tea with the colobus monkeys


During my travels in Rwanda, I saw miles and miles of tea plantations. Against the orange dirt and bright blue sky the green was a beautiful sight. It is no wonder there were so many plantations, Rwanda’s two main exports are tea and coffee, and ninety percent of the economic activity in the country is farming. Further, over ninety percent of the national tea production is exported, Rwandan tea is planted on hillsides at high altitudes [between 1,900 and 2,500 meters], and on marshes at an altitude of between 1,550 and 1,800 meters. Tea is grown in eleven locations within Rwanda in the provinces of Byumba, Cyangugu, Gikongoro, Gisenyi and Kibuye. Tea plantations are usually situated near a tea factory because the tea harvest must be processed within a few hours of picking. It is said that the quality of the Rwanda green tea leaves is among the best in the world.

I noticed many cooperatives or collective farms, and one tea plantation in particular provided a shelter for some interesting creatures. In the all too common narrative of humanity destroying the habitat of indigenous creatures, many miles of forest were leveled in order to make way for agriculture, and in Eastern Rwanda much of this land is now planted with tea. In one location I visited, one small pocket of forest remained, surrounded by tea as far as the eye can see.

In this pocket, ironically protecting them, was a large family of Colobus monkeys. Black-and-white colobus monkeys are Old World monkeys of the genus Colobus and are native to Africa. They are herbivorous creatures, eating leaves, fruit, flowers, and twigs. Colobus monkeys live in territorial groups of about nine individuals, based upon a single male with a number of females and their offspring. Newborns are completely white.

I stood there for an hour watching the colobus in the trees, interacting with each other, grooming each other, caring for their young, and taking care of the newborns. It was a fascinating hour watching them. Despite their location surrounded by tea, they apparently have a great dislike for tea leaves [they prefer eucalyptus].

Perhaps next time I should invite them for a latte instead.