“I cannot see how there can be any real and full recognition of Kinship as long as men continue either to cheat or to eat their fellow beings.”
Henry Salt (1851-1939)
On a small, highly biodiverse island in the Gulf of Guinea, there lives a species of monkey which, surprisingly, is not dying out through loss of habitat. Incredibly, this unfortunate monkey is instead being eaten into extinction. And, not as a subsistence food either. The poor cannot afford to eat monkey-meat on the island of Bioko. This is strictly the privilege of the more well-to-do. Oil money has taken care of that, and red colobus is now considered a luxury item on the menu. As more have developed a penchant for the meat, the price has shot up, trade in the island’s market of Malabo is burgeoning, demand is high, and the red colobus are rapidly declining in numbers. The usual arguments about the indigenous peoples being hungry and depending on a species for food, are meaningless here. The local populace are eating this animal because they want to.
Red colobus weigh in at anything up to twenty-two pounds. They can grow to as much as two feet tall with a slightly longer, non-prehensile tail length of two feet four inches. Typical of its species, Pennant’s red colobus has a small head, a long back and the characteristic red colobus round belly. Its limbs are long and spindly ending in thumbless, elongated, hook-like fingers. Its coat comes in various shades of brown and red on the back, with a light underside and orange and black down the sides of the limbs. It has a black fur on its head, which is usually parted down the centre.
The mouth contains specialist molars for softening or breaking up leaves and fruit. It also has a multi-chambered stomach for fermentation of ingested food.
Red colobus are arboreal, slow and noisy. When not simply leaping across the branches, they move through them by bending the thinner, more flexible ones and using them as catapults. They live in groups of twelve to eighty comprising of both male and female individuals, with females outnumbering the males twofold. Females tend to remain with the same group throughout their lives, whilst males move between troops. They communicate between each other and other troops using a series of barks and squawks.
There is little or no information available about the reproductive habits of Pennant’s Red Colobus (Procolobus pennantii), so I think it may be fair to assume it will be much the same as say, the Zanzibar red colobus (Procolobus kirkii) which is as follows.
There is no specific breeding season and they mate throughout the year, but the inter-birth interval can be up to three years or more. The gestation period lasts between five and six months, after which only one baby will be born. The babies are born altricial. (Please remember, this part is only an assumption)
Primary and secondary rain forest, and swamp forests
Equatorial Guinea (the island of Bioko). Two other sub-species exist in the Niger Delta (Procolobus pennantii epieni) and the Republic of the Congo (Procolobus pennantii bouvieri).
What they eat
Fresh leaves, flowers, fruit and seeds.
The main threat to Pennant’s Red Colobus is commercial hunting for the bushmeat market. Habitat loss has also played a part as has limited range and small numbers.
Pennant’s Red Colobus (Procolobus pennantii ssp. pennantii) is listed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species as Endangered. It is also listed as one of the “World’s 25 most endangered primates”. Almost half the entire red colobus population has been lost to uncontrolled bushmeat hunting over the past two decades.
There are no red colobus monkeys kept in any recognised public zoos or other known approved places operating captive breeding programs. Though it has been tried, it was found red colobus did not do well in captivity.
National laws forbid hunting of primates in protected areas, but these laws are not enforced.
The Bioko Biodiversity Protection Program had this to say: “The continuing BBPP presence in the marketplace is also a constant reminder to both buyers and sellers that trafficking in primate carcasses is illegal.”
This may well be a constant reminder, but it doesn’t seem to be much of an ongoing deterrent. With the price of red colobus meat exceeding all expectations in some quarters, it could be some time before an end is brought to this despicable trade.