Unlike other monkeys, colobus
monkeys do not have thumbs

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Colobus Monkey

Conservation Status:

Least Threatened

  • Live in groups of 9 members
  • There are 5 subspecies
  • Native to more than 15 African countries

Quick Facts

Scientific name

Angolan black-and-white colobus (Colobus angolensis)
Eastern black-and-white colobus (Colobus guereza)


15 to 30 lb.


30 in. long

Life span

Up to 20 years in captivity






About 6 months


Leopards, large eagles, humans


Where do colobus monkeys live?

Two types of black-and-white colobus monkeys are found in Kenya, those that inhabit coastal forests and those in inland, high-country areas. Red colobus monkeys are also found in East Africa but are quite rare. Two other types of colobus monkeys in Africa are the black and the olive. The colobus monkey lives in all types of closed forests, including montane and gallery forests. Bamboo stands are also popular dwelling spots for the colobus.

Tags: DRC, Mozambique, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, East Africa, West/Central Africa, Congo, Kilimanjaro, Virunga, Cameroon View Africa | Habitat

Physical Characteristics

What is the colobus monkey?

The name “colobus” is derived from the Greek word for “mutilated,” because unlike other monkeys, colobus monkeys do not have thumbs. Their beautiful black fur strongly contrasts with the long white mantle, whiskers, bushy tail, and beard around the face. The Eastern black-and-white is distinguishable by a U-shaped cape of white hair running from the shoulders to lower back, whereas the Angolan black-and-white has white hairs flaring out only at the shoulders.


Behavior & Diet

Colobus monkeys are capable of eating toxic foliage.

Colobus monkeys are strictly leaf-eaters and spend most of their time in treetops, preferring to eat young leaves found there. However, their complex stomachs enable them to digest mature or toxic foliage that other monkeys cannot.

The colobus is the most arboreal of all African monkeys.

It rarely descends to the ground and uses branches as trampolines to get liftoffs for leaps of up to 50 feet. Colobus monkeys leap up and then drop downward, falling with outstretched arms and legs to grab the next branch. Their mantle hair and tails are believed to act as a parachute during these long leaps.

They live in territorial troops.

Colobus monkeys live in troops of about 5 to 10 animals—a dominant male, several females, and their young. Each troop has a well-defined territory, which is defended from other groups. Adult troop members, especially males, make croaking roars that can be heard resonating throughout the forest. Despite their territorial nature, fighting over mates rarely occurs.

Members of the troop care for the infants.

There is no distinct breeding season, although most mating probably occurs during the rainy season. A female will give birth once every 20 months, on average. The newborn colobus monkey has a pink face and is covered with white fur. At about 1 month, it begins to change color, gaining the black-and-white adult coloration at about 3 months. The infant monkey is carried on the mother's abdomen, where it clings to her fur. As it matures, it spends a lot of time playing with its mother and other adults. In the first month, it may be handled 3 to 5 times an hour in resting groups. However, infant mortality is high even though the young are carefully tended.

  • Colobus Monkey Craig R. Sholley
  • Colobus Monkey Andrea Athanas
  • Colobus Monkey Billy Dodson
  • Colobus Monkey Billy Dodson

Hunting led to the colobus’s extermination in some areas.

At one time, the colobus was hunted excessively for its beautiful fur. Its skin has been used to make dance costumes, hats, and capes.

The biggest threat to the colobus today is habitat loss.

As human populations are growing and expanding, forests are cut down to make room for agriculture, settlements, and roads. The colobus monkey is losing its home as these developments progress.


Our solutions to protecting the colobus monkey:

  • Employ technology.

    African Wildlife Foundation’s scientists use technology—like Geographic Information System (GIS)—to identify key threats to conservation and pinpoint areas that have the most potential for wildlife. Once scientists have identified these areas, we can work with communities and governments to set them aside for wildlife.

  • Engage local communities.

    AWF works with pastoralist people to develop appropriate sustainable solutions for agricultural and settlement growth by providing training on best practices and incentivizing conservation agriculture when appropriate, like in the Congo where we provided pastoralists with increased seed varieties and new planting techniques. This allows for maximized productivity and less wasted land, leading to increased food and economic security for people and more space for the colobus. 


Will you show colobus monkeys your support?

With your help, AWF can work on critical initiatives like providing education for sustainable agriculture and employing GIS technologies to identify threatened areas. Donate for a cause that will help with wildlife conservation and ensure the colobus does not become an endangered species.

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