Category Archives: Primate Research

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.

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.

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.

Colobus canopy acrobatics

Over the last couple of weeks we have regularly seen many groups of Angolan black and white Colobus in the coastal forests around Shimoni village. The Colobus display many behavioural traits common to all primates, however it has been recorded that the Colobus in particular are willing to take enormous risks when moving through the canopy. Research reports individuals attempting drops of up to 15m from the upper canopy which they commonly inhabit into the undergrowth below, a distance that is potentially fatal.

Angolan Black and White Colobus Monkey

Angolan Black and White Colobus Monkey

A possible explanation for this phenomenon is that constant predation are putting the Colobus on high alert and therefore warranting the observed high levels of risk taking. The aim is to devise an accurate method of measuring the distance an individual Colobus jumps through the canopy.  As well as this we intend to measure a range of other variables which may influence the level of risk taken by an individual. These include the weather conditions, time of day, group size, sex of individuals, distance from and number of observers and, if possible, the source of disturbance or reason for movement.

In collecting this data we hope to see patterns emerging between these variables and the distance jumped by an individual Colobus. Such patterns could go some way toward explaining or at least contributing to knowledge of these phenomena. We’ll keep you posted on my progress over the coming weeks!

The Changing Of The Seasons

Hello all,

Marching around Shimoni forest in the last week is a world away from what it was a mere three weeks ago.  At the end of last expedition (end of March), the forest was still brown and arid looking, with very few leaves, bushes or green vegetation.  Now, after a couple of weeks of intermittent rain the forest has come alive again!  The trees are covered in lush green leaves, the bushes and vines have shot up and are covered in flowers, and it’s pretty much luminous green wherever you look.  Personally, I find both seasons awesome and beautiful in their own way, and for their own reasons.

Kris and Nathalie clearing the transect of new growth

Kris and Nathalie clearing the transect of new growth

When the forest is dry, it resembles more the wooded areas of bushveld than a coastal forest.  One can spot the primate species from hundreds of meters away and any small mammal, like a Harvey’s duiker, can be heard creeping through the undergrowth thanks to the layer of crisp, dry leaf litter.  Spotting the large, soaring birds of prey like the African fish eagle becomes easier as well.  And one of my favorites – navigating and maintaining our transects becomes simple, as you can see so far in either direction, and there are no bushes to obscure the tags.  However, our butterfly community surveys become rather dull, with only a handful being caught over the entire ten week research period.

Matt and Kris check the butterly trap

Matt and Kris check the butterly trap

And then there is now, with all the lush vegetation, fruits, flowers, sunbirds and insects all out in force.  The forest erupts in greenery and looks more like a tropical rainforest.  Despite the beauty of it, spotting primates becomes a real challenge!  You may hear a rustle or a vocalization, and then spot movement in the trees, but getting a good sighting – one good enough to conduct behavioural surveys – is rare.  Furthermore, getting good views of the smaller mammals such as the endemic Zanj elephant shrew becomes tricky in the dense, silent undergrowth.  One major advantage though, is the eruption of the butterfly communities.  Hundreds of brightly coloured species are darting about all around you.  In just one of our canopy traps, we caught 18 butterflies in one go!

And one final difference – we get soaked almost every day out in the forest!  A good way of cooling off….

Getting good sightings of primates is difficult in the newly dense canopy

Getting good sightings of primates is difficult in the newly dense canopy

Karibu Tena (Welcome Again)!

Jambo and hello to everyone once again!  It will have been almost three weeks since you last heard from me and my fellow GVI team down here on the beautiful south coast of Kenya.  The reason for this – it was one of the breaks between expeditions (we have four per year), and therefore a break in research and a break from blogging!  Most if us managed to grab at least a few days off, before planning the next intake of volunteers and our next step in marine and forest research and community development. 

 

Sykes monkey in Shimoni forest

Sykes monkey in Shimoni forest

I would like to take this opportunity to say and sad farewell to Ines, who has been our Base Manager for almost two years, and has guided all four projects with a steady hand.  She has been an inspirational leader and a very good friend to all the staff who have worked here.  She has also written many excellent blogs for this page!  We all wish her the very best in whatever she does in the future.

 

Bottlenose dolphins in the marine park

Bottlenose dolphin in the Marine Park

 

Following on from that, I would like to say a huge welcome to Edita who is our brand new Marine Science Officer!  She will be continuing the work that was started in 2006; primarily the monitoring of the cetacean populations and distributions in the near-by Kisite-Mpunguti Marine Protected Area.  Edita is from Lithuania and has extensive experience in the field of marine research, specifically cetaceans.  We are all massively excited about what she is going to bring to the staff team. 

 

Children from Shimoni Primary School

Children from Shimoni Primary School

So keep tuned people, the blogs are going to start rolling in again, keeping you all up to date with the research, the forest, the ocean, the monkeys, the dolphins, the turtles, the shrews, the eagles…I could go on for ever.  Until next time!

 

Matt

Colobus Behaviour Takes The Forefront

If you’ve read many of our blogs before, you’ll remember that one of our main surveys we do in the coastal forest here is primate behaviour, focussing on the rare subspecies of the Angolan black and white colobus.  It is my favourite survey, as you get to sit quietly and watch these beautiful animals go about their daily activities such as feeding and grooming. 

 

A colobus rests in the canopy, whilst keeping his eyes on us

A colobus rests in the canopy, whilst keeping his eyes on us

Every expedition (ten week research period), we aim to get an additional 25 hours of behavioural surveys.  This can be almost impossible in the rainy season, as the vegetation is so thick you rarely get a good enough sighting to conduct the survey.  But in the dry season when the leaves are shed, you can see the colobus at much greater distances and with very little obstruction. 

 

A colobus sleeps during the hottest part of the day

A colobus sleeps during the hottest part of the day

This expedition (Jan-March) we have made a real push to get as much behaviour as possible, and our forest teams have spent days and days traversing the forest in search of sightings good enough to sit and do the survey.  Many days are disappointing, and often teams get back with no behavioural data at all.  But all of those days are worth it, when you come across a great sighting and spend hours observing the tranquil colobus in their natural habitat. 

 

"Staring" is a behavioural state meaning focussed attention on the observers

"Staring" is a behavioural state meaning focussed attention on the observers

I am glad to announce that we have not only hit the 25 hour target, but have exceeded it!  We have completed our final day of research, and we have got 38 hours and 10 minutes!  An incredible achievement; the largest amount of behavioural data collected in 10 weeks since GVI’s arrival in 2006.   I’m very proud of the guys here, who have put everything they have into collecting this vital data.  From this we can assess whether the colobus population is suffering due to increased disturbance.  Lets hope not…

A Small Visitor

Hello everyone and apologies for the lack of blogs this week, but it has been a busy one for the forest and marine teams here on Kenya’s south coast.  Forest has had a large number of people taking part, which is awesome as lots of excellent data is being collected by three teams every day.  This does however mean that the computers are in constant demand for data entry!  And the community development team needs plenty of access as well, so I have struggled to slip on for a quick blog!

Anyway, I have a small window now, so shall take advantage of it.  To briefly fill you in on the happenings of the week, we have managed to complete almost all of our main surveys (primate community, fruit and flower, disturbance and canopy) on all of our six transects in Shimoni east forest!  It is always a good feeling to see the “work completed” chart get fuller and fuller.  This also mean we can focus on getting as much behavioural data on the colobus as possible.  We set out to achieve 25 hours during this ten week research period, and I am quietly confident we are going to get far more than that.  Just today we sat an observed  a male colobus for one hour and twenty minutes, observing while he sat serenely in the lower canopy eating leaves and foliage.  He drifted off to sleep several times – oh to be a colobus!

Our sleepy colobus

Our sleepy colobus

Something I did want to share with you all, are some photos of a delightful little guest we had in our vegetable delivery a couple of days ago.  We were unpacking the potatoes from the sack and he literally leaped onto me!  Gave me quite a shock, but provided us an awesome opportunity to snap a few close-ups – a rare feat.  It was a tropical house gecko!

Tropical house gecko

Tropical house gecko

The tropical house gecko (Hemidactylus mabouia) is a medium to large sized gecko (although this one was clearly a young one) that is normally grey, light brown or brown, or lightly spotted.  Under electric lights, it can have an overall tan or light pinkish appearance.  The tropical house gecko is probably the lizard seen most often in East Africa due to its ability to thrive in such an array of different habitats.  Most specifically those of human settlements, as they feed well on the insects drawn to electric lighting. 

A view from the side

A view from the side

In the wild though, it would be found on loose-barked trees, palms, rock crevices, caves and cliff crevices.  In this little ones case, it fancied our potatoes!  I’ve always been a big fan of lizards and geckos, as they maintain a constant patrol of one’s walls, keeping the mosquito population down to a minimum!  Anything that rids me of mosquitoes, is a friend of mine.  And they are very, very cool.

So that’s all I have time for now, I will try and wrestle my way onto a computer tomorrow to update you further on the happenings of Shimoni and Mkwiro, Kenya.

Matt

Transect Completed In Shimoni West Forest

Good morning (in Kenya anyway!),

I have some good news for those who have been following our progress in Shimoni west forest….we have completed cutting transect 1!

For those who don’t know what I’m talking about, I will briefly explain.  GVI have been conducting research in Shimoni east forest for four years now, with the surveys being conducted along our 6 transects.  Shimoni west forest is across the road on the other side of Shimoni village.  It is a bigger forest (about twice the size of east), and it is suspected that it has a larger population of black and white colobus.  Unfortunately it also has more human disturbance, with power saws and charcoal burning an all too common occurrence. 

A map showing Shimoni west forest (circled in white), Shimoni village and part of Shimoni east forest (far right)

A map showing Shimoni west forest (circled in white), Shimoni village and part of Shimoni east forest (far right)

There have been two colobus census conducted in the west forest, one in 2001 and one in 2007.  We have been wanting to start long term monitoring of the west forest for some time now, and in October last year we began the long (and sweaty) process of setting up permanent transects in the forest.  Because we are still continuing with our surveys in Shimoni east, we have only been able to dedicate one or two days of transect cutting per week in the west forest.  Although slow, our progress has been steady, and at the end of last expedition (December 2009) we had cut 1.5km of our north/south spine and had begun cutting transect 1. 

Will swinging his panga

Will swinging his panga

We are planning a systematic grid of transects, that will be placed randomly (with regards to colobus distribution) within Shimoni west.  This is the method originally used to set up the transects in Shimoni east.  Our transects are divided up into sections, with one section being 50m long.  This allows us to record where on the transects sightings occur, and also to make survey effort (essentially how many metres of transect have been surveyed) easily established.  Our longest transects in Shimoni east have 32 positive sections (a positive section being any section east of the north/south spine.  The transect we have just completed in west, has 34 positive sections (1700m)!  We are yet to start cutting the negative sections (west of the north/south spine), but we are still proud of our achievement. 

Rita and Stella cutting tags (markers)

Rita and Stella cutting tags (markers)

It is incredibly hard work cutting transects, as all we have are pangas (machetes) and the strength in our arms!  Sometimes one can get several hundred metres in a day, other times it can take several hours to get ten metres! It all depends on the vegetation you are trying to get through.  The final few sections of the our new transect 1 were brutal – endless thorn bushes!  We all came out with our arms in tatters, but with an enormous sense of achievement.

 

The long, hot, but victorious walk home!

The long, hot, but victorious walk home!

 Once we have our transects set up in Shimoni west, we can start doing long term monitoring on the colobus populations and behavior, biodiversity and anthropogenic disturbance.  Collecting such data is the critical first step in raising awareness and establishing the conservation status of Shimoni west.  We can then look into expanding the community conservation initiatives and work of Friends of Shimoni Forest across both east and west forests. 

We will keep you updated on the progress!

Matt

Karibu Tena (Welcome Again!)

Jambo!

I’d like to start by saying I hope you all had a fantastic Christmas and a merry new year!  I know we did; many of the GVI team were in Kenya over the holiday period, enjoying the festivities under the warm African sun, whilst others jetted off back home to see family and friends to slightly cooler parts of the world such as Englnd, Scotland and Portugal. 

We are all back together again however, and raring to get back out on the boat, into the forest and continue our work with the communities.  January marks the start of our first 3 month research period for 2010, and we have a rather large, brand new team of dedicated volunteers from all over the world to help us achieve the aims and objectives for this year.

2009 was an excellent year for us here on the south coast of Kenya.  Firstly, it’s always a good feeling to get another full years worth of marine and terrestrial research added to the databases.  We now have a solid 3 years of data establishing and monitoring the bottlenose and humpback dolphin populations in and around the Kisitie-Mpunguti Marine Protected Area, as well as 3 years establishing and monitoring the population of the rare subspecies of the Angolan black and white colobus monkey that is found in Shimoni’s coastal forests. 

gvi-staff-volunteers-and-funzi-turtle-club-members.jpg 

 GVI staff, volunteers, and members of the Funzi Turtle Club 

In addition to that, we’ve got some great data recording some amazing sightings, including humpback whales with their calves (15 sightings!), rays, nesting turtles, elephant shrews and endangered birds such as the southern banded snake eagle.  And that is naming a mere handful!  If you want to have a look back at some of the blogs we’ve written about these amazing experiences, feel free to search for them in the categories section.

green-turtle.jpg 

 Green turtle spotted in the Marine Park

2009 also saw some amazing achievements for us and the people we work with.  Just a couple of examples would include the Permanent Secretary to the Minister for Forests and Wildlife coming down to speak to the secretary of Friends of Shimoni Forest about the destruction in the forest.  Or the amazing donations made by you all on www.justgiving.co.uk/shimoni which has allowed the launch of the Friends of Shimoni Forest Scholarship Fund which will pay for local children to go to secondary school, and get them and their families involved in local conservation. 

angola-blog-1.jpg 

 East African subspecies of the Angolan black and white colobus

On the marine side of things some highlights would include providing environmental education courses, one to the Funzi Turtle Conservation Group and one to the Nyuli Committee, training local guides and rangers on sea turtle biology and conservation, with over 30 people taking exams and gaining certificates.  GVI had its first ever sighting of the Pantropical spotted dolphins, and also became a member of East African Whale Watching which tracks whales travelling up and down the east African coast.  

spotted-dolphin-2.jpg

One of the pantropical spotted dolphins

Despite all of the great things that happened last year, there is still plenty of work to do.  This stunning area and its amazing people still face many problems, some of which we aim to try and help with over the coming year.  For many of us here the start of 2010 saw the one and a half year mark since we first arrived in Shimoni and Mkwiro, and I think I can speak for everyone when I say it has been our home since we arrived, one which has won a special place in our hearts.  Personally I feel extremely lucky and privileged to step into a new decade here, and I am so excited at the thought of what can be achieved this year.

I look forward to keeping you updated on progress as things move forward, and please feel free to contact us and leave comments and messages.  We love hearing your thoughts and ideas!

Happy 2010

Best wishes

GVI Team, Kenya