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ID #3315

Zanzibar Red Colobus, East Coast, Tanzania, East Africa.

One of Africa’s rarest primates, they number about 1500.  Isolated on the island for about 10000 years,   Procolobus kirkii is recognised as a distinct species, with different coat patterns, calls and food habits than related species on the mainland.  They live in a variety of the drier areas of coastal thickets and coral rag scrub, as well as the mangrove swamps and agricultural areas.  About one third live in and around Jozani Forest.  Ironically, they are the easiest monkeys to see on farmland adjacent to the reserve.  They are used to people and because of the low vegetation, they come close to the ground. 

In Zanzibar Kiswahili, the name for the red colobus is kima punju – poison monkey – and this has associations with a kind of poison used by evil-doers.  Locals believe that when the monkeys have fed in an area, the trees and crops die.  Dogs are thought to lose their fur when they eat the colobus.  The term punju is used to differentiate the smell of the colobus from Sykes and vervet monkeys. Colobus smell strongly and are therefore never kept as pets. 

One of their most striking features is a crown of long, white hairs, which fans out around the face in tufts.  The face is mainly black but notice the pin areas around the mouth and nose.  If you look closely, you will notice that individual monkeys have different face patterns. The back of the head and back are very red, separated by a black stripe down the arms. The tail has varying shades of red, often graduating to a sandy orange.  Adult males and females are almost equal in body size. Notice how few adult males there are in the group.   There are usually only 1-4 adult males, with many more adult females and young of different ages.  To distinguish infants of less than three months old, look out for their black backs.  The colour of the back changes from black to red when they reach 6 months of age.

They are highly sociable and live in groups of between 30-50 individuals.  They feed early in the morning and are most active during the cooler parts of the day.  If you hear loud calls from the males, it is usually because they are about to move to another tree to eat.  They eat young leaves, flowers, unripe fruit and seeds.  They feed most often on black plum, various species of wild fig, red mahogany and introduced species like Indian almond, coconut and mango.  Unlike other monkeys, they do not eat ripe fruit as they are unable to digest sugars.  Their four-chambered stomachs break down the food using bacteria that are kept active by feeding regularly throughout the day.  They also eat charcoal and this may held their systems cope with the poison the leaves contain.

Resting times between meals are good times to see the monkeys playing and grooming.  You may see mothers feeding their young, which they wean at seventeen months

Although legally protected, they are highly endangered.  Their survival depends on the protection of their natural habitat as they have never successfully been kept in captivity.  Their habitat is being increasingly destroyed due to demands of the growing human population.  The monkey’s choice of food brings them into direct conflict with farmers.  Many now live in small isolated groups and their rate of reproduction is low. BBZanred

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Last update: 2014-05-13 04:05
Author: Alan McIver
Revision: 1.1

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