Although the name sounds like they are from Bali, the Bale monkeys inhabit the Bale Mountains of Ethiopia, located in the South-Eastern part of the country. They do not just live on any tree, but they feed and live in highland bamboo forests or in forest fragments where the bamboo forests might have been eradicated years ago. More specifically, they feed on young shoots and leaves of the bamboo plant. Scientifically, the Bale monkeys are referred to as the Chlorocebus djamdjamensis and they are amongst the least known species on the continent.
The exact population of these monkeys cannot be ascertained but is estimated to be around 10 000 individuals. However, what is inarguable is that they have become endangered and according to the People’s Trust for Endangered Species, the major threats to the survival of these species are the shortage of food and the loss of bamboo forests that offer just the right habitat. For any species that have specific dietary and habitat requirements like the Bale Monkey, extinction becomes inevitable unless the right interventions are made. At African Bamboo, we have discovered that the best way to preserve this species is through sustainable bamboo forest management that will ensure that there is always enough bamboo on the mountains for these monkeys to feed on. Additionally, there is also a habitat that offers protection for these monkeys.
The reasons behind population decline
Due to constant degradation, the climate crisis and an increase in human population, there is a continuous loss of bamboo forests, which are home to these monkeys. Subsequently, the monkeys live in fragmented forests that remained in the regions that had previously been covered with forests. These fragments of forests do not give the monkeys the right amount of protection from predators: they become vulnerable to being killed by other wild animals. Consequently, they are not able to get enough food from these fragmented places.
On the the other hand, there are also places, for example, in Sidama, that have forests in abundance, but due to their poor management, there still might be limited food supply. This is because these species’ specific dietary requirement stipulates that they feed on shoots that are less than 5 years old and most of the culms in these forests are much older than that. Where food is scarce, the monkeys resort to raiding the crops of farmers, located close to the fragmented forests in which they live. They destroy fields with crops that farmers cultivate for consumption or commercial purposes. As expected, there is an animosity that exists between the farmers and the monkeys that provokes the farmers to hunt down the monkeys in order to protect their crops. The conservation of the Bale monkeys has in the past not been agreed upon by all stakeholders as farmers see them as a threat to their farming activities.
How then do we ensure the survival of monkeys without compromising on farmers’ crops?
Reversing the population decline
Based on the years of research and development, African Bamboo has developed a sustainable management plan for the regional highland bamboo forests that ensures that the forests have the capacity to offer not only a steady supply of bamboo but also the habitat and a constant food source to the Bale monkeys and other species inhabiting the forests. This is done by ascertaining that harvesting is done at the right time and at the right scale, thus, the monkeys always have an adequate amount of food supply. As already established, the older the forests grow, the less the food supply is. Unfortunately, a study conducted by African Bamboo found that about 60% of the forests that are currently in the Bale mountains are older than 5 years. This means that in as much as they can offer habitat, there is still an opportunity to provide more food with the incorporation of sustainable forest management practices.
African Bamboo also plants seedlings seasonally, which means that at any given time, there are young shoots on which the monkeys can feed. Additionally, harvesting is done in segments so that throughout the year, there are mature shoots that are harvested for commercial purposes and there are growing ones that provide a food source for the monkeys. Old culms (more than 4 years old) culms will also be thinned out to give space to new ones. The plan is that a structure of culms which is between 0-4 years old is maintained which will ultimately increase food supply by 60%. This is coupled with other silvicultural activities such as stump removal, mulching, and soil loosening which can increase the number of new culms sprouting per year and increase culm survivorship. Silviculture inherently increases the size/diameter of new emerging culms during the shooting season – meaning that fewer shoots need to be eaten per meal. Managing the number of new culms that emerge each year should provide sufficient food for bale monkey and other species while providing AB with the necessary culm density required for production. To increase the impact beyond the already existing forests, African Bamboo will plant 2,000 ha with bamboo and other native species.
“Many restoration projects fail due to the exclusion of the local population from the scope of the project and the sole management of the natural resources by a leading – often external – organization. The African Bamboo approach, however, involves the local communities as the primary beneficiaries and the independent managers of the bamboo forests.”
Furthermore, the involvement of different stakeholders is vital to provide a long-lasting impact. For that reason, African Bamboo works with the local communities to ensure that the bamboo forests are well managed. Many restoration projects fail due to the exclusion of the local population from the scope of the project and the sole management of the natural resources by a leading – often external – organization. The African Bamboo approach, however, involves the local communities as the primary beneficiaries and the independent managers of the bamboo forests. During the shooting season (typically between April and June), local communities will camp out in the forest to keep prevent the influx of more wild animals into the forest and save us from major losses. The local farmers too have a stake in the sustainable management of the forests which will combat the extinction of the Bale Monkeys. The extra incentive for the farmers is that once the monkeys have enough food in the forests, they will abstain from consuming the farmers’ crops.
Beyond the farmers, the company also works with the local government authorities to secure regulatory support for the preservation of the Bale Monkeys. African Bamboo is also looking forward to further collaboration with other stakeholders like Dr. Addisu Mekonnen, a renowned researcher on Bale Monkeys and the People’s Trust for Endangered Species to improve biodiversity in the region.
It is easy to limit the aim of sustainable management of bamboo forests to soil preservation, water management and commercial activities. Yet, as we humans manage the forests for our own survival, we also give other players of the ecosystem the right to live. With the human population expected to increase and the rapid expansion of agricultural activities, the Bale monkeys and many other species are at risk of extinction. There is, however, hope that with sustainable forest management the situation can be reversed. With the support of multiple stakeholders and the involvement of the local communities, it is possible to create an environment in which human intervention does not merely consume natural resources, but helps to improve the natural habitat and the local species to thrive.