Visualise someone leaping upwards fifty feet into the air carrying a twenty-five pound weight. That is the equivalent of a female Zanzibar red colobus monkey travelling upwards with her clinging baby. These colourful and friendly primates are Old World semi-brachiators, moving through the trees with a combination of leaping and brachiation. They are also quadrupedal, and can scamper on all fours across the top of the branches. Above all, they are very athletic. And, they are very endangered.
Zanzibar red colobus have pale-grey undersides with reddish-brown on the head and lower back. They wear a mantle of black across the shoulders extending down the arms as a stripe. They have black faces with white chins and foreheads. Their legs have darker grey patches and their tails are brown. Both male and female share these colours. They are also very similar in size.
They do, however, have two notable features which single them out from other primates. Firstly, their tails are used as a balancing tool, whereas in other species the tail is used as an additional limb to aid forward movement. Secondly, they lack opposable thumbs (colobus, is derived from the Greek word ekolobóse, meaning cut short). Instead, they have four very long fingers which wrap around the branches enabling them to swing through the canopy with consummate ease. On average, they weigh just under six kilos for males and five and a half kilos for females. The mean length is twenty-two inches. Their tails are almost two feet long.
Within groups there is always a dominant male, determined by levels of aggression. The hierarchy dictates the higher members of the group receive a larger distribution of food, social activities such as grooming, and females. Groups can consist of as many as eighty individuals, though some are much less. Females are usually more numerous within the groups.
There is no specific breeding season for the Zanzibar red colobus. They mate throughout the year, but the inter-birth interval can be up to three years or more. When the female falls pregnant, the gestation period lasts between five and six months, after which only one baby will be born. The babies are born altricial and will be nursed for about eighteen months if female, and three to four years if male (often males continue to nurse until they reach maturity).
The red colobus has a somewhat unusual predator in the chimpanzee. Chimpanzees occasionally form large hunting parties and go on a killing spree for a few weeks. They seem particularly fond of the red colobus. When the marauding monkeys descend upon them, the red colobus males form a defence group, while the females collect their offspring ready to flee. Sadly, the chimps manage to kill quite a lot of their fellow primates when on these missions and have been credited with contributing to the declining numbers. The purpose is not solely to feed themselves, but also to acquire a nutritionally valuable item of trade. With it, the chimpanzees are also able to show off their prowess to other males and their dependability to females.
Gallery forest, scrub forest growing on coral rag and mangrove swamps.
Endemic to Zanzibar – An island off the coast of (and part of) Tanzania, East Africa
What they eat
Leaves, leaf buds, flowers and unripe fruit. On the ground, they eat charcoal to aid their digestive system.
Habitat destruction by way of logging, charcoal production, agricultural clearance and bush-burning. They are sometimes shot for food, sport or as crop pests by the locals, though these practice are now in decline and tourism is recognised as a valuable option. Illegal pet traders target the babies and will kill those around it who try to protect it. This can be a lot of monkeys. Deaths on the roads happen from time to time. Last of all, they fall prey to chimpanzees. Those adorable little monkeys will eat meat, if given the chance, and are said to be responsible for killing up to one hundred red colobus every year.
The Zanzibar red colobus is listed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. It is also listed as Class A under the African Convention, and protected under Appendix I of CITES. It is thought less than twelve hundred Zanzibar red colobus survive in the wild. Conservation funding has been provided by the WWF in the past, but little seems to have come of it. In fact, there does not seem to be very much going on at all. Although, awareness is being raised and farmers are now compensated by the government for damages to crops. The majority of Zanzibar colobus live in the Jozani Chwaka Bay National Park
“All things share the same breath – the beast, the tree, the man. The air shares its spirit with all the life it supports” Chief Seattle