The Colobus Monkey
Colobus Monkey - Photo kindly provided by the Colobus Trust
Two types of black and white colobus monkeys are found in Kenya those that inhabit coastal forests and those in inland high-country areas. Red colobus monkeys are also found in East Africa, but are quite rare. Two other types of colubus monkeys in Africa are the black and the olive.
The colobus lives in all types of closed forests, including montane and gallery forests. Bamboo stands are also popular dwelling spots for the colobus.
The colobus is the most arboreal of all African monkeys and rarely descends to the ground. It uses branches as trampolines, jumping up and down on them to get liftoff for leaps of up to 50 feet. They leap up and then drop downward, falling with outstretched arms and legs to grab the next branch. Their mantle hair and tails are believed to act as a parachute during these long leaps.
Colobus monkeys live in troops of about 5 to 10 animals—a dominant male, several females, and young. Each troop has its own territory which is well defined and defended from other troops. Adult troop members, especially males, make croaking roars that can be heard resonating throughout the forest.
Fighting over mates rarely occurs. There is no distinct breeding season although most mating probably occurs during rainy season. Because a female suckles her infant for over a year, an average of 20 months passes before she gives birth again. Other troop members often handle very young infants. In the first month when the infant still has a pink face, it may be handled three to five times an hour in resting groups. Infant mortality is high even though the young are carefully tended.
The newborn colobus monkey is covered with white fur, and at about 1 month gradually begins to change color, finally gaining the black and white adult coloration at about 3 months. The infant monkey is carried on the mother's abdomen, where it clings to her fur. As it matures it spends a lot of time playing with its mother and certain other adults and at about 7 months begins playing with other juveniles. The games they play exercise their bodies, and as they get older, these develop into wrestling matches and mock displays.
Colobus monkeys are strictly leaf-eaters and spend most of their time in treetops, preferring to eat the tender young leaves found there. However, complex stomachs enable them to digest mature or toxic foliage that other monkeys cannot.
Predators and Threats
At one time the colobus was hunted excessively for its beautiful fur, leading to its extermination in some areas. Its skin has been used to make dance costumes, hats and capes. Today, the greatest threat to its continued existence comes from loss of habitat as forests are cut down.
Did You Know?
The name colobus derives from a word meaning "mutilated one" because unlike other monkeys they do not have thumbs.
The monkeys communicate with a songlike call, a warning call and a mating call. Local tradition says they are good weather forecasters because they become silent when bad weather is coming.