Patas monkey (Erythrocebus patas)

Also known as: Hussar monkey, military monkey, red guenon, wadi monkey
French: Patas
GenusErythrocebus (1)
SizeHead-body length: 60 - 90cm (2)
Shoulder height: 50 - 60 cm (2)
Tail length: 50 - 75cm (2) (3)
Male weight: 7 - 13 kg (2) (3)
Female weight: 4 - 7 kg (2) (3)
Top facts

The patas monkey is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1) and is listed on Appendix II of CITES (4).

The patas monkey (Erythrocebus patas) is the fastest primate on Earth, reaching top speeds of 55 kilometres per hour (2) (3) (5). Its build is well suited to this fantastic sprinting ability, with long limbs, a slender body, and a deep chest (2).

Male patas monkeys are generally more brightly coloured than females, with white on the backs of their hind legs and a white rump, which contrasts with their otherwise reddish and grey body colour. The male patas monkey also has a mane and very long white whiskers, and averages about twice the size of the female. Females are duller in colour and lack manes and long white whiskers (2) (3).

Both the male and female patas monkey have a dark tail and a pale white to grey face, and often have a distinctive bluish nose (2) (6). A dark stripe above the eyes contrasts with the reddish cap on the head (6), and the undersides of the body and tail are whitish to grey, cream or buff (2) (3) (6).

The patas monkey has a varied repertoire of alarm calls to indicate the presence of specific types of predator, aiding the group’s escape. Adult male ‘bark-grunt’ calls that signal the presence of a mammalian predator are distinctly different to those given by adult females, juveniles and infants, who signal the presence of a mammalian predator with a ‘nyow’ call. ‘Chutter’ alarm calls are given in response to the presence of smaller mammalian predators (7). Groups of female patas monkeys typically use a ‘moo’ call to stay in contact while on the move (3).

The patas monkey is found across semi-arid areas of West and East Africa. It ranges from north of the equatorial forests, northwards to just south of the Sahara, occurring from western Senegal through to Ethiopia, central and southern Kenya, and north-central Tanzania as far as the Acacia woodlands east of Lake Manyara (1).

This species is also found at low densities in the Serengeti National Park and the Grumeti River Corridor, Tanzania, and isolated populations occur on the Air Massif in Niger and the Ennedi Massif in Chad (1).

The patas monkey inhabits in a range of different vegetation types including steppe, thicket, open grassland and wooded savanna (1) (2) (3) (5), particularly favouring areas of long grass with scattered trees (2). It is most commonly found in Acacia woodland, preferring areas at woodland-grassland margins (1).

The diet of the patas monkey includes a range of plant material and animal prey, including leaves, flowers, fruits, gum, seeds, grasses and arthropods, as well as mushrooms (1) (2) (3) (6) (8). This species is quite adaptable, and will also feed on invasive, non-native plants, as well as cotton and food crops (1). It also takes some vertebrate prey, including geckos, chameleons, and birds’ eggs (2) (3) (6). The patas monkey is active during the day, feeding in the morning and evening, and resting during the hottest hours (2) (3) (5). It is usually terrestrial, and although able to climb trees when alarmed it usually relies on its speed across the ground to escape danger (1) (3).

In some parts of the patas monkey’s range its diet is quiet simple, consisting of only a few different species of plant, with Acacia drepanolobium making up over 80 percent of the diet. Gum was found to be the most commonly eaten food item from this plant. Social ants were the most commonly eaten arthropod due to their great abundance and the ease and speed with which they can be found, with many actually living on the plants that make up the patas monkey’s diet. The patas monkey is the largest primate to subsist primarily on a diet of gum and arthropods, probably because these are relatively easy to find in its habitat. This diet is usually only associated with small-bodied species (8).

Patas monkeys live in fairly large female groups that may number up to around 30 individuals, usually with only one male present for most of the year (2) (3) (5) (6). Within the group there is a dominance hierarchy, with one or two of the females leading the group (2) (3) and the single adult male acting as a guard and lookout (5) (6). Lone males and all-male groups are also seen (2) (3) (5) (6), and during the breeding season other males may enter the female groups (3). Each group of patas monkeys occupies a large home range (1) (3) (8), and the members of the group sleep in separate trees at night, spreading themselves over a large area to help protect them against too many losses to predators (3) (5) (6).

In Kenya, most mating takes place between June and September, with the young being born in December and January. In Cameroon, most patas monkeys are born between November and January, while in Uganda most are born around February (3). However, female patas monkeys can come into season about every 30 days and breeding can take place at any time of year (2).

A single young is born each year, after a gestation period of about 167 days (2) (3). The young patas monkey clings to the female at first but gradually becomes independent (2).Juvenile males leave the group once they reach maturity and usually join all-male groups or live in solitude until the mating season (5). Female patas monkeys are first able to breed at around 2.5 years old and males at 3 to 4 years, and this species has been known to live for up to 23 years in captivity (2) (3).

Predators of the patas monkey include lions, leopards, jackals, wild dogs, pythons, crocodiles and eagles. When faced with these predators, the male patas monkey will make a diversionary display, bouncing on the bushes and trees before fleeing through the grass. This display detracts attention from the females and young, leaving them to flee silently or stay hidden in the grass (2) (5).

Habitat loss and degradation due to human activities, such as clearance of savanna for crops or overgrazing by cattle, are the primary conservation problems for the patas monkey in parts of its range. These monkeys are also hunted for food and killed as they are considered to be a crop pest (1) (3) (9). Although the patas monkey does not depend on habitats with large trees, it does require some woodland and cannot remain in an area if all the woodland is lost (3).

Although still widespread and not currently considered to be at risk of extinction (1), the patas monkey has declined in parts of its range, particularly in south-eastern areas such as Kenya and Tanzania (1) (9).

The patas monkey is listed under Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), meaning that any international trade in this species should be carefully controlled (4). It is also listed as Class B under the African Convention, which means that the patas monkey cannot be hunted, killed or captured without authorisation (1). Throughout its range, the patas monkey occurs in many protected areas, which should give it some protection (1).

Currently the largest population of patas monkeys in Kenya is in the Laikipia District. All patas monkey groups in this region occur outside protected areas and make use of cattle ranches which provide large areas of Acacia drepanolobium woodland and artificial water sources (1). Current priority actions for the conservation of the patas monkey in Kenya include research, monitoring, conservation education, reduction of patas-human conflict, providing water, and maintaining large tracts of natural woodland. In 2008 a database for patas monkeys in Kenya, called ‘PatasBase’, was established to be updated whenever new information is received, providing a database to support patas monkey research and conservation initiatives (9).

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This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:

  1. IUCN Red List (January, 2013)
  2. Burton, M. and Burton, R. (2002) International Wildlife Encyclopedia. Third Edition. Marshall Cavendish, New York.
  3. Nowak, R.M. (1991) Walker’s Mammals of the World. The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore and London.
  4. CITES (March, 2013)
  5. Hall, K. (1966) Behaviour and ecology of the wild patas monkey, Erythrocebus patas, in Uganda. Journal of Zoology, 148(1): 15- 87.
  6. Ankel-Simons, F. (2007) Primate Anatomy: An Introduction. Academic Press, San Diego, California.
  7. Enstam, K.L. and Isbell, L.A. (2002) Comparison of responses to alarm calls by patas (Erythrocebus patas) and vervet (Cercopithecus aethiops) monkeys in relation to habitat structure. American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 119(1): 3-14.
  8. Isbell, L.A. (1998) Diet for a small primate: insectivory and gummivory in the (large) patas monkey (Erythrocebus patas pyrrhonotus). American Journal of Primatology, 45(4): 381-398.
  9. de Jong, Y.A., Butynski, T.M. and Nekaris, K.A.I. (2008) Distribution and conservation of the patas monkey Erythrocebus patas in Kenya. Journal of East African Natural History, 97(1): 83-102.