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Colobus monkeys and tropical forest conservation

The Angola black-and-white colobus is a flagship species for Kenyas coastal forests, a
global biodiversity hotspot and a region for priority conservation investment. - Dr. Julie Anderson (leading primate conservationist and Director & Scientific Advisor of the Colobus
Trust), 2007

GVI has been working for the Kenya Wildlife Service on the remote South coast of Kenya
since 2006. Kenyas most visited marine park is the main focus of conservation efforts in the
area but Shimoni is also home to one of the last patches of original East African coastal forest. In 2008, GVI started a biodiversity inventory of the previously unstudied forests and
supported the establishment of a local conservation support group; Friends of Shimoni forest. In 2009 GVI researchers, together with the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) and the
Friends of Shimoni forest group decided on a conservation approach, which integrated steps
towards legal protection, development of alternative livelihoods to prevent on-going destructive forest use, and raising awareness through education, trainings and workshops.
In the following conservation efforts the omnipresent, striking looking and quite rare black
and white colobus monkeys quite quickly became the collective face of the forest. Colobus
featured prominently on conservation reports, T-shirts and logos, and Shimoni slowly became know as not only the home of the dolphins but also the colobus monkey. In the longterm KWS management plan for the area published in 2010, the colobus monkey was officially labelled flagship species.
Colobus monkeys are highly adapted to living in trees, making it difficult for them to adapt to
deforested landscapes. This lifestyle makes them ideal flagship species, as their conservation will quite likely ensure conservation of a whole pyramid of natural resources. With GVI
expertise and support of many volunteers the colobus population in the area was more intensively studied. Since 2007 population size has been assessed quarterly for an area of
almost 400 ha of forest. An over 1,000 man-hour behavioural study published in 2012 by
GVI has given new insight into feeding and movement behaviours for the species and more
recent ecological data is detailing home-patch sizes and group compositions.
We estimate that currently, around 430 Angola Black-and-white Colobus live in the forests
around Shimoni, making it the largest unprotected population of the species in Kenya. Our
most recent data confirms that Colobus monkey groups are highly dependent on their direct
environs and likely to be greatly affected by even the smallest-scale habitat adaptations.
The road towards legal protection of the forests as well as the creation of alternative livelihoods has been bumpy and the final goal is not yet in sight. However, awareness raising
and environmental education efforts have been very successful. The added knowledge on
colobus monkeys and the continuing publication of findings will certainly flag the importance
of coastal forest conservation, benefit conservation of the species and their natural resources.