KENYA COAST GALAGO
Geographic Distribution and Habitat
The Kenya coast galago (Paragalago cocos), also known as the Diani dwarf galago or bushbaby, is native to the coasts of Kenya and northern Tanzania, and possibly the southern coast of Somalia. They have been recorded at elevations up to 1,150 feet (350 m) above sea level. They make their homes primarily in dry coastal lowland forest, riverine forests, and secondary growth forests. They are also found in mixed cultivation where coconut palms, mangos, and cashew nuts are cultivated. Kenya coast galagos are adaptable creatures that continue to do well despite the habitat loss they experience.
Galagos, the small arboreal prosimians of the family Galagidae, are notoriously difficult to identify, and this is reflected in their oftentimes confusing and constantly rearranging taxonomy. The genus Paragalago is a relatively new genus, having been described in only 2017. At the time of writing, the family Galagidae has six genera: Euoticus, Galago, Galagoides, Otolemur, Paragalago, and Sciurocheirus. Paragalago was previously classed in with Galagoides but was elevated to full genus status based on genetic evidence and due to the differences in morphology and vocalizations. Interestingly, genetic evidence has revealed that Paragalago, the eastern dwarf galagos, and Galagoides, their western counterparts, are not even particularly closely related as far as galagos go. They are separated by the East African Rift, a major continental rift zone. Their similarities are more a result of parallel evolution, in which similar environmental pressures caused similar traits to evolve between the two distant cousins. Prior to being recognized as their own species, Kenya coast galagos were considered a subspecies of the southern lesser galago (Galago moholi cocos), and are sometimes referred to as such by older sources.
Size, Weight, and Lifespan
Kenya coast galagos have a body length of about 5.5–7 inches (14–17 cm), with their tail adding another 4–11 inches (11–28 cm) in length. Males are on the larger side, typically weighing between 5.6 and 9 oz (160–255 g), while females weigh between 5 and 8 oz (142–229 g). Their maximum lifespan is about 16 years of age.
Occurring or living in the same area; overlapping in distribution.
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Kenya coast galagos are small prosimians. Most of their body is covered in dense, buff-brown hair. Their bellies and chins are a creamy white, and most of their face is grayish-brown. The bridge of their snout is white, giving an appearance of a broad stripe down the center of their faces. Their noses are quite small, in contrast to their large, reddish-brown eyes. Their faces are framed with rather large, hairless ears. Their finger pads are enlarged, which help them to grip onto branches.
Kenya coast galagos are omnivorous, consuming a varied diet composed primarily of invertebrates and fruit.
Behavior and Lifestyle
Like other galagos, Kenya coast galagos are nocturnal. During the day, they sleep in groups in tree holes. The same group tends to use the same few tree holes, although each individual may not necessarily come back to the same hole every day. At night, they forage. They tend to stick to the middle strata of the forest. They move about using both their hands and feet to run, walk, and leap.
Kenya coast galagos engage in a behavior known as “urine washing,” in which they pee on their hands and feet. This is used as a form of olfactory communication and may help them grip onto tree branches!
Kenya coast galagos live in small groups, usually composed of a mother and her offspring, which can be anywhere from two to seven members. Like many nocturnal primates, they forage independently at night. Despite their social groups, Kenya coast galagos actually spend approximately 70% of their waking hours alone. In the past, this behavior has led researchers to assume that nocturnal primates are mostly solitary animals, but that isn’t true. Despite foraging alone, Kenya coast galagos still maintain a complex social organization. Female Kenya coast galagos have small ranges that overlap more substantially than the males’, which are larger. Female territories are about 17 acres (6.7 ha) on average, and males’ are 27 acres (11 ha). The larger the difference between two females’ ages, the more likely they are to have overlapping territories. In other words, a young female Kenya coast galago and an old female Kenya coast galago are more likely to have overlapping territories, while two female Kenya coast galagos of similar ages are less likely to have their ranges overlap. Males, in contrast, only defend territories if they are dominant, which tend to be the largest and most aggressive males. When they are of age, young males leave their natal groups, traveling several miles away.
Galagos are known for their unique calls, which are different for every species and can help differentiate these notoriously difficult to identify species. Kenya coast galagos have a wide range of vocalizations in their repertoire and are known for their “incremental call” that is different from every other species in its genus. They buzz, chatter, chirrup, yap, and screech. Their vocalizations help to keep their groups together, express anxiety or alarm, or are signs of antagonism. When two Kenya coast galagos encounter another member of their species, they usually touch noses. After that, they either groom each other or display aggression. Young Kenya coast galagos call to their mother using a clicking noise. Urine washing of their feet and hands is used as a form of olfactory communication, and it may even help them to grip onto branches more effectively.
Kenya coast galagos are polygynous—males mate with multiple females. The females’ estrus period lasts between one to three days, during which the males compete heavily for breeding rights. They increase their home range, their body weight, and even the size of their testes to give them the best chance at mating. Larger males tend to monopolize females, breeding with them multiple times to ensure the best chance of fathering their offspring. Smaller males, while less successful overall, do have their own strategy. They tend to be opportunistic, sneaking under the radar to mate with as many females as they can. While they are less successful than the dominant males, they are successful enough to contribute to the next generation.
While pregnant, an expectant mother constructs a nest where she gives birth and subsequently raises her offspring. Sometimes, she may take advantage of her surroundings and use an abandoned bird nest or tree hollow instead. Matings occur twice per year, and, after a four-month gestation, result in births between January and February and between October and November. Female Kenya coast galagos give birth to a single offspring, rarely twins, twice per year. Newborn Kenya coast galagos are fully furred and have their eyes open. Their mother carries them by the scruff of their neck for about 50 days, and they are weaned at about three months of age. However, the babies may start to catch insects for themselves at about a month old. Mothers park their infants in safe locations while they forage, checking in with them occasionally. The baby stays quiet and unmoving. If left too long or if in danger, the baby lets out a distress call and the mother comes to check on them. If she senses danger, she moves her baby to a new location. When the baby is about 10 months old, they reach sexual maturity and males leave their natal groups.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature lists Kenya coast galagos as Least Concern (IUCN, 2016), appearing on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. They are fortunately abundant and relatively widespread, with population densities recorded at 447–474 individuals per square mile (170–180 individuals/km²). They are the most abundant galago species in coastal Kenya. While they are not immune to the habitat loss impacting certain parts of their range, they do not face any significant threats to their survival as a species. Parts of their native habitat are being lost due to conversion to agriculture, such as pineapple and sisal plantations. However, Kenya coast galagos are adaptable and can live in secondary forests or even farms and gardens with adequate tree cover.
Kenya coast galagos are listed in Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), an international agreement between governments whose goal is to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival. They live in a number of protected areas, including the Shimba Hills National Reserve, the Tana River Primate National Reserve, and the Kipini Conservancy. More research into the species’ range is warranted, particularly its extent in Somalia.
- Harcourt, C. and L. Nash. 1986. Social organization of galagos in Kenyan coastal forests: Galago zanzibaricus. American Journal of Primatology, 10: 339-355.
- Masters, J. C., et al. 2017. A new genus for the eastern dwarf galagos (Primates: Galagidae). Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society, 181(1): 229–241. https://doi.org/10.1093/zoolinnean/zlw028
Written by K. Clare Quinlan, June 2022