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Along the shores of the Indian Ocean, especially on the rocky Diani Coral Rag forest in Kwale County, there exists a rare and less talked about species – primates. This Kenyan southern coastal strip being a prime attraction sight for both domestic and foreign tourists, it is possible that one may miss to notice the color-decorated primates crossing Diani road. Further, the information deficiency on these primates to the public makes it hard for their collective conservation.

More significantly, Diani Coral Rag forest is recognized as one of the top 25 biodiversity hotspots in the world with various plant and animal species found in this ecosystem. Of the various animal species found here, primates form a key part of them. There are different primate species found within this habitat which includes the Colobus monkey, Sykes, Vervets, Baboons and Bush-babies.

Conserving these primates has been a nightmare for the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) and other conservation agencies. More than often, their lives are put at risk by human factors. Indeed, getting closer to Colobus Conservancy – the only conservation agency of the primates in the country, you get flabbergasted as you get to hear the horror of what the staff go through almost always, to keep the primates protected.

One of the tear-jerking and inspiring stories I have come across while on duty as a vet in the Colobus Conservation is of a small male Colobus juvenile named ‘White Cap’. Both his parents were electrocuted and died and the youngster was left alone to fend for himself with a troop that cared less about him. A few weeks after the sad demise of his parents, he also met the same fate of being electrocuted but miraculously he survived. Due to the severe third degree burns on both his arms, he was unable to climb trees and as such unable to keep up with his troop. He was then abandoned – left for dead. However, the Colobus Conservation received a distress call from a concerned citizen who had spotted the young fellow and moved in to save the day. On review of the case, the Veterinarian was surprised to find the animal still alive considering it had serious burns on the left arm which was necrotic with irreversible nerve damage.

The arm was rotting away with no possible chance of ever healing. The putrid arm clearly indicated there was a high level of septicemia (Bacterial infection) that made the condition more complex. Sadly, the arm had to be amputated. The Veterinarian was in a dilemma; whether to clear the infection first before the surgery despite the animal being in pain, or attempt the surgery on an already weak animal that would reduce its chances of survival. He chose the latter. The procedure went interestingly well with minimal bleeding and with nothing short of a miracle, the Colobus survived. The next few weeks were a test since the youngster required critical care and monitoring. By the second week after surgery, the Colobus had improved immensely and adapting to using one arm. This was a MIRACLE!

‘White Cap’ is just but a few lucky ones who are able to survive from such an ordeal. Protection of these primates is crucial in ensuring a better future for them and our ecosystem as a whole.

Recent human based activities such as development of infrastructure for instance roads and hotel structures as well as increase in human population in the area has had a vast negative impact on the habitat and the species that reside in this forest. A major contribution to the degradation of this unique ecosystem is by and large due to the fact that none of the land where this forest is occupied is under the Gazetted Forests of Kenya. All of the land is privately owned and has been fragmented into a number of plots that host hotels, cottages and resorts. This expansion of infrastructure has resulted in placement of electric cable lines that are in close proximity with tree branches where most primates are found. Such close proximity makes the primates more prone to electrocution with a majority of them not able to survive the shock.

Increase in traffic along the South Coast Diani Road has led to an increase in primates being involved in Road Traffic Accidents (RTAs) with a high mortality rate due to the severe impact of the high speeding vehicles.

Considering the continuous increase in human settlement with subsequent increase in electric cable installation and an increase in Road Traffic, the survival chances of this unique ecosystem as well as the primates that are a part of it, are critically low. Conservation of this habitat is vital.

As earlier stated, Colobus Conservation has since stepped in to address this issue with a mission to promote, in close co-operation with other organizations and local communities, the conservation, preservation and protection of primates, in particular the Angolan Colobus monkey (Colobus angolensis palliatus) and its associated coastal forest habitat in Kenya. The Conservation has so far placed speed bumps along the Diani Road to reduce the speed of traffic as well as working with the Kenya Power and Lightning Company to insulate electric cable lines in close proximity with the trees. Another initiative they have employed is the regular trimming of branches in close proximity to the cables to avoid the primates from jumping to the cable lines.

Despite the impressive efforts employed by Colobus conservation, countless primates are still being lost due to electrocution and road accidents. More awareness and education to the society is required in order to save this species and their habitat.