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Zanzibar red colobus monkey
Red Colobus

Zanzibar red colobus monkey, Piliocolobus kirkii. Photo by: Robin Moore

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 chimps. These slow-moving, photogenic primates are also large seed dispersers, helping to maintain the health of the forests in which they live – ranging from Senegal on the Atlantic coast to the island of Zanzibar in the Indian Ocean.

Among the traits that define red colobus monkeys across species is a disheartening reality: most of them are facing extinction, making them the most threatened group of non-ape primates in mainland Africa. More than half of the 19 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.

One, Miss Waldron’s Red Colobus, may already be extinct, as there have been no confirmed sightings since 1978 ­– making it one of GWC’s top 25 “Most Wanted” lost species.

“We want to take this group of Cinderella species and, through this action plan, turn them into the belle of the ball so that everybody is looking at them, everyone is focused on them, and by saving them, we’re saving all of the other species around them.”

– Dr. Barney Long, GWC’s senior director of species conservation

Because red colobus monkeys’ range overlaps with more than 75 percent 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 generate funds for the conservation of multiple species across a landscape.

“By pulling together as a conservation community, we can turn red colobus from an overlooked and ignored group of species into a group of species that is a flagship and icon for these forested areas,” said Dr. Barney Long.

(Top Photo: Zanzibar Red Colobus monkey, Robin Moore/GWC)

Wild Facts
Their range overlaps with at least 75% of all primate species on mainland Africa
Red colobus can be thought of as the first indicators of the decline of a healthy ecosystem
3 red colobus are lost species and have not been seen for 30+ years

Red Colobus Action Plan

Global Wildlife Conservation is part of a group of partners who have developed a comprehensive Red Colobus Conservation Action Plan (ReCAP) under the African Primatological Society and IUCN Primate Specialist Group aimed at preventing the extinction of red colobus monkeys. We are establishing a red colobus working group under the APS and PSG that 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

Plan Aspects:

Developing a red colobus conservation network

Over 150 people globally are working on the conservation of red colobus across Africa. This is being turned into an active and single voice for red colobus conservation. A working group coordinator is currently being hired to manage this network. The coordinator will facilitate teams on various thematic and geographic issues, manage a network web portal for information sharing and exchange, host regular meetings to facilitate close collaboration, and promote the initiative globally. A monitoring system will be implemented to track the impact of the range-wide conservation effort.

Improving political support

Current political support for red colobus conservation is low in all range countries. GWC, through the working group, will facilitate and mentor national conservationists to raise the profile and explain the needs of red colobus species at the local level. The aim, at the end of the current five-year conservation action plan, is that the next iteration will receive government endorsement from all range countries, cementing strong political support for red colobus conservation.

Building capacity

A new generation of African conservationists is emerging, and the future of red colobus rests on these men and women. GWC, through the working group, will support trainings, networking opportunities, and individual capacity building support for African conservationists from across the continent.

Strengthening Protection

Every red colobus is at risk from hunting and other illegal activities. GWC will identify protection leads at each priority site for red colobus as identified in the conservation action plan and build their capacity through range-wide trainings. The enforcement monitoring tool SMART will be implemented in priority sites to provide data on the effectiveness of protection activities and enable adaptive management of efforts.

Improving awareness of and pride in red colobus populations

Since they are unaware of the importance of local red colobus conservation, communities across Africa continue to hunt and eat them. Awareness and pride building materials and methods will be developed centrally, tweaked for local use and distributed to all projects working on each species. Training for projects on community engagement and pride building will be provided to ensure effective use of centrally developed materials.

Monitoring red colobus populations

Outside of a few sites, the size of red colobus populations are not known. Survey methods will be developed through the working group that enable comparable results among sites and over time. Surveys will be implemented in the highest priority sites so that baseline population data can be generated, and changes to populations over time can be tracked to assess the effectiveness of conservation actions

3 Lost Species Searches
Planned for 2019

Miss Waldron’s Red Colobus

Miss Waldron’s Red Colobus 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.

Kisangani Red Colobus

Native to the eastern Congo basin, the Kisangani Red Colobus has not been seen since the 1980’s, when many were observed in the wild near Kisangani – and more than 360 others were killed and sold in local bushmeat markets. Two Kisangani Red Colobus, killed by hunters, were seen in 2012, but since then, no other records have been obtained. Despite its range having been devastated by hunting and habitat loss, dedicated surveys maybe able to find a surviving population and provide us with a chance to save and recovery the species. Surveys will initially focus on interviewing local communities and where positive results indicate extant groups of red colobus, field surveys will be conducted to observe and so confirm presence of the species

Solutions

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Leadership Cultivation

GWC will support trainings, networking opportunities, and individual capacity building support for African conservationists from across the continent.

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Wildlife Crime Prevention

GWC will identify protection leads at each priority site for red colobus as identified in the conservation action plan and build their capacity through range-wide trainings.

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Monitoring

Surveys will be implemented in the highest priority sites so that baseline population data can be generated, and changes to populations over time can be tracked to assess the effectiveness of conservation actions.

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Exploration

GWC is conducting lost species expeditions to search for Miss Waldron’s Red Colobus, Semlinki Red Colobus and Kingsani Red Colobus.

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