Category Archives: communication and awareness rising

Meet Sarah the saviour of the baboon

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In my conservation work, I meet very amazing people. People whose sacrifices and heroic actions never get noticed, let alone being recognized yet they sacrifice so much to save animals in distress. I want to share with you the story of Sarah and Kalito. This is an extra ordinary story of a bond between a young girl and a baboon.

This story started last year during the height of the devastating drought that hit Eastern Africa. Many animals died of starvation. The old and the very young were the worst affected. Luckily, there were also heroes and heroines doing anything within their powers to lessen the suffering of these animals.

It all happened by coincidence when one day Sarah was on her way to the river to draw water when she saw an abandoned baby baboon, which had collapsed due to starvation. When she realized that the mother, unable to feed the baby, abandoned it to die, Sarah (possibly driven by her young maternal instincts) decided to save it from death and took it home to nurse it.

Sarah’s family, which comes from a dry part of Kenya that was hard hit by famine, relied on government relief food to survive. Sarah had to share her food with little baboon till it grew to the healthy sub-adult you see in this video.

In Kenya, it is not illegal to’ save wildlife’, but it is illegal to keep wildlife without a license, which I think poor Sarah doesn’t have. Very soon, KWS will separate Sarah and the baboon. As a clear sign of the strong bond that has developed between the girl and the baboon, Sarah emotionally pleaded with us to tell authorities to take her elder brother rather than separate her with Kalito! But will anyone listen?

I personally believe that this baboon should be playing with other baboon out in the wild, but the action of people like Sarah should be rewarded not punished. Their story should be told to inspire poor communities living with wildlife that conservation in not just for the rich! Anyone can do something locally to make this world a better place for all species to live in.

Keep tuned to this blog to see regular updates and a moving film on Sarah – Kalito story!

Iregi Mwenja is an Associate Scientist with the Institute of Primate Research and has been studying primates for the last eight years


‘Mikiranyie Nkoroin’

In early May, 2010 I headed to Samburu to lead some primates’ conservation activities. With the help of team from Samburu, we carried out an intensive awareness campaign in Wamba by conducting an elder’s workshop representing the entire district and awareness outreach in two secondary Schools. The workshop was facilitated by two highly qualified natural resources managers from Namunyak Wildlife Conservancy. Our clarion call ‘Mikiranyie Nkoroin’ is an appeal to the ‘Moran’s’ to stop killing the Endangered Mt Uarges guereza for its skin. Below are some photos from these events.

Tom, one of the Facilitators explaining the distribution of de Brazza's monkey in Mathews range

Tom, one of the Facilitators explaining the distribution of de Brazza's monkey in Mathews range

A Pleasant Surprise

As we embark on the most important phase of the Samburu Primates Research and Conservation Project – communicating findings of four years of groundbreaking research in rare and endangered primates to the local stakeholders in Samburu, I would like to share with you some of the exciting information that we will be communicating and interpreting to decison makers starting this week with the Samburu elders. This will be followed by education outreach in schools to convey a similar message and raise awareness on primate’s conservation in Mathews range forest. 

‘’Iregi Mwenja is the first to admit how taken aback he was at the findings of his own pioneering survey of a ‘satellite’ De Brazza’s Monkey population on Kenya’s Mathews Range’.  Swara Editor, 2007. Click here to read the article: A new population of De Brazza’s monkey in Kenya.

Iregi Mwenja has led the Samburu Primates Research and Conservation Project since April 2006, pioneering groundbreaking research in rare and endangered primates of the region

Heavy rains pounding Samburu a blessing to the monkeys

I spent the Easter Break holding meetings with my team on the ground to plan for an upcoming elders’ workshop in Wamba. This workshop will be followed by key stakeholders’ workshop in Marallal. The aim of the elders’ workshop is to interpret to them findings of my 3 years research in the area. This is part of my wider plan to ensure that I communicate and explain all my conservation research findings to the local people as this is where the findings will make a big difference. This is unlike many scientists whose papers gather dust in shelves of libraries as they never go back to their study sites to communicate their findings to the local stakeholders.

In Samburu community, elders are highly respected and act as the custodians of the community’s culture. This workshop will communicate to them in simplified terms and the local Samburu dialect, the ecological and socio-economic implications of the poaching of the sub-species so that they can make conscious decision on the way forward on both the cultural use and the conservation of the primate, which is found nowhere else outside the Samburu, even in Zoos!!

On my way to Wamba, I was amazed by the huge difference the on the vegetation when comparing it to the same time last year at the height of the drought. The livestock, which were dying for lack of food and water are now healthy and seems to have stored extra fats in anticipation of another drought!

However, to a primatologist who has worked in the Mathews range since 2006, I was quick to make the connection. Mathews range is a dry season feeding ground for all the livestock in the lower areas. Given that there is no grass in the forest, the livestock is fed on the evergreen tree branches on river valleys greatly degrading the primate’s habitat. In open areas, the herders burn the grass to encourage regeneration of lush green grass. These fires get out of control and end up burning hundreds of acres of the forest thereby destroying the primates’ habitat. Therefore the pounding rains, though causing damages in some quarters is a blessing to the primates and they will be no human beings and livestock in the forest any time soon!

Some images from Samburu

Mt. Uargess

A Primate Guardian camping at Mt Uarges recently

A Primate Guardian camping at Mt Uarges recently

Iregi Mwenja is the Project Leader of the Samburu Primates Research and Conservation Project and Associate Research Scientist of the Institute of Primate Research

The Making of an African Conservationist

This year is a special milestone to my career. I am marking 10 years of a very successful career in environmental conservation. To celebrate this milestone, I have organized a series of activities that are aimed at impacting environmental consciousness to young people in Africa. I am using my example as a case in point with the hope that young people can learn something from it and change their attitude positively towards the environment.

This short amateur video highlights my work and shows what it takes to become an indigenous African conservationist. The video is the first in a series of four that I will release in the next four months. These videos are aimed giving a deeper insight into the field experience, plus sharing the excitement, adventure and sometimes the challenges that go with being dedicated conservation practitioner in East African wilderness.

I hope this videos series and other activities I have lined up will inspire as many young people in Africa to become more environmental conscious and demystify the misconception among the youth that conservation is a career suitable only for the elites in the society. It is my opinion that conservation needs a concerted effort. All members of the society have a role to play to save our planet.

Enjoy the video

Iregi Mwenja

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Samburu Primates Project Recieves RSG Booster Grant

The Samburu Primates research and Conservation Project was recently  awarded a $19,000 Grant by the Rufford Small Grant Foundation. The RSG Booster Grant is meant for awareness rising activities in Samburu and does not offset administrative costs or pay salaries. The project targets rare and endangered primates found in remote areas which have not been previously addressed.


This awareness phase of  the project was preceded by 3 years of groundbreaking field assessments and monitoring, both of which were supported by RSG. We seek to interpret these findings to the local people, raise awareness among the key stakeholders and local communities to promote initiation of community based conservation actions and mainstream primate’s conservation in the ongoing environmental conservation activities in the Samburu. Ultimately the goal is to bring about behavior change to reduce poaching of the Endangered Mt Uarges guereza and enhance protection of the newly discovered de Brazza’s monkey population.

On behalf of the Project team, I want to thank RSG Foundation for this generous support (the third in three years!).

Starting this Christmas, check this blog for regular updates as the team on the ground embarks on an exciting campaign to save the rare and  endangered primates of Samburu.