Colobus Monkeys

Colobus Varieties

There are two varieties of the black and white colobus: one type lives in the high country in central, inland Africa, and the other lives in the forests on the East African coast. There are also black colobus monkeys and olive-coloured colobus monkeys. The red colobus is a rare subspecies that is sometimes seen in East Africa.

Habitat and Behaviour

The colobus monkey lives in the forest, and it is very rare for them to come down from the trees at all if ever. Colobus monkeys eat leaves, and they especially like the young leaves from the tops of the trees. They can also eat mature leaves which are not suitable for many other types of monkeys as their digestive system allows them to process tough old leaves.

When moving between trees, the colobus starts by jumping up and down on one branch to gain momentum; it then leaps up, and finally descends to grab a branch on the next tree. Because the colobus has four fingers and no thumb, it is easy for this monkey to get a hold of the branches while moving through the forests. The colobus also uses its tail and mantle hair as a natural parachute while leaping from tree to tree.

Forests can be noisy places when there are monkeys about and the calls of the colobus can sometimes be heard across the forest. They are not as loud or vociferous as some of the other primates such as chimps or howler monkeys. The colobus monkey has several different types of calls: warning calls, mating calls and song-like calls. Colobus monkeys live in groups that consist of a dominant male and several females with their young ones. Each family group, or troop, has five to ten members. The males do not usually fight and they are in general a placid species unlike some of the other primates.

Mating and Breeding

There is no specific season for breeding although the colobus often mate in the rainy season. A newborn monkey has white fur, but the colour starts to change when the infant is around a month old. By the age of three months it has developed the typical black and white colour. The female colobus nurses its newborn for more than a year and develops a strong bond with its infant. The mother carries the baby on its stomach and the baby clings to the mother's fur. The young monkey first plays with its mother before it gains enough confidence and strength to play with other young monkeys – usually around the age of seven months. They are sociable animals and enjoy hanging out together in peaceful groups.


Because its beautiful and unique black and white fur, the colobus monkey was hunted in the past for its skin. Hunting has led to the species' disappearance from some parts of Africa. However these days the main danger for the colobus monkey is the destruction of the forests which are its natural living spaces and human encroachment. Much of the de-forestation in Africa is for land clearing for farming and for logging industries.

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