Kenya’s two species of baboon, with their distinctive ,long ,dog-like faces, also uncannily ‘ ape’ many of the characteristics of the canine species, including their bark, their preference for walking on all four limbs, unlike most other primates, and their carnivorous habits. For although basically vegetarian, meat forms a consistent, if limited, part of their food.
The larger of two, the Olive Baboon, is also the more common found everywhere in Kenya but the east, where the Yellow Baboon, smaller in height, is dominant .They cover up to 18 kilometres a day in constant search for food -shoots,roots,seeds,bushes,flowers,insects-and an occasional kill. They prey on timid mammals-hares and young gazelle-whose defense is to ‘freeze’ to the ground. They also snatch up fledgling birds.
Baboons normally use trees only to escape danger and to sleep in. They never walk upright, but move forward on all fours. Extremely social, their well-organized groups are known as troops and average between 40 and 80 animals. Each troop is permanent, ruled by a dominant male, which assumed authority by force. When it becomes senile, a younger leader usurps its place in a vicious battle for power.
Baboons are fierce fighters, and predators regard them with respect. When an enemy is sighted the troop leaders give the alarm, barking until the females and the young are surrounded by mature escorts- a primitive praetorian guard of snarling, snapping hostility. They are well-equipped for defense, with a cute hearing and eyesight allied to extremely effective teeth. They often inflict severe, sometimes fatal, wounds on their enemy.
Females become sexually receptive about one week in every four. They mate indiscriminately and frequently, first with the meeker males and then the more dominant ones. Youngsters, born black with red faces, are carried under the belly.Later, like younger jockeys, they move to a ‘horse -riding’ position on the back. These early months are an important introduction to the intricate rituals and behavior of the troop’s social structure.
Few sights in the wild are more graceful than a Black and White Colo bus monkey on the move. As it leaps through the topmost levels of the forest with its fur and tail spread out like a vibrant cape it appears to glide. But, seen in silhouette, it is distinctly pot-bellied.
Colo bus differ from most other monkeys in two respects. They have only four digits on their hand, there is no thumb-and they spend virtually their entire lives above ground, in the highest levels of the forest.Rarely, if ever, do Colo bus monkeys come down to earth. Few creatures can equal their climbing ability or their leap-as much as their capability to remain silent, often for hours on end.
These animals have been ruthlessly hunted for their fabulous coats. It is the badge of office of senior elders of the Kikuyu.Colo bus, which live in troops of up to 25 animals made up of several family groups, are the most specialized feeders of all monkeys- living on a selective diet of forest leaves. Occasionally, when desperate, they eat insects. Much has yet to be discovered about this fascinating and lovely-to-look at primate.
Another family of high-living monkeys belongs to the Guenon group of tree-dwelling, daytime creatures confined to the tropical forest-with one exception. The Black-faced Vervet (or Green) monkey has developed in the opposite direction and has branched out to live down on the savannah. The only monkey of its kind with a black face, there are many variations throughout Kenya of this versatile and highly adaptable animal.
They use the gallery forests and thick bush for refuge and sleep, but forage widely on the open ground, often over long distances-up to 400 to 500 metres-in troops of between six and 20, although groups of up to 100 have been observed. Mainly vegetarian, they feed on a diet of leaves, young shoots, bark, flowers, fruits, bulbs, roots and grass seeds for most of their 20 to 24 year life span. They also augment this with insect’s grubs, caterpillars, spiders, eggs, young ground birds like guinea fowl and francolin and, in rare instances, rodents or hares .Vervets has acute vision and excellent hearing but a poor sense of smell. They communicate with a wide range of facial expressions, lowering eyebrows, raising and jerking heads, and threaten with bared teeth and wide-open mouth. If a newly-born infant is held by an alien it provokes a violent reaction from any adult vervet, stimulating rescue initiatives, which include threat displays.
The genitalia of both the Vervet and the Patas monkey are an incredible, iridescent sky-blue that signals sexual identity and interest .But the Patas is the only primate, which never mixes with other monkeys. Because of its co louring and shape it is also known as the Red Hussar.
This large, tall and long-legged monkey lives almost exclusively on the ground and can stand and walk, fully erect, on its hind legs. It uses trees-and termite hills -as vantage points. The Patas weighs up to 10 kilos. Known as the ‘greyhound of the apes’, it has been clocked at 56 kilometres an hour.Patas avoid dense cover and favour very dry savannah, are found around Nanyuki ,Rumuruti,Eldoret ,Kitale,and the Kongelai Escarpment and West Pokot.
The Skyes monkey, with its distinct white throat and chest patch, is a member of the Blue Monkey races which are a larger and rather stout. They hold their thick long tails, with a slightly curved tip, higher than the body when walking. Sykes have narrow, elongated faces with a purplish-black tone, no beards, but dense, bristly tufts of hair on their foreheads, earning them also the name of Diadem. Moving their black legs in a distinctive, gentle, trotting gait, Sykes monkeys are found whenever there are forests.
Sykes are related to the extremely rare and beautiful Golden Monkey, distinguished by their greenish-gold backs merging to orange on their flanks, which live in limited numbers in isolated pockets in western Kenya.
Resident in the Cherangani Hills, the de Brazza monkey, pale blue-grey with black limbs, an orange forehead, and white breast, is another of Kenya’s colourful but rare primates, as is the Grey (or Manga bey), found only in the Lower Tana Primate Reserve.
With its big, bright ,wide-open ,child like eyes and the call of a baby’s cry ,its no surprise that the Lesser Gal ago ,a nocturnal primate ,is better known as the Bush baby.This delightful, endearing creature,small,slim-built with thick and woolly fur, has a conspicuous white stripe down its nose. It is widespread and common throughout Kenya. Bush babies, which hide elusively in coastal bush and acacia woodlands and forests, make delightful pets.
Bush babies are well adapted of life in the trees. Their tail acting as weight, they use their hind legs to grasp the branches before leap-frogging from one branch to another. They sometimes come to the ground where they walk upright, or in a crouch, leaping occasionally on their extremely powerful hind legs like a tiny kangaroo.Bush babies can jump an incredible three metres. They have a large vocabulary-at least eight different calls, including a high-pitched alarm call which they can keep up for an hour or more. Litters usually number two, born in a nest prepared by the mother, which leaves the young behind during her nightly search for food.
Although they are related, there could be no greater contrast to the impish liveliness of the Bush baby than the Potto. This little, bears-like animal has no tail -or, at least, only a rudimentary stump, rounded head, small ears and unequal limbs.
The Potto, known in many an African vernacular as ‘half -a-tail’ live exclusively in the top storey’s of their forest home -rarely, if ever, coming down to earth. It would, indeed, be difficult for them to do so.The movements of these cuddly-looking, slow motion ‘teddy bear’-like creatures are as close to active inertia as the law of physics and description allow.