting densities

Every time a group of volunteers heads into the forest, there is one form that always goes with them: Casual Observations. It’s our most basic survey, run every day from the moment we leave the house until the moment we step back in the door at the end of the day – every animal we see, we write down, along with the time and location of the sighting.

Over 4 years, this has given us a huge amount of data (more than 5000 documented sightings!) But as yet, not much has actually been done with it all, which makes it both a challenging and actually pretty exciting task (at least, as exciting as messing around with Excel spreadsheets can be) to go through it all and find out what this mountain of data actually says about our forest. This analysis is still in the early stages, but I’ll keep you posted as we continue digging through it. But for now, here’s a nice early result:

Angolan Black & White Colobus sightings by transect

Angolan Black & White Colobus sightings by transect

This chart shows how frequently we’ve seen Colobus monkeys on each of our transects in Shimoni East forest. We have 6 transects, or straight-line paths, in Shimoni East, and all of our surveys are run on these. The “Individuals/Effort/# of sections” bit just means the number of monkeys we’ve recorded, divided by the number of times we’ve been on that transect, divided by the size of the transect – by doing this, we account for the fact that some transects are visited more often than others, and all of our transects are of slightly different sizes.

So what does it mean? Well, more detailed analysis is needed before we can say anything conclusive, but potentially something quite important: Transect 1 (where the big spike is) is located very close to the coastline – so the implication of our Casual Observation data seems to be that there is a significantly higher density of Colobus in forest near the coast than further inland. This would be a very interesting finding on its own, but when you also consider that the coastline forest is currently suffering most from degradation and land development, it makes it all the more important, highlighting how critical the situation in Shimoni forest currently is.

Disturbance in the coastal forest

A group of forest staff and volunteers recently set out to do a primate community survey on transect one. This involves walking along the set forest transect and looking for troops of Colobus and Sykes monkeys. Transect one has been subject to substantial disturbance and felling in the past due to its prime location on the coast, easily accessible by dirt track – a few sections of this transect that run through a large clearing that we call Mordor- due to its resemblance to the Lord of the Rings setting! This clearing has been present for over 18 months, although over recent months has been steadily increasing in size. This week the group found that a large area past Mordor, further along our transect had also been cleared within the last few weeks.
Charcoal burning in Shimoni Forest

Charcoal burning in Shimoni Forest

The good news is that the group were still able to spot a troop of Colobus during the survey, but an unsettling fact is that some of the monkeys were on the ground which is considered unusual behaviour for a species that favours the upper canopy. The behavioural and disturbance data we get from our transects is a great way of establishing how the loss of habitat is affecting this already rare primate.

Trees are felled for timber and to clear land, reducing habitat for the rare Colobus

Trees are felled for timber and to clear land, reducing habitat for the rare Colobus

Disturbance in the form of pit saws, charcoal pits, and clearings is becoming more and more common place on all our transects, and we are collating all evidence from 2007 to present to find out exactly how this is affecting all our target species.

The Changing Face of Shimoni East

Typical charcoal pit in Shimoni Forest East

Typical charcoal pit in Shimoni Forest East

Being a person of very little spatial awareness, and lacking any sense of direction, right from our very first few trips into the forest I was hugely impressed by the knowledge of the staff and the ease with which they found their way around.  Imagine my surprise then, when last week we found ourselves in a state of confusion, in seemingly unfamiliar territory.  This is the sad fact of Shimoni East: it is changing so rapidly that a trail you have walked a dozen times can become almost unrecognisable in a matter of days.

The threats to the forest occur on several fronts.  All along the coast land is being bought up by developers and cleared with plans to build hotels, some of which are already under construction.  New sections of barbed wire fence are going up daily; some mark the edges of developers’ plots, and it would seem that others indicate locals staking a claim for possible retail space opposite.  The most substantial fence currently cuts off the last few sections of most of our six surveying transects, and the three new roads (which may be for access or a preliminary to wider clearing) which have sprung up in the last couple of weeks also cut across the eastern end of several transects.  Along the northern side of the forest, the greatest disturbance is the frequent appearance of new charcoal pits.  These are illegal, of which the locals are well aware, but since the entire village uses charcoal for cooking, they feel they have no choice in order to survive.  One of the main problems is that it is very inefficient: seventy percent of the energy is lost straight away in the process.  Plus, everybody understands the fact that this is unsustainable, given the rate at which the forest is disappearing.  Elsewhere throughout the forest trees are regularly disappearing as poles and timber for construction or firewood.

The implications of the shrinking of the forest on its wildlife are clear.  The Colobus monkeys, for example, are almost exclusively arboreal; without sufficient high canopy they will be restricted in movement, and therefore food resources and resting places.  As a general rule, the size of the forest determines the health of the Colobus community.  It is possible that if developers leave the very tallest and largest trees, and build around them, the Colobus community will not be too badly affected.  However, there is no guarantee that this will happen, and, in any case, the clearing of the smaller trees and undergrowth is disastrous for the biodiversity of the region.  For example, the rare Zanj Elephant Shrew relies on undergrowth and leaf litter for foraging and nest building, and as this species is endemic to Kenyan coastal forest, this is one of the few areas of habitat still remaining.  Essentially, the unsustainability of the forest use is such that eventually it will disappear, and there will be no wildlife at all.  The locals who rely on the forest will then also lose their means for survival, so it really is a lose-lose situation.

GVI’s continual monitoring of the area provides more and more evidence for it being a biodiversity hotspot, and thus the more likely it becomes that Kenyan Wildlife Services will decide to protect the area.  This would be a greatly positive step for the forest, but support needs to be given to the local communities who rely on their current use of the forest.  This is why the work that GVI is doing in the forest and with the community is so valuable.  By promoting sustainable development the community can find ways to utilise the forest for economic growth.  One such area is ecotourism; we are working with Friends of Shimoni Forest in order to train guides and market tours of the forest.  We have also helped establish a group of locals who are promoting use of an alternative charcoal press, which uses waste paper, food waste, forest debris and so forth to produce fuel blocks in a much more efficient process (for details on the press see these entries).  Another initiative involves promoting group farming of the casuarinas tree to produce a sustainable and more efficient harvest of poles for construction.

When a tree falls in the forest perhaps it only makes a sound if someone is there to hear it.  Luckily we are here and we are listening.  The changes occurring in Shimoni East are observable on a daily basis, but hopefully the work we are doing will enable the local community to effect some positive change and allow the forest to become a sustainable resource and natural treasure.

– Miriam

Setting up camp

Expedition 103 welcomed Zeno to the GVI staff team as ‘Terrestrial Science Officer’. Zeno joined the staff team full of exciting ideas as to how we can expand the research we have been conducting in the forests to the East and West of Shimoni village. One of the main new objectives is to conduct a wider population census of the Angolan Black and White Colobus across the Shimoni Peninsula.

On the trailer

On our way home after a great field trip

We decided that we could begin the wider census by exploring to the west of the peninsula, towards the village of Kibuyuni. We set off just after lunch towards Kibuyuni. It was a beautiful clear day and the walk took us almost three hours. As we were walking we were constantly surveying for troops of Colobus and other interesting casual observations. The plans on arriving in Kibuyuni were to camp over night and conduct a night survey.

Our base manager Drew, drove the GVI vehicle; affectionately known as the ‘Shrew’, to the site where we planned to camp. The track Drew had to drive along to reach us was very infrequently driven and pretty rough.  He brought us tents, sleeping bags, water and food. It was then a team effort to set up the tents. The tent the boys planned to sleep in ended up looking a little lop-sided. Zeno built a fire for us to cook the chicken which we had brought from Shimoni. The chicken was delicious and we had kachambari and chapattis to accompany it.

Once we were all fed and watered, we headed off on a short night walk. We walked as quietly as possible with torches held at eye height looking for reflected ‘eye shine’ from nocturnal animals such as snakes, Small Eared Galago’s and Suni’s. This time, we didn’t see too much but we all really enjoyed the walk.

During the night, it rained heavily for several hours (one of the perils of camping during the rainy season!). Amazingly, we managed to remain quite dry within our tents. In the morning, we packed up our belongings in the Shrew and started to head back to Shimoni. Within 100m of setting off we realised the track back hadn’t fared as well with the rain as we had. We were stuck, wheels spinning in thick mud.  The track ahead didn’t look any better and we became aware that we were going to need help. Tim, a forest volunteer, and I set off to find extra hands or potentially a vehicle which could tow us. After, nearly two hours of what turned out to be walking in a circle we found a man with a tractor! Kindly, the farmer was happy to help us. Tim and I rode on the flat-bed trailer attached to the tractor and headed in the direction of the Shrew.

When we arrived at the Shrew we found about thirty locals had come to help Zeno and the other volunteers. On seeing the tractor, many of the young children tried to chase and climb on the trailer.  The farmer hooked the Shrew to the back of the trailer ready for towing. All of the volunteers piled onto the trailer, leaving Zeno to steer the Shrew.  Thanks to the farmer and his tractor we made it back to Shimoni, in one (rather muddy) piece. All and all, it was another exciting and productive day in forest research.

– Aisling

Great bad-hair day

Beautiful weaver nest

Beautiful weaver nest

Today’s field-work was stunning! We went out to get some hours of Black and White Colobus group behavioral observation in, heading west to the more open and largely unexplored part of the peninsula. First thing we spotted was this beautiful weaver nest. The Colobus didn’t seem to like being watched today. A team member suggested the morning rain had resulted in a massive Colobus-bad-hair day, making them all shy. A pack of other observation made up for it though; we had a splendid view of a palm-tree bending under black-headed weaver nests, went on to find a flock of 11 huge silvery cheeked and trumpeter hornbills, found a new stork species for our area!

The Colobus Youth Of Today

If I remember correctly, a couple of weeks ago I wrote a blog in which I mentioned that we had been seeing more infant and juvenile colobus than usual for this time of year.  I thought I’d give you a bit more detail seeing as it is a very promising sight!

 Colobus monkeys have their birth peak in the rainy season (as do most other primate species), the reason being that there is an abundance of food at this time of year.  However births are not restricted to the rains, and do regularly occur throughout the year.

Mother with young juvenile

Mother with young juvenile

 Having gone through our ‘casual observations’ database (which will have recorded all details of 90% of our colobus sightings), I can tell you that we have observed 12 infants / juveniles in separate locations! ( infants are individuals that still have white fur and pink faces – approximately 0 to 3 months old, and juveniles are approximately 3-6 months old, have black faces and their fur changes from white, through shades of grey until they get their black and white adult colouration).  And when you consider that there probably aren’t many more than 12 troops in total over the whole of Shimoni east forest, then it is a very encouraging observation.

A young juvenile who has just got its black and white colouration

A young juvenile who has just got its black and white colouration

 My theory for this high number of young colobus, is that the dry season did not really kick in until well into February.  There were still intermittent rains up until February, and the real heat of the dry season did not hit us until the end of February.  This means that the forest did not lose as much vegetation, leaves or greenery until much later than usual, which in turn will have provided the new born colobus with relatively abundant food resources.  Well, that’s my theory anyway…

Another young colobus who has just begun to gain its adult colouration

Another young colobus who has just begun to gain its adult colouration

 Regardless of the reasons, we are all happy and content to watch the little ones when we see them, and fingers crossed, watch most of them reach adulthood and contribute to the population as a whole.

 I hope you like the photos, and forgive us if they are difficult to see – infants and young ones are tricky to photograph!