New study might help reduce primate electrocutions, form conservation strategies

A black and white colobus monkey. | Credit: Lydia Katsis

A new research has outlined and analysed the incidences of primate electrocutions in Diani, Kenya so as to identify the hotspot areas that should be given priority to lower the risk of electric shock. This new study could also inform about conservation strategies in other parts of the world where primate electrocutions are common. Electrocution is a danger to wide range of primate species all across the world and the hazard could spread wide and far as more and more species are increasingly getting restricted to human-dominated landscapes.

The study was published recently in International Journal of Primatology, and led by Master’s student Lydia Katsis and Dr Katy Turner, Reader in Infectious Disease Epidemiology from the Bristol Veterinary School. The research team wanted to examine primate electrocutions along power lines, which is a danger to five of the six primate species that live in the Diani area.

For the study, the research team worked with a local primate conservation organisation, Colobus Conservation, which is known to routinely attend primate welfare callouts, like electrocutions, in the area. Not only does the organisation provide veterinary treatment to the primates, it also records the location of the incident either by documenting the GPS co-ordinates or by describing the location.

Utilizing all these GPS co-ordinates, the researchers mapped the electrocutions and then decided to go out with their own GPS to look for all the locations and get co-ordinates. After three months in Diani, the researchers had mapped 329 primate electrocutions, and built an informative map which showed all the hotspot areas, and also highlighted additional patterns such as the how the of electrocution hotspots were associated with where the primates were widespread.

Diani has lately become a popular touristic town. Dominated by beach resorts, the town has developed and expanded, but at the same time, it has also progressively encroached into the habitat of many species, which has led to the exposure of the native wildlife to numerous new risks such as roads and power lines.

Black and white colobus monkeys, Sykes’ monkeys, vervet monkeys, and baboons are the most popular primate species in this area and they travel through gardens, hotels and across roads. Although it appears that these species have adapted to the mostly human-dominated landscape, traffic accidents and electrocutions are the most common causes of death. Not only that, there is also an ongoing conflict between humans and wildlife- with issues like primate ‘pests’ in hotels and crop raiding by baboons.

Lydia Katsis, who is an MSc student in Global Wildlife Health and Conservation at the University of Bristol, said: “This research was really exciting and rewarding, as for the first time since studying conservation science I was carrying out research that was directly informing a conservation strategy, and had the potential to make a real difference.

“The results provided evidence to the national power company of electrocution hotspots, and we requested power line insulation in these areas, which should reduce the incidence of primate electrocutions in Diani. The study could also be used to inform conservation strategies in other areas of the world where primate electrocutions are a common issue.”

“Electrocution is an issue for many threatened primate species, yet the development of effective evidence-based mitigation strategies is limited. This study provides a framework for systematic spatial prioritisation of power lines that can be used to reduce primate electrocutions in Diani and other areas of the world where primates are at risk from electrocution”, commented Dr. Katy Turner.

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