This morning we had a brutal reminder of just how urgent the need is to take the next step with our insulation project, in particular, it highlighted the point we have been trying to make to The Kenya Power & Lighting Company that it is not just Diani’s power lines that need insulation, but it is also the transformers. Something that can be easily done with the readily available Denzo Tape. AND SOMETHING THAT NEEDED TO BE DONE TEN YEARS AGO!
What is worse about this situation is that we lost a family of 3 Colobus to another Hotspot on Monday and 4 more separate electrocution incidents have been reported in the last month alone!
It also triggered me thinking on how unique Diani is as a conservation case.
The story is a sad one and one I shall write as I heard, though it is using “scientifically incorrect” verse. This particular young male was playing a game of chase with his friends in the early morning cool. When with surprising agility he jumped straight off a fence onto a Transformer with 115,000 Volts running through it. This transformer is one of our identified electrocution hotspots, it is located on the border fence between Safari Beach and Nomads Hotels. Both of these hotels hold a considerable amount of well looked after forest. 115,000 Volts is reported to cause instant heart failure and death, however the brain may remain active for a short while, with all its neurons firing. It is not known how long he suffered before he died but his squeal of anguish was hear from 200 meters away and his flesh was cooked to the bone when we finally took him down.
This event got people talking and made me realise more than ever that Diani really is a unique as a case of modern conservation. This is coming from the point of view that Diani is so urbanized yet still contains such a special ecosystem that in a few places, is barely altered. The Colobus Trust is using the knowledge provided by dealing with Diani’s conservation issues to conserve on the frontline.
In a way The Colobus Trust and other conservations in Diani are dealing with issues that other wildlife habitats will be spared for many years to come. To allow them to be able to prepare for these issues would be of great benefit so we have and end goal of using our specific situation to help other areas of development by making the relevant people aware of these issues before it is too late.
Looking at Diani’s history is very interesting and again unique. Diani was built deep in the forest on one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. In the 1950s the forest still stretched all the way up to the Shimba Hills NR. There were Leopard, Elephant and Buffalo on the beach! Since it’s rise in popularity Diani has urbanized whilst the forest around it has been cleared. This development has occured at a near exponential rate over the last 50 years, particularly over the last decade. Now what forest remains is in the small Digo Kayas and in privately owned land, with the majority being in a 3km stretch of hotels. What the future hold remains to be seen, but we are at a pivotal point.
It is a new realization for me but dealing with urbanization and conservation causes a shift in the prioities of the popular conservation issues that are commonly taught and seen in the press. The majority of which are undertaken in rural areas. Prominent issues, such as bushmeat, are still relevant here, but we are looking at a unique situation where other less publicized and studied conservation strategies and issues require to be prioritized above what applies elsewhere.
When I think of The Colobus Trust, I see a small dedicated team with a mammoth task. These issues are mainly being combated by a team of 11 Colobus Trust staff, which in the scale of things is a comparatively minuscule organisation. There are others involved, but few make it the sole priority. This uniqueness and importance comes from the fact that these issues are going to become increasingly relevant in what is a rapidly urbanizing Kenya. This is explainable in a simple way. Interference caused to a wildlife rich ecosystem by development (in our case, notably arboreal (tree dwelling) wildlife) is all explained by urban Humanity’s need to put in place its comforts, or as some people would call them, necessities. The two ones we confront the most are the human need for transport (to facilitate movement of goods, people, etc.) and electricity (to power our many inventions).
Focusing on the transport issue, we Humans need our roads, and will build them everywhere we go, it is an unavoidable part of modern Kenyan development. The problem is that these roads end up bisecting a habitat. In our case this is our small patch of coastal rag forest (see below), and the road creates a “barrier” for arboreal species who are adapted for life in the trees. The reality is sooner or later the species will be required to cross this “barrier”. As you as a human will know, animals and roads do not mix, terrestrial animals such as dogs are frequently killed on the road. Therefore if terrestrial species are lost to the road, arboreal species are even more at risk.
The Colobus Trust and the people we work with are creating methods such as our famous Colobridges that can be put in place to allow arboreal species to cross roads safely. Others are doing similar projects on other continents to allow wildlife dispersal and migration across roads. Most notable is the Banff Wildlife Crossing Project which involves building bridges for wildlife movement over the Trans-Canadian Highway in Banff National Park, Canada. Even though our Colobridges have dramatically reduced road traffic fatalities. Humans still drive too fast, and monkeys do sometimes feel like being different, so some are still lost. We are combating this, we recent worked with the Kenya Roads Board to put in place 3 speed bumps in the area where most of the fatalities occur (below). In the 4 weeks they have been in place we have not had one fatality.
In effort to achieve this dream for a Diani in which humans and wildlife can coexist and cause each other no harm, a myraid of techniques are being used.
It is key to involve Kenyan Businesses and Government in this. We are working with the Kenyan companies and government offices that provide these utilities. We are doing so not only to reduce the rapid population decline of Diani’s wildlife, but also to prepare them for the future. We are working in collaboration with, among others, the Kenya Roads Board, The Kenya Power & Lighting Company and the District Commissioner’s Office. This aids us addressing these issues, prepares them as they will need to be dealt with in many more locations.
The reality is that million year old ecosystems will be damaged beyond repair and lost if something is not done. If Kenya is developed with, say for example all power lines underground or insulated (which is what we push for), then in the future people will not have to go back and spend time and money dealing with wildlife electrocution. Which is a battle we have been fighting for many years.
KPLC have been cooperative but results are taking a long time to materialize. Engineer Joseph Njoroge, Managing Director and CEO of KPLC recently committed to reducing primate electrocutions and we already have insulated one hotspot (see below) with PVC conduit as a temporary measure until KPLC go through the length process required to put in place insulated cable. However we are still waiting for them to provide the necessary permission and assistance to get started insulating more hotspots (the pilot project was a great success) as soon as possible. Let us hope the death of this young male helps us make progress.
Achieving this end goal of using our knowledge and experience to guide future development, as I see it, is done in two parts.
The first part is to use our knowledge and experience to provide guidance to not just to developers but to all involved in the development of Diani (investors, residents, tourists, etc.). This can then be brought into the context of places elsewhere in Kenya, Africa, Planet Earth. Thereby we will allow others to learn from Diani’s history. That is not to say that all development in Diani’s past has been badly managed. That is far from the case. I hope, as many others, that one day we can have a justified, endorsed guideline for development that people will take as law.
The second part is what will come out of the upcoming Diani Wildlife Census & Habitat Management Assessment. We aim to create and maintain an annual record of not just wildlife statistics (populations, demographics and documented fatalities) but a system that allows us to see the results of the projects we are undertaking. Projects including Indigenous Tree Planting Programs, Waste Disposal Management, Pest Monkey Management, Colobridge Use Assessment, our current Insulation Project, Education Programs and more…
With these two parts combined, I believe we can lead Diani, and may be the world, into a brighter future.
That said, back to my story about the poor baboon. It was a truly horrible experience to witness such a needless loss of such a wonderful creature. Many people do not like Baboons, and I see their logic as they can be intimidating and if you are not sensible can steal food off you, but I personally love them. I find their inquisitiveness and intelligence fascinating, especially that exhibited by juveniles such as the one lost today. I have spent many hours photographing and watch Baboons as they investigate their environment with such an intelligence that is so easily related to man’s actions. Initially their focus usually turns on me where we a have a brief unspoken communication as we assess each other. I find these are some of the moments that put someone in touch with nature, much like people speak of Gorillas. Then I laugh as one of them bounces off dragging a rattling Flamboyant seed pod behind it. One of the most fascinating experiences I have had in Diani was observing and a photographing an old female Baboon who found a piece of broken mirror. She explored all of the facets this new and exciting object could before turning to look at me and then instantly positioning the mirror so as to look at me and pull faces. She was making facial gestures which, to her, would have normally intimidated a human. I wonder if she was aware that without the aggression of intrusive body positioning towards me this would not have been so threatening. She then proceeded to look around and at me, through this mirror. Something I luckily caught on camera and have put in below so as you can all appreciate the moment.
Not many people think this way but Baboons play their integral part in Diani’s already fragile ecosystem most people just see them as cheeky little critters, a nuisance or something to be frightened of. The comparison of the charred dead baboon and the young, intelligent, playful ones I have got to know really humbled me. To put my point across I have used the two pictures below. I took one a while back during one of my many Baboon watching sessions and one I took this morning.
The body of this baboon now lies in a grave amongst the cemetery of other animals we have lost, few have died of natural causes, but the majority have humans to blame for their demise. But I’m glad this loss allowed us to achieve some good. A letter is being written to Engineer Njoroge asking for rapid action in the insulation project, with these photos attached.
We are continuing to push and get some physical action as soon as we can. Camps International are still heavily involved and working hard at their end. We intend to start insulating more of the hotspots this month, that is if KPLC grant us permission.
If you want to help us there are two ways you can:
The first is to “donate” button on the right hand side of this blog. All money donated goes directly towards helping support the Colobus Trust and helping us do such work. You can even specify that your donation is to go solely towards the insulation project and ALL of it will.
The second is for you too to write to the Managing Director and CEO of KPLC, Engineer Joseph Njoroge, thanking him for his pledge to help us but reminding him politely that the longer the project is tied up in beaurocracy, the more times members of Diani’s wonderful wildlife will have to suffer such a horrible death.
Address letters to: Engineer Joseph Njoroge, Managing Director & CEO of The Kenya Power & Lighting Company, Head Office, Stima Plaza, P.O.Box 30099; NAIROBI 00100, Kenya.
This tragic loss triggered me to write this blog which in the end grew into more than I expected.
I hope you appreciate it.
Thanks for the support,