Scientific Name: Colobus guereza kikuyuensis
The word “colobus” stems from the Greek word for “docked,” referring to the monkey’s nearly absent thumb. The digit is greatly reduced to a small tubercle and remnant nail.
These Old World primates are Cercopithecids belonging to sub-family Colobinae. The Kikuyu colobus is one of eight subspecies. Their striking black and white coloration and long, luxurious coats make them some of the most beautiful monkeys in Africa.
STATUS: This monkey is at low risk of extinction. Its population is stable, living in limited but largely protected areas, and there are no major threats to its survival. However, this monkey has been hunted for meat and pelts in the past. The L.A. Zoo’s Kikuyu family is part of a Species Survival Plan breeding program.
HABITAT: The Kikuyu colobus is known to live only around the Ngong Escarpment, Mount Kenya, and the Aberdare Mountain Range in Kenya. They range from rainforests to montane and riparian forests of Africa’s wooded grasslands.
DIET: Colobus monkeys are herbivores, eating leaves and plants. As they digest the cellulose found in plant matter, water is released. They consume enough plant matter that they do not have to drink much water.
PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS: This monkey has a black body with lengthy white hair trimming the back. The long, white tail ends in a bushy plume. Around the face is more white hair, and the crown of the head is black. Lacking thumbs, the hook-like hands speed semi-brachiation as the monkey swings from one tree to another. Mainly walking quadrupedally along branches, Kikuyus sometimes leap from limb to limb. Hairless, calloused pads on the monkey’s rear allow it to sit in a tree for prolonged periods without losing blood circulation to the legs. Adults weigh up to 32 pounds and females are somewhat smaller than males. This colobus consumes large amounts of plant matter containing hard-to-digest cellulose; however, some special adaptations aid digestion. Large salivary glands produce extra buffer fluid in the stomach, and the enlarged, sacculated stomach is divided into three folded parts, allowing plant material to pass through the digestive system very slowly. This facilitates fermentation by bacteria in the gut, processing cellulose, releasing nutrients, and deactivating toxins.
Colobus monkeys live high in the trees, coming to the ground occasionally. Vocal males roar and snort to defend their group’s well-defined territory. Males may live in a family group or as solitary bachelors. Groups of eight members are typical, with one dominant male, three females, and four young. Females become sexually mature at four years old, while males mature by five or six. There is no set breeding season. Gestation lasts about six months. Births are timed for weaning when food is plentiful. Usually, one infant is born, and multiple females care for it. At birth, the clinging infant weighs almost one pound and is all white. It gets its black trim at about three-and-a-half months old and full adult coloration between five and ten months. In captivity, Kikuyu colobuses live from 27 to 30 years.