Kipunji (Rungwecebus kipunji)

Also known as: Highland mangabey
Synonyms: Lophocebus kipunji
GenusRungwecebus (1) (2)
SizeEstimated male head-and-body length: 85 – 90 cm (1)
Estimated male weight: 10 – 16 kg (1)
Top facts

The kipunji is classified as Critically Endangered (CR) on the IUCN Red List (3).

The remarkable discovery of Tanzania’s kipunji in 2003 and 2004 (by two independent research teams) represented Africa’s first new monkey discovery in 20 years (4) (5). This medium sized, long-tailed monkey has a long, upright chest, loud call and unique coat. The fur is a light to rufous brown, with darker lower forelimbs, black hands and feet, and an off-white stomach and tail end. Elongated cheek whiskers and a crest of long, erect hair on the crown frame the black face (1). The species’ characteristically long coat is thought to be an adaptation to withstand the cold in the upper altitudes of its range (4). One of the features that established this monkey as a distinct species is its unique and distinctive call, described as a loud, low-pitched ‘honk-bark’, which is very different to that of other monkeys (1). Although initially named the highland mangabey, having been classified as a mangabey (Lophocebus) from analysis of photographs, recent genetic and morphological tests on a dead animal revealed that the species belongs to a new genus (Rungwecebus), and is in fact more closely related to the baboon than to mangabeys (2). As such, the species is now referred to simply as kipunji.

Endemic to southern Tanzania. Populations exist in Mount Rungwe and Mount Livingstone (often referred to as Rungwe-Livingstone) in the Southern Highlands, from 1750 to 2450 m above sea level, and 350 km away in Ndundulu in the Udzungwa Mountains, from 1300 to 1750 m above sea level (1).

This arboreal species is found in degraded montane and upper montane forest in Rungwe-Livingstone and pristine submontane forest in Ndundulu (1).

With this species only recently discovered, there has been very little chance to study its biology. Oestrus females of this monkey have been observed with genital swellings (1).

The threats to the kipunji are considerable and, with an estimated population of just 1,117 individuals, the future of this newly-discovered species is already in jeopardy (1) (3). Logging, charcoal-making, hunting and unmanaged resource extraction are common in the Rungwe-Livingstone forests (1) (4). The narrow forest corridors linking Mt Rungwe to Livingstone, and joining the northern and southern sections of Livingstone, are all highly degraded. Fragmentation of the remaining forests threatens to split the population into three smaller, isolated subpopulations (4). While the monkey’s total known range at Rungwe-Livingstone is around 70 km², at Ndundulu it is just 3 km² (1). The kipunji is one of the three threatened monkey species identified in the Udzungwa Mountains, a testament to the biologically rich but fragile ecosystems of the region (5).

The kipunji occurs in the Kitulo National Park on Mount Rungwe, which should help protect the small Livingstone Forest population there, but swift action is needed to also preserve the connecting forest corridors. Although the forests of Ndundulu are in excellent condition, the population is small and outside of the Udzungwa Mountains National Park, in the adjacent, unprotected Ndundulu Forest Reserve. This has prompted calls for the area to be better protected by expanding the boundaries of Udzungwa Mountains National Park westward to include all of the Ndundulu Forest (1). Indeed, the Udzungwa Mountains represent an amazing biodiversity ‘hotspot’, and this incredible discovery of a third threatened monkey species affirms its status as one of the most important regions for primate conservation in Africa (5). One can only hope that the excitement and publicity of new scientific finds such as this will highlight the need to increase our conservation efforts. Without prompt action the future of this rare and remarkable monkey remains highly uncertain (4) (5).

For further information on the kipunji see:

Authenticated (21/12/2005) by Dr. Tim Davenport, Director of the Wildlife Conservation Society’s (WCS) Southern Rift and Southern Highlands Conservation Programmes, and co-discoverer of the highland mangabey.

  1. Jones, T., Ehardt, C.L., Butynski, T.M., Davenport, T.R.B., Mpunga, N.E., Machaga, S.J. and De Luca, D.W. (2005) The Highland Mangabey Lophocebus kipunji: A New Species of African Monkey. Science, 308: 1161 - 1164.
  2. Davenport, T.R.B., Stanley, W.T., Sargis, E.J., De Luca, D.W., Mpunga, N.E., Machaga, S.J. and Olsen, L.E. (2006) A New Genus of African Monkey, Rungwecebus: Morphology, Ecology, and Molecular Phylogenetics. Science, 312: 1378 - 1381.
  3. IUCN Red List (June, 2009)
  4. Wildlife Conservation Society (March, 2012)
  5. National Science Foundation (December, 2005)