Colobus Monkey

By Evana Huffman


Class, order, family groupings

Colobus monkeys are Old World monkeys found in Africa. Colobus belong to the class Mammalia as all mammals on the planet do. From there, Colobus are put into the order Primate with humans, apes, all monkeys, and prosimii. The suborder Anthropoidea contains humans, apes, and all monkeys. Next the New World monkeys split off and the humans, apes, and Old World monkeys go into the infraorder Catarrhini. The Old World monkeys belong to the superfamily Cercopithecoidea and the family Cercopithecidae thereby splitting off from humans and apes. The Colobus belong in the subfamily Colobinae, which also contains the Asian langurs and the Borneo proboscis monkey. (161)

 Genus and species groupings

The Colobus seem to make up two genuses: Colobus and the Procolobus. There are a number of species and subspecies within these two genuses. The black and white colobus are made up of four species: colobus abyssinicus, colobus polykomos (Colobus 263), colobus satanas, and colobus guereza. There seems to be some question about the genus of the red colobus. It is common to place them in the colobus genus, but they are sometimes placed in a special group making up the procolobus genus. (Preston 72) One source which was five years old even referred to the smallest species colobus verus as the "green colobus". (Colobus 263) The other species of red colobus is colobus badius. While there are subspecies of the other species, the colobus badius seems to be well studied with at least six subspecies. The subspecies include C. b. temmincki, C. b. badius, C. b. waldroni, C. b. rufomitratus, C. b. Kirkii (Preston 72), and C. b. tephrosceles. (Sleeper 71)




All colobus are native to Africa. They are confined to within 10 degrees of the equator. The black and white colobus cover large area expanding across the continent. The red colobus live in small patches mainly near each coast. Most of these groups seem to be separated, but a few do over lap. The colobus guereza and the colobus badius tephrosceles are both in the Kibale Forest of Uganda. This does not seem to be a problem and they do not compete for similar food. (Sleeper 71) The colobus badius kirkii is completely isolated from other colobus because they live on the island of Zanzibar in the Jozani Forest. (Struhsaker 73)

Environment and Diet

The colobus live most of their lives in trees. The main environments are the tropical rainforests and mountain forests of Africa. (Colobus 263) Colobus eat leaves of all ages, flowers, twigs, and fruit. Leaves are low in nutritional value, so they must eat large quantities to survive. (Rumbaugh and Savage 371) They have also been known to eat charcoal to help in their digestion. The charcoal eliminates the phenolics, which can be toxic or inhibit digestion, and leaves the protein. (Struhsaker 78)




The word colobus is translated as "mutilated". They earned this name because they only have a small nub where the thumb should be. They have four extra long fingers that are used to wrap around branched like a hook. A normal thumb would hinder this activity, and thereby reduce their chances of survival. This is an Old World monkey and has a denial pattern of 2:1:2:3 which is the same as humans.

The black and white colobus is born almost white. It takes five weeks before the baby resembles its parents. ( The older colobus are black with white hair framing their faces, running down their sides, and covering the fluffy end of their tails. Colobus are known for their fluffy long tails. Their tails are one and one third times as long as their head and body. A colobus head and body measurement ranges from about 17" on the colobus verus to 28" on the black and white species. Albinism in black and white colobus is seen often around Mount Kenya. (www.caribbeangardens) The colobus satanas are all black. The red colobus vary in color from reddish brown to orange and black. The eyes of the colobus are further apart when compared to other cercopithecidea family members. This gives them better vision and depth perception, which is needed for tree living. Colobus lack cheek pouches, which are common to Old World monkeys. (Preston 71)

A special feature of the colobus is the size and shape of the stomach. Colobus use a bacterial fermentation to break down their food. Their stomachs are large and compartmented. The fermentation process is slow and is believed to be related to the long inactive periods. This process also causes a pot-bellied appearance. (Sleeper 72)


Social grouping

The black and white colobus live in small groups usually with only one male. The groups have between three and fifteen members. There are also bachelor groups. Infants are often born one and a half to two years apart. The colobus life span appears to be around twenty years. (www.caribbeangardens)

The red colobus live in larger groups with many males. They will split off into small groups with one or two males. This allows the groups to find enough food to support everyone. The groups will then reunite to form larger groups again. There have been reported groups with as many as eighty individuals. (Sleeper 71) One subspecies of red colobus, colobus badius kirkii, have an average of three and a half years between births. This appears to be related to the long nursing period. The female juveniles nurse to about one and a half years, but the males may nurse until they are three or four and ready to mate. This low birthrate is adding to the population problems that this subspecies is facing.


Locomotion and expected behavior

Colobus monkeys are quadrupedal, semibrachiators, and acrobatic leapers. Colobus are able to jump over six meters from tree to tree. A mother colobus leaping over twenty-five feet with a baby holding on to her chest is the equivalent of a human jumping fifty feet from a standing position while carrying a twenty-five pound weight. (Struhsaker 77) The colobus uses its tail for balancing, posture, and possible communication.

Infanticide is common, especially when a new male has taken over a group. The colobus verus species is the smallest and most primitive of the colobus. This species carries their young in their mouth. (Colobus 263) The black and white colobus females are fascinated with the white newborns. These infants are passed around to other females in an auntlike behavior. The red colobus would generally not allow others to hold their babies. ( With only one infant and a long period of dependence, infants are able to learn the culture, social structure, feeding techniques, defensive actions, and other relationships while with its mother. Often this is done through some type of play within a playgroup or with older monkeys.

Colobus have long periods of inactivity possible related to the fermentation process. Another side effect of this process is a build up of methane and carbon dioxide gases. As a friendly gesture, colobus will belch in each other’s faces. (Sleeper 72) Another habit has them thought of as the messengers of God. They seem to go to the tops of the trees and quietly watch the sunset and the sunrise. (Jungle Larry’s)



The greatest threat to most non-human animals of the world is man. Not only are men so abundant that we are squeezing everyone else out. We are also destructive, cutting down the trees, which are homes to many species. Then just in case they may still have a chance, we hunt them down for sport or furs. All of these things are happening to the colobus. The Asian pet and meat markets cause people to try to catch the white infant colobus. Since the entire troop will try to protect the infant, the people often will kill them all.

In Zanzibar, the number of people will double in the next twenty years. The colobus badius kirkii are already confined to a small portion of the island. As more people come, more colobus are being hit by cars since there are fewer trees to climb in, forcing them to the ground. Along with the low birth rate, these factors forecast a grim future for this subspecies. (Struhsaker 74) As if this is not enough, colobus also have natural enemies. The chimpanzees will hunt the down, and other animals will take the opportunity if they happen to find one within reach.



At Jungle Larry’s in Naples, Florida, there are two colobus guereza, which is a black and white colobus. The pair of half-brothers was born in the summer of 1986. They were sent to this zoo from Cheyenne Mt. Zoo in Colorado in 1989. They are not sterilized but have not had the opportunity to breed. They do engage in some homosexual behavior, which is quite common among primates.

These are the first colobus at Jungle Larry’s. They now have their own island with extra tall trees. There does not appear to be a dominant monkey at this time. During our visit, a canoe was used to bring food to the colobus. They descended from the treetops and began to eat. They appeared to have little fear of humans. Each monkey sat on a perch and enjoyed the meal. The staff supplies a diet of corn on the cob, peppers, tomatoes, banana peels, romaine lettuce, cabbage, and other vegetables. (Jungle Larry’s)




"Colobus Monkey." Encyclopedia Americana. International edition, 1993. Volume 7: 263.

Jungle Larry’s Zoological Park. Personal interview. 10-18-98.

 Jurmain, Robert, et. al. Essentials of Physical Anthropology. Third edition. Belmont, CA: Wadworth, 1998: 155-162.

 Preston-Mafham, Rod and Ken. Primates of the World. New York: Blandford publishing, 1992: 71-72.

 Rumbaugh, Duane M., and E. Sue Savage-Rumbaugh. "Monkey" Encyclopedia Americana. International edition, 1993. Volume 19: 370-1.

------ "Primates" Encyclopedia Americana. International edition, 1993. Volume 22: 580-3.

 Sleeper, Barbara. Primates: The Amazing World of Lemurs, Monkeys, and Apes. San Francisco: Chronicle, 1997: 71-73.

 Struhsaker, Tom. "Zanzibar’s Endangered Red Colobus Monkeys." National Geographic. November 1998, Volume 194 number 5: 72-81

 Primates of Africa. N.D., November 21, 1998

 "Animals at the Caribbean Gardens." N.D., November 23, 1998