It should come as no surprise to our readers that we’re fond of monkeys. Both in Bali and in Costa Rica we had close encounters with the primate kind. But we’re in Kenya, where it’s all about the Big Five, right? Not entirely. We visit the Colobus Trust in Diani Beach to find out more about the local monkeys.
More Monkey Business: The Colobus Trust, Diani Beach
On our drive to our holiday rental at Diani Beach we saw Yellow Baboons crossing the road and some striking-looking black and white monkeys cross overhead on a monkey bridge, which we later learnt are called Colobus Bridges or ‘colobridges’.
The black and white monkeys turned out to be Angolan black and white Colobus Monkeys.
Further along, we saw two other species of monkeys. Our driver called these ‘common’ monkeys, but these guys turned out to be Vervet and Sykes monkeys.
We were starting to like the place already.
We saw signs around the Diani Beach village about the Colobus Trust monkey sanctuary and decided to check out the project that had funded the monkey bridges – sorry, colobridges. The story of the Trust is both encouraging and heartbreaking.
When we visit the Trust, our guide is Robyn, a Kenyan university student from Nairobi who is volunteering at the centre. First, he takes us on a tour of the Colobus Trust Information Centre.
The Colobus Trust, Robyn tells us, was started in 1997 after two monkeys were found knocked down by a car. The Trust’s role is to protect the forest, the monkey’s natural habitat; to rescue and rehabilitate monkeys (they have a 24-hour vet clinic); and to conduct research and education.
Robyn introduces us to the three types of monkeys we’re likely to see around Diani Beach. The Angolan Colobus Monkeys are born white, turn grey, and then black and white, and are called ‘Mbega’ in Swahili. There are 3–25 in a troop of monkeys, one male and many females. The dominant male is essentially the ‘security guard’ and the dominant female is the leader who heads off ahead of the rest of the troop to find food. There are also male-only bachelor troops who travel together until each male finds his own troop of females.
There are also Yellow Baboons in the area, who, when young are often mistaken for Colobus monkeys. There are around 15 members of a Yellow Baboon troop and contrary to what many people believe, these are the only primates interested in human food – the others won’t steal your sandwiches.
There are also the Vervet Monkeys – also known as green monkeys and Sykes monkeys.
Robyn tells us about the many threats to the monkeys: habitat loss, due to construction of hotels, villas and other tourist developments; human-wildlife conflict, from hunting and trapping; road traffic accidents; and electrocution from monkeys attempting to cross over the road on the electricity lines – the results of which are not for the faint-hearted. Of course, all these threats emanate from one source: humans.
The solutions, Robyn says, are to protect and restore the monkey’s natural habitat; establishing ‘colobridges’; trimming trees to keep them away from electricity lines; and desnaring, which involves rescuing monkeys caught in traps and looking for, removing, and destroying traps on an ongoing basis.
Robyn describes the daily routine of the Colobus, which we’ve been lucky to witness from our cottage at Shambani – they wake up, do a display of leaps and tricks, eat some leaves for a while (generally 2-3 kilos worth!), they have a long rest, which is when they lay about cleaning each other, and then they sleep. They repeat this routine three times a day!
Robyn introduces us to the trees found in the area and recommends that when we buy wood carvings we ask for products made from the Neem tree (used in the treatment of malaria) and coconut and mango trees, considered ‘good wood’ trees, rather than ebony and mahogany, which are becoming extinct.
Next, we stroll outside to see the rehabilitation cages, where the rescued monkeys live until they’re well enough to be released in the wild. Robyn tells us how they hide food to challenge them and help them adapt. They’re kept here for around 12 months before they’re released into places that are identified as being safe.
Robyn shows us the quarantine cage, where one lethargic Colobus is slowly eating leaves and flowers. They found him, alone, and without energy, and they’re monitoring him to see if he recovers.
We head into the shady nature trail next, where Robyn introduces us to the huge array of trees and plants that make up the natural habitat of the Colobus monkey. The small forest they’ve rehabilitated is compact but dense, and while it initially appears to be somewhat artificial when we first enter, we quickly discover that the monkeys don’t seem to think so.
They’re passing overhead as we wander through and they’re clearly enjoying themselves. It’s an example of the kind of forest the Trust would like to plant all over Diani Beach.
The troop of monkeys head to the adjacent lot which has been cleared but for a couple of trees. It’s an apt setting to end our tour.
The fact is that in the last 20 years the monkeys at Diani Beach have lost 75% of their habitat to development – and the habitat that is left is in isolated pockets which the monkeys don’t have easy or continuous access to in order to forage for food.
While the Colobus is not a threatened species overall – there are large populations in Tanzania – it is a threatened species in Kenya according to the Kenya Wildlife Service.
We left wondering how we could do more for these amazing primates rather than just donate money and write a story.
The next morning a troop of four Colobus monkeys appeared on top of the building adjacent to our cottage.
They were clearly regular visitors and over the next week or so they would entertain us for hours with their antics – the most amusing being when a particularly cute Colobus falls asleep in the tree next to our cottage.
Okay, they made their point. We made it our mission to tell their story and to help.
How to help the Colobus Trust, Diani Beach
The Trust runs a tree planting program and you can adopt a tree for as little as 100 shillings. You can also adopt a monkey and become a member of the Colobus Trust. See the details on how you can help here.
If you’re visiting Diani Beach, try to book ahead to visit the Trust. They’re unlikely to turn away people who rock up at the last minute but they prefer to be able to plan and ensure there is a guide available. Sometimes there isn’t, as they might be out attending to an emergency. Allow a minimum of one hour to visit.
Note: The Colobus Trust is now called Colobus Conversation