A Guide To Tana River Primate Reserve

The 6sq km Tana River Primate Reserve is 350km east of Nairobi and 240km north of Mombasa in Tana River District. It was opened in 1976 to protect the lower Tana River forest and two endangered species of monkey: Crested Mangabey and the Tana River Colobus.

 Tana River Primate Reserve

Tana River Primate Reserve

The Tana River Primate Reserve locally known as Mchelelo was established in 1976 to protect some of the best remaining forest along the Tana River together with significant portions of the populations of the Tana River Red Colobus (Colobus badius rufomitratus) and the Tana River Crested Mangabey (Cercocebus galeritus galeritus). They are endemic to the gallery forest along the floodplain of the lower Tana River in Eastern Kenya. These are two of Kenya’s rarest mammals and they live in one of the most complex, unique and rare habitats in East Africa. The IUCN Red Data Book classifies both subspecies as endangered. This means that both subspecies have declined to such a critical number of individuals, and their habitats so drastically reduced, that they are in danger of extinction if the causal factors continue to operate. Both the red colobus and the crested mangabey are flagship species for the conservation of this area.

Facts About Tana River Primate Reserve

  1. The altitude is about 30 M ASL It extends for about 36 KM along the present channel of the Tana River
  2. Tana River Primate Reserve is 171 KM²
  3. Established in 1976
  4. It is in Tana River County located 350 KM East of Nairobi County,
  5. 240 KM North of Mombasa County.
  6. Average rainfall ranges between 400 and 500 mm per annum.
  7. Average monthly temperatures range from 20 to 40ºC. It can be located at this 1° 22′S and 40° 1′E coordinates.

Tana River Primate Reserve flora and fauna are unusual to East Africa and bear traces of ancient links to the Congo Basin forests of the Miocene period. This is because they are the last remnants of the Central African Lowland Rainforest, but became isolated from the rest of the forest during the seismic eruptions that resulted in the formation of the Rift Valley.

About 39% of the Reserve lies within the floodplain. Between 1960 and 1985, 56% of the forest in the area now covered by the Reserve was lost, largely as a result of forest clearance by farmers. Five large forests were fragmented into 15 small forest patches. The ecosystem consists of riparian forests, dry woodlands and savannah habitats on the east and west of the lower Tana River. The climate for the areais generally hot and dry. Precipitation is concentrated in one main season, May – June.

What To See At Tana River Primate National Reserve

  • River Tana
  • The Tana River Forest
  • Game viewing
  • Bird watching
  • Endangered primates watching
  • Dark backed weaver

    Nesting Dark-backed Weaver in the forest of Tana River Primate Reserve

How to get to Tana River Primate National Reserve

Mombasa town is approximately 480KM from Nairobi and can be accessed through Nairobi-Mombasa Highway. By air, Mombasa town is 45minutes from Nairobi.

Tana River Primate Reserve can be accessed by plane, through Malindi or Mombasa airports and then by roads via the Malindi – Garissa road. The reserve is located 250KM North of Mombasa on the Malindi to Garissa road.

Ecology of Tana River Primate National Reserve

The forests support more than 57 mammal species, 260 bird species, and 175 woody plant species. The forests are especially important for primate conservation because they provide a habitat for eight nonhuman primate species: the Tana River red colobus (Procolobus rufomitratus), Tana mangabey, Sykes monkey (Cercopithecus mitis albotorquatus), vervet monkey (Cercopithecus aethiops pygerythrus), yellow baboon (Papio c.ynocephalus), Zanzibar galago (Galago zanzibaricus),

Tana River Primate Reserve – Tana River

Tana River is Kenya’s longest river. It rises in the humid highlands of the Aberdare Mountains and Mt. Kenya, flows through an arid floodplain between Garissa and Garsen, and enters the Indian Ocean at Kipini, North of Malindi through a huge delta. The Tana River has a length of about 650 KM following the main outline of its course and about 1,000 KM when every bend is traced. All of the tributaries enter along the upper Tana. The Tana receives no new water in its middle and lower sections and loses about one-half of its water, through evaporation and seepage to groundwater, before it reaches the Indian Ocean.

The lower Tana River is marked by a broad floodplain which varies from 1 to 6 KM in width and which is covered by alluvial sediments deposited during floods. The edge of the floodplain is 3 – 5 M below the level of the surrounding ground. Along the last 65 KM of its course it has a broad floodplain, and the reserve extends for about 36 KM of this course. The floodplain is largely grass-cover but there are numerous patches of bush-land, woodland and forest. When not in flood, the lower Tana averages about 60 M in width but is 100 M in width in some places. Flooding is a result of rain in the Aberdare and Mt. Kenya watersheds, not local rains. Prior to the construction of five dams along the headwaters, the Tana River flooded, on average about once per year with a major flood every 3 years. Extremely heavy and prolonged flooding (3 – 4 months long) is estimated to be a one in 80 year event with the last great flood occurring from October 1961 – January 1962.

Flooding is most likely in May and November. The climate of the lower Tana River is generally hot and dry. Mean monthly maximum daily temperature along the lower Tana River ranges from about 30 – 38°C while mean monthly minimum daily temperature ranges from approximately 17 – 25°C. Temperatures are highest during January – February and lowest during May – July. Mean annual rainfall is between 500 and 600 mm. The wettest months are March – April and November – December. The soils of the lower Tana River are largely heavy black clays (black cotton soils).

Flora at Tana River Primate Reserve

Forest patches along the lower Tana River are remnants of a vast tropical forest which extended from the East Coast of Africa to the Congo Basin during the Miocene (13 – 25 million years ago). Most recently, continuous forest belts extended between the Congo Basin and the Kenya coast during the more moist periods of the Pleistocene (31,000 – 26,000 and 8000 BP). Severe drying after 4000 BP isolated East African evergreen forests in the highlands and riverine localities. The remnant forests of the lower Tana River are the only true representatives in East Africa of a West African type of riverine forest. Although the remaining Tana River forests cover but a small area, they are considered among the most important habitats in Kenya for biodiversity conservation.

The main vegetation types along the lower Tana River are grassland, wooded grassland, bush-land, deciduous woodland and lowland evergreen forest. There is general agreement that the evergreen-semi evergreen riverine forests along the Tana River, and thus the red colobus and crested mangabey, are dependent upon at least two things; the level of the groundwater and fairly frequent flooding. Periodic disturbances through flooding and human activity have lead to the creation and maintenance of a patchy distribution of isolated forests over a floodplain corridor that extends to about one-half kilometre on either side of the river.

Before their near extirpation from the area, elephants probably also played a major role in the dynamics of these forests. The riverine vegetation along the lower Tana River can be viewed as a dynamic patch mosaic of colonizing forests, young forests with low species diversity, mature forests of considerable diversity and stability, and dying or senescent forests. These forests of 1 to roughly 1,100 ha are linked by stretches of woodland, bush and grass on soils that are poorer, less permeable, more saline and more subject to flooding.

The Tana River forests lying on both banks of the Tana River are dependent on it for their supply of ground water. The forests patches form part of a mosaic of habitats that includes grassland, wooded grassland, bush land and deciduous woodland. The reserve includes 175 species of trees, some of which are endemic; and at least 61 globally or nationally rare plants. The riverine forests are home to the Pokomo people, who farm the banks of the river using mainly the ox-bows to grow rice immediately adjacent to the water; and maize further back. Large areas of the forest have, as a result, been felled to make way for further cultivation. The Pokomo also use the forest for timber and traditional medicines.

Fauna at Tana River Primate Reserve

Tana River Red Colobus (Procolobus rufomitratus)

The rare and seriously endangered, Tana River red Columbus is one of 14 separate species of Columbus, distributed across Africa. A relatively large member of the Columbus family, the Tana River red is an elusive and exclusively arboreal and diurnal monkey, which lives in the evergreen closed canopy of the gallery forest, where it subsists on young leaves, fruit and flowers. It has a black face, conspicuous whiskers and the only red colouration on its body is the slight rufous tinge on the top of its Head.

Tana River red colobus have a distributional range which extends for about 60 KM along the lower Tana River from Kipende to Mitapani. Living in groups of approximately ten individuals the Tana River red Columbus actually appears predominantly grey. The total population is estimated at 1,100 – 1,300 animals. While the population appears to be down from the estimated 1,200 – 1,800 red colobus in 1975, the data indicate that there are about 5-fold more red colobus than suggested by censuses conducted during the 1980s.

Tana River red colobus exhibit exceptional site fidelity, have small home ranges and generally scatter in a few trees when feeding or resting. Furthermore, a census done in 1994 showed that only 37% of colobus groups lived within TRPNR and subsequent studies have shown the same trends therefore areas adjacent to reserve are very crucial in conservation of these primates.

Tana River Crested Mangabeys (Cercocebus galeritus)

One of four types of river mangabey found in Africa, the crested mangabey lives in the riverine forests that border the Tana River. With a yellow-brown back, white under parts and dark-grey hands, feet and tail, the crested mangabey gets its name from the conspicuous crest on its forehead. Diurnal, arboreal, but mostly terrestrial, the mangabey lives in large social groups of up to 60 animals and spends most of its time foraging for food low in the forest. Tana River crested mangabeys have a distributional range which is similar to that of the red colobus, extending for about 60 KM from Nkanjonja to Hewani. It is also one of the world’s top 25 most endangered primates. The last reliable estimate of the population was only 1,000–1,200 individuals in 1980s. The population appears to be below the 1975 estimate of 1,200 – 1,600 individuals. Habitat loss is the greatest threat to the mangabey. In recent years, there has been a 30% loss in forest area, and an increase in forest degradation within the mangabey’s distribution.

Other Wild Animal Species at Tana River Primate Reserve

Other primates found at Tana River Primate Reserve include Sykes and vervet monkey yellow baboon and three types of bush baby. There are also 57 species of mammal including; lion, giraffe, buffalo, blue monkey, baboon, Gravy’s and Burchell’s zebra, Oryx, lesser kudu and various squirrels. There is also a small seasonal population of the endangered Hirola. While on the eastern side of the reserve there is possibility of seeing elephants. The reserve is also home to over 260 bird species including the extremely rare white-winged Apalis. Others include the White-winged Apalis, African Open-bill Stork, Martial Eagle, Bat Hawk, African Pygmy-falcon, African Barred Owlet, Scaly Babbler, Black-bellied Glossy-starling, and the Golden Pipit.

Resource Use at Tana River Primate Reserve

There are four primary ethnic communities, one predominantly agricultural the Pokomo and the rest predominantly pastoral Orma, Wardei and Somali occupy the land surrounding the reserve. The pastoralists graze their livestock on both the eastern and western banks of the river. The Reserve contains a resident human population the villages of Baomo and Nkano that cultivates within the Reserve and exploits the protected forest resources, including food species for the endangered.

Much more important, a large number of Pokomo tribesmen living on the boundaries of the Reserve cultivate fields and have planted mango trees inside. According to a 1996 report by the Global Environmental Facility (GEF), about 10,000 people live and/or cultivate land inside the Reserve or harvest its resources on a regular basis, and another approximately 10,000 use it on a seasonal basis to graze and water livestock. Since then these numbers have been increasing.

These agricultural practices results in habitat fragmentation, reduced habitat suitability and affects forest regeneration. The Pokomo also extract a number of forest-based resources from the Reserve including canopy trees for canoe and beehive construction; sub-canopy trees for poles; the Dhoum palm Hyphaena compressa for roofing and wine tapping; the Date palm Phoenix reclinata for mats and wine tapping; and building poles. The pastoral communities in the vicinity of the Reserve perennially suffer from shortages of water and grazing resources during dry seasons and drought periods. In such instances, they resort to utilising water and graze from the Reserve.

Their activities also result in habitat disturbance, especially opening of the forest undergrowth, and enhancing river erosion at cattle watering points. There is thus absolutely no doubt that the forests within the Reserve are under increasing threat from farmers living and farming within the Reserve or farming within but living outside the Reserve.

Tana River Primate Reserve Contacts

Tana River Primate Reserve
Warden: Gabriel Kiio
Mobile: +254-721-686034
Email: mbaomo@yahoo.com
Postal Address: P.O Box 4, Hola

Garsen Station
Warden: Francis Muchirih
Mobile: +254-720-778383
Email: muchirihf@gmail.com
Postal Address: P.O Box 24, Garsen

Hola Station
Warden: Jackson Kibor
Mobile: +254-726-703196
Email: jkibor@kws.go.ke
Postal Address: P.O Box 4, Hola

Watch a video of the Tana River Primate Reserve