Category Archives: Primate Rescue/Rehabilitation

Clicker Training Betsy, a pre-release Angolan colobus monkey .

With each new carer or researcher that comes to Colobus Conservation to help with the rehabilitation and release of our hand reared monkeys, come a wave of new ideas on how situations can be improved or new things we can try. Often the suggestions have been tried before or more frequently they are used at a specific point of the individuals’ rehabilitation and not as a daily event. However, when Johanna Olsson, Betsy’s new release coordinator, arrived in December she made a suggestion that was unique, had not been tried before and after just four weeks of implementation appears to be making an extraordinary change to Betsy’s behaviour.

Clicker trainingBetsy clicker training

Clicker training uses a clicker, and a reward. For Betsy the clicker is the lid of a jam jar, and the reward is a peanut. You may have heard of Pavlov’s dogs; every time food was presented a bell was rung. Eventually the bell would ring, and the dogs, having been classically conditioned, would salivate in response to the bell without the presence of food. Clicker training is a similar concept but instead of a bell, it is a click.

Step one of the training with Betsy started by creating an association between the click and the peanut. Give a peanut, and click simultaneously. Step two: click, wait, and then peanut. Step three: when Betsy is out of the enclosure at forest school and she is behaving in a desirable way, click and then reward with a peanut. The idea is that the click causes Betsy to feel positive thereby making it more likely for her to, for example, spend time in trees, foraging and ignoring people.

Why is clicker training required with Betsy?

When Johanna started, Betsy was spending a lot of time on the ground, a lot of time seeking mischief and was rewarded with human attention due to the commotion she had caused. Of course primates being rather smart, Betsy being a fan of these games. Clicker training turns the game upside down, good behaviours are rewarded, while bad ones are ignored or discouraged. Obviously you can reward a behaviour with just a peanut, this wouldn’t necessarily require the clicker. The clicker, acts as a marker for the exact moment the good behaviour is performed, thereby communicating that the current action is good and then the reward can come later.

What do we hope to achieve?

We are hoping that Betsy will begin to actively seek out trees to sleep in and forage more independently. The clicker will also be utilised to reward any form of interaction with wild colobus, maybe helping to integrate her into a troop and one day herself, become wild again. So far, there have been huge improvements. It is a long way off from being perfect but things are definitely going in the right direction. Hopefully over time, and with the addition of target training (see below) we will continue to see progress, building on the positive steps that have been put in place and see great things to come.

What is target training?

In the future we hope to begin target training with Betsy. Target training is teaching an animal to come towards, touch or stay by an object such as, in this case a stick with a golf ball on one end. This acts as a point of focus or ‘target’ which the animal learns to follow. This is taught using the clicker, every time Betsy touches the target; she receives a click and then a reward.

How can target training be used?

Target training can be useful in guiding an animal from one point to another, although usually only utilised in zoo and laboratory animals, in the context of wildlife rehabilitation we will use the target to encourage time spent high up in trees foraging. Another benefit is that it may reduce the need for human contact when manoeuvring Betsy from one spot to another. This may reduce stress by allowing for clearer communication, eventually resulting in the learned behaviour becoming habitual as oppose to dependant on physical cues and rewards.

Franky the vervet is injured again!

Any long-term supporters might remember, Franky Four Fingers (a wild adult male vervet monkey who has integrated into our vervet release troop) who survived a car accident just outside of Colobus Conservation a few months ago. On Sunday the tragedy continued for him as we were called to help a vervet who had been attacked by a baboon at the house next door to our head quarters.

Franky with his injuries before being treated

Trapped on a roof and unable to climb down, the only way to ensure we could capture him safely was to take our rescue team up onto the house roof, net and sedate him up there before carrying him down, while the rest of the vervet troop kept a very close eye on us.

Once in the vet clinic we could see the full extent of the damage. He had a number of deep cuts through the muscle in his arms, legs and chest very close to his lungs. Our volunteer vet Marta, along with three assistants, worked for four hours to clean him up, stitch the muscles and skin back together, and dress all of the wounds. Although lucky that the wounds did not puncture any organs, there is potential nerve damage to his left leg – something we will only see the full effects of once he has begun to recover.

Franky is a wild male who joined our release vervet troop just over a year ago. He has always been somewhat of an outsider, and his occasional inappropriate social behaviour, such as aggression towards infants and excessive alarm calling, is believed to be the reason why he has not become a fully integrated troop member. Although we do not know the situation surrounding his attack we suspect that if for example, there was competition for food or aggression between the baboons, then a badly placed social move on Franky’s behalf at this time may have triggered the attack as a reprimand.

He is currently recovering in our vet clinic and is being closely monitored by our team. He will have his dressing changed in a couple of days and has everyone at Colobus Conservation on board to ensure that he makes a full recovery.

Franky, stitched up and bandaged following a baboon attack

Rehabilitation Monkeys get an Enrichment Update .

Over the last couple of weeks Colobus Conservation staff and volunteers have been busy updating and upgrading our current enrichment schedule. Helen Page, an eco-volunteer who joined us earlier this month has been leading this project based on knowledge she brought with her from working in UK zoos

Enrichment is an animal husbandry technique that has been designed to improve the care and reduce potential boredom of captive animals. The purpose of enrichment is to increase the range and number of species-specific behaviours, and reduce the frequency of abnormal or stereotypical (repetitive actions with no obvious personal gain) behaviours. In addition to this, Colobus Conservation designs its enrichment program to teach the monkeys essential life skills such as foraging for insects or sleeping and moving in branches, ultimately better preparing them for life back in the wild.


Helen and the Colobus Conservation Team initially focused their attention on our pre-release vervet and Sykes monkey’s. These individual are from a range of ages and backgrounds e.g. orphans and ex-pets. Enrichment for these primates needs to be varied so that there is something to engage all individuals while keeping it natural and replicating what would be found in the wild and encourage natural behaviours.


Yesterday Browse Bars were the order of the day and trialled for the first time this morning. This enrichment item aims to replicate how browse (wild leaves and flowers) would be seen and accessed in the wild. In addition it provides a challenge to the monkeys on how they can get to their preferred browse branch which will involve climbing, pulling and manoeuvring branches from the feeders.


An example of browse bars before hung in the enclosures

For browser bars logs are collected and numerous holes are drilled through the log along its length and ropes added to allow the browser bars to be hung on the inside of the enclosure.

Browse bars hung up and ready to use


This morning, while cleaning the monkeys, the browse bars were tied to the inside mesh of the enclosures. Branches of leaves and flowers were then collected and placed vertically into the holes of the browse bars for the monkeys to pull at.




Once in place the monkeys were allowed access and were able to begin enjoying their new feeders and puzzling over how to reach their desired branch and access the delicious bourgainvillea and flamboyant flowers.

Juvenile vervet and Sykes exploring the new Browse BarsAdult vervet monkey exploring the new Browse Bars










Brooklyn Recovers from a Life Threatening Wound

At just 5 weeks old, Brooklyn, the newest member of Colobus Conservations release troop, sustained a serious wound to her back. She is now back in the wild and with her troop.

Brooklyn is the newest member of Colobus Conservation’s vervet release troop, born in the wild to a mother who was released in May 2012; she is now approaching two months old. Early in the morning at the beginning of November the research team that is monitoring the release troop’s progress noticed two small puncture wounds to Brooklyn’s back. It was unknown what had happened to cause the wounds, but it was suspected that one of the adult males had bitten her over night.

Due to her young age, just 5 weeks old, and her mother’s lack of experience in caring for a young infant, it was decided by the onsite vet and management team that we needed to take a closer look at the wound and treat as necessary. Now we faced the problem of removing Brooklyn from her Mother, Face.

Brooklyn recoversA trap was set and Face was lured towards it using a trail of peanuts. Once in the trap and moved to the security of the clinic and away from a very angry vervet troop, the vet was able to lightly sedate Face and remove Brooklyn from her grasp. We were shocked by the wound we discovered, it was not two puncture wounds but a tear that ran the width of her back from shoulder to shoulder – if left untreated we doubt she would have survived.

A number of stitches were required to close the wound and Brooklyn, along with her mother spent four days in the treatment room, so we could ensure the wound remained clean and dry. Thankfully Face did not try the remove the stitches and we kept her busy with lots of tasty fruits and leaves. During this period, other members of the release troop were never far away and someone was always keeping a watch over her.


Brooklyn and FaceIt is now three weeks since this incident and both monkeys are back in the troop and surviving well. Brooklyn’s stitches have dissolved, but her hair is still to fully grow back. She is becoming more and more independent, learning to climb the trees, sampling the wild foods and playing with the slightly older juveniles.

We suspect the wound was inflicted while being carried on her mother’s chest when the troop crossed a barbed wire fence or broken bottle topped security wall and Brooklyn was not lifted high enough above the sharp objects.



Colobus Trust Re-Launches!

Wakuluzu: Friends of the Colobus Trust is changing.  On October 19th, Colobus Trust held a re-launch becoming Colobus Conservation with a new look including a new logo and a new website but with the continuing vision of developing innovative conservation solutions for Diani, and sharing with the rest of the world.  We celebrated our new look with a cocktail party bringing together our key partners sharing this special time.  You can use the existing email addresses which will automatically forward to our new ones, or use Contact Us through this site.

Vervet Release 2012 – Update

Released vervets groomingOver the past few years, Colobus Conservation has rescued, rehabilitated and released numerous monkeys back to their family groups. Occasionally, we receive monkeys that can not be returned to their family groups, these are often ex-pets or individuals that have been orphaned. In these cases, the individuals enter long term rehabilitation and are gradually prepared for release as part of a troop made up of individuals with similar backgrounds.

Prior to release the monkeys, each member of this group was tested on their wild skills.  Each had to pass the test of climbing trees, forage for wild foods, and respond approprately to predators.  Only those individuals that were able to behaviour with the correct behaviours were chosen for release.

On 27 May 2012, released a troop of twelve vervet monkeys, who are being monitored for one year to enable us to gather a full understanding of factors effecting their survival. At four months post release, eleven of the twelve release monkeys continue to survive in the wild. Sadly, the youngest member of the troop died just two weeks after release – the exact causes of his death remains unknown but several factors are likely to have contributed. In addition to the eleven surviving monkeys, a wild adult male is slowly joining the troop. He has had to battle the alpha male for acceptance, and has received numerous wounds in the process. However, he now feeds with the troop, sleeps in a neighbouring tree and has even been seen mating with a lead female. The most exciting development is the imminent birth of the newest troop member. We have suspected for a few weeks now that ‘Face’, an adult female, is pregnant and in the last couple of weeks she has certainly ‘blossomed’. While we do not know when exactly she conceived we are certain she will give birth very soon.

Colobus Infant Reunited with Mom

Infant and Mother ReunitedAnother very young colobus infant came our way on September 1st, a Saturday evening. A white infant male was found on the ground at Diani Sea Resort as his ‘family’ went to their sleeping site. The infant was around two weeks old, cold, scared and tired. Importantly though, his tummy was full of food so we knew that he had very recently been with his mother and that she was caring for him appropriately. We were confident that his abandonment was a mistake but it was after dark and we had no time to organise a plan to get the infant back to the group where he belonged. Instead, he was taken back to Colobus Conservation, and with our experiences with Betsy, our famous hand reared infant colobus, we knew to give fresh water as well as goat’s milk and to keep him warm with a hot water bottle – all done under the watchful eye of Colobus Conservation’s Manager Andrea Donaldson and our Colobus Carer volunteer, Molly Parren. Infant and Mother Reunited

We returned to the hotel grounds bright and early at 6am on Sunday morning. hoping to re-connect him with his Mother and troop. We located the nearby troop who we knew had dropped the infant on Saturday evening, based on them sleeping in the tree directly above where we collected the infant. As the troop saw the rescue team approach with the infant, the alpha male swooped down, grabbed him and dragged him away by his tail, climbed a tree and dropped him again. Based on this reaction to the infant, the age and sex composition of the troop (there was no female of infant bearing age who didn’t already have a baby) and because we had not had a report of a dead female in the area, we then suspected that this troop may have ‘taken’ the infant from a neighbouring troop during an aggressive encounter. We began looking for a suitable, neighbouring troop – one with a lactating female but without a baby.

Infant and Mother ReunitedOn Monday morning, the Colobus Conservation Manager finally found a troop of colobus with a lactating female whose baby had not been seen since Friday afternoon. Unusually, the troop was in Waterlovers, the hotel next door to the one where our infant was found, but we were fairly sure it was the correct troop. The infant was brought from Colobus Conservation to Waterlovers and placed on a makuti roof under the tree where the suspected mother was sitting. We had not even been able to get him fully out of his blanket before the female ran down, scooped him up with his blanket and returned to the safety of the trees.

Edwardo’s Frown

About two weeks ago here at The Colobus Trust we got a call about an injured monkey. The caller explained that a ‘small brown monkey’ had been seen around the hotel that was totally unable to use its back legs. He was one elusive disabled monkey; it took us over half an hour to find him. This was our first encounter with sad Edwardo. A 5-month-old vervet monkey, with the biggest frown I’ve ever seen, who was totally unable to move his body from his legs down.

The only the way he could have survived as long as he has is because of his mother’s care. But soon he would be too big for her milk, or to be carried around. Although vervets are mostly terrestrial during the day, at night they will find trees to sleep in to protect themselves from predators and sometimes eat the leaves from high branches. There is no way Edwardo could climb a tree by himself.

So, out came the net and Edwardo’s frown grew. It’s awful taking a wild animal away from its mother. Especially these two, as due to Edwardo’s condition they would be especially close. As soon as the net went down the mother went mad. We had to keep her away with sticks and shouts while she followed us, howling, all the way to the truck. Monkeys will often mourn the loss of family members and even carry around dead infants for days before they will let go. I am sure Edwardo’s mother would have been no different. However, we hope to be able to reunite a happy, healthy Edwardo with a forlorn mother soon.

Once we had captured him we took him straight to the vet to see if he thought Edwardo had a chance of recovery. He concluded that Edwardo had a slipped disc in his spine and an infected cut on his tail, but with steroids and antibiotics, he could recover in a couple weeks. Edwardo did not struggle too much at the vets; he just frowned. Just as if he’d expected all this to happen. As if he knew suffering to be his lot in life, and all he had to do was wait it out.

Edwardo in the clinic

Edwardo in the clinic

The next morning Edwardo had his first treatment back at the Colobus Cottage. Once we had given him his injections and disinfected his wounds, one of our volunteers thought of physiotherapy. This has worked a charm. After only 3 days he could limp across his cage, rather than drag himself. His right leg is improving now, his left is much stronger and he has even begun to struggle with his back legs as well as frown!  We have moved him to a bigger cage, so he can climb branches and test out his newly functioning legs.

Now, if only we could improve that frown…

Snares trap again…

A few weeks ago, we got a call from Camp Kenya about an injured male Sykes that was limping on its right front hand. When we arrived on the scene and after assessing the situation, John set about darting the monkey in order to treat its injuries. This particular Sykes monkey was very intelligent and managed to dodge the dart several times, but we finally managed to capture him. It was at this point that we discovered the reason for its obvious discomfort was because it had a snare embedded its flesh. We quickly took him back to the Trust clinic in order to take out the snare and wash the wound, and then to treat the lesion on his mouth that had arisen from trying to get the snare off. We successfully removed the snare that had fixed itself deeply into the monkey’s flesh, cleaned the abrasion and gave him some antibiotics and anti-inflammatory medicine to deal with the infection.

The lesion on the Sykes' mouth and snare around its hand

The lesion on the Sykes' mouth and snare around its hand

We kept the monkey in the cage for 3 days for observation and when we saw that the healing process had begun to take place, we took him back to where he was captured and released him back to the wild. The release was successful.

The snare removed and the wound cleaned

The snare removed and the wound cleaned

Snares are a big problem here in Diani, simply because the locals set the snares to trap the small Suni antelope for bushmeat. Unfortunately, monkeys fall victim to the traps as well which either results in their death or leaves them with deformities. We have therefore put measures in place to mitigate the snare menace. Firstly, we try to educate the locals on the dangers and disadvantages of putting up the snares, especially with our education program with local schools. Secondly, we have a desnaring program where staff and volunteers go into the forest in Diani and physically remove the snares and traps that have been set. Desnaring saves the lives of forest creatures and promotes sustainability of fauna in Diani.



Enriching Lives

Jamie, one of our Eco-volunteers, wrote this blog about the enrichment program at the Colobus Trust, which aims to release ex-pet and orphaned monkeys back into the wild:

Monkeys in captivity must be tested and challenged. Here at the Trust we ensure that the monkeys under rehabilitation are actively using their brains whilst in captivity to help them succeed once they are released into the wild. Feeding the monkeys and learning about animal welfare are some of my favourite activities here at the Trust, so I was really looking forward to participating in the enrichment program.

One of our vervets has worked out how to get his food

One of our vervets has worked out how to get his food

This past week we prepared papier-mâché balloons and hid the monkeys’ food inside (like a piñata, just substituting the candy for fruit). Once it came to feeding time, we placed twelve of these “piñatas” in the cage and watched them try to tackle the problem. Some walked right by the piñata took a quick look inside and continued on. Others tore it in half and grabbed the mango inside, while some stuck their hands inside the holes and grabbed the food that way. Eventually every monkey was able to figure it out and enjoy their afternoon meal.

The Sykes monkey in rehabiltation searching for her food

The Sykes monkey in rehabiltation searching for her food

I always enjoy watching the monkeys eat, but observing the enrichment program made me really realize the importance of keeping the captive monkeys active.



As some readers may be aware, Wildlifedirect are no longer going to be able to take donations through the website. Therefore if you’ve been thinking about donating something small or large to help the Colobus Trust, now is the time to do it! The function to donate on the website will close on the 30th March but we will still be blogging to let you know how we are getting on.

Thanks for your support and interest!