Welcome to the Marine Mammal and wildlife Research and Community Development Expedition blog where you can keep up to date with all the happenings and information from Kenya

Friday, February 13, 2009

More Spotted Ground Thrush & Infant Colobus Found on Forest Floor

Yesterday we sent three teams in to the forest in an attempt to catch up on delays caused by having to re-cut transect 6, and a shorter week as some our research team prepare to take a long weekend break.

Tess took 'team 1' up to transect 6 to finish off maintenance... re-clearing the paths we use to survey the forest following a combination of natural tree falls and sadly even more 'unnatural' tree falls as illegal timber extraction and charcoal burning continue. It is the hottest and hardest work so it was a mixture of relief and pride to hear they finished it. The excitement was reserved for something else however - the team recorded another spotted ground thrush, our 2nd in as many weeks of this critically endangered bird species. Critically endangered due to habitat loss, something only too evident in the forest we survey; the presence of such a conservation important species however could provide a valuable stimulus to raising awareness of the plight of Shimoni's forests. Alongside the Angolan black and white colobus it represents a 'flagship' species - a focus for conservation that would benefit the wider habitat and species assemblage.

Matt and I joined forces with our two teams to check the small mammal traps... empty... but on the way to transect 4, following our group from the back I noticed something on the ground, inconspicuous enough for the others to have walked by. A new born colobus monkey, sadly lying dead on the ground. A genuine mix of emotions; upsetting for everyone to see such a beautiful, vulnerable creature that didn't quite make it - a species that we are committed to conserving, and acutely aware that every individual counts when habitat destruction is sending the species in to increasingly rapid decline in Kenya.

But the scientist in me was also excited; when you study animals so intently, each day raises new questions, sometimes more than it brings answers. An opportunity to examine a new born so closely is a privilege. Pure white, thin silky fur, the face still pink, the dried skin of the umbilical cord still present. The hands clenched with the characteristic colobus trait of it's reduced, almost non-existent thumb. Perfectly formed, but lifeless.

The infant had died probably at the end of the day before. A small gap in the tree canopy directly above suggested it may simply have fallen as its mother leaped between trees but this is obviously conjecture. It was curled in the foetal position so hadn't died immediately, but likely had died as a result of a fall. We buried it, marked with stones... partly an emotive, collective mark of respect but the scientist still lurks - a complete, clean skeleton of an infant by the end of the rainy season will be of major interest.

On transect 4 we conducted a bird survey - many were heard and crowned and trumpeter hornbills, green wood hoopoe, plain-backed sunbird and a pair of woodpeckers recorded. Another exciting 'second' of this expedition was spotted in the leaf-litter by Asha; a bearded pygmy chameleon.

I took my team on to transect 5, to survey canopy height and coverage; straightforward, slow-paced work, but the panga needed swinging to clear the path of branches and vines, and the heat and humidity were taking their toll on all of us. Back at section 0, we mustered our remaining collective energies for butterfly sweep netting. There wasn't quite enough energy left in reserve to chase down the few high and fast flying butterflies flitting through the sunny spots until Tom stepped up to the challenge at the end - a beautiful swordtail butterfly in the back of the net.

And those were the highs and lows, but as with every day in Shimoni's coastal forest the small, daily rewards keep us coming back. Until next time... Corti