Some people are wondering, what is the connection between the discovery of a rare primate species population in northern Kenya and climate change. I sought to get more details from Dr Richard Leakey.
When the reports of this new population in Samburu emerged, many people speculated that the population could exhibit significant difference from the population in Western Kenya. Indeed, when I went there, I expected to see glaring behavioural and physical differences from what I had seen in Western Kenya. However, after the 8 months study no difference was evident from my field observations. This doesn’t rule out the fact that there could be significant genetic variations until molecular studies are done to compare the two populations. While social behaviour and organisation of a population is sometimes influenced by ecological factors, such an isolated population could exhibit some deviation in response to challenges that come with its unique environment and prolonged isolation. However, this was not observed during the study either.
Kori Bustard, a rare bird that I came acroos in Laikipia on my way to Samburu
In addition, I was surprised to see similarities between the de Brazza’s habitat in Mathews range and that in Kisere forest in Western Kenya. Majority of the most preferred plant species eaten by de Brazza’s in Kisere happened to be in Mathews range and were highly ranked in the De Brazza’s diet. The similarity in the habitat is also surprising since Mathews range is found in the northern semi-arid part of the country far away from Kakamega forest where Kisere is found, with the Great Rift Valley dividing the two. This signifies that there was “a wet corridor” (as Dr Leakey puts it) that allowed biological exchanges to the East and to the west of the Rift Valley. This must be very recent, not before the formation of the Great Rift Valley.
The Reticulated Giraffe is endemic to northern kenya
But we know many species that don’t cross over to either sides of the Rift valley in Kenya. For example, Gerenuk and Grevy Zebra don’t cross the west, the Sykes monkey in Kenya are on the east while in the west we find the Blue monkey, some antelope and the Giraffe are different races on both sides of the Rift Valley etc. However, we know that the Mangabeys and Red Colobus are found predominantly in the Equatorial forest Central and West Africa. Then how did the Tana mangabey and the Tana Red colobus population cross-over to the Kenyan coast?
Dr Leakey explains that there was a connection between the equatorial forest of central Africa and the region to the east of the Rift Valley in Kenya and Ethiopia. This is not before the formation of the Rift Valley which occurred about 2 million years ago, but very recently. “I suspect this was approximately 8000 years ago during the Holocene and it is an indication of some dramatic results of the last major period of climate change. We should not assume that today’s landscapes will remain as they are – big changes are certain, the only question is when” said Dr Richard Leakey.
Lamu archipelago. Global warming will lead to submerging of some villages in the Islands.
So here is the connection. This discovery gives us a golden opportunity to understand climate change, the greatest threat to humanity in our time.
I leave you with this image showing de Brazza’s monkey distribution in Kenya. The red show know groups, while the blue shows unconfirmed groups. Just click on my name.
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