Category Archives: Progress report

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.

Mother and Child

As promised, here is a photo of one of our mothers with her snow-white baby.

They are still very elusive!

They are still very elusive!

A Baby in the Woods

In and amongst the busy days here it is necessary to clear your head. The nature trail seemed the perfect retreat. Half an acre of untamed Coral Rag forest at the back of our plot, we use it as an integral part of our tours and demonstrations to the local schools that come weekly for education at the Trust. It is dense with trees, mostly local but with some exotic, whose roots grow outward on the surface of the ground due to the layers of coral rock underneath the surface. This complex patchwork is rich with other types of flora and the wildlife that forms its habitat.

I ventured in, the first time I had been alone. Once inside, I could hear the sound of monkeys jumping all around me. As I turned a corner, two Colobus appeared only a few feet in front of me. I think they were as surprised as I was and took off! Further into the forest more Colobus appeared. Only this time they did not run, they held their ground proudly. Amongst this majestic throng sat the proud mother of a tiny white infant. Despite a five month gestation period, Colobus usually bear children only once every one or two years. Even then, infancy can be difficult. The snow-white babies are very dependant on their mothers to carry them around. The specific diet of the adults of at least two kilograms of leaves a day requires migration across their habitat. Due to the deforestation in Diani, this can lead troops into meeting and causes conflict. In situations like this babies can be dropped by their mothers in moments of panic, or they can be harmed by the aggressive adults of the other troop.

We were all very excited to hear the news of a new baby in the home troop, and the next day they gave us the honour of spending their time right outside the cottage. As we rushed out to catch a glimpse of the new young, Cara noticed something unusual about the mother carrying her child. In her arms was not one, but two infant Colobus. They lay still and peaceful against her, and we gazed up wondering about this miracle.

It is very rare for a Colobus to produce two offspring, and even more so in June when their usual time for child bearing is September to October. Our belief is that she was caring for two while the other mother had a chance to eat or rest. We are all so excited to have not just one new arrival but two! Needless to say, we will be keeping our eyes on the new mothers and their babies. Seeing these moments is touching, and often reminds me of how similar the relationships of the Colobus are to our own.

We will keep you informed!

P.S. We haven’t got any pictures of the babies as yet, but they are to come soon!

Infant Bush baby

In March a couple found a bush baby in their hotel room and contacted us on the hotline to find out what they should do. It was assumed that something has happened to the mother because at a young age they are dependent on them. We advised them to bring it down to the Trust so we could take a look at it. When we examined the infant we estimated its age to be around a month and a half old. We nursed it for a few weeks, progressing its food from milk and Cerelac to fruit and various insects until it became obvious it wanted to be more independent! The bush baby has grown so much and is now living in our roof and doing very well. It comes down for food at night as well as hunting for insects by itself. She loves to play and jump around the place and doesn’t keep still for very long! We haven’t named the bush baby but we’ll let you know it’s progress so stay tuned!


The Bush baby shortly after it's arrival

The Bush baby shortly after its arrival

Another week at the Colobus Trust…

Last week we continued planting more indigenous trees. Our aim is to plant 200 trees at the current plot site that we have been targeting and we have already planted over 100 trees at this site and even more at other sites in the area. These efforts will help reestablish the continuous forest in Diani. This has not been an easy task as in many areas coral has proven to be a challenge to dig into. The Diani forests, known as coral rag forests, exist on large and deep beds of coral- it means that slow-growing indigenous trees have a tough time unless we can dig a big enough hole for their roots. We are also encouraging Diani residents to plant indigenous trees on their property to assist us in our project.

Some of the trees we're planting in Diani

Some of the trees we're planting in Diani

We have also made labels to attach to the trees so that we can identify and track them. The aim is to collect data on the progress of different species and learn how to maximize forest growth. The plan for the future is to analyze the collected data in ArcGIS, an advanced mapping program. We hope to discover which species thrive most successfully and change our approach for those species that do not.

Felice clinging on to his love, Emily

Felice clinging on to his love, Emily

In addition, the baby Vervet monkey finally has a name! Parin Streil of Germany won the eBay auction and decided on the beautiful name Emily. Not only are we grateful to have a name for Emily, but also the money generated by the auction to name her is greatly appreciated. Parin has helped the Trust before by reporting the electrocution of Felice’s (our baby Sykes monkey) mother, leading to his rescue. Felice is doing really well with Emily as his playmate.

Thanks for reading,

Haley and Amelia


Snow White

When the hotline started ringing I answered expecting to hear the usual story of a Vervet or Sykes lying dead on the side of the road, but for once it was happy news! Ricardo, owner of Water Lovers resort, was calling to say a new Colobus baby had been born that morning. I went down to check on it at 3 days old, and it looks very content in the arms of its mother. The proud new parents remained wary of my intrusion, but allowed me to take some photos of the baby, who is tiny, snowy white, and appears to be in good health. We will keep an eye on it on our weekly Colobus checks and we hope that it will thrive.



The baby Colobus with its parents

The baby Colobus with its parents

Rehabilitation at the Colobus Trust

As a recent volunteer, I am taking to The Colobus Trust blog to explain what I have done so far. I am volunteering for the month of January as a part of my schooling. Home in Canada I have worked as a wildlife educator and a rehabilitator for a wildlife center, I am looking forward to putting my skills to use here at the Trust and learning about the important work that is done here.

On my first day of work I was put to work quickly cleaning and maintaining the cages for the rehabilitation animals. Currently the Trust has 4 Vervet and 2 Sykes monkeys that are getting ready to be released. Most of them are ex-pet or orphaned monkeys (their mothers were killed on the road). Within these cases includes a female Vervet that was rescued from Mombasa where it was found being abused by swinging it around by its tail. The Colobus Trust has also worked very hard with one of the Sykes monkeys which is only here temporarily. It was hit by a car and needed to be hand fed until it was able to eat on its own again. She also had many neurological problems, including loss of vision, which appears to be improving all the time. Thankfully, with the rehabilitation work done by The Colobus Trust, these once helpless cases can be released and live the life they always deserved. The situation helped by donors such as Arusha T., Mark S., Black C. and Susan B. who have donated what they can- it means so much to us, thank you!

While working with these cases the staff ensures that their cages are cleaned and maintained everyday, including replacing old branches and having ropes for them to swing on and participate in normal primate behavior. They are given a variety of food to ensure that they are familiar with a proper diet and increase their success rate upon release. Monkeys that are housed here together often bond and create their own troop to be released together and significantly increase their survival rate after release.

In 3 days I have already learned so much about primate care. The people are so kind and the work is so important. I can’t wait to see what else this month at The Colobus Trust will bring!

Kristy Bailey


A big thank you!

All the staff at the Colobus Trust would like to say a huge thank you to all who have helped and supported us in 2009.  Whether you’ve bought a bridge, adopted a Colobus, become a member or sponsor or given your time and energy to our cause, we would like to send our heartfelt thanks to you! You enable us to carry on our work here in Kenya to save the Colobus monkey and it’s habitat!

I would also like to say a huge thank you to the staff at the trust. They work so hard and always with a smile!

Wishing you all Happy Holidays and all the best for 2010!


Assistant Manager

Below: Some of the staff and volunteers at the trust


The passing of Erica

Some readers may be aware that Erica, the orphaned Sykes monkey who had been living at the Trust since July, died earlier this month. Erica had moved from the main house up to the rehabilitation cages, where we hoped to prepare her for her release into the wild. However, this was not to be. After being found bleeding from a wound on her back, Erica battled for life for over a day before finally passing away. After her death it was discovered that she had internal bleeding and a punctured lung.

Before her death, Erica had discovered that she could still squeeze herself out of the cage. This has lead us to believe that having temporarily moved out of the cage Erica was chased or even pinned down by a Sykes monkey in the local troop. Unfortunately there is no way of us ever knowing.

The loss of Erica will certainly be felt for a long time by anyone who knew her. We can only cherish the wonderful memories she has given us and be thankful that she came into our lives, however briefly.


The Colobus Team

Bush Baby Bahati

Dear Readers,

We apologise for the lack of updates recently from the Trust! We’ve had a lot going on which we’ll update you all on in the next few days.

Regular visitors to our blog will know that we rescued a Bush Baby which we named Bahati. He was a favourite with the visiting school children as well as all the volunteers at the trust – even when we had to wake up every 3 hours to feed him! We taught him to jump over short distances and Marvo was building up to the ‘double jump’! Bahati was being fed on a diet of fruit and milk, but efforts to move him onto a diet of insects failed.

Last Monday he became a little weak but seemed to be improving and his appetite returned to normal. He was back to his noisy, active self on Tuesday. However when we woke him for one of his feeds on Wednesday afternoon he was very drowsy and would not feed. His condition did not improve and sadly he passed away later that day. As you all may know raising an infant without tender maternal care is very difficult and we did the best we could in order to see Bahati gradually become a healthy grown up Bush Baby but it was not meant to be.


Above: Our beloved Bahati with Marvo

He really was part of the family and his death has affected us all very strongly. We all miss him very much.

Thanks for reading and look out for our next update coming soon…

The Colobus Team.