Help protect Colobus Monkeys & forest in Kenya

by Global Vision International Charitable Trust

GVI has been working in the forests around Shimoni, Kenya, under direction of the Kenya Wildlife Service since 2006. Kenya’s coastal regions receives regular rainfall, and are as such, one of the last refuges for the fauna of the ancient rainforest that once stretched from Gabon on Africa’s West Coast through the Congo and Uganda to Kenya thousands of years ago. Shimoni’s forests are part of one of the world’s most threatened 25 global biodiversity hotspots and with continuing forest loss mainly as a result of human encroachment, the research that KWS, GVI and local CBOs undertake becomes more crucial.

Much work had been done on Angolan Black and White Colobus monkey populations over the past years. This species (of which there are no more than 5000 individuals left world-wide) seems to be well able to adapt to changing circumstances. Colobus groups for example seem to readily adapt their diet to include for exotic plants widely used in resort gardens and parks and are just as happy sleeping on a breezy roof-terrace as they are in an endemic baobab tree.

Current efforts focus on avifauna. Bird species diversity, abundance and density are estimated through the use of bird point counts, and continuous surveys of the Shimoni forest area. East Africa represents one of 218 worldwide Endemic Bird Areas, and birds are important components of forest ecosystems as well as indicators of habitat disturbance. Of the bird species that were found by the GVI team in the area, 10 are listed as endemic and many others have a restricted distribution. Additionally, Shimoni Forest is habitat for the critically endangered Spotted Ground Thrush as well as three other threatened species.

In an intensified effort to find species that had never been recorded for the area, the GVI Shimoni forest project team used the transition from short rains to dry time, with the associated food availability and habitat suitability to their advantage and found 10 new birds in one expedition. The new species include the Crested francolin, Brown Noddy, Abyssinian Scimitarbill, Lesser Honeyguide, Greater Crested Tern, Red-bellied Firefinch, Common Greenshank, Eastern Green Tinkerbird, and the Winding Cisticola. Names and photographs of these species will be available with the upcoming publication of GVI’s Kenya newest bird catalogue for the area which will become available throug Further developments include collaboration with Nature Kenya, the local partner of Birdlife International in setting up a local support group in charge of monitoring bird populations. Ademola Ajagbe regional manager for Birdlife International was quoted saying “Designating the Shimoni forests as IBA (important bird area) has our priority… GVI can be instrumental in setting up the first IBA local support group for a coastal area”.

The Friends of Shimoni Forest is a non-profit organization focusing on the conservation of Shimoni Forest. It was set up in collaboration with GVI who provided initial funding and training. The aim of the group is raise awareness of the importance of the forest not just in terms of resource use and ecosystem services for local communities, but also in terms of eco-tourism benefits to the village. Their activities include; an indigenous re-forestation program, forest research program, active forest patrols with KWS rangers monitoring for illegal activity, alternative charcoal initiatives, the support and funding of alternative livelihoods, provision of scholarships to local school children and wildlife and conservation education to members of the local community and visiting external parties. Friends of Shimoni Forest have been offering eco-walks into the Shimoni forest’s for tourists for two years now, with support training in biodiversity research techniques from qualified GVI personnel. The Eco-walks involve tourists trekking into the forest visiting the home of endemic and rare plants and animals such as the Angolan Black and White Colobus monkey, the Black and Rufous Elephant Shrew and the critically endangered Spotted Ground Thrush. Tour guides also point out Kaya sites and provide cultural context pertaining to these.

FSF have designed a scheme of tourism activities and a new brochure which is being distributed in hospitality and tourism spots up to Mombasa. The brochure highlights both the significance of Shimoni Forest as well as promoting other local community groups and their activities, including Kisite Marine Park tours, Shimoni Slave Caves and various cultural experiences within Shimoni village. GVI provided computer training in brochure design and production, so in the future the group will be able to update and create new brochures when needed. The group is offering affordable full board home-stay experiences within the village for an authentic Shimoni experience. Alternatively tourists can receive a traditional Swahili style meal whilst learning about coastal culture. GVI staff members helped the group to identify suitable home-stay venues which had basic sanitation infrastructure. Increased tourism revenue will be invested by the group back into their core activities and objectives. The group also hopes that the brochure and organized activities will raise awareness of alternative tourism activities in Shimoni which complement the marine park experience.  

This awesome update comes straight from the field, from one of our volunteers Rachel...

It’s not every day you get to see something that you know is going to be an image that stays with you for the rest of your life. Today was one of those days though, one of those rare occasions when you know you are witnessing something pretty spectacular.

Walking along continuing our survey we spotted something on the forest floor not far from us. My mind immediately started thinking of the floor-dwelling mammal species like sunis or elephant shrews, but the other spotter in the group, shouted “monkey!” I didn’t put it together at first as usual when “monkey” is shouted it is a Colobus and these are NEVER seen on forest floor. My mind then jumped to Sykes, the other most commonly seen primate on surveys but as soon as the individual in front of my eyes moved, I realised that its shape was all wrong. It was definitely a monkey though. I couldn’t believe it. Yellow baboons running amongst us, here one was… and another! And there’s one more over there! Soon we were counting baboons left right and centre as we realized there was a whole group around us, with the smaller juveniles on our left hand side staying close and observing us, while the adults led by one HUGE male seemed to be moving towards the younger members, right by us giving us an awesome view. I can’t say what the coolest thing about the experience was, it’s so hard to chose. The fact that the baby baboons were so curious about us, observing us in the exact way we were observing them, giving this weird sense of blurring between who is doing the observing and who is being observed. Or maybe the fact that we saw so many all at once… 18 we counted! Or the fact that they were so close and it was just the most surreal and incredible experience to see them in this beautiful environment where they belong. Monkeys to me have always been in the general class of zoo animals – exotic beings who come from places so far away or so under threat that they exist only in captivity in my mind. To hear a rustle in the trees and look over and see a young baboon pacing back and forth looking directly in your eyes is just one of the coolest things I have experienced in my life. I know I will keep that memory for as long as I live, I really just can’t explain how amazing it was for me.

Anyone who does the forest project can’t deny that sometimes it gets tough. It is tiring work and sometimes I get frustrated with the terrain and how long it can take to get such a short distance but it is all just so incredibly worth it for moments like these. Where else can I have this kind of experience? Walking through the bush at home is going to be so anticlimactic now after experiencing the wilderness that is this African jungle. You know, despite how hard it can be sometimes, my main advice to people doing this program would be to remember to look around! I’m constantly looking down, I get so caught up in the ground right beneath my feet. But then we hear something and I look up and for a second my breath is just completely taken away. This place, this jungle is beautiful. But I don’t just mean beautiful I mean it is unbelievably, magically STUNNING. It is so drastically unlike anything we have in my country or in most countries come to that. There are huge baobab trees everywhere with other smaller trees wrapping around them, vines that hang among the canopy and hang down to me as I look up at their towering figures, the figures of all these plants wound together like they’re in some sort of eternal embrace. My words cannot do justice to a place like this but it is so nice to truly experience the landscape like this. It is different from doing a safari as so many visitors to Kenya do – here we are truly witnessing and experiencing the landscape and it is so incredible! Almost other wordly. I love it. Forest gives you a real chance to be an explorer… walking along, binoculars around the neck, putting one foot up on a rock to get a better view of some grand African bird and shielding your face from the sun and you just think “Man, this is how Indiana Jones must feel every day.” It’s pretty wicked.

Coastal Colobus are discovered to be two different species!

There were some major developments in the taxonomy of the Angolan colobus in recent weeks. In short, part of the population that had previously been believed to be Colobus angolensis palliatus have been reclassified as Colobus angolensis sharpei. The palliatus sub species is now only thought to range into North and coastal Tanzania.

GVI together with the Colobus Trust now hope to supply IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) with information that will enable them to give the Kenyan palliatus sub species a higher rating on the endangered species list. Currently they are listed as least concern and we hope to get them re-listed as a rare or possible even an endangered species.

With the hard work of our volunteers GVI have been performing census of the Shimoni area collecting Colobus population figures since 2006.  We estimate that there are less than 5000 Kenyan black and white coastal Colobus left in the wild which makes Shimoni’s population of around 300 individuals highly substantial.

The reclassification can potentially boost international interest in the Kenyan populations of Angola Black and White Colobus which will further increase the significance of our ongoing collection of data. An increased status will make it easier to attract conservation funds and push the high importance of Colobus habitat protection.

Here in GVI Kenya we feel it’s about time our Colobus got the recognition they deserve, as I am sure you will agree.

This amount of progress could never have been possible without the donors and volunteers that have supported us. A big thank you to all!

The original article that justified the sub-species split is available for download at

Other information and reports on the work in Kenya are found on our website and on our weblog

We took part in a travel pattern survey which involves following a habituated group of Angola Black-and-white Colobus. The survey data will give us an indication on home-range and habitat use. One of the initial goals is to identify and characterize movement of the tight-knit Colobus groups through the forest patches. We are attempting to identify primary feeding, resting and sleeping trees or areas, by calculating percentages of time spent on that activity per location. After identifying those primary activity sites, we can hopefully gain some insight in the movement to and from these locations, and the relation of factors like habitat quality, food availability and seasonality to these patterns.

For the survey we observed the habituated group during their feeding period for two hours. An observer picked a focal individual and recorded that specific individual’s behaviour as a scan sample every two minutes. In addition, another observer tracks the movement of the focal individual, maps and tags the trees for later reference and identification.

Obviously most of this survey requires quite some patience, recording very common activities such as sleeping, resting, foraging or feeding continuously. Today however, the group decided to put on a bit of a show. After two hours we suddenly witnessed some typical primate arousal followed by two instances of actual mating, something that is not very frequently seen in Colobus. Shortly afterward, while sitting directly above us, four of the Colobus decided to urinate at the same time so there was a bit of a shower!


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Organization Information

Global Vision International Charitable Trust

Location: Exeter, Devon - United Kingdom
Website: http:/​/​
Project Leader:
Sophie Birkett
GVI Charitable Trust Manager
St Albans, Herts United Kingdom

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