There are up to 9 species of Red Colobus. Their appearance can vary between species, but usually having red/brown fur and a long tail. The Udzungwa Red Colobus has a striking appearance, having black and white body fur and bright red fur on the top of its head.
They mostly live in humid forests across East, Central and West Africa, in countries such as Senegal, Ghana, Tanzania, Cameroon, Nigeria, and Uganda. The Tana River Red Colobus in Kenya is Critically Endangered. They can also be found near coastal areas and montane rainforests.
Their diet consists of leaves, shoots, buds, fruit and fungi. They reach maturity at 4 years old and their gestation period is 6 and half months. Infants are born throughout the year unlike other Colobus species who have birth seasons. They live in mixed male and female groups where the males tend to be larger than the females. Groups sizes are large, up to 80 individuals, where both females and males are known to switch groups. When switching groups, the Red Colobus is known to spy on potential groups by living with nearby green monkeys.
They often fall prey to chimpanzees; in some chimpanzee populations they make up to 90% of their mammalian prey. This can greatly impact the Red Colobus population, and group sizes may change due to chimpanzee predation. They are also highly sensitive to hunting from humans and are considered the most threatened taxonomic group of primates in Africa.
Due to their plant-based diet, the stomach of a Red Colobus is split into four chambers (similar to a cows). This type of digestion takes a very long time and so the Red Colobus spends a lot of time sitting with a full stomach. This causes them to be easily hunted. Human hunters have almost wiped out certain populations and nearly every species is endangered or critically endangered. One species, the Miss Waldron’s Red Colobus, hasn’t been sighted since 1978 and could already be extinct. Like many other animals they are also threatened by habitat loss.
Global Wildlife Conservation are working alongside other groups to elevate the Red Colobus to a flagship species, (a species selected to raise support in biodiversity conservation). Their action plan consists of developing a Red Colobus conservation network, improving awareness and strengthening protection among many others.
Written by Emily Elmer – Wildlife Conservation Today Contributor