The Tana River mangabey is a highly endangered species of primate in the family Cercopithecidae. It is a medium-sized primate with a long semi-prehensile tail, yellow-brown coat, and a center part on the crown of the head with long, dark fur. The Tana River mangabey is found on the continent of Africa in the southeastern portion of Kenya along the Tana River mostly in the floodplain forests along the lower Tana river.
They exhibit a pale-grey/brown coloration, and have a conspicuous crest on their crown and white eyelids. Their body is covered in wavy hair with inconspicuous dark bands, and their forearms and hands are darker in color than their tail and upper limbs . Their face is jet black with strongly contrasting white eyebrows. The species has white eyelids that contrast to its darker face like other Cercocebus species. This contrast in the eyelids is believed to be used as part of the species complex communication system The species also has specialized dental morphology for feeding on hard nuts, seeds, and fruits.
It is diurnal and semi-terrestrial, spends most of its time on the ground but is still considered arboreal due to its sleeping area. It is endemic to riverine forest patches along the lower Tana River in southeastern Kenya. The species sleeps in trees which are not so tall and have a sparse canopy cover. The primate sleeps in the forks of the branches of these trees or near the main trunk. It is believed to sleep in trees to reduce the risk of predation and chooses this site according to its last feeding position in the area. They exist in groups of size ranging from 13–36 individuals, and sometimes combining to form aggregations of 50 to 60 individuals. These groups consist of multiple males and multiple females. During the dry season when food is limited groups maintain discrete territories with minimal overlapping. To maintain these territories males give spatial vocalizations and territorial displays at fixed boundaries. The males within the group may also engage in active combat with outside group leaders invading the territory. In the wet season when food is abundant boundaries are broken down. During this time groups are more tolerant of one another and meet and intermingle. The Tana River mangabey has a few predators, such as the python, crowned eagle, martial eagle and the Nile crocodile.
The Tana River mangabey is a polygynous species with two or more males within each group depending on the size of the group. Males and females are similar in color though different in size. The primate gives birth to a single offspring after a gestation period of approximately 170–180 days. During the first two months after birth, the infant is guarded by its mother and begins to develop a close bond. In the third month the infant begins socializing with other infants and adult group members but remains in close proximity to mom. The females within the group usually have lasting bonds with their mother while the males become more independent and spend more time away from the group or on the periphery. If a group loses one of its males, another male may be recruited from peripheral solitary males to maintain the structure of the group.
The species is an omnivore, feeding on leaves, seeds, fruits, insects and reptile and bird eggs. It is an opportunistic feeder and is semi-terrestrial where it may rummage through the leaf litter for food. The mangabey gets most of its food from sub-canopy and canopy trees, although they spend most of their time feeding and moving on the ground. It consumes the fruit and seed from approximately fifty different tree species. Feeding is performed 48% of the day, while sleeping accounts for 15%, and resting accounts for 14% of the day. The species annual diet consists of 46.5% seeds and 25.6% consists of fruit consumption.
The greatest threat to Tana river mangabeys is habitat degradation through unsustainable forest clearing and resource extraction
The Tana River mangabey has dental morphology well suited for the food type it consumes. The species has large incisors for the tearing of the tough skin on the fruits it eats. Large maxillary and mandibular fourth premolars which increase surface area to crush seeds, and a shortened face which increases bite force.
The greatest threat to Tana river mangabeys as is for other endangered species is habitat degradation through unsustainable forest clearing and resource extraction The rapid decline of Tana River Mangabeys has several causes including:
- Drastic changes in vegetation due to dam construction, irrigation projects and water diversion, which affect both the water table and the frequency and severity of flooding which, in turn, affect the extent and quality of this species’ forest habitat.
- It is estimated that 50% of the original forest has been lost in the last 20 years. The Tana River area is losing its forests to agriculture
- Fires that destroy forests.
- Habitat degradation due to livestock.
- The unsustainable collection of wood and other forest products.
- Selective felling of fig trees for canoes. Subcanopy trees are also being used for housing poles
- Exploitation of one of the species’ top food plants, the palm species – Phoenix reclinata for palm wine collection.
- Corruption, inter-ethnic violence and insecurity.
- Tana River mangabeys are also hunted and trapped in response to local crop damage. This trapping may occur and appears to be occurring at low levels within the forests.
The Tana River mangabey is listed as one of The World’s 25 Most Endangered Primates. A census in 1994 estimated the species population to be 1,000 to 1,200 individuals. It was listed under the U.S. as being endangered in 1970. The species is also listed as critically endangered under the International Union for Conservation of Nature and under CITES is listed under Appendix I. This species is listed on Class A of the African Convention on the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources.
Tana river mangabeys have an important role in the ecosystem in that, they play an important role in seed distribution, as roughly one-third of their diet is comprised of nuts and seeds. They also serve as host for a variety of gastrointestinal parasites. Tana river mangabeys display a high diversity of gastrointestinal parasites because of the fragmentation and diversity of their habitat combined with their large home ranges.
They also have their economic importance to humans in the local area in that they become a popular face for the conservation of the lower Tana River, which contains an astounding variety of species, many of which, including Tana river mangabeys and Tana river colobus, are not found anywhere else in the world. Also given their limited distribution, they are well studied, and research of their ecosystem dynamics has proven enlightening to humankind.
The Tana River Primate Reserve was established in 1976 to protect the remaining forest along the Tana River and the endemic Tana River mangabey. The reserve protects an area of approximately 171 km² with 9.5 km² and 17.5 km² of that being forested area. The reserve contains about 56% of the Tana River mangabey groups, with approximately 44% living in forests outside of the reserve. 10% of the groups living in forests outside of the reserve are under the management of the Tana Delta Irrigation Project.
The objective of the Tana River Primate Reserve was to conserve the biodiversity within the Tana River area and protect the endangered Tana River mangabey. The conservation of this species is a high priority for primate conservation in Kenya. In 2007, the High Court in Kenya ruled the reserve was not abiding by the laws. This led to the forested areas which the mangabey inhabited losing their legal protection. With the poor management of the Tana Delta Irrigation Project, habitat loss outside the reserve also continues. The Tana and Athi Rivers Development Authority, who is in charge of the project, are now in the process of expanding to establish a sugar cane plantation which will in turn remove more forested areas.
A five-year project in 1996 with the Kenya Wildlife Service and Kenya Forest Department was funded by the World Bank/GEF. The projects goals were to enhance conservation and protection of these primates and forests. The project was poorly managed and was terminated after two years of implementation, leaving the wildlife service with the protection of these areas.
The Ishaqbin Conservancy is a community initiative in the Tana River Primate Reserve. Here communities are working with Kenya Wildlife Service to develop tourism side by side with conservation. Tourism development is believed to be important in that it will secure the conservation of the habitat and the species with the communities around the reserve. Tourism will benefit both the mangabey and local communities through economic development and a reduction in habitat loss. The conservancy will also help to form a buffer around the reserve which will help to reduce human impact inside the reserve.