Kenya: Rare primates and Delta’s pride


Shout Africa, Tana River Primate National Reserve, Kenya

Sometime back in 1976, then Kenya’s founding Father Mzee Jomo Kenyatta gazetted the Tana River Primate National Reserve (TRPNR) as a special protected area for two endangered primates and their riverine forest. What however the government officers did not tell Kenyatta is that he had gazetted several Pokomo villages. Right at the centre of the reserve Pokomo villages were thriving. They still reside in these villages to this day.

According to Simon Waciuri the senior warden of TRPNR the reserve is specifically critical for primate reserve as it is home to other eight non-human primates notably, Zanzibar Galago, yellow baboon, Sykes monkeys, vervet monkeys. The reserve covers some 171 square kilometres.

Tana river primates

At the time when the Tana-GEF project commenced in 1996, the Tana River Red Colobus was listed in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species as “endangered”. By the time the project was being shut down it had moved to “critically endangered.” The 2015 IUCN Red List lists it as “Least concern” meaning “the species as a whole is widespread and not believed to be declining at any rate sufficient to warrant listing in a threatened category.”

The Tana Crested Mangabey was also listed as “endangered” in 1996. It moved to “critically endangered” in the year 2000. Today it is listed again as endangered needing “to be closely monitored given the insecurity of the area and potential future threats which could very quickly move it into the Critically Endangered category.”

Abio Gafo who hails from the Pokomo and has been involved in primate research for decades shares his insights two rare primates that are only found in Kenya. According to Gaffo, the two primates are dependent on the gallery forests along the Tana River. “The primates are found more near our villages than in any other place.” Gaffo says.  “Both primates are not hostile to people and rarely interfere with crops.”

Abio highlights that the red colobus (Kalawasi in Pokomo) is predominantly grey eats wild fruits, leaves and flowers and is given to an elusive and wholly arboreal lifestyle. Its population is currently estimated to be between 1000 – 1200 and lives in groups of around 10 individuals. The crested mangabey (Karau Magogo) which is said to live in large groups of up to 60 individuals is named because of the striking crest on its forehead. It feeds on plants and tiny insects and its population is estimated at 1,200.

Research conducted by the Institute of Primate Research (IPR) shows that a larger number of the population of these two primates were found in the gallery forests where there were settlements.

The Institute of Primate Research (IPR) which is a specialized unit of the National Museums of Kenya (NMK) is the agency in charge of all primates in Kenya.

Both the Tana Red Colobus and the Crested Mangabey’s are within the purview of the IPR which is the pioneer of primatology in Africa with a history going back to the late 1950s when Louis Leakey the patriarch of the Leakey family established primate research in Kenya.

Tana Delta Land and Primate Series of stories supported by the Fund for Investigative Journalism [FIJ]