Treading the treetops

I’m Margi and I’m a new volunteer at the Colobus Trust. I live in the UK where I do freelance work for countryside organizations who want to improve their provision for visitors and local communities, and to help people understand the natural and historical environment better.

So in some ways the Colobus Trust feels really familiar, as its aims are not so different. But of course, the pressures and challenges here in Diani are so much greater, as Kenya’s coastal forest steadily disappears and with it the last refuge of the Angolan Colobus monkey, not to mention all the rest of the animals and plants in this precious ecosystem.

We’ve had a stark reminder of this recently, being greeted in the mornings by the sound of chain-saws from a neighboring property, where the owner is clearing land. At first, we thought our resident Colobus troop had been scared off by the noise, but last week they were back, calmly munching the young leaves of the neem trees that surround the Colobus Trust house, and bouncing on and off our roof before returning to the topmost branches.

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This was my first sight of Colobus monkeys in the wild. They are truly stunning animals with their beautiful black coats and flowing white manes. It would be tragic if they disappeared for ever. But they have well-developed survival skills, and it’s good to know our ‘home’ troop is still around.

Today I saw one of the areas where they’re doing well, a three-acre patch of untouched coastal forest, where there are at least five Colobus troops. I was there to help Colobus Trust staffers John and Mwitu to trim the high branches of trees growing close to power lines, to stop Colobus and other monkeys using the high-voltage wires as a convenient walkway.

Electrocution is one of the main causes of death or serious injury for Diani’s primates, and although the Trust rushes to the rescue whenever they hear of a casualty, the victims don’t always survive. In any case, prevention is better than cure! So trimming trees and insulating power lines are important parts of the work. At the moment the Trust is running a big campaign to insulate as many lines as possible. It costs just $1 a meter to make the wires monkey-proof, but there are thousands of meters to do, so the Trust urgently needs donations for this work!

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John and Mwitu are fearless climbers, shinning up a wobbly extended ladder to gain a precarious foothold in the trees, before lopping off high branches with a razor-sharp machete. I didn’t trust myself on the ladder, and I don’t think the others trusted me with a machete! So I stayed on the ground and cleared up the fallen branches, dragging them into the forest where they’ll sustain all sorts of mini-beasts and eventually rot down into the soil.

One of the local Colobus troops came by to check us out before we started work, and later in the morning we were inspected by three Suni (Africa’s smallest antelope) and a Waterbuck. Patches of forest like this one support an amazing array of wildlife, and it can survive alongside people – not just in parks and reserves – as long as we give it enough space and take care that our actions don’t needlessly destroy it. I can see for myself that the Trust does a great job getting this message across and backing it up with practical action.

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