Helping Africa’s most threatened non-ape primate.
Africa is home to red colobus monkeys that are remarkably diverse. They differ in behavior, vocalizations, facial expressions, and even coat colors and patterns (redheads with white beards, brunettes with smooth chins, blondes with black head bands). Instead of thumbs, they have a small remnant bump. They can ferment leaves in their guts and digest plant matter, and are the primary prey for chimpanzees. These slow-moving, photogenic primates are also large seed dispersers, helping to maintain the health of the forests where they live – ranging from Senegal on the Atlantic coast to the island of Zanzibar in the Indian Ocean.
Most red colobus are facing extinction, making them the most threatened group of non-ape primates in mainland Africa. More than half of the 18 distinct forms of red colobus monkeys (scientists are unclear about how many species there are) are classified as Endangered or Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
Because the areas where red colobus monkeys live overlap with more than 75% of all primate species on mainland Africa, their protection would benefit countless other species. In fact, a 2012 paper in the scientific journal Conservation Letters identified red colobus monkeys as a Cinderella species—a species that is currently overlooked, but aesthetically appealing, and that could help conserve the forests they live in, benefitting many other species.
Re:wild helps shine a spotlight on red colobus monkeys. We’re supporting expeditions to find lost species, and we’re working with a group of partners who have developed a comprehensive Red Colobus Conservation Action Plan (ReCAP) under the African Primatological Society and IUCN-SSC Primate Specialist Group. The action plan will directly help the most urgent conservation and protection needs for red colobus. With the African Primatological Society, IUCN SSC Primate Specialist Group and the Red Colobus Conservation Network, we have helped bring together more than 160 primate conservationists interested in collaborating for red colobus conservation. Their work will elevate them to a flagship group for the countless other species that share their vanishing habitat.
The threats to red colobus monkeys’ survival vary to a small degree geographically, but the primary drivers of their decline across Africa include:
Hunting for trade and local subsistence
Habitat loss, degradation and fragmentation due to logging, mining, charcoal production, infrastructure development and conversion of forest to farms and agriculture plantations
The Red Colobus Action Plan focuses on:
Developing a red colobus conservation network all working together and tracking conservation efforts for the monkeys
Increasing political support to save red colobus and convince all range country governments to support conservation efforts for the monkeys within the next five years
Supporting the next generation of conservationists
Protecting red colobus from hunting and wildlife crime using technology like SMART
Improving local awareness and fostering pride in red colobus
Survey red colobus populations to better understand how many and where they are
Searching for Lost Species
Miss Waldron's Red Colobus
Miss Waldron’s Red Colobus, may already be extinct, as there have been no confirmed sightings since 1978 – making it one of Re:wild’s top 25 “Most Wanted” lost species. The species came close to claiming the dubious honor of being the first primate to be declared extinct in more than 500 years after repeated failed searches. But evidence from hunters appeared in 2000 and in 2001, suggesting that a very small number of these monkeys may be living in the southeast corner of Côte d’Ivoire. Miss Waldron’s Red Colobus was first discovered in 1933 by a British museum collector who named it after a colleague on the expedition, Miss F. Waldron, with the last conclusive sighting of the monkey in 1978. No photographs or video of the species alive exist.
Semliki Red Colobus
The Semliki Red Colobus was first described only in 1991—at which point it may have already been on the brink of extinction. Their distribution covers the catchment of the Semliki River, which connects Lake Edward to Lake Albert and flows through Virunga National Park, as well as the Mount Hoyo Reserve in the Democratic Republic of Congo. They were found in the far west of Uganda in the middle of the 20th century, but have not been seen there since. A search in 2019 found red colobus, but researchers couldn’t be sure if the monkeys were Semliki Red Colobus. Further surveys are underway to try secure proof this form of red colobus still survives.
Top photo: A Zanzibar Red Colobus. (Robin Moore/Re:wild)