Conservationists Rally To Save Every Species Of Africa’s Most Threatened Primate Group, The Red Colobus Monkey, Before It’s Too Late!

Photo from the Global Wildlife Conservation

One of Africa’s most unique and wide-ranging groups of primates, the red colobus monkey, includes a remarkably diverse bunch of species and subspecies that share one unfortunate trait: nearly all of them are facing extinction, making them Africa’s most threatened group of primates.

Last week, Global Wildlife Conservation (GWC) joined the African Primatological Society and the IUCN Species Survival Commission Primate Specialist Group in the launch of an ambitious new action plan that will mobilize conservationists across Africa, in a unified effort to save not just one species of red colobus monkey, but to prevent the continent-wide extinction of all 19 species and subspecies.

Of the 19 species and subspecies of red colobus, more than half are considered endangered or critically endangered by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. The primary threats to red colobus monkeys are hunting, habitat loss, and alteration resulting from development and agricultural expansion. Three species, Miss Waldron’s red colobus, Lang’s red colobus, and the Semliki red colobus, are feared possibly extinct and are among GWC’s Search for Lost Species program’s “Most Wanted” Lost Primates.

“If Miss Waldron’s red colobus is already extinct, it would be the first primate lost in more than a century—and several others are on the verge,” said Russ Mittermeier, Chief Conservation Officer for GWC and chair of the IUCN Species Survival Commission Primate Specialist Group. “This important and widespread group of monkeys, some of them strikingly beautiful, are good indicators of what is happening to primates across Africa, and indeed to Africa’s biodiversity as a whole.”

The Red Colobus Conservation Action Plan (ReCAP), which launched today at the International Primatological Society Congress in Nairobi, will bring together experts on all 19 red colobus species and subspecies to leverage their collective expertise and influence. The plan will include identifying 30 or so priority sites across 20 countries to set up standardized monitoring tools and effective wildlife protection programs; empowering a new generation of local African conservation leadership around red colobus through training and mentoring programs; and developing cross-cutting, continent-wide initiatives to link and support site-based actions.

“Developing and fostering the implementation of the conservation action plans for threatened species is one of the primary strategies of the African Primatological Society,” said Inza Kone, president of the African Primatological Society. “There is no doubt that ReCAP is among those strategies that are most needed. It is the responsibility of all conservationists across Africa not to miss the priceless opportunity to learn from each other for informed, better-coordinated and impactful actions.”

ReCAP also aims to elevate the group of red colobus monkeys to a flagship for conservation. Red colobus monkeys were identified as a Cinderella species—a species that is currently overlooked, but aesthetically appealing, and that could help generate funds for the conservation of multiple species across a landscape—in a 2012 paper in scientific journal Conservation Letters. Because red colobus monkeys’ range overlaps with more than 75 percent of all primate species on mainland Africa, their protection would benefit countless other species.

“By pulling together as a conservation community, we can turn red colobus from an overlooked and ignored group of species into a group of species that is a flagship and icon for these forested areas,” said Barney Long, GWC’s senior director of species conservation. “We want to take this group of Cinderella species and, through this action plan, turn them into the belle of the ball so that everybody is looking at them, everyone is focused on them, and by saving them, we’re saving all of the other species around them.”

Red colobus monkeys are slow-moving, photogenic primates. They vary in coat, color, and pattern design, (redheads with white beards, brunettes with smooth chins, blondes with black head bands), in facial patterns, behavior and vocalizations. They range from Senegal on the Atlantic coast to the island of Zanzibar in the Indian Ocean. Instead of thumbs, they have a small remnant bump. They can ferment leaves in their guts and digest plant matter, and are the primary prey for chimps. They are also large seed dispersers, helping to maintain the health of the forests in which they live.

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