The Tana River Primate Reserve was established in 1976 to protect the remaining forest along the Tana River and the most threatened primate species, which are; the Tana River Red Colobus and the Tana River Mangabey, both endemic to the forests of lower Tana River. These species are threatened by habitat loss and degradation, which has increased in recent years.
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.
The Pokomo community who are the native to the area have also been demanding compensation as initially agreed between them and the Government before the reserve land was excised.
Despite these challenges facing primates in this reserve and other parts of Kenya, the country lacks primate conservation and management strategies. This was the motivation behind the formation of Kenya’s National Primate Conservation Task Force (NPCTF) to help develop and drive the strategy forward.
In 1996, the World Bank donated USD 6.2 million on a period of five years to help KWS (Kenya Wildlife Service) protect and manage the Tana River Primate Reserve. The project aimed at relocating communities living in the reserve to an alternative site. However, it faced a lot of resistance from the locals who refused to relocate, therefore this did not provide a solution. As the Lonely Planet guidebook shares in a quirky aside, things came to a head when 300 naked Pokomo women stormed the research centre in protest.
According to a 1996 report by the Global Environmental Facility [GEF], about 10,000 people lived and/or cultivate land inside the Reserve or harvest its resources on a regular basis, and another approximately 10,000 used it on a seasonal basis to graze and water livestock. The report further estimated that about 16% of the riverine forest area was under cultivation. Recently, the World Bank was ordered to pay KSh634 million (£4.8 million) compensation to the displaced after the high court in Mombasa found that the World Bank and the Global Environmental Facility (GEF) failed to meet its promises to provide 15 acres per household, a house, compensation for lost trees and crops and KSh50 000 (£380) per family. Plans to build houses, schools, mosques and churches also never materialised (Daily Nation 2010).
Currently, the Institute of Primate Research (IPR) is involved in a new conservation approach for the reserve whereby the Pokomo community is now taking part in the process. This community programme is being managed by KWS and IPR in partnership with Rutgers University (USA) and the Northern Rangelands Trust, a local NGO. It is hoped that through this approach, the objective of protecting these endangered species without displacing the local population can be achieved.