It is considered as one of the last remaining water towers in Kenya. Nestled in the towering mist-covered hills of Wundanyi, Ngangao forest is characterised by densely packed indigenous trees and thick undergrowth that give the forest a permanently brooding and chilly quality.
The forest is replenished by rains, streams, and natural springs that bubble from old moss-coated rocks scattered across the protected area.
Classified as an isolated natural ecosystem, the forest is a self-sustaining marvel that owes its survival largely to decades of untiring conservation efforts by the government, stakeholders, and community forest associations, who have waged a valiant battle to ensure the forest retains its original integrity amidst the looming threats posed by the twin risks of climate change and the burgeoning human population.
However, the success of the conservation efforts has spawned a dark side. For hundreds of farmers with farms adjacent to the forest, the conservation success has a bittersweet feel that signifies the ironies of nature.
Ngangao’s thriving ecosystem has proven irresistible to clans of hundreds of voracious monkeys, whose insatiable appetites for crops including ripe guavas, bananas, beans, and tender maize crops have turned into a nightmare for farmers.
From planting seasons to the time the harvests are ready, farmers are constantly fatigued by the endless cycles of chasing the agile apes away, only for the clans to sneak back and raid the farms.
“We have never seen anything like this. We are battling monkeys from dawn to dusk, and they are not giving up. When we chase them, they simply melt into the forest and wait for us to retreat,” says Ms. Ariatha Wakesho, a farmer at Mchungunyi village.
Living in an environment that is predator-free, the monkeys are having the time of their lives and have multiplied so quickly that they are rumoured to be in the thousands.
Wundanyi MP Danson Mwashako says the unintended consequences of forest conservation by the local farmers have been to bring the pesky and troublesome apes that have now colonised the forests and enjoy raiding farms with reckless impunity. Any attempt to get rid of them has been an exercise in futility.
Ngangao Forest, with its towering trees and hawk-eyed forest rangers, has become the perfect sanctuary for the mischievous monkeys to retreat to whenever they are done rampaging through farms.
“These monkeys have become a menace and call for immediate action. Unless they are tamed and dealt with, our farmers will never realise a good harvest,” says the legislator.
He urged the government to act on farmers’ concerns as a way of paying them back for conserving the forest that has not become a source of their pain. He proposed radical measures, including neutering the male monkeys and placing female monkeys in a strict regime of family planning pills to halt their reproduction.
“Such a programme has been done in India, and it worked. We should enforce the family planning directive on all these monkeys,” he insists.
The government, through the ministry of wildlife and tourism, is already planning to deploy primate experts and bio-technology teams from the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) to establish ways of combating this monkey menace.
Speaking at Ngangao Forest in Wundanyi, Tourism and Wildlife CS Dr. Alfred Mutua commended the farmers for their conservation efforts, adding that KWS teams will be deployed to the region and come up with the best methods to deal with these pesky climbers.
“I have heard your concerns and will send a KWS team to come find ways to deal with the monkeys,” he said.
What makes the situation more precarious for the farmers is the fact that the government does not compensate for any loss occasioned by monkeys’ activities. According to the Wildlife Management and Compensation Act 2013, monkeys are not listed among the wildlife species whose destructive activities attract compensation.
“We want monkeys to be included on that list. They are as destructive as elephants; perhaps more,” says Ms. Poline Nanjala, a farmer at Mghambonyi village.
While the debate rages on how the monkeys can be tamed, the question of the origin of the monkeys remains murky and unclear. Bitter farmers have several theories on how the monkeys came to the forest, with local politics being cited as the biggest culprit.
One popular opinion says the monkeys have been terrorising farmers in the lowlands. Farmers complained. Politicians harangued KWS, who, to quell the heat and calm political jitters, rounded up all the monkeys they could lay their hands on and carried them to Taita Forest.
“They were brought here by KWS because they had become troublesome to farmers in Mwatate, Voi, and Taveta. They have become our headache,” says Nanjala.
However, KWS scoffs at such a suggestion, insisting that the animals found their way to the forest by themselves.
“That’s preposterous! Monkeys are among the most intelligent creatures in the animal kingdom. They simply followed the vegetation along the rivers because they wanted food and an environment devoid of hostile activities,” says a senior KWS official in Tsavo who requested anonymity.