Red colobus monkey – Where do these old-world primates live?

Cute baby red colobus monkey portrait in Jozani Forest, Zanzibar

Africa is home to the red colobus monkey, a remarkably diverse group of primates. They are the most threatened group of non-ape primates in Africa and face a variety of dangers. The primates’ beautiful fur and lack of fear towards humans makes them the unfortunate target of hunters.

Discover more about the appearance, diet, and population of the red colobus monkey below.

Piliocolobus Species

Ashy red colobus monkey leaping in Kibale Forest National Park, Uganda

Monkeys are either classified as new world or old world. The Piliocolobus species falls into the latter category. They are closely related to the black-and-white colobus monkeys and are often found in groups alongside the blue monkey.

Primarily found in forests, the species has evolved to leap between trees. It also has long fingers and a small bump instead of thumbs.

The Red Colobus Monkey’s Appearance

Each species of red colobus monkey differs in appearance. It typically has brownish-red fur on the body, with a patch of black to chocolate brown fur on the head.

It has pink lips, nose, and eye rings with a black band of hair extending from above the eyes to the temples. The fur on the underside of the body is lighter than the fur on its back.

The monkey’s tail is between 58-77 cm long and is dark brown at its root. Adults grow to a body length of 45-65 cm and weigh between 5.2 and 11.3 kg. Females tend to have shorter canines, thinner tails, and slightly smaller skulls.

Infants have black and white coats, with the full colouration only appearing between 6 and 11 months old.

The Red Colobus Monkey’s Diet

Zanzibar red colobus with a mouthful of leaves

The red colobus monkey’s diet primarily consists of young leaves, flowers, and unripe fruit. They also eat charcoal to combat the toxins naturally found in some leaves.

Eating a varied diet, the red colobus’s stomach is larger than those of similar-sized monkeys. It endures long digestive periods to extract the most nutrients from its food.

The Zanzibar red colobus monkeys feed on mangrove leaves and subsist on a drier, coarser diet than any other red colobus monkey.

Red Colobus Species

There are 16 distinct forms of the red colobus monkey that make up the diverse Piliocolobus species.

Ashy red colobus

Ashy red colobus monkeys, Piliocolobus tephrosceles, occur primarily in the Kibale National Park in Western Uganda. Listed as endangered, they face threat from habitat degradation, habitat loss, and predation from chimpanzees.

Bouvier’s red colobus

Bouvier’s red colobus monkey lives in swampy forests surrounding the Congo River. Rediscovered in 2015, the species previously went without a confirmed sighting for forty years.

It appears as endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species.

Foa’s red colobus

Foa’s red colobus monkey, Piliocolobus foai, occurs primarily in montane and submontane forest in the Itombwe Nature Reserve and the Kabobo Massif in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Lang’s red colobus

Lang’s red colobus monkey, Piliocolobus langi, lives in lowland rainforests in the northeastern portion of the Democratic Republic of Congo. This species suffers from significant hunting pressure and habitat loss.

Lomami red colobus

The Lomami red colobus monkey, Piliocolobus parmentieri, is endemic to the Democratic Republic of Congo. Field surveys conducted in 2007 in the area of its historic range failed to reveal any evidence of the animal. In 2016, the species was unexpectedly found near the village of Lokobekobe.

Miss Waldron’s red colobus

Miss Waldron’s red colobus was first discovered in 1933 by a British museum collector. It has come close to being the first primate declared extinct, with no sightings of the monkeys since 1978.

Evidence suggests a small number of Miss Waldron’s red colobus live in the southeast corner of Côte d’Ivoire.

Niger Delta red colobus

Niger Delta red colobus monkeys, Piliocolobus epieni, are endemic to the marsh forests in the western part of the Niger Delta. The species is critically endangered due to hunting and habitat loss.

Oustalet’s red colobus

Oustalet’s red colobus monkeys, Piliocolobus oustaleti, live in forests in South Sudan, southern Central African Republic, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Pennant’s red colobus

Pennant’s red colobus monkey, Piliocolobus pennantii, lives in lowland, mid-montane tropical moist forests and marsh forests on the Equatorial Guinea island of Bioko. The species is critically endangered, with fewer than 1200 animals living in the southwestern parts of the Gran Caldera Scientific Reserve.

Preuss’s red colobus

Preuss’s red colobus monkey, Piliocolobus preussi, inhabits high-canopy, lowland, mid-altitude, and sub-montane forest in Cameroon and Nigeria. Listed as critically endangered, it is present in the Korup National Park in southwestern Cameroon and the Cross River National Park in the southeastern corner of Nigeria.

Semliki red colobus

The Semliki red colobus monkey lives in the catchment of the Semliki River in the Democratic Republic of Congo. First described in 1991, they may have already been on the brink of extinction.

Tana River red colobus

Tana River red colobus monkeys, Piliocolobus rufomitratus, occupy riverine and flood-plain forests along a 60 km stretch of the lower Tana River and the Tana Delta in Kenya. The current population is around 1000 monkeys and may reduce by 80% over the next 50 years.

Tshuapa red colobus

Tshuapa red colobus monkeys, Piliocolobus tholloni, are vulnerable due to threats from unregulated bushmeat hunting and habitat loss. The species is endemic to the Democratic Republic of Congo and lives in forests south of the Congo River and west of the Lomami River.

Udzungwa red colobus

Udzungwa red colobus monkeys, Piliocolobus gordonorum, inhabit a variety of forest habitats in the Udzungwa Mountains, Mwanihana Forest, and elsewhere. They have an estimated population of 35 000 monkeys and are vulnerable due to habitat loss and hunting.

Western red colobus

Western red colobus monkeys, Piliocolobus badius, live predominantly in forest, woodland savanna, and mangroves. While preferring to travel on larger branches in the main canopy at the height of 20-40 m, northern populations spend time travelling, resting, and feeding on the ground.

This species occurs in Côte d’Ivoire, Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, northwestern Guinea, Liberia, Senegal, and Sierra Leone.

Zanzibar red colobus

The Zanzibar red colobus, Piliocolobus kirkii, is endemic to Unguja Island and has an estimated population of 5862 mature individuals. The species lives primarily in ground-water forests and scrub forests along the southern and eastern sides of Zanzibar.

Red Colobus Monkeys Get Hunted By Chimps

Common chimpanzee revealing its teeth, Kibale Forest, Uganda

In the forests of the Kibale National Park in Uganda, chimpanzees have hunted the red colobus monkeys to the point of extinction. Troops kill red colobus and black-and-white colobus monkeys to supplement their fruit diet.

Red Colobus Monkey Facts

  • Three red colobus species have not appeared for 30 years.
  • Red colobus monkeys have four-chambered stomachs.
  • Red colobus monkeys rarely descend to the ground.
  • They live in hierarchical groups led by alpha males.
  • The name colobus refers to the monkey’s lack of thumbs.

Travel on Safari to See the Red Colobus Monkey

Western red colobus monkey resting on top of a tree

Seeing the red colobus monkey’s striking coat and relaxed behaviour in person will leave you admiring this old-world African primate. By protecting natural habitats and supporting tourism, the various species of red colobus monkey can hopefully survive for the enjoyment of future generations.

Book a safari to Uganda to see the red colobus monkeys in the Kibale National Park.

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