Kirk’s red colobus (Procolobus kirkii)

Also known as: Zanzibar red colobus
Synonyms: Piliocolobus kirkii, Procolobus badius kirkii
KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassMammalia
OrderPrimates
FamilyCercopithecidae
GenusProcolobus (1)
SizeHead-body length: 45 - 65 cm (2)
Tail length: 58 - 77 cm (2)
Weight5.2 - 11.3 kg (2)

Kirk’s red colobus is classified as Endangered (EN) on the IUCN Red List (1), and listed on Appendix II of CITES (3).

Kirk’s red colobus (Procolobus kirkii) is a relatively small member of the group of leaf-eating monkeys known as ‘colobines’, in the subfamily Colobinae (2). This attractive monkey has a dark red to black coat above, with a paler underside and distinctive pink lips and nose (4). The black face is framed by a crown of long white hairs (4), and the body terminates in a long tail, which is used in balancing (2).

Kirk’s red colobus is named after Sir John Kirk, the British Resident to Zanzibar who first identified this attractive dweller of the island (5).

The taxonomy of Kirk’s red colobus is currently under debate, with some scientists placing it in the genus Procolobus while others place it in Piliocolobus (1) (6). Further evidence is needed to resolve this issue (1).

As its alternative common name of ‘Zanzibar colobus’ suggests, Kirk’s red colobus is found on the island of Zanzibar. Its population is worryingly small today and it is estimated that as few as 1,000 to 1,200 individuals persist, mainly within the Jozani Forest Reserve (7). A small number of individuals also live on nearby Pemba Island, in the Ngezi Forest Reserve (6).

Originally found in tropical evergreen forest, which has now been largely destroyed, Kirk’s red colobus may now also be found in a range of secondary forest, agricultural land and fallow bush (4).

Kirk’s red colobus is found in large gregarious troops of 5 to 50 individuals. Family groups tend to consist of a single male with a small number of females and their young, and these break away from the main troop in order to forage. Groups spend the majority of their time in the treetops, foraging for leaves and fruit (5), although near to human settlements a few individuals have developed a taste for charcoal (8).

Births take place throughout the year and a single offspring is born after a gestation period of around five months. The Kirk’s red colobus infant is carried by the female through the trees for up to three months (9).

Vast tracts of Zanzibar’s native forest have been destroyed for timber, development and agriculture, leading to a devastating decline in the population of this native monkey. It is believed that fewer than 1,500 Kirk’s red colobus persist today (7).

Following the destruction of its rainforest habitat, this species seems to be coming into increasing contact with humans, although fortunately local people appear to tolerate its presence (7). However, Kirk’s colobus is still occasionally shot for food, sport or as a crop pest, and is also sometimes killed on roads (1).

Kirk’s red colobus is listed as Class A under the African Convention on the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources, meaning that capture or killing of this species is prohibited, unless for scientific purposes and with permission (10). It is also listed on Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), meaning international trade in Kirk’s red colobus should be carefully controlled (3).

Kirk’s red colobus requires full legal and practical protection if viable populations are going to persist. This attractive species has recently proven to be a popular tourist attraction within the Jozani Forest Reserve and this interest may offer some hope for its future survival (7). The installation of speed bumps around Jozani has also reduced the number of Kirk’s red colobus killed on the roads (1).

Other recommended conservation measures for Kirk’s red colobus are the further protection of its habitat, as well as the creation of habitat ‘corridors’ to enable the species to move between remaining habitat patches (1).

Find out more about Kirk’s red colobus conservation projects:

Authenticated (30/04/05) by Matt Richardson, independent primatologist and writer.

  1. IUCN Red List (January, 2012)
    http://www.iucnredlist.org/
  2. Macdonald, D. (2001) The New Encyclopedia of Mammals. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  3. CITES (March, 2003)
    http://www.cites.org/
  4. Agrupacion Sierra Madre, S.C. (2001) The Red Book: The Extinction Crisis Face-to-Face. IUCN, Switzerland.
  5. McIntyre, C. and Shand, S. (2008) Zanzibar. Bradt Travel Guides Ltd, England.
  6. Richardson, M. (2005) Pers. comm.
  7. Mittermeier, R.A., Myers, N., Robles, G.P. and Mittermeier, G.C. (2002) Hotspots: Earth’s Biologically Richest and Most Endangered Terrestrial Ecoregions. Cemex and Conservation International, Mexico City.
  8. Struhsaker, T.T., Cooney, D.O. and Siex, K.S. (1997) Charcoal consumption by Zanzibar red colobus monkeys: its function and its ecological and demographic consequences. International Journal of Primatology, 18(1): 61-72.
  9. Jorgensen, M. (2009) Behavioral Application in Wildlife Photography: Developing a Foundation in Ecological and Behavioral Characteristics of the Zanzibar Red Colobus Monkey (Procolobus kirkii) as it Applies to the Development Exhibition Photography. ISP Collection, Paper 670.
  10. African Convention on the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (January, 2012)
    http://www.africa-union.org/root/au/Documents/Treaties/Text/Convention_Nature%20&%20Natural_Resources.pdf