Upcoming talk on de Brazza’s monkey in San Diego Zoo’s Institute

I am here in San Diego at the San Diego Zoo’s Institute for Conservation Research where I am attending a DNA barcoding of bushmeat workshop. DNA barcoding provides a method for identifying species from unrecognizable samples of blood, bone, meat, hair, feathers, or feces. This universally applicable specimen identification method will enhance the assessment and enforcement capacity of the relevant national and international laws and regulations, and will thereby contribute to the protection of exploited species.

On Wednesday 1st July 2009, I will give a talk on my ground breaking study on de Brazza’s monkey in Kenya. The Seminar will also feature other African conservationist from Cameroun, and Uganda. The talk will focus on the pioneering study on the newly discovered population of de Brazza’s monkey in Mathews range fores. Below is a notice of the Seminar.


Iregi Mwenja

Swara: Endangered colobus facing extinction

Click on the on the image below to read the Swara magazine article on the Endangered Mt. Uarges guereza. The article highlights the finding of an extensive survey of the Samburu forests that was concluded last year. The Survey was generously funded by Rufford Grants Small Foundation.


Iregi Mwenja

Principal Investigator

Samburu Primates Research and Conservation Project

Poaching drives an Endangered monkey to the verge of extinction

The Mt Uarges guereza, Colobus guereza ssp. percivali is one of the eight subspecies of the Colobus guereza species. It is endemic to the forests of Samburu and is the only one of the eight listed as Endangered in the IUCN Red List.


According to the findings of a survey I headed in Mt Nyiro forest, Ndoto forest, Kirisia Hills and Mathews range forests (between April 2007 and December 2008), the subspecies has been heavily poached for its skin by the local community who wear it during traditional ceremonies like circumcision. The skin is worn by ‘Morans’ on the lower part of the shin and round the heads during such ceremonies.


samburu-wearing-colobus-skin.jpg A man demonstrating how the skin is worn


Information we gathered over this period indicate that the ‘Lkoroi’ as it is locally known, once thrived on the eastern side of Mt Nyiro– Tum and Ewaso Rangai (lorian). Interviews with old men in Mt Nyiro and a retired colonial District Forest Officer who served in the area 50 years ago revealed that it is possible that there were guereza colobus in the Mt Nyiro forest up to the 1950s. All of them attributed the disappearance to poaching for the skin and habitat degradation due to encroachment during drought and periods of tribal conflict between the Samburu and the Turkana. The Turkana who use the skin as a head gear are said to have obtained it from Mt Nyiro as well.


In Kirisia Hills from the outskirts of Maralal to Baawa, Poro to Ang’ata Nanyuki, most of the adults interviewed admitted to having seen the subspecies in the forest in the last decade and blamed the dramatic decline of the subspecies population in this habitat on the proliferation of small arms which spiraled in the 1980s. Thea arrival of these semi automatic weapons made hunting the agile arboreal monkey extremely easy as oppossed to the traditional snare hunting methods. At Ol Dionyo Naju, we got reliable reports that the last remaining colobus in the area was killed in 2006 ostensibly for the skin. My fear is that Kirisia hills will soon go the Mt Nyiro way as it was clear that the monkey have been wiped out in most of its range within the Leroghi forest reserve.


Though the skin is passed over from father to son over generations, interviews with Morans around Maralal indicated that the skins was scarce and they were now turning to Mathews range forest where the subspecies is readily available for fresh supplies. Here the monkey is found in hundreds particularly on the central and southern parts of the forest reserve.  The monkey is an easy target as it is not accustomed to poaching like in Kirisia Hills where they have been known to actively avoid close human contact.


It is imperative that action be taken to halt the killings of the few remaining member of this subspecies before we lose the last stable population in Mathews range forest reserve.  This can be done through aggressive awareness rising coupled with improved law enforcement on the short term to halt further declines in the population of this Endangered primate.


mt-uargess-guereza.jpg Photo of the rare Mt Uarges guereza taken along river Wamba on Mt Uarges. Photo: Mwenja


Colobus guereza information


The species Colobus guereza is widespread across Africa and ranges from the Donga River region of Nigeria and the Yabassi District of Cameroon, eastwards across the Oubangui River from the Central African Republic to the northern Democratic Republic of the Congo, and then discontinuously eastwards to southern Sudan, Uganda, the Kenyan and Ethiopian highlands, and Mount Kilimanjaro, Mount Meru and the Kahé District of Tanzania.


The eight sub-species are;


1.      Colobus guereza ssp. caudatus
2.      Colobus guereza ssp. dodingae
3.      Colobus guereza ssp. gallarum
4.      Colobus guereza ssp. guereza
5.      Colobus guereza ssp. kikuyuensis
6.      Colobus guereza ssp. matschiei
7.      Colobus guereza ssp. occidentalis
8.      Colobus guereza ssp. percivali


For more details on the survey, please contact me on the iregim[at]yahoo.com


Iregi Mwenja

Finally, the survey findings are out!

After twenty months of on-the-ground assessments of six rare primate species in Samburu, the verdict is out! There was some good news and some bad news as well. Below is a brief summary;

The aim of this survey was to validate presence and map the distribution of six rare primates species in Samburu. The species are; the de Brazza’s, the Sykes and the Patas monkeys, the Somali and the Senegal lesser galagos and the Endangered Mt Uarges guereza. Very little was known on the presence and status of the six species in the district prior to this study. Below is a brief summary of the findings;

De Brazza’s monkey
From the beginning of the survey in April 2007, six more groups of de Brazza’s monkey were recorded on the northern Mathews range, an addition to the 24 groups recorded in the year 2006 during the first survey of this newly discovered population. Between May 2008 and December 2008, two new groups were sighted in Sererit – southern Ndoto.

Patas monkey
Apart from the one stray (from Laikipia) Patas monkey reported by Dr Iain Douglas-Hamilton of Save the Elephants which he saw on the western parts of Samburu National Reserve, no other Patas monkeys were seen in the district. The conclusion is that there are no Patas monkey is Samburu.

Sykes’ monkey
Reports about a small population Sykes’ monkey on the northern fringes of Leroghi forest – at Ang’ata Nanyuki were found to be unreliable as no monkey was seen in 8 months of intensive ground search in that area. Based on this information, our conclusion is that here are no Sykes monkeys in Leroghi forest or any other part of Samburu. Mt Kenya remains as the northern limit of the species range.

Mt Uarges Guereza
The Endangered Mt Uarges guereza was found in substantial numbers distributed over central and southern parts of Mathews range forest and southern Parts of Ndoto forest. The population in the neighboring Kirisia Hills was last seen in 2006. The few remaining are believed to have taken refuge in the dense inaccessible part of the forest (Saanata) following two decades of persistent poaching by local people who highly value its skin.

Lesser Galagos
The Senegal lesser galago was found to be widespread in the district. Eight live specimens were collected and released at South Horr (Mt Nyiro) and Mathew range after taking body measurements. However, the Somali lesser galago was not seen though there were reliable reports of sightings in the southern drier of the district.

Email me to a copy of the full report.

Iregi Mwenja

Mechanical mother for 3 weeks old De brazza’s monkey


I found this moving story on BBC News about the above De Brazza’s monkey that was born by caesarean at Port Lympne Wild Animal Park in Kent. Her mother was too weak to look after her. To help keep her company, the three-week-old primate has been given a toy monkey with a mechanical heart. Read More..

Mathews range forest saga.. the Doctoral adviser of Lucas responds

I have been following with great interest the Mathews range forest saga that was highlighted by the Milgis trust in the last week on WD. Yesterday Dr Leakey commented on it and posted a link to the student’s university where we could send our protests. I wrote a protest email and Dr Hank Howe, the doctoral adviser of Mr Lucas Borghesio responded immediately.

Since this issue is already in the public domain, I would like to share with you our email exchanges. It is also fair that all side be heard so that no one is judged before he is heard. I haven’t communicated to the Mr Lucas but would indeed be happy to know his side of the story, particularly on allegations that he is using money to influence local community or public servants.

As a researcher, I understand that some research methods  may involve capturing animals or cutting trees, but the persons to determine when this get to the point of destruction are the officers issuing research permits at NEMA and KFS. If we find the research permit wanting, they should also face the wrath of Kenyans.

Below is our communications;

Dear Sir/Madam,

Reports have emerged alleging that your post graduate student is conducting research in Mathews range in Kenya that has resulted in felling of dozens of indigenous trees species. I am shocked, saddened and angered by this new development in Kenya’s least disturbed forest.

I am an Associate Research Scientist of the Institute of Primate Research of Kenya and have spent the last three years studying rare primates in Mathews range and the neighboring forests. Mathews is home to the newly discovered population of de Brazza’s monkey, the endangered Mt Uarges guereza, the dry season feeding ground for Samburu and Laikipia elephants and habitat for other important species of flora and fauna.

Below are a few questions for your university;

  1. Do you value your research more than these endangered and rare species?
  2. Is it true that your student bought his way to the forest to continue the destruction?
  3. Does he have all the papers needed to conduct research in Kenya?
  4. Why was he thrown out by the local community and how did he get (buy) his way back?
  5. Does your university value biodiversity and respect Kenyans feeling on this issue?

Please do something about this or forward it to the relevant person in your institution.

Iregi Mwenja

Dr Hank responded;

Dear Mr. Mwenja,

Thank you for your interest in and concern for the Mathews Range research. It is obvious from Google that you are deeply involved in many interesting and important aspects of primate research and conservation in Kenya. We have received various complaints since Helen Dufresne posted a blog on this project; your’s deserves first attention.I am Luca Borghesio’s doctoral adviser, and can give you a bit of background about the project. Luca is using previous observations from undisturbed forest and from forests disturbed in various ways by Samburu people about bird use of habitat in the Mathews Range. The idea is to test the hypothesis that minor to moderate disturbance increases diversity of plants, insects and birds in an area extensive enough that there are not whole guilds of each from non-forest habitats to move in, as would occur in small fragments surrounded by pasture or agricultural land.

This is not major disturbance. The plan is to create 10 circular plots 24 m wide to compare with uncut control plots. That is 0.45ha/30,000 ha of gazetted forest, or 0.000015 of the forest, which will be allowed to grow back to tall forest while he watches changes in abundance and distribution of plant and animal species during succession.  The first few months will be part of his dissertation; as an active researcher since 1992 in East Africa and 1997 in the Mathews Range, he is determined to follow through for several years after that. His idea is that, with sufficient management to preclude deforestation or fragmentation, which would be catastrophic, local communities can use extensive forests in such a way as to increase rather than decrease overall biodiversity.

Claims by Dufresne and others about clear-cutting and deforestation, and specific claims about the amount of cutting intended or accomplished, are substantially to wildly exaggerated. I am quite sure that his work in no way has further endangered the primates of interest to you or in need of protection. In any event, the time of cutting is past and the time of close observations of faunal adjustments is here.

To address your specific points:
1. Luca is an ardent conservationist who is testing an idea directly relevant to forest management. This is his work; I am not a co-author. The work will involve Kenyan students from Nairobi as collaborators.
2. All foreigners pay fees, often substantial fees, for research permits in Kenya and other African countries.  He has made private agreements with local people for what will from now on be cooperation with his bird observations.
3. Luca is a research associate of the National Museum in Nairobi, and has permits from it, from the Forest Service, and authorization from the National Environmental Management Authority for his work.  There are five permits and authorizations in all. He has taken several of the relevant officials to the site.
4. You need to talk to him (he is back in Kenya now) about the events of last August: [email protected]
5. We are keeping a close eye on this.

Judging from your letter, and from my Google exploration, I think you and Luca should meet.  I actually think that you two have a great deal of interest and expertise in common.

In any event, thank you for your interest and concern.


Hank Howe

Thanks N. Rowe for the donation

I would like to thank N. Rowe for his generous donation of $110 towards the ongoing primates study in Samburu. This will help to pay allowances for the scouts who have tirelessly worked to in difficult conditions to ensure that all groups of De Brazza’s monkey and Mt Uarges guereza in Mathews range and Ndoto forest are documented. When the rains subsides, I hope to make my final trip of the year in December.

Iregi Mwenja


Finally, the good news on rare monkeys of Samburu

For the last one and half years,  we have carried out an extensive survey of six rare primates species in the plains and forest of Samburu; from Mt. Nyiro in the north to Uaso Ng’iro river in the south. Whereas we found some like the senegal lesser galago to be plenty, sykes monkey in Leroghi remained elusive and only one Patas monkey was reported on the south in the Samburu national Reserve. There was more good news for de brazza’s monkey as more groups were discovered in Ndoto. For more details, see the summary below or email me to get a copy of the full report.

I am grateful to Milgis trust’s Moses Lesaloiya and Helen Dufrense and their highly skilled scouts for their effort in making this survey a success.


This primates’ survey was carried out in Samburu district of northern Kenya with semi-arid lowland and forested highland mountains. The aim was to study the distribution of the following rare primates’ species; the de Brazza’s, the Sykes and the Patas monkeys, the Somali and the Senegal lesser galagos and the Mt Uarges guereza. The six have received marginal attention and their status in the area is poorly known.

De Brazza’s monkey

During the survey that started in April 2007, six more groups of de Brazza’s monkey were recorded on the northern Mathews range, an addition to the 24 groups recorded in the year 2006 pioneering survey of de Brazza’s monkey. Additionally, Milgis Trust game scouts also reported new groups in southern parts of Ndoto forest.

Patas monkey

In the district, only one Patas monkey was officially reported. Dr Iain Douglas-Hamilton of Save the Elephants reported seeing one Patas monkey on the western parts of Samburu National Reserve. Given the mobile of nature male Patas and the proximity of the reserve to the Laikipia population, this sighting could not be construed to mean that there is a new resident group in the district yet.

Sykes’ monkey

A very small population Sykes’ monkey is believed to be present on the northern fringes of Leroghi forest although tangible evidence has been had to come by. However, effort to get hold of such evidence his still ongoing.

Mt Uarges Guereza

The Endangered Mt Uarges guereza is found in substantial number distributed over central and southern parts of Mathews range forest. The population in the neighboring Kirisia hills and Leroghi forest was last seen by Forest Guards in 2006 and is now believed to have sought refuge in the dense inaccessible part of the forest following two decades of persistent poaching by local people who highly value its skin.

Lesser Galagos

The Senegal lesser galago was found to be widespread in the district. Eight live specimens were collected at South Horr and Mathew range. However, the Somali lesser galago was not seen though there were reliable reports that it is common particularly on the southern drier parts of the district.

senegal-lesser-galago.pngSenegal lesser Galago collected at Ngare Narok on Mathew range

Iregi Mwenja

Primate conservation may enhance food availability to humans

From mongabay.com September 15, 2008

Primate conservation may have the unintended benefit of enhancing food availability to humans, reports a study led by African scientists. The research, conducted in the Taï region of Côte-d’Ivoire, found that seven species of monkeys used about 75 species of plants as a source of fruit, of which 25 were also used by local human inhabitants for various purposes. Because monkeys are key seed dispersal agents, the results suggest that primate conservation may sustain the persistence of plant resources important for human livelihoods. Read more….

Sykes monkeys in Leroghi forest?? My greatest challenge

When I started primates surveys in Samburu district over two years ago, I only knew of one surprise that would come from the district – the de Brazza’s monkey. I therefore went to Mathews range forest with high anticipation of coming up with the last surprise (on primates) of the region. It was indeed a pleasant surprise when I found one of the highest concentration of de Brazza’s monkey in Kenya, yet it had remained unknown to us (biologist) for this long (read the journal article published last year on; HTTP://www.primate-sg.org/PDF/PC22.neglectus.pdf).

However, during the 8 months of intensive survey of the Mathews ranges and the surrounding areas, it emerged that there were indeed more primates species that had never been documented in the district or were only known to exist through anecdotal reports. These species include the sykes’ monkey, patas monkeys and lesser galago (senegalensis and Somali). It also emerged that the de Brazza’s monkey was not confined to Mathews range alone.

It was therefore natural that after completing the survey f the de Brazza’s, I embarked on a survey of these other species and also added the Endangered Mt Uarges guereza whose status is little known despite being listed in the IUCN red list as Endangered. Most of last year and this year, we have been working on proving that these species indeed occur in the district and trying documenting the distribution. This study has been made possible through the generous donation from Eden Wildlife Trust, Columbus Zoo Conservation Fund, National Environment Foundation and the Rufford Small Grants Foundation.


In northern part of Leroghi forest, I went there on June last year following leads that there were small remnant groups of guereza colobus remaining there. However, as fate had it, I stumbled on crucial information that there was a “white throated monkey” living on the edges of the forest that raided crops at Ang’ata Nanyuki. I was very excited about this new discovery given that this was the first ever record of Sykes’ monkeys occurring north of Mt Kenya. As it has been the procedure, once I get such information, I usually went there and surveyed the area for several days to collect tangible evidence to convince the world that this of indeed true.  I also needed to see the primate mysef. To cut the long story short, I have since gone there thrice and sent my scouts there up to early this month. But we have never come up with any photo and any other tangible evidence of the primate in that area. Every time I go there or my scouts brings me there field reports, I am left more confused whether it is Sykes monkey that the locals talk about.

mwenja-leroghi-1.jpg Mwenja at one of the spot where sykes were reportedly seen by locals

Could have been mislead despite my experience with primates surveys? What is this “white throated monkey” the local claim they see at Ang’ata Nanyuki area.

Can someone out there go there and independently investigate the issue and tell us truth? I promise all support in terms of directions to the location and all information that I have gathered.

 Iregi Mwenja